The Carolinas: Day 1

A day before my trip to Charlotte, I didn’t have a plan. I had only just confirmed that Christina (my wife) would not be available at any point on the trip to do anything with me. I had to leave home at 5:30 AM to catch my flight to Charlotte, and the night before I didn’t get home until 10 after staying out to grab dinner with a traveling vendor. I hadn’t packed yet.

I would arrive in Charlotte around 10AM on Thursday. My flight home was scheduled for early Saturday. That gave me two nearly full days to explore the area. I did what any good puzzler would do- I planned some escape rooms. I searched a two hour radius around Charlotte to better explore the broader region and fixated on the areas near Columbia, SC and Asheville, NC.

The first room I planned around was Lock, Clock, and Peril in Sumter, SC. I contacted the business and confirmed the games could be modified to play solo and set up a booking for their two most popular rooms back to back. With my plane scheduled to land at 10 and my first room at 1, I had only one hour to spare in my schedule, including the time it would take to get through the airport and rent a car.

My flight went as smoothly as I could have hoped for. I previously shared my grievance with United’s check in process, but the flight arrived perfectly on time and I got to the car rental desk within fifteen minutes after landing. As tends to happen to me, I got an SUV (fittingly, a Ford Escape) after requesting a compact, but since my plans potentially included exploring the Smoky Mountains, I didn’t mind in the slightest.

With not too much time to spare, I skipped lunch and snacked on granola bars as I drove southbound toward Sumter. The drive wasn’t particularly eventful, though my GPS route asked me to turn around in Shaw Air Force Base. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to explain myself at a military checkpoint, but thankfully the base had a turnaround in a visitor parking area I could use.

I arrived at Lock, Clock, and Peril slightly early. Tanya, one of the owners, let me in and introduced me to the business. Lock, Clock, and Peril has a nice lobby prominently displaying a wide variety of souvenirs players can earn by finding hidden items within their games- it’s a unique touch and a very cool incentive to pay close attention.

My first game was Transporter Trials. The concept is based on a test gone wrong with a new teleporter device. I’ve seen The Fly as well as about a dozen Star Trek episodes (and one Motion Picture) where something goes horribly wrong with a transporter, so I was a bit nervous about the concept, but thankfully nothing quite so horrible happened. I wont spoil what happens, but the mission starts with an extremely cool theatrical set piece.

The room was a delight to play. I’m always a bit sad to play an escape room solo since so much of the joy and challenge of a room is staying organized and communicating well with a team. This time I was doubly sad to play alone since it meant I wouldn’t be able to share such a cool experience with anyone!

I can share a few details about what I liked most about the room. The room utilized a very creative flow for the space, with puzzles regularly unlocking new areas to explore, sometimes with unexpected geography. There were many, many unique set pieces to interact with, and I liked how a lot of pieces introduced early didn’t pay off until late. I also liked the integration of narrative with the game- there are a few points where you might ask “why am I doing this?” and trust me, there’s a great answer for it! The clue system was also novel, with a solution for receiving hints that makes sense in the context of the game.

I successfully completed the Transporter Trial and found all three secret alien eggs, selecting a Lock, Clock, and Peril shot glass from their shelf to take home as a souvenir.

One other callout about a great customer experience: through my time at Lock, Clock, and Peril, Tanya offered me water several times. There’s no way she could have known (unless I looked particularly dehydrated) but I hadn’t had anything to drink all day and the bottles of water she offered really, truly, deeply hit the spot. I am extremely thankful!

My next game was Tomb Raiders. Though an Egyptian Tomb is a pretty common escape room theme, the room was anything but common. A lot of the same hallmarks I called out in Transporter Trials apply here- unique geography, cool narrative progression, a unique hint system, and lots of content to explore. The set was quite elaborate and expansive.

One particular obstacle / effect from late in the game stands out as something I wish Christina could have seen. The obstacle 100% looks perilous and dangerous to pass (and actually is, at first), and the way players disarm it to triumphantly move past was super unique- I had never seen an effect like this achieved this same way.

I also want to give a special note to how Lock, Clock, and Peril designed an Egyptian game that doesn’t overly rely on a journal for progression. I’ve found that many Egyptian-themed games require at least one player to stay glued to a journal for every single puzzle, and Lock, Clock, and Peril struck a nice balance with how they integrated notes and journals into the game.

I solved Tomb Raiders, as well, and this time got myself a Lock, Clock, and Peril-branded maze puzzle for my souvenir.

I can’t thank Tanya and Paul enough for being extremely gracious hosts, even to the point of making slight modifications to the games so they can be played solo. They have a few more rooms, and the next time Christina and I are anywhere in the area, we’ll be back to try their other games.

After the games, I sat in the parking lot for a little bit watching fighter jets from Shaw Air Force Base fly over. It’s probably very routine for people who live in the area, but for me it was really exciting to see!

For my next stop, I wanted to find a natural park to explore between me and Charlotte. I decided on Sesquicentennial State Park. After parking and walking around Sesquicentennial Lake, I explored the woods and found three Geocaches. They were further off the beaten path than I expected, but nothing too rough- I’m not sure what kind of bugs or itch-causing weeds are in the area but I didn’t run afoul of any trouble. The lake was nice and I even found a nice area with a waterfall and brook to relax at.

After the park, I searched the Columbia area for something unique for dinner. Right down the street was Very’s- a restaurant calling itself the Philly Cheesesteak capital of the south. I like Phillies well enough and ordered myself something a little different- a chicken Philly. The sandwich hit the spot, and I got right back on the road toward Charlotte.

I found that I had a little time to spare before Christina would be free, so I navigated to a location of interest I had read about online- the Super Abari Game Bar. A bar with arcade machines isn’t particularly unusual, but I had heard of this place as potentially one of six locations in the United States with a game called Enter the Gungeon: House of the Gundead.

When I arrived, I ordered a cocktail called the Creature Feature, largely because “Creature Feature” is a nickname I call my dog sometimes. The bar had a neat setup with a human-sized Game Boy up near the bar and a pit filled with interesting arcade machines including some of the newest rhythm games imported from Asia. There was no Gungeon, unfortunately, but I found another game that required me to pony up some cash to buy some tokens: Ivan Stewart Off Road.

I own one arcade machine, and it’s an Ivan Stewart Off Road machine. I’ve dumped countless hours into it, so it was only fair that I had to set a few course records on it before leaving Super Abari. By modern standards, the game is pretty tame, but I’ve always loved it.

After wrapping up with Off Road, I headed back into downtown Charlotte to pick Christina up from her event and head to the hotel. It was a full day, nonstop with zero breaks start to finish. I had every intention of following it up with an equally full day, so I did a bit of research about the Asheville area before calling it a night.

Thanks again to the folks at Lock, Clock, and Peril for giving me a wonderful experience to build my day around.

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