One of the newer trends hitting BC lately has been that of the escape rooms. The premise is simple, you and some friends get put in a room (or rooms), and have to figure out clues, unlock a bunch of stuff (ie you figure out a characters birthday, that number unlocks a combo lock, then you’re on to the next clue), and escape within the allotted time (usually 45 minutes). Think of it like Saw, except you don’t have to maim or murder anybody to get out.
I have done my fair share of escape rooms, ranging from “hastily put together dry wall rooms” to “decently put together room”, and have for the most part enjoyed them. The two major things all escape rooms need to have in order to be enjoyable are:
If you have both of these? You’re golden. If you have one of these? It’s still ok. If you have none of these? Then you’re wasting people’s time.
Case in point, I have been in escape rooms where you had to crawl through lasers to get to the other side of the room without tripping the alarm. It was like Entrapment, except I didn’t look as sexy sliding through the laser beams. That kind of atmosphere was AWESOME. Having your friends scream at you to duck lower, and having healthy debates on whether or not a laser is actually a laser or is in fact a reflection of a laser is a memory I won’t soon forget.
In another Escape Room, the room was basically a bunch of Ikea furniture that I could have sworn they stole from my basement, and a couple of dummy props. In that case, it was not nearly as immersive.
In some rooms, the puzzles flow from beginning to end. One clue leads you to the next which leads you to the next. These are the good rooms. These are the rooms that after you’re out and think about it, it still makes sense.
Some rooms have puzzles that make zero sense. In their attempts to make “hard” rooms, some places just use puzzles that you’d be better off being drunk in order to solve them. “You see, you needed to hop on one foot and hold a mirror to the wall, while closing your left eye. Then you would have seen the squares on the wall, which when added up equal 7, which is of course a famous Brad Pitt movie, which would have then led you to the fire Pitt.”
Of course that is an exaggeration, but some of the “harder” rooms are simply harder because logic has been removed, and instead they offer up puzzles that are truly off the wall. The rooms don’t flow because the creators have tried too hard to be subtle.
Now, after a while all Escape Rooms can kind of feel the same in that there will be boxes to be unlocked, and locks to be unlocked, and then more locks to be unlocked. Some places offer up mechanical rooms (ie you touch an object to another object in the room and the music will change and a door will open) which are a step above locks, but for the most part, you’re going to be solving logic puzzles and opening boxes.
This is where atmosphere becomes so important, because with so many places offering up the same fundamental experience (“Come unlock our stuff!”) atmosphere becomes a huge factor. In other words, places that help draw you into the experience will stand head and shoulders above the other places.
This is where Smarty Pantz comes into play, as they have nailed the atmosphere part of the escape rooms. In all other escape rooms I have done, you show up and sign your waiver, and wait in the lobby. Then the host explains to you the rules (“don’t break our shit, here’s the locks you’ll be working with”) and then they escort you to the room. They sometimes give you a quick speech about the premise of the room (“Somebody died. You need to escape.”), occasionally you get a 30 second video shown in the room, and then you’re off to the races. The lack of story line and purpose is usually very noticeable, so all you’re thinking is “I need to unlock stuff” not “what mystery am I trying to solve”.
At Smarty Pantz, they do things differently. For one, the hosts of the room are in character actors. For example my first time at Smarty Pantz we had a ghost room, and the host came in wearing a safari type costume (hey, ghosts exist in the safari), speaking like the crocodile hunter, asking “Who wants to hunt some ghosts?”. She stayed in character the entire time, setting up the story, and using amusing terms to explain about not touching stuff we shouldn’t be touching (“It would anger the spirits if you touch the outlets.”).
A big aspect of escape rooms is the fact you get two (or three) clues to help you out when you get stuck. In most places, you press a button on the wall, and wait for the host to come get you. I cannot tell you how much this kills the atmosphere of the room. You’re trying to figure out how to get to the next part, time is running out, you ask for help…and wait for the host to come get you. Sometimes through a door you’re trying really hard to get out of. Sometimes it takes several minutes.
In one escape room the person who came in had no idea what the next step was and had to go get somebody else who knew the room better. This was not great.
At Smarty Pantz they give you a walkie talkie, and the host can be reached at any moment. You can talk to them (they will stay in character) and they will give you your two clues when you want, or they will answer questions about if you should touch an object or not (ie thinking of ripping that lamp off the wall? Ask the host, first). This really made it feel like we were trying to escape the room, and luckily for us we had a helpful friend in a van down the block, assisting us when they could. I still talk about the host we had to this day, that was how much of a positive impact she had on our experience.
Another amazing part of Smarty Pantz are the rooms themselves. The set designs in them are top notch, and are by far the best designed and decorated rooms I have experienced. I won’t give anything away with descriptions of the rooms, but I will say they really do match the types of rooms they are supposed to be (so the ghost room was very haunted mansion-esque.)
So if you and some friends (or you and some co-workers) are looking for a fun opportunity to work together (and finally figure out who the smart one in the group is), I highly recommend http://smartypantz.ca/. If you are trying the rooms out for the first time, I suggest doing Morning Never Comes. It’s the easiest room and it really eases you into how escape rooms work.
And remember, don’t touch the outlets. Seriously, it angers the spirits.