One of the things I love about escape rooms is needing to problem solve in a variety of circumstances. It adds a unique twist to the game and tests skills you never new you had. I’ve reflected a little on my handful of most unusual uphill battles from around the world, and I’ve rank-ordered the list below.
6) Puzzling with a Slight Buzz (Chicago, IL)
First off, I need to put a disclaimer out there- for the escape room business’s sake, please do not attempt escape rooms while drunk. Even if you can play without destroying the room’s props, it’ll put the business in the uncomfortable situation of having to either refuse you admission or to sweat bullets and pray you don’t damage their props.
That being said, I was inserted into one situation where I had to play after drinking quite a bit of alcohol…
Christina and I were in downtown Chicago grabbing dinner before an escape room (Safehouse Restaurant- highly recommended for escape room enthusiasts). The restaurant was busy so by the time we ordered, we only had a few minutes to eat and get to our room. We decided to split a cocktail, and when it came, we were shocked that it was a fishbowl-sized shareable cocktail.
Well, I didn’t want to let the thing go to waste, so while Christina was booking our ride to the room, I finished the drink. It wasn’t that strong, thankfully, but there was a lot of it. I was still able to say the alphabet backwards afterward- though maybe it wasn’t a good sign that I felt I had to.
When we got to the escape room, we discovered that only two groups had ever solved the room in under an hour after factoring in the penalty for hints. We were up for the challenge and powered through- so maybe I was better than my normal?
Once again, I want to reiterate, I would never attempt a room if I was actually drunk. I probably wouldn’t have driven right away that day, but I could still walk in a straight line and talk clearly, and more importantly, not give an escape room second thoughts about allowing me to play their game. But lesson learned: do not order a cocktail when you have to be at an escape room in twenty minutes.
5) We Don’t Speak the Language (Ensenada, Mexico)
At an escape room in Ensenada, I found that the room was entirely in Spanish. In my group of four, I was the only one with any history of learning Spanish, and it had been fifteen years since I had last used it.
Surprisingly, it came back to me pretty well, and generally well enough for me to translate everything for the group. My teammates would bring all clues up to me and I would translate to the best of my ability to keep my team going.
My biggest concern was actually that my group might break a rule or accidentally damage something because we couldn’t understand the full briefing at the start of the room. Thankfully we were careful with everything and never ran into trouble.
This obstacle could have been worse if I hadn’t had such good teachers in junior high and high school. I’m sure this isn’t what my teachers envisioned for how I’d use the language, but it was very valuable to me.
4) Beat the Record or Lose (Gurnee, IL)
My friend Tom and I only had to drive about thirty minutes to get to our escape room. That thirty minutes doesn’t factor in what happens to a highway when there’s a bad accident during rush hour. By the time we arrived at our room, we were terrified that we wouldn’t be allowed to play.
The game master offered to allow us to play the game, but with a significantly truncated clock. We had only 35 minutes rather than the full hour, and clearing the room in under 35 minutes would make us the new record holders by a good margin.
Undaunted, we dove in. We strategically used our hints to keep us moving at any point where we seemed on the verge of slowing down and kept a steady pace throughout the room.
At the end, we managed to solve the room with only seconds left on the clock, hitting our target and blowing away the old record. I always relish the opportunity to tackle a challenge where many have failed before me, so an additional constraint like this only adds to the adventure.
3) Airport to Escape Rooms (Singapore)
I didn’t see the sun for more than 23 hours. I left Chicago right after sundown and flew west. In San Francisco I had to run to make my connecting flight, and my checked bag didn’t make it, leaving me with no clothing or personal effects. I continued west to Singapore, chasing the sun around the planet.
So what do I do when I arrive in Singapore after 23 hours of travel, which came after a full day of work in Chicago? An escape room, of course.
I admit I was completely exhausted, but the adrenaline kept me going. My lowest moment was when my exhaustion caused me to lose my grip on a sheet of paper with an important clue, and the paper surfed the air and sailed under the door to the next locked room, skidding across to the far end of the room.
Somehow, this didn’t cost us the game. We were able to solve three out of the four digits of the door’s lock with what we still had, and we were able to make an educated guess on where the missing digit fell in the combination (only four possibilities!) and try digits 0-9 in that slot.
After the first room, I caught a bit of a second wind and was able to explore all day before finally catching some rest.
2) Completely Handcuffed (Las Vegas, NV)
My dad and I have had many unique adventures together, but the most unusual was being handcuffed together in Vegas. Handcuffs aren’t that unusual in escape rooms, but the way we were handcuffed here was just plain cruel.
Facing each other. My left hand to his right hand. My right hand to his left hand. With only two of us in the room, we could barely function.
This unusual circumstance came about when we played back to back games and blew away the record for the first game. The game master felt we needed a little more of a challenge than the average group, so the extra handcuffs were added.
Insult to injury, we solved the entire room handcuffed this way, when there was a handcuff key hidden somewhere we could have accessed 10 minutes in. But it’s very difficult to search high and low when you have no hands to do it with!
1) High Fever Escape Room Marathon (Memphis, TN)
My dad was traveling for work in Memphis, so I flew out to meet him Friday afternoon, solve a bunch of escape rooms, and fly home Saturday evening. We booked a long queue of rooms across Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi.
Right after landing in Memphis, I started feeling shockingly cold. Though the temperature was in the 90s, I couldn’t get hot enough, and in any place with air conditioning, my teeth were chattering. We planned to meet someone for dinner, but I sat shivering under a pile of blankets in the hotel room.
One thing about my dad is that while he loves playing escape rooms, he hates playing them without me. So one way or another, I had to pull through and solve some puzzles.
The first two rooms were ok, but I lost steam quickly. I had to sit out one game, laying in the car and soaking up the outside heat, before rejoining our group. My dad was ready to kill me- the group lost the room miserably without me.
My first game back, I could barely stand. As time dwindled, I was the only person in the group who saw the solution to the final puzzle, and I had to push myself to coordinate the efforts to finish off the room. We got out of that one, and the adventure continued late into the night.
The next day I caught a second wind and felt better as I solved a few more escape rooms. Then I flew home and was bedridden for a week with a high fever.
Thankfully, no one I played alongside on that marathon got sick afterwards!
Interestingly, when I asked the Escape Room Enthusiast group for their most difficult scenarios, I found that many others have experienced very similar challenges. This can actually act as inspiration for puzzle design for me – mimicking the concept of unusual impairments or constraints can lead to unique experiences!