I was blindfolded, led into a room and told to sit, before the door was locked behind me. But no, I wasn’t being kidnapped. It became evident that a bed was in the room … and others were in there with me. But no, I wasn’t about to have a Christian Grey moment. Rather, I was to experience a relatively new form of communal entertainment that is springing up all over Australia.
For the next hour or so I would use my brainpower to try to find a way out of what is termed an “escape room”. Not me alone, mind you. This was a team pursuit and I was there with my wife, my young adult daughter and her boyfriend. So, it was all noses to the grindstone to try to figure out the clues that were left lying around the room, which would unlock a series of key and combination locks that were positioned there.
The clues took the form of puzzles, cryptic notes that we needed to work our way through. In the room were sights and sounds and smells, which contributed to the big picture. It was only when the puzzles had been solved, one by one, that the respective locks could be opened and we would find our way out. Some were more straightforward than others, but none were easy. In fact, most were deliciously challenging.
All the while those running the facility could see and hear what we were saying and doing, but we couldn’t see or hear them, with one exception. They judged when we were really floundering and then they gave us a prompt or hint via a walkie talkie. They didn’t solve the riddles for us, but they pointed us in the right direction.
It was a lot of fun and a great team building exercise, something undoubtedly suitable for families, friends and the corporate sector alike. In other words, escape rooms have genuine crossover appeal.
The settings can take many forms. They can adopt a modern or a vintage approach, complete with props and are only limited by the imagination of those who establish them. So, for instance, you could conceivably be in a prison cell or in a mental hospital, a zoo or a mortuary. Our escape room adventure took place in the southeastern suburbs of Melbourne at a new facility called escapeXperience (www.escapexperience.com.au). Owners Joss and Jackie Milner, and Mark and Glenda Plavin have so far set up two rooms, with plans for a third. They worked closely with Owen Spear and Ali Cheetham, who operate Escape Room Melbourne (www.escaperoommelbourne.com.au).
We entered a room given the name Amnesia. We were told it was December 22nd, 1947. We wake in an unfamiliar environment with no memory of who we are and how we came to be there. Outside, there is chaos on the streets as the world is threatened by a new catastrophe. A second room is called Burlesque, where strange things are happening. You enter undercover to investigate a series of disappearances. Behind the glamour and mystery lies a dark secret that somebody is desperate to keep hidden.
Each room is a separate immersive, interactive experience and bookings are essential. I knew nothing about escape rooms before I took part and that only served to heighten my experience, one that I would highly recommend.
The concept originated in Asia and Eastern Europe more than a decade ago and is now spreading. It is not hard to see why. So, if you are after something that takes you outside your comfort zone and keeps you engaged and entertained throughout, then you will find satisfaction being locked in an escape room. But I warn you, it’s infectious. I reckon once you’ve tried it once, you are likely to want to do it again … and again.
Note: You can also find escapeXperience on Facebook. Search for escapeXperience, where the central letter “e” is spelt just once.