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Best Escape Rooms In Spain: 2023 Update

I was extremely excited to play games in Spain as Barcelona was my favorite escape room city in the world. This was one of the most ambitiou...

December 18, 2018

Top Escape Rooms Project: Enthusiasts’ Choice Awards (TERPECA) 2018

Rich Bragg, world record holder and creator of ClueKeeper took it upon himself to create an international ranking of top escape room companies and individual games. The rankings are solely based on the input from 70 escape room enthusiasts (including Escape Rumors, Escape Room Tips, Room Escape Artist), mostly from North America and Western Europe. The methodology used was similar to what is used to rank college football teams. From TERPECA's site:

"...each stack rank was used to create all possible pairwise comparisons between rooms (or companies) in a given stack rank, and then those were used to create a matrix of scores between rooms using all the direct comparisons from any of the participants".

While I am confident all the nominees are fantastic rooms, this list is perhaps more accurate for the US and the UK given the experience of the participants who provided ranking. There is a lack of Asian rooms which is likely due to the language barrier which favored English speaking participants. I would definitely use the results as a guide of which games to play but this must be complemented with local blog/enthusiast recommendations in order to obtain a good lists of rooms to play in a city.

We have played at five of the top ten companies and six of the top 25 escapes rooms with links to some reviews. Companies and rooms in bold have ratings while links also have a review.

Top Escape Room Companies

Skurrilum (Hamburg, Germany)
Palace Games (San Francisco, CA, USA)
The Room (Berlin, Germany)
13th Gate Escape (Baton Rouge, LA, USA)
Time Run (London, UK)
Escape Challenge (Delft and Zoetermeer, Netherlands)
Sherlocked (Amsterdam, Netherlands)
Cubick (Mataró and Madrid, Spain)
Escape My Room (New Orleans, LA, USA)
Locurio (Seattle, WA, USA)

Top Escape Rooms

Ghost Hunter Ernie Hudson and the Wailing Woman – Skurrilum (Hamburg, Germany)
Cutthroat Cavern – 13th Gate Escape (Baton Rouge, LA, USA)
The Man From Beyond – Strange Bird Immersive (Houston, TX, USA)
The Amsterdam Catacombs – Logic Locks (Amsterdam, Netherlands)
The Lost Treasure of Alexander Humboldt – The Room (Berlin, Germany)
The Edison Escape Room – Palace Games (San Francisco, CA, USA)
The Vault – Sherlocked (Amsterdam, Netherlands)
Lab Rat – Hatch Escapes (Los Angeles, CA, USA)
The Lance of Longinus – Time Run (London, UK)
Ghost Hunter Ernie Hudson and the Zoo of Death – Skurrilum (Hamburg, Germany)
Catacumbas [Catacombs] – Golden Pop (Barcelona, Spain)
An Avalanche of Oblivion – Claustrophobia (Escaldes Engordany, Andorra)
The Secret Lab – Locked In Edinburgh (Edinburgh, UK)
The Storykeeper – Locurio (Seattle, WA, USA)
Stash House – Stash House (Los Angeles, CA, USA)
Girls Room – Escape Room Nederland (Bunschoten, Netherlands)
Atlantis – Teorema Escape Rooms (Sofia, Bulgaria)
Alien: El Orígen [Alien: Origin] – Escape Barcelona (Barcelona, Spain)
Insane Paranoid – Quest-Art (Moscow, Russia)
The Honeymoon Hotel – Escape Challenge (Zoetermeer, Netherlands)
La Entrevista (The Interview) – Cubick (Mataró and Madrid, Spain)
Alice in Nightmareland – Claustrophobia (Moscow, Russia)
Tomb of Anubis – 13th Gate Escape (Baton Rouge, LA, USA)
De Ramkraak [The Ram Raid] – Project Escape (Nijmegen, Netherlands)
Frankenstein: The Awakening – 60 Minute Escape (Murfreesboro, TN, USA)

December 2, 2018

Exit Strategy Games: Conspiracy Theory & Torture Chamber (Elk Grove, CA)

Escaping Elk Grove!

Reviewed by Brad: I was amazed to hear an escape room had opened up in my hometown of Elk Grove, just south of Sacramento, CA. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I couldn't help but drag my parents and cousins to Exit Strategy to give their rooms a shot!

There are two games at this location: Torture Chamber and Conspiracy Theory. All of Exit Strategy's games are private rooms, and the price scales down for each additional player. They also have a second location with additional rooms in Mammoth Lakes, CA.

Torture Chamber
"You and your friends have been captured and locked in the torture chamber of a notorious serial killer.  In her dying moments, a previous victim left clues and puzzles to help you find your way out. Don’t take anything for granted. Even the most mundane item could hold the key to your survival. Don’t be distracted by the flickering lights or the eerie sounds. Your very survival is on the line. 

Escape … or die trying …"

Conspiracy Theory
"A video of a crazy-looking man comes on. He tells you that he is a local conspiracy theorist and apologizes for the gas he used on you, but he had to get away. He informs you that the gas will cause memory loss for about an hour. He also tells you that you are all members of the CIA. You’ve come to investigate him because it turns out his crazy conspiracy theories are turning out to be true. Next, he informs you that there are secret Soviet spies among you working as double agents in the CIA. Are you a real CIA agent or a secret Soviet Spy? Search for clues, solve puzzles, figure out who you are and who you can trust in 60 minutes before he blows up his apartment, destroying all evidence of his conspiracy theories, including you!"

Puzzles, Technology & Set Design

Torture Chamber: This light slasher-themed room is a mix of professional set design and Halloween store flair. It works, but it's not what many would consider an immersive experience. I was impressed with the effort put into the split-team experience at the start.

Most puzzles ultimately come down to solving combination locks, but they aren't entirely trivial and relied heavily on teamwork to be solved.

Conspiracy Theory: The set design is simple, but it works in the context of the narrative. I was excited to see some interesting puzzle types, and while combination locks are featured, and often (but not always!) prove the ultimate blocker to move forward, they are complemented by an engaging variety of puzzle types.

