By Emily Harrington
I can’t help it. Don’t judge me. I love the Real Housewives franchise. All of them. Except for the unfortunate season in Washington, D.C. I’ve kept connected to pop culture through the endless seasons. I used to be “in the know” a lot more before my mind became bogged down with the many processes that go into keeping my sons alive and well. It turns out — I’m now behind the times. Two separate housewives franchises participated in “escape room” events during their frequent outings. I thought they looked like fun, but I didn’t think much of them as I assumed they were relinquished to big cities, mostly on the coasts.
Boy, was I way off base. Since the beginning of the 21st century escape rooms have spread all around the world, the U.S. and throughout the last year have become well represented in our own community.
We are always looking for fun and physical activities to do as a family — or as a couple. The escape room concept seemed right up our alley. The concept is an interactive game where you are given a scenario to solve in a specific amount of time. The scenario plays out in a physical room so that the players are right in the middle of the game. No video games or computer screens here. You must touch and look at everything in the room in order to open a lock, solve a puzzle, answer a riddle, etc. Each puzzle you solve provides you another clue while progressing you in the live-action game, ultimately freeing your group from the room. Games are set in a variety of fictional locations. Prison cells, dungeons and space stations are some popular settings. Communication, critical thinking and observation are the key skills in order to “escape” the room in the allotted amount of time. Many corporations use the escape room adventure as a team building exercise.
We gathered a group of seven and participated in “The Cabin” at Champaign-Urbana Adventures in Time and Space at 123 W. Main St. in Urbana. It cost $25 per participant. The leaders took us through the rules of the game before leading us to the location where our room (or series of rooms) was set up. The rules laid out an offer of three hints. (The escape room leaders are watching you from cameras. If you need to talk to them, you can talk via a set of walkie talkies.) With hints the success rate of the game was approximately 50 percent. Without hints the success rate was less than 10 percent. He gave a brief prelude to the game while mapping out the story of campers lost in the woods. Ultimately, we had one hour to find the gas can that would fill up our broken down vehicle before driving us away from the murderous cabin owner.
Our group, consisting of my family, had a great time breaking down the elements in the room while solving the various brain teasers. It was hard. It got intense at times, but I thought the game was so well set up. I was really impressed with the level of thought and sophistication behind it. We unlocked the final lock that revealed the gas can with only a few minutes to spare.
Just like with anything else, as soon as I started telling people we were going to an escape room, I found out the extent of their popularity. So many people had been to one in our area. And most solved the final puzzle just in the nick of time. We brought our 13-year-old nephew with us, too. The game was appropriate in terms of content. He was excited and engaged right along with the rest of us. That’s hard to do with a 13-year-old boy!
In fact, all the room curators I talked to said that most of their games were family friendly. I think the puzzles take an education of at least middle school to even begin to solve. Remember the hints I mentioned? Well we took them. All three of them. Funny enough, the men in the group didn’t want to take them while the women wanted more. Kind of like asking for directions when lost I guess? We would not have got out of the room if we didn’t take those hints. I am certain of that. The hints definitely nudged us in the right direction. Don’t be stubborn! Don’t be afraid to make a mess!
Each of the three escape rooms in our area have different scenarios to choose from, many with different age recommendations and levels of difficulty. They are all more than $20, and they all require participation in groups with advanced registration. The planning and price are well worth the experience. My husband couldn’t stop talking about how much fun he had. Grab a group of coworkers, girlfriends, a few couples or family members while trying your hand at saving the world or in some cases your life. Maybe you will find a hidden temple or keep The White House from blowing up — all in less than an hour.
Here’s what’s available in our area:
Also, SMARTpath Education Services Escape Champaign will come to you to host a game for a group!
Have any readers visited escape rooms in or out of our area? Comment below if you want to share your experience! No spoilers please!
Emily Harrington is a Chambana townie. She left her 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. job in communications so that she could be a 24/7 mom to two busy boys. Still interested in writing, Emily uses some of naptime to practice her passion and keep her mind right. Emily is a happy wife with a happy life because she fell for a fellow townie. Emily usually finds herself engulfed in balls, blue and belly laughs.