by Laura Kocum
on Tuesday, June 7th, 2016 at 9:37am.
You've lost your passport, and don't remember the previous night. Or, you suspect your boss is a spy, and you only have an hour to find their hidden files before they return. A mad scientist needs to be stopped- but you need to steal the evidence first. Each of these scenarios are possible to live out in Madison- as part of an escape room experience. At least four escape-themed businesses have opened in Madison. All are offering a one-hour challenge, where participants attempt to use clues, unlock codes, and escape the room before the time runs out. A typical room hosts 6-8 people comfortably, and participants are watched, via camera, by staff. If participants get stuck on a clue, they can ask for help, and the employee can send a clue, through a closed circuit tv screen that is placed in the room. Are participants actually locked in the room? Not necessarily, but they are encouraged to stay there until the problem is solved or time runs out.
I tried one of these escape rooms recently in downtown Madison. Six of us worked together to solve the mystery- and managed to make it out with four minutes to spare. It wasn't easy, and there were times we all were stumped- sorting through information, and trying to determine which items were relevant and which ones should be ignored. We required all three "assists" to solve the mystery- and it helped that our group was diverse, offering a broad range of knowledge to connect the clues and escape. The adventure we chose included codes, locks, and a solid understanding of the world around us. Upon completion, our photo was taken to remember the night. Photos of the actual room are prohibited, as it may help future participants solve the puzzles before they arrive.
There were many laughs, and many scratched heads along the way- but over drinks later, my team agreed it was an incredibly enjoyable challenge. It was refreshing to have an interactive experience that involved everyone. And, we made memories that meant much more than just another movie.
Renee Thomas, owner and operator of Escape This, opened her escape room after experiencing one in another state. She and her husband enjoyed the chance to unplug and do something different. And they are finding that the demand for such an activity is becoming more widespread. "Even though they don't admit it at first when we take their phones, I think they enjoy being disconnected for an hour. They really do have to interact with their team members, take on challenges and figure things out together - everyone has a part, plays a part. They enjoy the feeling of accomplishment that comes with escaping - and even getting close - it's a sense of success that they did it together."
Thomas says escape rooms began in Europe, and have had great success in Asia too. More recently, these venues have begun opening in the United States. Modeled after video games with the same concept, escape rooms give a hands-on scenario, and encourage you to think creatively and collaborate with others. For the owner of an escape room, the challenge is offering enough variety to keep visitors coming back for more. Rooms are added and changed regularly, and even the clues are re-adjusted, in order to ensure a new experience with each game. And, with the new attention on these opportunities, multiple escape rooms have opened in Madison, offering a great variety of rooms to try, and no end to the fun.
Escape Rooms are a perfect venue for creative weekend fun, and for company team building. Check one out- and make memories with your friends or family.