You must escape in sixty minutes—or else—using only the wits of your group (as this group did).
by Ann Fowler
AUSTIN – Looking for something different to do with family or friends? If you enjoy challenges, solving puzzles and uncovering clues—all while the clock is ticking—you may enjoy the interactive adventure of an Escape Room.
What is an Escape Room? For the most part, it is a room where usually six to ten people gather to uncover clues and solve puzzles to reach an overall goal within a given timeframe—usually 60 minutes. The complexity of the game requires the group to divide into smaller teams to examine the room, looking for clues. What are they looking for? Perhaps codes needed for a safe or lockbox, which will hold clues to other puzzles.
Of course red herrings—misleading clues—will be plentiful, and that’s part of the fun. Often an escape room staff member monitors the team to offer clarification—or in some cases clues—upon request.
If a game has not been solved when time expires, some rooms may allow an extra minute or two if the group is close to solving the final puzzle. At lease one Escape Room charges for an extra 15 minutes. If the group fails on its mission, a staff member walks the group through the puzzles and solutions. While it is satisfying to escape the room by the deadline, for many that is not the ultimate goal. When all is said and done, you are there to enjoy the experience and have fun.
Most games last 60 minutes, but require a 15-minute briefing beforehand with a 5-minute debriefing afterward.
Why would you participate in an Escape Room adventure? Think family celebrations, having fun with friends or work-related teambuilding.
From San Marcos to Leander, the Austin metro area has at least a dozen escape or puzzle rooms with a wide variety of themes and levels of difficulty. If you’ve got 60 minutes and $20 or $30 (per person), you can participate in one of these real-time adventures. Want to foil a Russian spy? Escape from pirates? Stop a CIA rogue from detonating a bomb? You can find a nearby escape room to give you that challenge.
Parents wanting to participate with children can check the minimum age limits. Some accept 10-year-olds; some will make exceptions to that. Most prefer an age limit of 13. The number of players varies on the room. If you feel comfortable playing with strangers, you can buy one or several tickets; if more tickets are sold to that game, you will be playing with people you don’t know. At least one Escape Room assures players they will never be matched with strangers.
Many of the rooms offer coupons on social media such as Groupon, which can be a good way to sample these outings.
You really have to try one—or three—to get a sense of what they are about. But be forewarned—they can be addicting. Be sure to ask questions beforehand, such as:
- Can a staffer clarify information during the game or should you be seeking a particular tool?
- Are you serious about the deadline, or will you allow an extra minute or two if we are really close to the solution?
Staffers will tell you what you can/should touch and what you cannot—particularly helpful if there is a MacGyver in the group.
Many teams gather for coffee or a meal after the game to find out who did what when. During the chaos of an Escape Room adventure, you will be working on one puzzle while others are solving something else.
Remember that these games are “one and done” —once you’ve played one, you likely won’t play it again. They rely on word of mouth and positive reviews for new customers. All of the owners/managers we spoke to felt strongly about providing a good experience for customers.
Here is a sampling of Escape Rooms available in the Austin area.
Maze Rooms Austin
5555 N Lamar Blvd Suite K110
Austin, TX 78751
Maze Rooms Austin allows 2 to 7 people to escape the Spy Safe House. You book the room for the hour so you will never be placed with strangers. Rachel Krylov of Maze Rooms Austin said two more rooms would open soon.
Most rooms discourage a repeat because you’ll likely get pretty far through the game and the staffer will tell you what you missed. But Krylov said, “I have had several people play and love it so much, that they came back with different family, friends or coworkers, and they just have to sit back and try not to give anything away. It’s hard on them, but everyone loves the game so much that they enjoy watching their loved ones doing it too.”
“We have the highest level of production,” said Krylov. “Our rooms are extremely authentic to the theme of the room, and our gadgets are very sophisticated and high tech. I like to compare it to James Bond or Indiana Jones—you do something here, and something else changes.”
11th Hour Escape
2600 McHale Court, Suite 151
Austin, TX 78758
In Pirate Captives, pirates have captured your ship and locked you in the brig. Prove yourself and solve your way out to join the crew—or fail and walk the plank.
Owner Pauline Doorn said she and her husband, Cap, will soon add two more escape rooms. Players can choose the difficulty level, according to Pauline. “11th Hour Escape offers difficulty levels, depending on the group’s experience level. We have found no one else that does this. A group should choose Easy if they have no escape room experience, Medium if they have some experience, and Difficult if they consider themselves experts. We have found this to be very well received.”
