No escaping from fun or teamwork at ‘Escape Rooms’
September 15, 2018
By Kimberly Hosey
I have been lost in a one-story, medium-sized building. I misplace my phone dozens of times a day, and can read an unfamiliar language more easily than a map.
Also, I have a teenager. We communicate about as well as you would expect a teen and parent to communicate. We love each other, try our hardest, and often fail spectacularly.
I share these facts because my son and I tried an escape room for the first time last month, and if we can have a great time, anyone can.
Escape rooms are real-life puzzles: Participants are locked in a room with a team, and must solve a set of puzzles to break out before the time runs out. We decided to try our first adventure at Escape Rooms Mesa, 86 W. University Drive, Mesa.
With locations in Mesa and Heber and another planned to open soon in Chandler, Escape Rooms is the largest facility of its kind in the United States. Themed rooms like “Mad Hatter’s Tea Party,” “Roswell 1947,” “Hansel and Gretel” and the historically accurate “Legend of the Lost Dutchman” offer something for everyone. The variety — 13 rooms and counting — sets the location apart. Rooms are designed with storylines and varying levels of difficulty, so newcomers and kids can have just as much fun as teams of escape room veterans.
One of the newer rooms, “Zookeeper,” is geared especially toward younger adventurers. As a zoo volunteer left alone in an emergency with the zoo closing in an hour, players (ages 6 to 12) must solve clues to figure out how to care for each animal and avoid being locked in overnight.
Rooms are designed for groups typically ranging from 4 to 10 players. Two rooms are public — meaning if your group doesn’t fill the room, you might be joined by others — but the rest are private.
The staff is prepared to cater to novices: After signing in, we were directed to a wall of locks to “practice.” In addition to the regular number padlocks; you might encounter letter padlocks, vertical and horizontal combination locks, directional locks, and locks that open with keys. We practiced with each one, and were happy we had done so when we encountered each of the locks in our room. Each participant should take advantage of the practice locks. You’ll be glad once you enter your room.
And that’s almost all I can share — escapees (or those attempting) are sworn to secrecy. It’s part of the fun.
I can share the basic premise of our room: “Captain’s Quarters,” the first room when the location opened in 2016. The room is geared toward those new to escape rooms and locks you in, well, the captain’s quarters. Our game master set the scene for us: We had been caught exploring an “abandoned” ship that wasn’t so abandoned. The crew locked us up, our guide explained, but we wanted to leave on our own terms — instead of walking the plank. We had one hour.
And that was pretty much it. He left and locked the door. It took us a few seconds to get our bearings, but soon we were scanning high and low, walls and floor, behind and under everything; trying to find anything that looked like it might be a clue.
Our escape plan centered on opening a series of locks, but the keys or combinations were found in different ways. If you try it, look for things like numbers, letters, or other details — and look everywhere. It’s a puzzle-solving game, and clues were everywhere.
We started getting the hang of it uncovering clues with a little help from our game master. A screen on the wall prominently displayed the minutes and seconds remaining until it was plank-walking time, and the same screen also served as a display: When we were particularly stuck, a helpful hint would appear.
Finally, with one second left, we got the final key: the one to unlock our door and escape. We’re calling it a win.
We loved that this was an active entertainment. My son said the sense of uncovering a mystery and revealing solutions reminded him of a “video game in real life,” which is a teenage endorsement if I’ve ever heard it.
The immersive experience is also great way to sneak in some family bonding as well as a few lessons in communication, cooperation, and thinking outside the box. If you tell your kid to do something or enjoy themselves, you’re likely to get an eye roll. Have someone else tell them they’d better work with you or you’ll stay locked in and will lose the game, and they trip over themselves to join in.
If you’re looking for a unique activity to bring your family together, an escape room might just be the ticket. Kids are welcome in several of the rooms, in addition to the “Zookeeper” room especially for children. An adult (18 or older) must be in the room at all times, and if you’re bringing children under the age of 13 the facility requires booking a private room or an entire public room.
Visit escaperoomsmesa.com to book a room. Bookings are typically for four or more participants; prices are $25 to $30 per person.