What sets Conspiracy Theory apart is the additional element of determining who is part of the CIA and who is a Soviet spy. This plays into solving some of the puzzles on the main thread as well, but also has implications for who actually 'wins' if you make it out. With a group of inexperienced players this actually proved more of a nuisance than an enhancement, but with a more experienced group I think this would be a welcome novelty.

Memorable Moments 

Torture Chamber: 4 cousins all stumbling blindly around with bags over our heads waiting for the room to start.

Conspiracy Theory: A puzzle reward dropping down with a bang and nearly giving the team members over 50 a collective heart attack.

Room For Improvement

The intro videos were incredibly cringe-worthy. It feels like they're trying to capture the same intro flair that rooms from some of the larger franchises have mastered, but they were entirely too long and the acting was especially bad, especially for Conspiracy Theory. They also tried to jam too much rule explanation into the video, which was then repeated by the game master, anyway, and left me feeling exhausted before the room even started.

We had an unintentional red herring from a bad reset in Conspiracy Theory, which also made the experience a little frustrating.

Torture Chamber had an underwhelming finish. In the end, the team was surprised there wasn't an additional room or at least some other kind of content or a climax. It sort of sputtered to a stop with the last puzzle and suddenly the door opened and we were told we won. Could have been better.

Overall Thoughts

Both of these rooms were fun, but Conspiracy Theory might be a bit confusing for first-time players.

  • Set design: Alright. Was a little hokey at times, but it still felt like effort was put into it. 
  • Difficulty: Easy-Medium
  • Price: $25-50/person
  • Number of players: Conspiracy Theory 4-12 (recommend 4), Torture Chamber 2-12 (recommend 2-4), private
  • Duration: 60 minutes
  • Overall Rating: Conspiracy Theory ★★★½, Torture Chamber ★★★
See their website here: https://exitstrategygames.com

November 11, 2018

Room Escapers Boston: Organized Chaos and Panacea (Boston, MA)

Room Escapers Boston has a few rooms spread across two locations, all within walking distance of downtown Boston. Being conveniently located was a huge plus as we were also close to Boxaroo and were able to seamlessly line up games without complex travel plans. As a duo, we decided to once again tackle a few rooms designed for large groups of 8-10 people. From their website:

"Organized Chaos
It’s the early 90s, and organized crime is running rampant in Boston. You and your group of detectives have stumbled upon a short window of opportunity to search a local gang’s front business for evidence to link them to unsolved crimes.  Better hustle though; they’re gathering their cronies, and their lawyer is filing an injunction. This is our take on an escape room whodunnit that has been designed to keep even large groups and advanced players engaged with a wide variety of puzzles! We allow up to 12 for this game, but recommend around 8-10. 

Alchemy. An aged science, but our last hope. An old world disease has been released from the melting permafrost, and you have been infected along with most of humanity. The Panacea, a cure-all of old, is believed to be located in a forgotten chamber of an old world apothecary in Boston. You must master the 7 principles of Alchemy in order to prove your worth and obtain it! We allow up to 8 participants for this game, and recommend around 6. 

Set Design, Puzzles & Technology

Organized Chaos
The goal of this game was to gather as much evidence as possible in order to take down the Boston mob. There were a LOT of things to collect, in fact the case files handed to us prior to entering the room outlined what we were looking for. We thought we'd have to read all these files but it was quite a lot to go through for an escape room. In total, there seemed to be about 30 pieces of evidence to find which must take quite a while to reset. The set was fine for being a bar that was used as a front by the mob.

The puzzles encountered were diverse and there was a lot of ground to cover. While you won't find a lot of tech in this room we felt we were completely occupied, in a good way, throughout most of the experience. Of course, playing this room at near capacity would be different, but as a duo, we were constantly gathering evidence and it felt like we steamrolled through the first part of the game. The second half of the game slowed down with more difficult puzzles and the evidence came in at a a much lessened pace.

This was Room Escapers Boston's newest game and some finishing touches we done up to a few hours before we played. The set was well done as an apothecary which is somewhat prevalent in the world of escape rooms.

There were a couple of puzzles that we felt were creative and novel that we appreciated. Unlike Organized Chaos, where the fun was solving a million different things quickly, Panacea was a more difficult game with a more standard escape room layout. The experience was a good escape room but the theme and game felt more standard.

Memorable Moments 

Organized Chaos
The frantic pace of collecting tons of evidence and successive/abundant small wins was incredibly delightful.

There was one solution that had us in awe and another that had me saying "omg".

Room For Improvement

Organized Chaos
We got stumped on one puzzle in which outside knowledge would have been tremendously useful. I would imagine that not many groups were able progress past this point without a hint.

The flow of the game felt a little uneven, perhaps biased given the frantic pace of Organized Chaos. Also, we understand that we were one of the first teams to play the game so there might have been some updates since we've played.

Overall Thoughts

Organized Chaos was a fun, fact paced room that we feel everyone would enjoy. Panacea, was a solid game and more of a traditional escape room. If you are close to downtown Boston area, we highly recommend visiting Room Escapers Boston!

  • Set design: Good
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Price: $30/person
  • Number of players: up to 12, public (we recommend 4)
  • Duration: 60 minutes
  • Overall Rating: Organized Chaos ★★★★½, Panacea ★★★★
See their website here: https://roomescapersboston.com

October 23, 2018

Escape Room World Record in Moscow, Russia!

We interviewed the Guinness Book of World Records holders for most escape rooms attempted in 24 hours! Rich Bragg, Amanda Harris, Dan Egnor and Ana Ulin were able to accomplish this feat in October and we had some fun discussions with them below.

The Facts

Rooms Attempted: 22
Rooms Successfully Escaped: 21
Location, Moscow, Russia
Team name: Bloody Boris's Burning Bluelight Brigade

Bloody Boris's Burning Bluelight Brigade

Some Rules From A Guinness Book Of World Records
  • Rooms must be at least 30mins long (teams can leave earlier if they succeed)
  • Participants must have footage of the full 24h or have an official present
  • No private transportation
  • Each escape room must be open to the public in a recognized venue.
  • Must achieve a 50% success rate

Left to right: Official, Rich, Ana, Dan, Amanda

Congratulations on the record! It's only something that we mere mortals could think about ever accomplishing! Let’s start off with a little about yourselves:

What is your room count number after Moscow and what is your success rate?