Doorn says players love the authenticity of this game—they feel they are entering a ship complete with the appropriate sights, sounds and smells. The current success rate is nine percent in 60 minutes. At the 55-minute mark, players are offered 15 additional minutes at $6 per player. Said Doorn, “It has offered significant satisfaction to groups determined to succeed. With additional time, the success rate has bumped up to 75 percent.”
Cosplay (participating in costume) is encouraged.
1101 Music Lane Unit #342
Austin, TX 78704
Lockdown Austin says it’s the first and only live-action escape room on South Congress, featuring:
- WW3 Room (One CIA agent’s descent into madness puts the world on the brink. The clock is ticking… Can you stop her evil plan?)
- Casino Heist (Prove your value to the mob by cleaning out an underground casino. Can you solve their puzzles, seize the cash, and make your escape?)
Mehul Patel told the Gazette, “We started this as a fun project amongst a group of my longtime friends and it’s been an absolute blast figuring out how to create the puzzles and make everything work.”
Patel added, “Our puzzles and storylines—we really try to create an experience that integrates a variety of puzzles that can appeal to different types of people.” He said customers often comment on how much the staff adds to the experience.
Embracing his South Congress location, Patel said, “We feel the Escape Room can be combined with other activities in walking distance to create a really memorable evening.”
111 W. Anderson Lane Suite E320
Austin, Texas 78752
Puzzle Room offers two adventures:
- Escape from Wizard School (Can you pass your final exam at Wizard School and win your diploma?)
- Escape from the Super Villain’s Hideout (You have stumbled upon the hideout of the Befuddler, an upstart super villain with a puzzle obsession. Can you stop him before he pulls off his most dastardly scheme yet?)
Sara and Travis Carr own Puzzle Room. Sara told the Gazette that the business has been open for a year, but they’ve been doing it as a hobby longer than that.
She said, “Each game has a guide in the room, allowing us to give individualized care and attention to our participants. This allows us to have a lot more depth to our puzzles while reducing the frustration factor. We’ve poured our heart into our games. We do what we do because it is something we feel very passionate about and we enjoy sharing that experience with others.”
A third game, Wild West Riddle Roundup, will open in late January.
The Escape Game Austin
405 Red River Street
Austin, TX 78701
This company offers four separate adventure rooms:
- Gold Rush (Find the gold stashed in the hills of northern California)
- The Heist (Beat the thief at his own game)
- Prison Break (Escape prison circa 1955 before the possibly murderous warden finds you)
- Classified (Stop a major international terrorist threat)
Jason Friedman of The Escape Game Austin told us this franchise was one of the first in the nation. He said, “Our company places a huge emphasis on our customers. Our highest priority is providing each customer with an amazing interactive experience. Our game team designs fully immersive and elaborate rooms with intricate storylines. Paired with our highly trained staff and modern facilities, these are the key pieces that set us apart.”
2113 Wells Branch Pkwy., Suite 4300
Austin, TX 78728
Three games are offered at this facility:
- Escape from the Manor (Alone in the dark, a ghost begs you to help…)
- Frequency (Sight, sound, feel, thought—everything has a speed, an oscillation. Can you sense your way through?)
- The Window (billed as the ultimate teambuilding challenge, a wall with a single locked window divides your group, and each side must solve puzzles and uncover clues so that all can escape)
Owner Sam Kakajko told us he and his wife, Callie, have designed their games to get players at least to the 90 percent success mark, although the hardest room has a 20 to 25 percent success rate in 60 minutes—increasing to 95 percent success in 70 minutes. “We leave more time between our rooms to allow a little overage,” he said.
Kakajko added, “We use a lot of technology and custom electronics. All of our rooms also have surround sound soundscapes and video introductions/characters to give you hints along the way. We aim our whole design around people having fun in an immersive experience, the puzzles are a method but fun is the goal.”
He said they are starting construction on a new experience to open in the spring.
Mystery Room Austin
3220 Feathergrass Court, Suite 128
Austin, Texas 78758
This company offers eight rooms featuring Escape Rooms and Detective Rooms, each 45 minutes in length. In an Escape Rooms, you will have to solve puzzles and decipher clues to determine the code to unlock the locked keypad door. In the Detective Rooms, you will have to decode puzzles and interpret clues to unravel the mystery.
