I feel like we, as a nation, have started to get bored more easily. Gone are the simple days when a family could while away the hours crowded around the radio with some hearty corn pone and lard fritters, imagining action-packed scenes of cops and robbers while grandma hollered for extra wipin’ leaves from the frigid outhouse. Nowadays we can’t even sit around the table to eat dinner without staring at our cellphones. It’s a sad state of affairs, yes, but it has also resulted in the emergence of some pretty interesting new activities – for instance, Demolition Ball, Bubble Soccer, and more recently, escape rooms – the last of which I was recently invited to try for a friend’s birthday party. I have to say, it was a unique and entertaining experience.
For starters, I had no idea how many of these places existed. Not being familiar with the concept, I was surprised to learn that – in addition to a couple of locations downtown – there was an escape room within a couple miles of my home in St. Charles! So if you’re interested in this kind of thing, do a quick search in your area and I bet you’ll find a few.
My friends chose an escape called “The Heist” at the Mastermind Escape Room which was happily zombie-free, and according to the website requires you to uncover “the path to the diamond,” while not being distracted by its “glittery gleam.” That sounded easy enough, and after several conversations with my friends who – as engineers – are pretty sure of their own intelligence, we had decided we would not only escape the room, but would probably do it in record time, no doubt embarrassing the proprietor into closing his doors for good. We believed this to the point that we probably would’ve been willing to make dinner reservations for halfway through our allotted time had we not started so late in the evening. It is an astonishing arrogance that we bear and, as is often the case, proved to be entirely unfounded.
We arrived downtown and stepped off the elevator to find a nondescript door, at the end of a nondescript hall, in an entirely nondescript building. If I had to describe the place in a single word, it would be “white.” The building was almost unnaturally featureless, except for the security cameras on the wall – which made me wonder if the game had started as soon as we walked through the front door. However, the barren appearance of the halls turned out to be no more than lazy decorating on the part of the building owner, whereas the décor inside the room was much more vibrant, in that the white walls were covered with the signatures of people who had played the games before us – or failed to escape and been murdered – or possibly both. It was still hard to tell what kind of ‘game’ this was at that point. The only other notable decoration was an original magic eye picture, which I immediately ran over to and stared at, because I used to LOVE those things where they were en vogue. What made them even better was that a lot of people couldn’t see them, so if you could it was like automatic admission into the cool kid’s club.
In fact, now that I’m thinking about it, I’m going to add a Magic Eye book to my otherwise sparsely populated Christmas list! They must still be around on Amazon, right? You can get anything on there – including fresh whole rabbit, and banana slicers – and I hear they’re actually testing out TWO HOUR Prime delivery in select cities, which is about the closest thing we’ll ever get to instant gratification without actually getting off our fat, antisocial butts and physically GOING to a store, at which point you can – and I am not exaggerating here – receive your purchase literally AS SOON AS YOU PAY FOR IT! But that’s pretty 90s, so it probably won’t catch on. St. Louis is of course not on the list of ‘select cities’, just like we weren’t on the list of select cities for Google Internet service, or the latest One Direction tour. We get passed over for all sorts of things lately (Thanks a LOT, Ferguson!), so unfortunately, it looks like we’re stuck with crappy two day delivery, which might as well be two YEARS when you’re REALLY excited about glazing your way through a 20-year-old picture book. But as usual, I digress.
Upon entering the room we were greeted by a nice man I’ll call “Todd.” I’ll call him that because I was too busy internally formulating my personal escape plans to remember his actual name. He gave us a rundown of the rules, which contained a lot of disclaimers about not ripping things off the walls, shoving things in outlets, or breaking things in general, and led me to wonder just how desperate the previous contestants had been to either win, or escape with their lives in the allotted time. I would very much like to see the video of the game that led to the outlet rule. After we had all agreed, and signed our lives and rights away on their waiver (I seem to be doing that a lot lately), Todd closed us in.
There were ten people in my group, and the first room was pretty tight and only dimly lit. In retrospect, ten was probably a few too many, though I wouldn’t go with less than seven. We all stood in the room, searching the walls and floors for anything that might be useful. The website also advises that you “Try to stay calm and efficient to make the ultimate heist before the police arrive,” which was harder than you might think with the clock ticking away, and 10 people offering many of the same inanely stupid suggestions over and over without listening to each other. For instance, there were many combinations to determine during the course of the challenge, and every time a new lock was found, the exact same conversation took place:
Person 1: “Have you tried XXXX on the lock?”
Person 2: “Yes, that was the first number I tried”
Person 1: “Did it work?”
Person 2:“…No. It’s still closed.”
Person 1: “Can I try it?”
Person 3: “Have you tried XXXX yet?”
Person 2: “We have 10 minutes left, and I am going to kill you all.”
So without giving too much away, I will say that it was challenging enough to keep us busy and frustrated for the entire hour. I also found that there was no single ‘leader’ that figured everything out on their own. Every player contributed to the success – and confusion – of the heist, which is why I recommend no less than seven people. It’s surprising the things you miss when you’re being timed. In the end, we were able to make it out with a minute and a half to spare, narrowly escaping a bloody showdown with police. This meant we were able to go free, and that no one – to my knowledge – was murdered. We even added our signatures to the wall and had a picture taken and posted on their webpage; all-in-all a successful night. We joked about going back and doing it again to try and break the time record, but honestly, I couldn’t tell you where we found half those combinations – there were so many things going on at once that it’s all a blur, but it was certainly different, and none of us needed to pull out our cellphones.