[RB] As of the end of the trip, I had played 566 rooms, and failed 24, for a success rate of 95.8%.

[AH] I ended the record attempt at 902. I left Moscow at 917. And I did one room since getting back home... at 918, my overall success rate is 92.7%

[AU] After Moscow, I've played 422 "classic" escape rooms (i.e. not counting things like SCRAP "Ballroom Games" and other escape-adjacent experiences). I believe this makes me the least experienced escape room player on the team. I'm not sure exactly what my success rate is, I don't keep track of it -- I play rooms for the fun of it, and generally am not very competitive. Off the top of my head, I think I might have failed to escape about a handful of rooms total (one of them during the record), which means something like a ninety-something percent escape rate.

[DE] I'm somewhere in the mid-400's. I still need to get my spreadsheet updated post-Moscow! At this point, including Moscow, I think I've failed something like 6 of those? For a while I could remember them all in my head, but now I'm losing track, I really need to start indicating that somewhere.

I had the chance of playing with all of you in NOLA (as a wallflower) and wow, I think we had 4-5 records in 10 rooms. I use the term "we' loosely. What is the ballpark number of records you think you have set? 

[RB] Actually, I can give you a fairly accurate number, as that's something I track!  It looks like my team has set some kind of record in 167 of the rooms I've played, which is just under 30% of the time.  That said, this number isn't too meaningful, as it is a lot easier to set a record for a room that hasn't been open very long, and I have no way to tell how many of those records are still standing -- I would guess a very small fraction.  Also I have found that the best way to set a record is to pick really smart teammates.

[AH] I don't keep track of those! I usually only accidentally set records...the only room I ever went into thinking "I'm coming for you, record!" is one where they said if we got out in under 45 minutes, they'd refund our money, and it'd never been done before. We got out in 43 minutes and change! Apparently my motivation to set records is only for money's sake, not glory. But I think Dan, Ana, and Rich have a bit more of a record-setting reputation than I do!

[DE] Oh I have no idea! Fewer than Rich, I'm sure. I think in Moscow we only set one, which isn't too surprising given how we were working through language and cultural barriers, and also escape rooms are super popular there.

I get this asked all the time so I'm sure you get it as well but ever consider opening up your own room? What would it be like?

[RB] No thanks. :)  Having played this many rooms and being friends with many owners, I have seen what it takes to run a top tier room and I can say without hesitation that it isn't for me.

[AH] It's a distant fantasy! I have gotten to know a lot of owners over the years so I know that it takes a special blend of creative juices, customer service savvy, and entrepreneurial drive that I don't think I have curated. I think if I ever made it there, though, I'd focus on whimsical and silly themes. I love the playful side of escape rooms!   

[AU] I would consider it, with the right people and mostly for fun. I haven't really given it any more serious thought than that, so I don't have any ideas on what it might actually be about.

[DE] I've consulted on room design which I think is about as close as I'd want to come. Running a small business -- hiring, firing, finances, real estate, permits, marketing, customer service -- that is so, so, so not for me.

About Moscow and the Record

How long did it take to prepare for such an endeavor?

[RB] Well, I first applied for the category to be created with Guinness in December 2017, so that's probably what I'd consider the starting point, and what followed was many months of prep work coordinating with Claustrophobia, refining the record guidelines with Guinness, and then all the logistics of the game day itself.  This took a little bit of foresight and planning you might say.

[AH] There were many, many hours of planning that went into the whole ordeal. I'm reluctant to even put a number on it. We chased a couple of plan tangents early on that didn't pan out. I spent a lot of time obsessively triple checking addresses and plotting out our points on maps to eyeball the transportation times, even though Claustrophobia had helped us with a lot of that planning, already...but without all that effort, I wouldn't have felt nearly as prepared, going in, so I wouldn't call it wasted!

Rich handled all the back and forth with Guinness, and Dan did our Go-Pro sourcing and testing. Ana and I were fitting in the rest of our trip's plans around the record. We also all had separate, other travel planned right before the trip, so we were feeling the heat even starting in early September!

What did you eat on the Record day?

[RB] Let's see, I think I had a light snack the morning before we started because I was prioritizing sleep over food and I knew that we had a fairly early lunch planned.

Then Claustrophobia generously arranged for lunch and dinner to be hot and ready for us at two of the locations.  For lunch we had some kind of delicious pita sandwiches and for dinner we had pizza. I did pack a bunch of snacks in my bag, but I think for the most part I forgot to eat them.  Amanda packed a bunch as well and I think I had a little of hers when she was passing them around.

In the wee hours of the morning towards the end of the attempt, the Claustrophobia crew asked if we wanted to have them arrange for breakfast at our next stop, but for some foolish reason we declined.  I think the bottom line for me was that I ate way less than I probably should have!

[AH] We had coffees from the hotel bar to start. Breakfast is for people with free time!

We ordered some sandwiches mid-day (which were really tasty but I can't remember exactly what style they were...maybe someone else will fill in that detail!), and pizza was delivered in the evening to one of the Claustrophobia locations for us. I snacked on some cheese and nuts and chocolate along the way, from my secret stash. There were water, tea, and coffee (and occasional cookies) in each Claustrophobia lobby so that helped keep us hydrated and caffeinated!

Mostly I fed on puzzles. And on the brainwaves of my teammates. Nom nom.

How many "must do" rooms did you play during the record and then outside of the record but still within Moscow?

[RB] "Must do" rooms is a tricky subject, particularly when discussing the ones we played in Moscow. My two favorite rooms from Claustrophobia (which as a company I felt had the highest bar for consistent quality over many rooms) was Alice in Nightmareland for its amazing set and particularly strong puzzles (which we played during the record attempt), and Ghostbusters for its special effects and production value (which we played after the record attempt).

Aside from those, the real standouts for me were the ones that pushed boundaries on what I'd seen before, which in a way means they're really only must plays for a certain subset of daring adventurers.  Quest-Art's Insane Paranoid was the best horror room I've ever played, for instance, in that it actually had some legitimate character development and plot to go with the abject fear.  Sacrum Labyrinth, also in the horror genre, was amazing as well for its *enormous* labyrinth of a set in a giant burned out abandoned building that you couldn't just find in your typical office park, not to mention their pet fox in the lobby!  And even KvestLocks's Home Video was noteworthy in that you just wouldn't see something like that in the U.S.