- Treasure Island (Solve the Mystery of Treasure Island)
- Escape from Alcatraz (Break out of your jail cell on the Rock)
- Black Ops (Locate and diffuse the bomb in the military-themed room)
- Superhero’s Adventure (In your first day as a member of Justice League, you must escape the Riddler’s trap and save your fellow superheroes)
- Houdini’s Magic Cell (As befitting Houdini himself, this is the most challenging of the rooms and will both surprise and trick you)
Brian Capps, manager of Mystery Room Austin, told the Gazette, “We will be opening at the start of 2016. This is our fifth location, though our first in Texas. We are new to Austin and excited to be part of the growth happening in Domain II.”
Capps said they plan to rework rooms every 8 to 12 weeks to continually offer new experiences to customers. He added, “Some of the rooms will be harder than others, allowing you to ramp up the challenge after you have completed easier rooms.”
205 Cheatham Street
San Marcos, Texas 78666
This facility offers two challenges:
- Chainsaw Escape (Escape this booby-trapped house before ‘Bob’ returns with his chainsaw)
- Amnesia Room (You celebrated a bit too much before your wedding and find yourself trapped in an asylum. You have 60 minutes to escape and make it to your wedding.)
John Wells of Xit Game told us, “Room Amnesia is a family-friendly experience that has some great surprises. Chainsaw Escape is a little scarier. It is by far the hardest room we have with a very low escape rate. I think the soundtrack that we use in Chainsaw puts it over the top.”
Wells said that Escape Rooms are rare in that the businesses encourage you to try out the competition. He said, “Escape rooms are new to the U.S. Unlike some other businesses, we encourage our customers to try every escape room in their area. Each escape room offers such a different experience. If you have never tried one, you’re really missing out on a truly bonding/teambuilding experience.”
Wells said he will be adding a third room in May.
8868 Research Blvd #704
- The Spy (Uncover the double agent and thwart his/her dastardly plan)
- Rogue A.I. (coming soon) (A new supercomputer has gone rogue. You have 60 minutes to bypass its defenses and fix the programming)
Perplexium rooms are more about the experience and less about success and failure. The story may have positive and negative outcomes, as well as optional objectives for your team to complete. Clearly they take a page from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Life is a journey, not a destination.”
It’s website says more adventures will open soon.
Austin Panic Room
1205 Rio Grande St.
Austin, Texas 78701
- Museum Heist (Find where Mr. X stashed a treasure in the museum before the police come)
- Prison Break (This challenge is not recommended for your first Escape Room experience. Break out before the sheriff returns in 60 minutes)
- Abandoned School (Find and steal the blueprint pieces—which could make you a billionaire—before the class gets back from a field trip)
One participant gave it this review: “This was way more fun than we expected! Our group of three didn’t make it out “alive” but we still had a blast trying to figure out the puzzles. The guides are super friendly and helpful. They make the experience challenging but not frustrating…”
The Seventh Room
911 West Anderson Lane, Suite 116
Austin, Texas 78757
Perhaps the most unique of this style of entertainment is The Seventh Room, which originated under the name Out of the Box. The staff—all actors—adds a sense of fun to these outings. Before the game starts, the host asks the guests to solve several puzzles to gauge the group’s experience and choose the game most appropriate for them. And with the name you can probably deduce that there are seven rooms involved in the game. Several characters appear as the game unfolds.
Founder Joshua Sellers has designed his company to allow participants to return multiple times, each time with a different game with different puzzles. It was the only game we found that could hold a group of 30.
Escape Room Leander
2403-2405 S. US-183
Leander, TX 78641
This company gives participants “62 minutes of awesome.” Their first room was Santa’s Office, timely for the Christmas season.
The current and planned rooms include:
- Someone Stole The Texas Hold’em Championship Bracelet (Players have 62 minutes to find the thief in a high-end poker room)
- Hero & Leander (coming soon) (Based on the legend of Hero and Leander, players must solve clues, light the light and find a way out of the room)
- The Hairy Man Road Serial Killer’s Cabin (While hiking in the woods, you stumble into a spooky cabin. Escape before you become the serial killer’s next victim)
The goal of Escape Room Leander is to provide a fun outing of games and excitement. For their first game, successful players of Santa’s Nice & Naughty List had the group’s picture featured on the Wall of Fame. The group that set a speed record won a free return to play the Hero & Leander room when it opens.
