A trip to Bristol last weekend with the Later Levels and GeekOut UK crew saw us attempt an escape room at Locked In A Room. It’s my second experience, the first one for a team-building event with work colleagues at Omescape in London. I assumed my years solving puzzles, deciphering messages and finding keys in video games would apply in an escape room to make it easier – but no. Troubleshooting skills do help, but escape rooms don’t employ the same techniques such as the use of lights and sound to point you in the right direction.
I first met Tim at Kitacon in 2014 with Kim and it was an instant friendship. The guy is an extremely likeable person and it feels like you’ve known him for years because he’s so knowledgeable and a great listener; it’s a pleasure to know him and Jake, who we met not long after. It’s just like old times even though I’ve not seen them for a few years, but that might have something to do with playing The Elder Scrolls Online with them every day for the last two months.
We selected the Parallax escape room, which apparently has a 45% completion rate. Not good news for a newbie such as myself but I was in great hands with an experienced crew. It was introduced by Dr Backstory, a mad scientist character, who shocked us with the news that time-travelling genius Professor Pottenger had been kidnapped. We were tasked with entering the hideout of the unknown assailants and obtain the vital intelligence needed to unearth this peculiar mystery before it was too late.
After practising our most evil cackles with him, we were let into our room with a 60-minute time-limit to escape by finding four different keys to unlock the exit. The room was quite bare and was themed as a bedroom with antique furniture and plenty of locked cupboards and containers. Avoiding spoilers, we found multiple typed letters containing clues about the occupant and their family using birth dates and hidden numbers to open padlocks. Despite the apparent difficulty level of the room, we were capable of understanding quickly what information was likely the solution, so it was more about finding where to use it that took most of the time.
There were enough pieces that the six of us could go off and investigate a puzzle before bringing it back to the group to solve it quickly. A variety of skills were needed to order random objects, solve world puzzles and transmit Morse code. My favourite was finding the right telephone number to dial into an old-fashioned rotary telephone which Ethan had no idea how to use due to growing up with touchscreens. I’m always interested in how they put these rooms together and in this case, resurrecting an old rotary telephone with dial and ring tones, then identifying the right numbers to dial gave us a recorded message which contained another clue.
For support, we could request clues by waving at the camera which would end up displaying a hint on the monitor alongside the 60-minute countdown. We didn’t need the clues although whoever monitored us decided to post some anyway, and by the time we realised we had already solved the puzzle. Let’s call this foreshadowing for how we actually performed. We were told that if we hadn’t found the first key in 30 minutes then we had little hope of completing on time; luckily we found the first key soon after ten minutes, but during the last half an hour I could tell we were all thinking we weren’t going to complete the room in time.
‘Assume the worst and you’ll be pleasantly surprised’ – and in this case surprised would be an understatement. We escaped the room with 12:33 minutes remaining! As we stepped out of the room, we saw the lobby was empty and all assumed we took so long that everyone else had already finished and left, but we were actually the first to finish. The event team greeted and praised us for how well did, saying they enjoyed watching us work. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience and it far overshadowed my first go at an escape room in London. Even though it felt like we weren’t progressing as efficiently as we would have preferred, we actually performed well above the average. Not bad for a group of people that sit down and play video games for most of their spare time.
We finished the day with a visit to Forbidden Planet for Ethan, a delicious meal and finally a few rounds of drinks and board games. If there’s one thing to rely on, it’s that Tim and Jake will bring a collection of carefully-curated board games to the pub that you’ve never heard of but are a blast to play. We had the most enjoyment with Unusual Suspects, which is like a judgemental version of Cluedo but the questions about the suspect rely on how you associate people visually; for example, are they are superstitious, do they sing the national anthem, have been on a cruise. Let’s just say that not all our assumptions were exactly politically-correct, but I think that’s the purpose of the game. We all learned a bit more about each other because of it.
After breakfast with everyone the next morning, I jumped on a train back to London to finish packing for my trip to Cologne for Gamescom. More on this later in the week. A big thanks and much love to Kim, Pete, Ethan and the GeekOut UK guys for the superb weekend in Bristol, I can’t wait for next one!
Often found in front of YouTube watching videos of cats if not playing video games. Loves sprawling open-world games with a soft spot for the Fallout series.