[AH] It's hard for me to point to any individual room and say "This room alone is worth getting a Russian visa, flying across the world, and playing" to other US enthusiasts, but to get to play a selection of Moscow's rooms and to take in the amazing city sights (and the delicious food), it really is a highly recommendable trip! There were points where it wasn't effortless to be a tourist, because of the language barrier, but we put ourselves in some of those situations to try and play more games. It was very accessible, overall.

Claustrophobia had a lot of high caliber rooms, and Moscow in general offers a lot of sophisticated options with actors in the rooms, especially if you want to explore the horror genre. I think if we were to plan this trip all over again, we'd have tried to make more actor-driven rooms (and maybe more horror rooms!) work, even though those aren't the ones I usually gravitate towards. For some of the actor rooms and LARP experiences, the language barrier is an issue, unfortunately.

Dan put together a document that has our "noteworthy games" called out, but my personal faves are:

Claustrophobia (from the record attempt)
  • Rise of the Machines -- This was luckily one of our first rooms of the attempt. It taught me a lot about the physicality and clever thinking that would be required of us in rooms throughout the rest of that day (and the week!).
  • Terra Incognita -- This was one of the "simpler" rooms that we tackled, difficulty-wise, but I liked the way it branched off into different themes. 
  • Breaking Bad -- As a fan of the show, this was a cool glimpse into what room themes are possible without IP concerns.
  • Houdini’s Academy -- This room asked us to do some things that American rooms wouldn't dare to. 
  • Stir in Springfield -- Similar to Breaking Bad, this is just the kind of thing you won't see in America.
  • Alien -- For one tiny fun detail in particular, this room will have a warm spot in my memory forever!
  • Arctic Bunker -- This room also has one late-game detail that will stick with me as a very cool way to give players agency and influence in a room.
  • Alice in Nightmareland -- The set and some of the puzzles of this game really blew me away, even though it was 23 hours in!
  • Geksa: Transformer -- This was a very cool take on a "white room" with some impressive mechanical and tech work.
  • AtmoQuest: Missing in the Forest -- This was a really well done outdoorsy, spooky room, with very cool uses of light (and the lack thereof).
  • Cubiculum: Pepelats -- I loved how playful this steampunk room was, with a few cool tricks I hadn't seen used before.
  • Quest Lock: Home Video -- If you like risque rooms, like Komnata's 7 Sinful Pleasures, this is a step up, with actors and some playfully raunchy interactivity.
  • Wember: Once Upon a Time in America -- This was one of (!) the rooms that encouraged drinking during gameplay, and I liked how the story progressed via interaction with the actors. It was also kind of neat to see a Russian take on what 1920s America was like!
[AU] There were a few standout rooms that we played during the record:
  • Rise of the Machines: some novel mechanisms, good set, tight puzzles.
  • Houdini's Academy: has a big number of large-size physical puzzles that fit the theme well, and some fun mechanisms and unexpected things that I haven't seen in any other room.
  • Alice in Nightmareland: gorgeous set, some standout puzzles.
  • Honorable mentions to Alien for being generally a well-executed room with a cute detail, and Arctic Bunker for some really unusual ways to interact with the room and the scenario.
  • Outside of the record, some other interesting rooms we played in Moscow:
  • Cubiculum: Pepelats: A very fun room based on an old Soviet cult sci-fi movie. Lots of humorous details, good puzzles,
  • Geksa: Transformer: This is a very cool room in the "white room" genre, very well executed, cool tech, etc. It is also completely language-free, which is not easy to do and very cool.
  • Quest-Art: Insane Paranoid: This is in the genre of escape room that is light on the puzzles (there are just a few tasks you have to perform), and very heavy on actors and immersion. I am not usually into horror, and wouldn't normally book and experience like this, but I was curious to see what a Russian interpretation of this genre would be. I was very impressed with the quality of the acting, the artistry of the set and the lighting, the fact that there was a story that made sense (and not just the usual "you've been kidnapped by a serial killer, here is some fake blood and a toilet for you to reach into" that you've see in the more mediocre horror experiences)
  • Barabaka: Moonshiners: This room had some good puzzles, real alcohol and real soviet-style soda that you could drink. I think we would have enjoyed it more if we wouldn't have been as heavily hinted along by the GM. I liked the soviet nostalgic ambiance and set, and the obvious love for detail that has gone into making this experience.
  • AtmoQuest: Missing in the Forest: Very well done room, with a "in the forest" theme, featuring a ton of actual cut trees that have been brought indoors.
  • Sacrum Labyrinth: This is a 90 min experience in a sprawling indoor labyrinth, light on the puzzles and with actors. This one stands out for me just for its sheer scale (2,000 square meters, they say on their site). We didn't escape from this one, largely because it was hard to find the items we needed in the dark labyrinth -- we spent a lot of time walking in what were probably literal circles in the labyrinth.

[DE] Everyone else's favorites are mine too. And like everyone else I'd say "must do" is a tricky thing under the circumstances. 

Fun after the World Record run

Do you feel that some of the rooms played would have been more enjoyable under more normal circumstances?

[RB] Not really - one of the best rooms of the whole trip was the last room of the record attempt, and I still feel like I could appreciate it just fine.  Plus in some ways the record attempt may have even added some level of enjoyment that might not have been there otherwise.  All told, I think it was a net positive.

[AH] A lot of Claustrophobia enthusiasts seemed to react this way (on their social media), to say there's no way we could have enjoyed all the rooms by playing this many in a row. I think I enjoyed the rooms as much as I would have, any other time, except I think I spent a little less time wandering around being wowed by set than I might have if we hadn't had the overall time crunch. It'd have been nice to get a walk-through for some of the rooms and to chat with the game masters, after, but for the rooms themselves, I think I still enjoyed them very much! I'm not what most people would call "normal", though. We've all put in our practice with marathons of 4-5 rooms, 7-8 rooms, and 9-11 rooms first!! You have to work your way up :)

[AU] We had all done marathons of ~10 rooms a day before, so the 22 room record wasn't that far outside of our "normal circumstances". One of the rooms I enjoyed the most was the Alice room, and that was the last one on our schedule for the record day. Which is to say that I don't think I would have derived more enjoyment under different circumstances. Maybe, with more energy, I would have made a lot more snarky comments about the things that didn't seem as good.

