I love video games, all of them. I love shoot ‘em ups where you get to play as a hyper aggressive space marine with pectoral muscles the size of two Buicks mowing down alien scum with a chaingun. I love sports games where I’m able, if even for a fleeting moment, to pretend that I’m Michael Jordan in his prime dunking on fools. But my most favorite kind of video game, if I’m being honest here, is the puzzle-adventure genre. These are games like Myst, Monkey Island, Maniac Mansion, and anything else where you have to look at, push around, and grab anything that isn’t nailed down in order to solve a series of puzzles so you can get through the story. It’s only in this kind of game where you can unbolt a fiberglass fish statue from the ground in order to ride it to the world’s largest ball of string.
When I heard about Escape the Room in downtown Minneapolis, a place that offers the most in depth and interactive puzzle solving challenges in Minnesota, I knew I had to go. I wanted to see if I could perform under pressure — not while I’m in my pajamas and staring blankly at a monitor, but in an actual, physical room fraught with mystery with a timer counting down.
The folks in charge of Escape the Room on Nicollet Mall are good people. I told them that I wanted to come by, and Janessa told me to come right on in. They even put out a bowl of little candy bars just in honor of my arrival and I assume no one else’s. I brought along my friend Mark, not because I thought I needed help in the intellectual department, but because he’s a good dude and I enjoy his company and maybe some of the puzzles would have required heavy lifting which I could make him do. (It turned out that wasn’t the case, as Escape the Room is very accessible.)
We did The Agency, an homage to martini swilling, Aston Martin driving spies. You’re only given one objective when you enter the room: Leave the room. The rest is up to you. I wish I could describe the experience to you, but I’m under explicit instructions not to give anything about it away. What I can tell you is that that time Mark and I were locked in there were the most frenetic, memorable, and challenging 60 minutes I’ve ever spent. The puzzles are all part of a believable scenario, that you’ve stumbled into a spy’s den and have to search for clues and items in order to manipulate the cleverly engineered space so as to give way to new puzzles and areas and, ultimately, the way out. It was tricky without being cryptic, and when we were totally stymied a TV screen would chime with a subtle hint to keep things moving forward. It was helpful, but not hand-holding.
Here is the part of the article where I planned to brag about how smart we were for solving the room. We did not, but it was anything but frustrating. Right at the 59 minute mark we unlocked the most interesting secret about the whole place, and it was all we could do but just gawk at how neat it was before we had to call it quits. Do you ever wish you could find treasure? Escape the Room provides that feeling in full.
One day we’ll go back to tackle their other challenges: The Dig, an Indiana Jones styled room, and The Apartment, which looks like what would happen if Franz Kafka started dating your landlord. I haven’t had more fun in years.
By David Scheller