Get put to the test in Europe's escape rooms
I left my purse with all forms of identification and communication in the locker and was handcuffed to a wall in a dimly lit office. This is the start of a horror movie, I thought. Adrenaline replaced apprehension as the minutes ticked by. My teammates and I brainstormed a way out — we had just one hour to escape.
Real-life puzzle rooms
Escape rooms rely on the same fundamentals found in point-and-click exit-the-room video games, except that participants work cooperatively. The minimum and maximum number of players (and recommended ages) vary by location, as do the storylines. Depending on your group size, you will play privately or be paired with strangers.
Most escape rooms incorporate a number of puzzles. You may have to answer riddles or turn on a blacklight to discover hidden objects/messages. Perhaps you’ll need to crack the lock combination, solve a cipher or “go fishing” by using available objects (i.e. a remote control car, hook, magnet) to reach other crucial items. Each right answer gets you closer to finding out who got away with murder, embezzled funds or ran the drug cartel. Once you find out who done it, you’ll be free!
Escape rooms are not scary like haunted houses; ghouls are not going to grab you. Fear and gore are not a part of the mystery unless you pick one with a horror theme.
Many companies host rooms for English speakers in European capitals and smaller cities. A quick Google search of the city name and “escape room” or “adventure room” will give you a list. Escaperoomsmaster.com has a database of more than 700 in Europe. You can filter results based on number of players, difficulty, price and customer ratings.
Also check TripAdvisor for those most recommended by travelers. At some destinations, the top attraction is an escape room, rather than a museum, cathedral or castle!
Make reservations and bring the amount due in the local currency; prices range from 5 to 35 euros per person. Finding the rooms is often as much a challenge as the puzzles inside because they are located in office buildings with little signage; if the GPS says it will take 10 minutes, plan on 20.
Beating the game
Escape rooms are challenging; otherwise, they wouldn’t be fun. A small percentage of players win, but there are things you can do to increase your chances of success.
• Play exit-the-room computer games to brush up on your logic and reasoning skills.
• Look for hints right away. Flip over, open and move everything (unless instructed not to) — from artwork and rugs to books, drawers and files — again. It usually takes more than once to uncover clues.
• Split up, but communicate constantly. You’ll cover more ground if each person searches a section and describes what he sees to the group.
• The game master moniters your progress, so ask for help if you hit a wall.
• Remember that winning is great, but you’ll have fun even if you don’t triumph.
Every room is a unique adventure, and you’ll be hooked the first time you open a locked door. My husband, friends and I have beaten three so far (Kaiserslautern and Cologne, Germany and Amsterdam, Netherlands). But my favorite is the Architect by Sherlocked, set in the catacombs of the old Amsterdam stock exchange during the 1930s. Sherlocked recently opened the Heist, where instead of breaking out, you must break in. I want to know what’s in that vault … don’t you?