[DE] Maybe a little more. But maybe it would have been *less* enjoyable. Being in a permanent puzzle state, where your whole recent memory is given over to escape rooms, and your immediate future is also given over to escape rooms, really puts you in a different place, it's immersive in that way that only fairly extreme long term experiences can be immersive. Being in another country and all the weirdness that always entails is also helpful that way. There's something about the sheer surreality of it all that just breaks the brain down and all that's left is room and puzzle.

In how many rooms did Dan lie down on the floor? And of those times, how many were actually necessary?  

[RB] Shockingly, I don't remember Dan ever lying down during the record attempt, though that doesn't mean it didn't happen!  I guess he must really have been taking things more seriously than usual. :)

[AH] I lost count. But I would argue that 100% of the times that Dan lounges in rooms are necessary. He usually gets back up with some sort of valuable insight and/or a report on the dust bunny situation in the room. I certainly found myself slumping in corners and laying in the floor more on this trip than on most, especially near the end of the record attempt. And this was BEFORE we found the rooms that encouraged drinking! 

[AU] Not as many as you'd think. At least I don't remember him lying on the floor much during the record. He did lie on the floor in the "forest" of AtmoQuest, which meant that he was covered in dirt afterwards. The usual.

[DE] Hahaha as much as possible and it is *always* necessary!

Were there major things that you saw that wouldn't fly here in the US? Other than unofficial IP or the lack of emergency exits?

[RB] I think the biggest thing is that I feel like the US has really gone pretty far since the early days of escape rooms in making it so that clearly marked and discussed emergency exits and even things like handcuff releases are the norm.  That was not usually the case in Moscow - we rarely had an emergency exit, and in fact, in some cases there were buttons that *looked* like emergency exits that we were actually supposed to press as part of the game!  I didn't really feel unsafe, but it was definitely different enough that I took notice.

As for things like the more boundary pushing games that we played, I actually think they could fly in the US, at least legally speaking - they just might not be as popular here.  For instance, I would imagine some of the more extreme haunts in the US would probably not be too far off from what we experienced in the "hard with pain" horror rooms we played, and I would imagine that anything we experienced in Home Video could be experienced at your nearest friendly neighborhood strip club.

Now, this doesn't mean there *aren't* games there that go beyond what would fly in the US, I just don't think we played them.

And yeah, since you mentioned it, lots and lots of IP infringement. :)

[AH] Some of the adult themes and actor interactions would be dicey in the US. The unofficial IP and lack of emergency exits/safety protocols are the most notable. There were still plenty of low ceilings for the tall people among us to run into! Somehow I hurt myself on fewer splinters and exposed screws (and open cabinets placed just where I could stand up into them) than in the US, but maybe it was because I wasn't expecting safety! I encountered more uneven terrain and disregard for gravity inside the rooms than I'd have predicted!

[AU] Actors that touch you, some uneven floors, lack of emergency exits. I never really felt unsafe, but then we didn't seek out any seriously "underground" experiences. Honestly, I didn't experience anything that was shockingly outside of what I've seen in the US; just a little boundary-pushing here and there.

[DE] Different safety standards. More contact, more extreme content. Much more willingness to get physical! Have you ever been in a regular old escape room and suddenly boom it's a 25 foot climbing wall to get to a switch and you're like "welp, up I go" and then someone else comes through the door and says "hey... uh... whaaaat are you doing up there??" and you're like "flipping this switch, obviously". No? That's because you haven't been to Russia. Rooms here are all so boring with that whole "nothing above yea high" and "no physical force" business.

Dan: "Much more willingness to get physical!"

How were the people? Was it easy to get by with English or did Ana have to be the Communications Officer most of the time?

[RB] I found pretty much everyone we interacted with to be super friendly and welcoming, and even the best English speakers would constantly apologize that their English wasn't better.  That said, it was definitely a huge asset to have Ana around for the times when people couldn't or didn't want to speak English.  There were a few times when Ana wasn't around that we had to use Google Translate to communicate, and even those times worked out fine, so I do think a trip would certainly be possible with a bunch of non-Russian speakers - you'd just want to be sure to add some padding in your schedule to account for the expected loss of efficiency.

[AH] For the rooms, each location knew that we were coming ahead of time and that we needed as much English as they had available for us. Those amounts varied, though. A handful of our record attempt rooms were in Russian only, so we'd gather around Ana and watch her listen to audio or communications from the game master before relaying the important stuff to us. She was irreplaceable in that regard! We couldn't have played those rooms without her, at all.

On my own, in the city, I felt like staff and employees at most places went above and beyond to try to accommodate me. If they couldn't speak English, they'd try to find someone who did, or produce a picture-based menu for me to point at. Sometimes they'd say (in more or less great English) that they didn't speak English, so I just tried to stay cheerful and meet them halfway! In the middle of a busy cafe or restaurant, I sometimes felt like a burden. I wouldn't say it was 100% easy to get by with all English, but it wasn't terribly difficult for the types of places I was visiting.

For most of the week, I was incredibly spoiled by having Ana nearby. Naturally, once anyone realized that Ana could speak Russian, they'd default to Russian, even if they had been speaking English to us just before. Without her, I would have been relying on Google Translate and taking 3x as long to get anything done!

[AU] It varied a lot. Some people spoke good English and insisted in apologizing profusely for their "bad English"; some people didn't even try and insisted in Russian. 

Do you foresee yourselves revisiting this record if it were to be broken by say Sera and Sharan (they have done +1,000 escape rooms) or someone else?

[RB] I doubt it, but I certainly wouldn't rule it out if the circumstances were right.