David Steele of Escape Room Leander told us of a unique concept in the game. He said, “The Poker Room will be playable in two ways: the standard ‘everyone working to solve the puzzle’ method, and a second way which I believe might be unique to Escape Room type of entertainment. In the second version, two opposing teams can play the game simultaneously, each scoring points for each riddle or puzzle they correctly solve. Because the Poker Dealer will be sitting at the table while the teams attempt to find the Bracelet, the Dealer will be able to keep score for the teams. At the end, one team will be victorious, even if they don’t find the Bracelet.”
Reporter’s notebook: Escape Room Adventures
by Ann Fowler
The Seventh Room
I first discovered Escape Rooms when I saw a Groupon for Out of the Box (now The Seventh Room). We wanted to celebrate a family member’s birthday, but didn’t want to do the usual lunch or lunch-and-a-movie. This sounded perfect.
Founder Joshua Sellers played host for our foray into these live-action games–but he was so much more than that. He actually took on the persona for several of the characters featured in our game, and monitored our progress to keep us on track. We bought the package for eight players, although only seven of us played. Ages ranged from 20’s to 60’s.
We had a blast, and while we did go a bit over the time to solve the final clue, it was the experience we enjoyed. Sellers pointed out that customers can come back again and again, as the games rooms are set up for a variety of scenarios. Lunch afterward allowed us to talk about who did what during the game.
The Puzzle Room
The following month we had another birthday celebration, so decided to try The Puzzle Room to see how it differed. Initially this escape room compared negatively to The Seventh Room, but we realized it was an unfair comparison. Those from our group who had not participated in The Seventh Room absolutely loved The Puzzle Room.
We were briefed on our ultimate mission before the clock started. Unlike our previous game, this one took place in a single room. While you would think it would be easier to keep track of the various puzzles–it was not.
While initially some us felt the staffer who sat in the room during the game to offer timely clues seemed bored—but that was likely because The Seventh Room’s Sellers was so vibrant and entertaining.
Novice player Kim Novak reviewed our second outing: “I loved the puzzle room experience we had. It seemed challenging enough but not so challenging that it wasn’t entertaining.”
Novak did not see the staffer as bored—but as helpful. She said, “I thought the hints from the helper were fine. I suspect we might have been stuck earlier in the process without him.”
She added, “It was really neat how people focused on separate parts of the room and when something related was found in a different part of the room, someone would speak up that they knew what it was for. No one person seemed to try to dominate the whole room and that made it so everyone was included if they wanted to be.”
In the end, the Puzzle Room got a big thumb’s up from Novak: “I really enjoyed it and would do it again. The people who put it together put a lot of thought into it… all those locks and puzzles!”
Maze Rooms Austin
Our final Escape Room for this story was Maze Rooms Austin. Our host for this game was Kimmie Winder, who briefed us on the game scenario, then took her place in a separate room to monitor our activities and offer clarification and up to five clues.
Five of us had played the first two Escape Rooms, but we added two novices for this one—my niece, Aly, and her friend, Janice, college students home for winter break. Aly and Janice had never heard of Escape Rooms and were unsure what was expected.
Our game scenario took place in the early 1970’s, so it was fun to see the younger participants looking quizzically at a rotary phone, wondering how to make it work.
Ultimately each participant was instrumental in uncovering clues leading to the ultimate goal. Winder kept a watchful eye on each of us so she knew exactly what hint to give when asked.
We opened the door with 10 seconds to spare. Everyone agreed it was a great experience. Before leaving, Aly and Janice asked us about other Escape Rooms they could try.
I highly recommend Escape Rooms for a different way to celebrate a family outing. We always “owned the room” when we participated, so I cannot speak to what it’s like when playing a game with strangers.
I would encourage your team to debrief after the event—over coffee or a meal—so that you can talk about how things were discovered. Due to time constraints, we were unable to do that in our last outing, so I have no idea how some clues were uncovered.
Colonel Mustard in the library with a lead pipe? Ha! Get a “clue” and go have a real-life adventure in an Escape Room near you. Whether you succeed or fail, you will have fun.