I’ve never gotten the whole zombie thing. I don’t find them scary, and I haven’t been enamored with any of the various zombie films or TV shows out there, with the exception of Shaun of the Dead. Even now, as I stand here locked in a room with one that clearly would like nothing better than to take a swipe at me, I can’t say that I’m particularly afraid. She’s on a chain, so I’m safe…for now. My heart and brain are racing, though, because my friends and I have less than an hour to figure out how to get out of here.
I’ve MENTIONED BEFORE that I like solving puzzles and brain teasers. A few times each year, I participate in the puzzle hunts sponsored by various organizations, but those involve sitting at a desk or in front of a computer trying to work things out. But sometime in the last year or so, I started hearing about escape rooms that were bringing puzzle hunts into the real world. Or at the very least turning them into a live action role-playing game.
Okay. So the zombie isn’t real. She’s an actress, and we’re at “Trapped in a Room with a Zombie” run by Room Escape Adventures near Washington D.C. I have to admit, though, that she’s doing a heck of a job. The occasional scream/howl/wail she’s letting out in seriously unsettling. There’s also the minor problem that, if she touches any of us, we can no longer physically participate in the escape attempt. Instead, the victims have to go stand on orange Xs at the back of the room, where they can provide verbal help but can’t touch anything. Meanwhile, right by the locked door blocking our escape is a box mounted on the wall containing the key to said door. If this were a real zombie apocalypse, we just smash the box, take the key, and go. But not today. We have puzzles to solve to gather up the clues to figure out the combination to unlock the box to get the key to unlock the door to escape the room. All while dodging a zombie and trying not to look at the ticking clock showing our time dwindling away second by second.
Getting locked into a room and forced to solve puzzles in order to escape may not be everyone’s idea of a good time, but I was immediately excited by the idea. I had to try it. Unfortunately, there were none close by. I finally got a chance last December during a trip to Orlando, Florida. As of this writing, Orlando has three different puzzle/trap room establishments. We decided to try one called “It’s a Trap” (for more on it, check out tomorrow’s Pick of the Week. One hour later, I was completely hooked. I had to do another one. Even if it meant driving a bit farther away from home to do it.
We’ve made a little progress, but then the buzzer sounds, indicating that another five minutes have passed. The amount of time that is gone is bad enough, but that buzzer means that the zombie gets another foot of chain, which means that she is getting harder to avoid. Distracting her isn’t as easy as you would think either. I found a key, and we know where the lock for it is. Unfortunately, she’s between me and it. Even worse, the lock is within her range. I lob the key to one of my friends and hope that she doesn’t go for him as he scrambles to unlock it and access the clue inside.
The puzzle/trap rooms I’ve seen advertised all state that they are designed for teams. “It’s a Trap” says you can have up to eight people. “Trapped in a Room with a Zombie” can support teams of twelve and outright states that teamwork is required to escape. As terrible as this is to admit, I’m not good at the teamwork part. I want to see all of the puzzles for myself. It’s hard for me to be in a group and watch as they attack other parts of the room. What if there’s a clue they are missing? What if they mess something up that we need for later? Also, if I’m really honest, I want the thrill of solving the puzzles myself. Making that connection that leads to the next clue is a rush for me. I know I need to relax, focus on what I can solve, and trust in my friends’ abilities. There are just too many puzzles in these rooms for one person to take them on alone.
Our team has been decimated. Out of the eleven people who were supposed to be in the room with the zombie, four never showed up (I didn’t know them, but I found it really odd that they would spend $30 each on tickets and just not come), one received an emergency call from his employer and had to leave five minutes into the game, and three others have been touched by the zombie, removing them from active play. Three of us are left, including me, and the zombie can now reach anywhere in the room, so we’re forced to use a desk in the middle of the room as a barrier. Also, she has a nasty habit of snatching our clues if they’re in her reach. We’re not going to make it. There’s too much to do and too little time left.
The final buzzer sounds.
Everyone else in the groups goes on and on about how much fun they had. I had fun too, but the events of the room keep replaying themselves in my mind. I see everything we did wrong, and everything we should have done instead. I’m mad at myself for missing a couple of obvious strategies.
Another trap room has opened in the Washington area. We all agree that we want to try it out. We’ll do better this time. At the very least, we won’t have that zombie to deal with.
- Alan Decker
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