Week Eighteen: Time Escape
I had no personal experience with escape rooms. I had heard of them. A feature on a Castle DVD was the cast trying to go through one. I thought to myself, Look at those guys. Running around and acting all confused. I can do that.
In retrospect, well…
Time Escape opened in Seattle a few months ago. The company has two locations in Canada, but this is their first foray into the United States. There were three offerings. I, being a stubborn snob that can (sometimes) complete a Tuesday edition of The New York Times crossword puzzle, opted for the time travel option. It was rated six out of ten for difficulty. Surely I can handle that.
My buddy and I booked our reservation that morning, though walk-ins were welcomed. We showed up, the two gals greeted us eagerly, and the rules were explained. No phones, do not break anything, and push the hint button if you get stuck. Blacked out glasses (“blindfolds”, they called them; yet far less scary than the real thing) were given to us and we were ushered inside.
I am torn as to how much to give away. Someone obviously spent a lot of time designing the adventure. I fully expected a fairly dinky display, but these folks were rather high tech. Magnet locks were disabled by combinations. LASER messages were used. There were at least three different physical keys for the locks around the room. Metal chests opened up and revealed layers of puzzles underneath. I thought there would be three or five puzzles to figure out. I want to say we had closer to ten or twelve.
As far as I could tell, two people were required, up to six were allowed. (Castle used four. That seemed about right.) My cohort did pretty well at deciphering clues which I did not. My specialty was in hacking lockboxes that we did not have the full combination two. Twice I took the want information we had and futzed around until the unsolved answer was found. If you are patient enough, you do not need every single combination.
It was delightfully fun to watch all the hatches pop open. Just as you solve the mystery of the puzzle, you hear a click and you are surprised at the next part that reveals itself. It could be a key box that pops open, it could be a door that is now usable, or the large neon clock could start counting down. The challenge was part brain teaser, part suspense-thriller, and part frustration inducer.
Which is a long way of saying, we used the hint button. More than we should have. The entire time participants are in the room, video cameras are monitoring their progress. Not in a creepy way; just enough so the staff can see how you are doing. The first two times they must have noticed we were stalled. They came in without being prompted, knocking because they are that polite.
“Okay, you got that far. What if you look at it, this way?” They never gave us the answers outright. Typically, they just focused our searches. They narrowed things down and gave us nudges on what to concentrate on. “Have you tried checking out this area again?”
For some reason they gave us special treatment. We were not clever enough to solve the puzzle in the allotted forty-five minutes. It took us an hour and five minutes. Since it was early in the day, they let us tough it out a little bit longer. They did not have to do that, we all knew how much time our admission covered. The staff was simply gracious enough to offer it. That little gesture went a long way with us.
The only puzzle that I maintain I solved properly, but still had problems with, involved a LASER. I had it set up in a way that “should” have worked. It was doing what it was supposed to do. But I had it set on the floor, which weakened the beam. Once they instructed me to lift it up a few more feet, everything worked fine. I, being stubborn, maintain I was doing it “right”. A meager inconvenience, to be sure.
I can imagine it would have been frustrating if anything in the room had been broken, but other than the minor adjustment that they recommended, all the machines and devices worked great. The staff certainly has their work cut out for them; putting the rooms back together after each team disables everything and moves things around. Can you imagine if one little key was forgotten? Again, highest praise for the staff that work there.
I do not know if we would have eventually solved it without their hints. I probably would have kept typing random numbers into the combinations until I got what I want. However, that could take hours. 😉 And trying to attempt the room by myself would have been suicidal. I think the six out of ten rating was probably a good skill level. I was never bored. At the same time, I never thought it was hopeless.
I can see why phones and cameras are not allowed inside. It would be too easy to spoil it for others or copy it elsewhere. I thought when they offered to take our pictures at the exit, a catch would be involved. Chihuly, Seattle Underground, and Space Needle all offer photo packages when you leave. For a significant upcharge, you can have a physical photo. Time Escape pulled no such shenanigans. They took our picture (with my cohort’s phone and with their camera), simply asking that we mention them on Facebook or whatnot. A perfectly reasonable request, given that they are new to the spot and they still need to draw in a crowd.
Honestly, of all the places I have visited so far, this is the one I would recommend the most. Want to do something different on a blind date? Try it out. Got a small group of coworkers you want to hang out with? Tackle this as a team. (Then celebrate with drinks after. If you try to have drinks and then solve these puzzles? You are doomed.) Just make sure that you are up for a brain teaser. Like an episode of Castle, it is supposed to be fun.
Now I want to go back in time, erase my brain, and attack this puzzle all over again. I guess I will have to tackle the two other rooms that Time Escape has waiting for me.