[AH] I hope our crazy shenanigans inspire someone else to take it on! But I don't know that I think there's a lot of wiggle room...you're not supposed to include rooms that you've played before, so I don't know where else we'd try this! If someone tops it with 23, maybe 24 is doable, but if someone magically cranks out 26, I don't think 27 is in the cards (unless a huge influx of 30 and 45 minute rooms crop up somewhere!). I will likely be satisfied with "being the first" if it becomes a bidding war :)

[AU] If my teammates were jazzed to do it and wanted me to join them, I'd do it. But I'm not a very competitive person myself, so really I wouldn't care that much either way.

[DE] I'd probably let their record stand! I'm happy checking off the bucket list item, I don't need to defend it. And like Rich said, I'm not even sure where I would.

Will you hang the award up in your house? Perhaps above the bed? 

[RB] I might hang it up in my office.  Probably not above the bed. :)

[AU] No

[DE] Haha I don't think Ana would let me lol.

[AU] You can put it elsewhere in the house. Just not over the bed. We get enough weird dreams as it is already.

[AH] Rich has the presentation award, and I'm not sure of his plans for it! When we get the "real" version (with the number of rooms on it) I'm hoping to get a copy that I can hang up. My college diplomas have had enough time on the wall...time to put up some REAL achievements!

Lined up by height

What is ONE thing that you will always remember from this trip?

[RB] I somehow got to pet a cat, an owl, a hedgehog, and a fox all in the same weekend!

[AH] That's a hard question!! From the record attempt, I think I will always remember our Claustrophobia contact playing "We Are the Champions" on her phone as we accepted our award certificate!

[AU] The pet fox at Sacrum Labyrinth, named Mila. We spent a bunch of time playing with her before our play. I had never pet a fox before.

But from the whole trip...maybe the cat circus? Maybe eating pine cone jelly at our first hotel buffet breakfast? From the rooms themselves, I will always remember a number of things, but they're a bit spoilery to share :)

Aliens have come to annihilate Earth and their weapon fires in 60 minutes. The abort button is hidden in a room, locked behind puzzles, riddles and thankfully, no Sudoku’s. You can send ONE person, who do you send?  

[RB] Are you available Randy?  In the high likelihood that their tech is worn, I would want to be sure we had the best possible candidate to perform an Earth-saving "Randy Jiggle" :)

[AH] No Sudoku’s!? I'm out, I guess. I don't negotiate with aliens who don't obfuscate their plans with Sudoku’s. I'd send you in, Randy. I just want to watch (the world burn, unless you save it) from the control room!

[AU] Honestly, annihilating the human race might be a good thing for the universe, given the mess we've made. So maybe I don't send anyone in. Spend the 60 minutes taking my cats to a safe bunker, instead. Cats will inherit the earth.

[DE] Probably Amanda? Or maybe Tammy. They're the two people I know who do the most crazy room soloing and would be ready to handle whatever. Wei-Hwa would be on the short list too.

Thanks for taking the time with this interview!



Want to learn more about Escape Rooms in Russia or the World Record? 

October 17, 2018

Boxaroo: Conundrum Museum & Magician's Study

We were fortunate enough that the timing of our Boston trip coincided with Boxaroo's reopening of  their room, the "Magician's Study" after being closed for about a year. In this new location, they also opened up a second adventure, the "Conundrum Museum". We were going to play these rooms as a duo, and given that the max number of players was ten, we knew it would be a challenge. From their site:

"Conundrum Museum
You and your friends take a trip to the museum when something goes amiss... it seems like you've been framed! Lucky for you, you happen to be the world-renowned local detective-in-training. You'll have 60 minutes to solve the mystery and clear your name

Magician's Study
You're invited! Yes, you. Investigate the study of a once-legendary magician Viltore Madom. Your goal is to discover the secret of this mystical place... or at least as much of it as you can before time runs out."

From the Boxaroo website

Set Design, Puzzles & Technology

Conundrum Museum
We played a lot of museum themed rooms and set designs were typically a normal white-walled room with some portraits and antiques. While this held true for the Conundrum Museum, there was a fun centerpiece that came into play in the late stages of the game, which was pretty obvious from the start. There was a fun actor driven intro with some nice effects that set the mood and went to show that the little things go a long way.

The puzzles were clever and utilized the surroundings in an intelligent manner. We enjoyed the overarching cohesion between all the riddles that is often not found in many rooms. There was also a "eureka" moment for a late game solution that we had never seen before that delighted us. The technology didn't feel like it was a primary driver but that was because it was so well hidden. We had the chance to have a behind the scenes look and given that everything was automated, there was ten times more tech than I thought there would have been.

Magician's Study
Again, the theme of a study made it easier to create a believable set. There were quite a few nice well hidden surprises that sets this study apart from many other escape rooms out there. We don't mind recurring themes as long as there are surprises or clever devices that spring up along the way and Boxaroo had a lot of surprise elements.

The puzzles were fun and a lot of times we felt we knew exactly what we had to do, to only be fooled but our previous experiences. The game must have been designed to fool enthusiasts because it used common elements that you would find in many rooms but with a different twist on how to use them. We appreciated one of the reveals because of how it changed our perspective on how we saw things. The technology, like the Conundrum Museum, was seamlessly blended into the setting.

The staff was great and friendly!

Memorable Moments 

Conundrum Museum
The late game puzzle that opens up the final stage of the game was unique. At first we thought, "this probably isn't it" but of course it was.

Magician's Study
All the puzzles that looked basic but actually had a second level solution to them.

We also got a cool scorecard that we loved that mapped out our progression vs. other groups :)

Room For Improvement

There was at least one puzzle in Conundrum Museum that was tricky because of the use of a very uncommon word. Also, the setting for both rooms were perfect for the theme and well done but they were still simplistic in the grand scale of escape rooms we have played. Also, the scorecard we got had a bug that threw off the stats.

Overall Thoughts

Both the rooms were incredibly fun and we were lucky enough to play them as a duo. We highly recommend playing these rooms as Boxaroo is one of our top recommendations in the Boston area!

