Quick! You only have one hour to escape from the serial killer’s lair! Or maybe you’re fleeing a Soviet base, or breaking out of prison. Freedom is tantalisingly close. If you can just work out the code for this briefcase, use the UV torch inside to find the password that opens this locker, then pop this balloon to get a key and assemble a… Perhaps this isn’t going to be as easy as it looked.
I was excited to hear that an escape room would be opening in Lancaster this month, but after receiving blank looks when I tried to talk to my housemates about it, I realised I might be alone in this enthusiasm.
It’s understandable. Emerging from Japan ten years ago and only recently coming to the UK, the escape room is a relatively new form of entertainment. But now it’s beginning to pick up steam: UK venues are appearing at a furious rate, with 750 more opening their doors since 2014.
Escape rooms invite you and your friends to work as a team within a unique setting to find clues and solve a series of puzzles. Certainly, at first glance, being pretend-locked-in-a-room might seem a strange way to spend an hour, but from my experience they’re surprisingly gripping.
For a start they are packed full of the unexpected. Cupboards turn out to be doors, boxes have fake bottoms and decorative props are more than they seem. In one such room a CCTV camera (rooms are usually under surveillance so that staff can offer hints and/or laugh at you) was actually a projector; in another a poker chip proved to be a magnet which would open a hidden compartment when placed in the right spot. With every tiny lockbox or pirate-style chest that you open comes a moment of excitement, as you discover a new clue or tool which will help you to progress.
As well as satisfying puzzle-solving, most escape rooms feature a prominently displayed countdown. The ticking clock creates a feeling of real urgency, giving way to sheer panic in the final 10 minutes. At this point the soundtrack kicks in loudly and you and your team run around screaming instructions at each other while the Russian national anthem surges triumphantly around you.
Though you’ve been communicating the entire time rather than sitting in silence, leaving an escape room prompts the same outpouring of animated chatter as walking out of a cinema. Now with time to step back and reflect, you inevitably discuss which parts you liked and didn’t like, but more enjoyably you also revel in your victory or laugh at what you got stuck on. Whether you won or lost, you’ll have had a good time.
I would recommend escape rooms to anyone, especially now that there’s one right on our doorstep. After all, when essays and work are getting you down, who doesn’t enjoy a bit of escapism?