The theater was shabby, with a disheveled group of marionettes hanging in a little stage at the front and wooden tiered seats so old and flimsy they looked like they’d fall apart if an audience member guffawed too hard. Dust coated many surfaces and the only contemporary items in the room—a massive digital wall clock and a mysterious, multi-colored wall panel of flashing lights—just added to the weirdness of the setting. In short, it was not a place one would want to spend much time.
Which made escaping from it all the more satisfying. Because that’s what I, my husband and a band of over-excited 12-year-olds, were there to do. For my daughter’s birthday we decided to take part in what is a trendy new activity in cities around the globe: a game in which participants have just one hour to solve a host of puzzles, unlock locks, and crack codes, in order to escape the space they are in.
The escape we did was in New York City at Escape the Room (www.escapetheroom.com; for bigger groups they use a theater). It’s just one of many such “reality games” that have popped up across the globe, from Munich (Hintquest, http://hintquest.com) to London (Clue Quest, http://cluequest.com and Hint Hunt, http://hinthunt.co.uk) to Brantford, Ontario (Escape Key, http://escapekey.ca) and Ashdod, Israel (Exit Game, http://www.exitgame.co.il). The company Escape Hunt (http://escapehunt.com) seems to be the biggest player in the field, with 117 escape rooms in Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, France, Australia, the Netherlands, India, Turkey, Mexico, Spain and soon, the United States.
I’m guessing our little group’s reaction to the game—a buzz of adrenaline, an obsession with the ticking clock, the unspoken worry we wouldn’t be smart enough to figure everything out—was similar to that of other players around the globe. We raced around searching for keys; put together xylophones that, when played correctly, opened boxes; dug deep into marionette mouths; and did everything we could possibly do to get out of the darn room. We managed to escape with just one minute and thirty seconds left on the clock, squealing and shrieking as we dashed through the door.
And I have to say, it was a heckuva lot of fun.
But is it a worthy substitute for going to, say, the Louvre in Paris? Or a Broadway show in New York City? Or on a river cruise in Bangkok? These games are, after all, being marketed to tourists, a group that has a notoriously limited amount of time.
The short answer would have to be “maybe”. For return visitors, especially those with kids in tow, these games can be a good break from the merry-go-round of sightseeing. And since some of the games take place at night, they’re certainly an option for travelers who want an alternative to the bar-and-club scene. Do they expand one’s mind in the same way that a visit to a great museum or historic site can? Not even close. But as with everything in travel, and in life, it’s a matter of figuring out priorities….And my priority, quite frankly, may be breaking out of another room, somewhere else in the world, on my next trip.
Er, just for journalistic purposes, of course.