  • Set design: Good, fits the theme perfectly
  • Difficulty: Medium-High
  • Price: $29/person
  • Number of players: up to 10, private (we recommend 4)
  • Duration: 60 minutes
  • Overall Rating: Conundrum Museum ★★★★★, Magician's Study ★★★★½
See their website here: https://boxaroo.me

October 11, 2018

2018 Escape Room Enthusiast Survey Dashboard

Click the image to see the actual interactive dashboard. Best viewed on a large screen. 
I wanted to play around with Lee-Fay and Errol's 2018 Escape Room Survey data so I created this interactive dashboard. Unlike a normal infographic, you can filter data or click segments of the various graphs see the charts dynamically update. It's pretty cool if you play around with it.

The dashboard is best viewed on a large screen as it does not resize for mobile.

Some Tips

The filters on the top of the pages ("Gender", "Age", "What Country Do You Live In") will resize the visuals to only show data from your selection.
  • For example, if you select "United States" (from the drop down menu), all charts now only display data from enthusiasts with the response of "United States" for the question "What country do you live in?". It looks like the below, although it's hard to see differences in a small image so please try it out for yourself.

"United States" filter selected so all charts represent US enthusiasts

Clicking on a segment in a visual will show you how much that segment represents in all visuals as part of the entire data set (overall visuals will not resize). To clear your selection, click again anywhere on any chart.
  • If you click on the United States on a visual, in this case the map, the data will look like the below 
The charts still show the entire survey data but with the United States responses highlighted

You can quickly compare how various attributes and percent contributions change based on slicing the data by say age, number of escape rooms played or any other criteria found on the dashboard.

Let me know what you think and how it can be improved!

October 9, 2018

No Escape: Club Kiki (Seoul, South Korea)

First time playing in Asia!
The hardest part about doing an escape room is getting to the business in the first place. This is true in the United States, but even more so when you are a tourist in a foreign country where you can't speak the language. In this case Seoul, South Korea. We proved our worth when we spotted the sign for No Escape on the second floor in a side alley of the bustling Hongdae neighborhood. A few pro tips for anyone who wants to follow our steps: rent a SIM card or Wi-Fi egg at the airport or download an offline map of the city using the maps.me app (other map providers don't allow offline mode for Korea).

Here's an image of the sign, so you know what to look out for. As a bonus, you should try to memorize the main vowels and consonants of Hangul (Korean alphabet). It's not required, but it helps to get around. And you're an escape room addict, so you love deciphering symbols, don't you ;) It's simple to learn the phonetics without any semantic knowledge. We recommend trying out the Word Fireworks app, which gamifies the task. Or here's a simple table that lays out the letters into a Periodic Table of Hangul. Just focussing on the left and right columns should get you most of the way there (it's like a periodic table... nobody knows the elements at the bottom... except maybe you... because you're a nerd).

We were greeted by an adorable corgi wagging it's tail in the universal language of puppies. Cuteness overload! The host herself was a friendly and helpful young lady who explained the game to us between answering the phone's incessant ring from escapers asking for hints. We had no problems communicating with her.

 There are 3 rooms at No Escape. The host recommend playing the Victorian Haunt, as it is their easiest room and we had a first timer with us. However, after hearing the screams of current players trapped in there through the walls, we decided better and signed up to play their newest room, Club Kiki, for 23,000 ₩/person (about $20 US). It's a funny theme instead of a spooky one, hurray!

To our relief, there was very little reading to do in the room and everything was bilingual. It is impressive that they managed to translate riddles such that the answers share the same letter locks (unless they reset the room differently per language? Hmmm... a puzzle left unsolved). Anyways, the point is that we had no trouble at all understanding the messages. Solving them was another story... 

From their website:

"It’s Grand Opening night and the star of the club is missing… 
Help find her and get the club running, so we can get this party started!"

"대망의 클럽 오픈일 저녁, 클럽의 주인공이 사라졌다. 실종된 주인공을 찾아, 클럽을 무사히 오픈시키고 우리의 파티가 시작되도록 하라!" 

Set Design, Puzzles & Technology 

This room can be labeled as 1st generation. There's a lot of padlocks and not much technology nor automation. It's patched together from common items that anyone could obtain and put together, or so it would seem. But really thinking about it, achieving this degree of fun with such minimal means displays a great sense of game design. The set design managed to convey the theme despite being unrefined.

Memorable Moments 

That puppy in the lobby stole our hearts... And there were several references to him throughout the room plot. The storyline as a whole was lighthearted and entertaining. We liked getting to learn more about Kiki and her friends as time progressed. We had fun solving the puzzles. The pacing was great, with the first half being mostly serial, and the second half picking up the pace with faster shorter parallel puzzles. The mood was elevated with music and disco lights.

We did not manage to escape in time, but the host was generous enough to come in and help unblock us at the end - we had solved the puzzle, we just didn't know where to put the answer, which somehow happened to us many times in this room (we had burned the first of our three allowed hints on a similar problem around minute 20). Then she left the room and gave us the extra time to finish, which took less than 5 minutes. She did not have to do that, but it's most appreciated because the ending is funny and memorable!

Room For Improvement 

The interior design concept was fun, but it could have used more polish. Everything was functional (except 1 mag release that was finicky and cost us our second hint at minute 40), but many parts were rough around the edges. Some pieces of the wood construction could give you splinters if you were not careful.

Overall Thoughts 

It's hard to find escape rooms in Seoul for English speakers. This one was fun and good for beginners. It's worth the detour if you've already spent a few days exploring the city, or if you happen to be in Hongdae, which in itself is worth the detour. Hongdae is a hip and flashy neighborhood where students hang out for the food, the karaoke and the shopping.

  • Set design: fun, creative, lighthearted 
  • Difficulty: Easy-Medium 
  • Price: 18,000 to 23,000 ₩/person -> 16 to 20 $/person (depending on the number of players)
  • Number of players: 2-5 (we recommend 3) 
  • Duration: 60 minutes 
  • Overall Rating: ★★★★ 
See their website here: www.noescape.co.kr/rooms

September 29, 2018

From Lawyer to Escape Room Owner: Janell Woodbury, Exit Strategy Games (Sacramento, CA)

We had the pleasure of interviewing Janell Woodbury, owner/designer of Exit Strategy Games in Sacramento. Janell's background is pretty different from our last interviewee, Richard from ETA, and it's amazing how diverse people are in this industry.

"Not Mystique"
Let's start easy. Any hobbies or things that you are passionate about outside of escape rooms?

I love board games.  While everyone was drinking and partying hard in my early 20's, I was trying to enlist people to play board games.  It's probably why I'm so obsessed with escape room games.  It seems like an automatic transition from a love of board games to a love of escape room games. After that I'd say I'm obsessed with movies.  I watch 1-2 movies in the movie theaters every week. 

When did you first play an escape room and how was that experience? What got you hooked?

August 2015, I was in Louisiana on vacation.  I had heard of an escape room before, but the picture I saw of an escape room just looked like a boring classroom with some paper on the floor and some pulled out drawers.  It was something that was in the back of my mind to look into but I had not gotten around to it and that picture didn't seem that intriguing.  When we asked the hotel concierge in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, for suggestions on what to do in the local area, he told us about 13th Gate Escape.  I convinced my friends to go and so we checked it out.  We did the Collector, which is a serial killer theme.  The creators of 13th Gate Escape are Haunted House guys so apparently they really knew how to create a great serial killer theme.  To this day, that was the absolute best escape room I've ever experienced.  That particular room has the best surprises and set design of any escape room I've ever done.  The challenge, the countdown clock, the set design, the thrill of the escape, all of it, hooked me on escape rooms from day one.

You have quite a distinct background. Can you tell us more about that?

I have an undergrad degree in business with a concentration in entrepreneurship, so it's only fitting that I own three businesses. At 20 years old my father and grandfather bought an investment retail store and asked me to run it, considering that's what I was going to school for. I seemed like an obvious choice to run the business.  However, it was struggling, and I felt my ideas to grow the business were being severely limited, and I felt that I knew better than anyone else, so after 1 1/2 years I bought out my grandfather and started calling all of the shots.  I grew the the business into a self sustaining business, hired the right people and then decided I wanted more of a career.  So once my retail store was profitable I headed off to law school.  I received a scholarship to a San Diego law school so I moved down there for a few years for school.  When I came back I started my own law practice.  The best and worst thing to ever happen to me was going to that escape room in August of 2015.  Once I went, I was obsessed with opening my own.  My father had an old warehouse that was partially empty and had been for years.  So I rented out some space about 13 months ago and opened up my own escape room at Exit Strategy Games.  So now I have three wildly different business ventures and I tell everyone that's because I have A.D.H.D. of businesses.

What was the first escape room you designed and how was that experience?

I designed an escape from a serial killer theme room entitled The Torture Chamber.  It was exhausting yet so fun.  From start to finish it took 5 weeks to build out and get open.  I was working 15 hour days, it was exhausting but also exciting.  It's a pretty low tech room and to this day it needs a lot of updating.  However, people seem to really like it because of the theme mixed with the unique setup that requires forced verbal communication.  I actually got caught by the city not having the right permits and I got shut down for three months.  After that, there were a lot of regulation and changes I had to make.  It was a very expensive process and it definitely took a lot of fun out of this business. But those first 5 weeks of wildly fast creation, building it out, and receiving so much positive feedback for the first few months we were open was an absolutely magical experience.

Imagine you had $10,000,000 to build any type of escape room? What would it be?

Originally my main goal was to eventually build a multi-level escape room with a slide.  My imaginary multi-million dollar escape room would definitely have multiple slides.  In this imaginationary world do I get to get rid of the fire code too? Haha! If I could get rid of the fire code, I'd have an amazing mix of an indoor obstacle course, adult playground, maze, and an escape room.  There would be multiple levels, stairs, and slides.  I've spent way too many hours daydreaming about this, and I haven't narrowed down the theme to just one, but it would either be themed to steampunk, Labyrinth (80's movie with David Bowie in spandex), or the Cube (90's movie where the characters ran from high tech killer cube room to high tech killer cube room in different colors, trying to escape). The room would look like a Hollywood movie set and it would have the most tech out of any escape room on the face of the planet.

Top 5 escape rooms you've played outside Exit Strategy?

1.) Magic Kingdom, Maze Rooms
2.) Abyss, Maze Rooms
3.) Red Giant, Questroom
4.) Fun House, Crossroads
5.) The Collector, 13th gate

Honorable Mention: Zoe, Escapade Games (more of an interactive experience than an escape room, only reason why it didn’t make it in my top 5)

Choose one experience and explain why: Puzzle heavy room vs. Immersive room with theatrics 

Tricky question, but I'd go with immersive room with theatrics if I had to pick.  I also consider theatrics "tech" so hopefully I'm not off base here. If anyone has done the rooms on my list they'll see they range from high to low tech, and from average puzzles to excellent puzzles.  I either love the set design and theatrics so much, I can overlook some blah puzzles.  Or, I love the puzzles and fun experience so much, I can overlook the lack of theatrics or tech.  However, an incredibly heavy puzzle room like Palace Games (which is beloved by everyone), is actually exhausting to me and takes most of the fun out of the experience.  I like more simple fun games that make you think but not feel like a complete idiot.

What are the craziest things you have seen in an escape room as a gamemaster or player?

We have video of an inebriated player shoving our, "It was my fault" sign up her sweatshirt and walking out with it.  Believe it or not, we called her and she returned it later apologizing.  Also, we have two chain link fence gates in one of our rooms, a player disassembled half of one of the gates before we caught them and now we have to tell everyone not to disassemble our gates.  We also currently have a huge hole in the wall from a player kicking a hole in it.  Last but not least, it wasn't the "craziest" thing I've ever seen, but the most time consuming thing a player ever did was trace over an entire black light puzzle in regular black ink.  Painting over black light is nearly impossible without the right primer, and it cost a lot of time and money to find that right primer, and it literally took days to fix the problem.

Wouldn't it be cool if we could get a highlight reel after playing a room? More to catch the fun cheerful parts without spoilers.

Yeah, I've talked about that.  Without some kind of tech to do it, it seems very time consuming to put together though.

You meet an alien race with the opportunity to fly off with them. They seem benevolent but you are unsure if you will ever come back. Do you go or stay?

Stay! I really like my life, my family, my friends and my dog.  I'm sure the aliens are nice and all, but I'm pretty comfortable and happy where I'm at.

Thank you for your time Janell!