'Escape rooms' challenge Americans with puzzling adventures

Wed Oct 21, 2015 8:43am EDT
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By Lisa Lambert

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Dental lab technician Jon Choi and his friends celebrated his birthday this month under pressure: they were locked together in a small "escape room" and had to solve a series of puzzles to achieve their freedom within 60 minutes.

They finally made it out with one minute to spare.

Choi avidly plays computer games with the same set-up, but had never visited a physical escape room before. The experience was both fun and tough enough that he is now planning to try other similar rooms.

He has plenty of options. Escape rooms are the latest entertainment phenomena to seize the United States, where people break out of locked rooms using their smarts, or any that the friends, family members or strangers interred with them may possess. There are more than 100 across the country, according to the Escape Room Directory, charging between $20 and $30 for the experience.

In an era when socializing no longer requires real-time conversation and the answers to all life’s questions are a screen-tap away, those seeking to connect with others in person and use their own knowledge for intellectual challenges find the rooms refreshing. The concept has captivated Americans so much that the Science Channel created the game show “Race to Escape” around it.

Themes of the independently-owned rooms vary from place to place. In Pittsburgh, families are encouraged to share “bonding time” in the “Prison Escape” room. In Los Angeles, players can relive their city’s Raymond Chandler past in a room called “The Detective." 

Once the door is closed and the timer set, the first puzzle emerges. Its solution leads to the next puzzle. Clues are tucked all over the room, some in plain sight and others in secret compartments. Step by step, players solve the overarching mystery of the room.

For Choi and his friends at Escape Room Live in Alexandria, Virginia, that mystery revolved around fictional detective Sherlock Holmes.   Continued...

People work to find clues and solve puzzles to escape from a Sherlock Holmes-themed escape room in Alexandria, Virginia, October 17, 2015. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts