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.
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!
- 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. :)
[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?
- Dan's detailed Russian Escape Room Manifesto - although it's not meant to be a guide for escape rooms in Moscow, I would use it exactly for that purpose :)
- Room Escape Artist's interview with the team
- A full set of rules from the Guiness Book of World Records