As much as I wanted to take five other writers out of the office for a midday excursion, news is, sadly, a 24-hour business. So after coercing five ex-colleagues into giving up their lunch hour to puzzle their way through one of the city’s most taxing escape games, I finally rally a full squad for ‘Transylvania’—on the strict proviso that it “would not be scary.”
No problem, I tell them. It’s definitely just going to be a sequence of relaxing riddles themed around Europe’s beautiful Carpathian Mountains.
That was a lie.
“You’re vampire hunters, of course,” says the desk attendant. Colleague two begins to look nervous. “I’d watch out for Dracula in there, if I were you!”
I feel a few murderous glances. “I said ‘as long as it’s not scary’”, someone hisses. The attendant seems oblivious.
“There are three rules,” she continues. “You have 45 minutes to complete the game. We’ll give you the chance for two hints when you’re inside. And there’s no running in the rooms.” We all nod in agreement.
“Ready?” she asks. Colleague two fidgets uncomfortably.
We’re thrown into pitch black, and the door clicks shut behind us. I fumble with a torch. We see a bedroom, complete with cobwebs, antique dressers, and a whole range of incongruous locks. “These locks are definitely important,” I say. Colleague four rolls his eyes.
But the joke’s on him. After some dextrous padlock twiddling we’ve cracked two codes, the torches are picking out clues all over the room, and nobody’s complained for fifteen minutes. My ex-colleagues are definitely enjoying themselves, and I’ve even become hopeful I might salvage a few friendships.
Then we get stuck.
I buzz for a hint. “Coming”, says the attendant, throwing open the door and knocking colleague three flying. “Try putting that object over there,” she says. “And remember. You won’t find any clues under heavy furniture, there’s nothing under the rug, and don’t pull the drawers out all the way.”
We put the object where she says. Nothing happens. “This is stupid,” says colleague five, lifting the heavy furniture, looking under the rug, and pulling the drawers out all the way.
I buzz the attendant again.
“Have you tried opening this?” she asks.
We try it. The group breaks into spontaneous cheers.
“I won’t count that clue as a hint,” she says, and melts into the wall.
I’m fast becoming suspicious we’re getting some special treatment. But there’s no time to dwell as we escape the second room, and we’re into the third. The clock is ticking down, and the panic is rising.
“Get the magic bullets! Who’s got the Holy Water?? What’s the capital of Austria!?” We shout at each other.
“Which moron is holding all the lights?!” I scream, with three torches and a blacklight pressed to my chest.
The clock starts to beep. We’re onto our final minute, and we’re so close.
“I’m calling for a hint!” I yell, turning on my heel and running back through the darkness. I crash into a low-hanging cupboard door. “Shit,” I mumble, rubbing my shin.
Our guide appears one last time. “Have you tried adding them together?” she asks as our time officially runs out.
Five minutes later, my reservations that the company might be being extra-nice to us are confirmed. Despite our embarrassing inability to complete elementary-level arithmetic, we still haven’t been ejected from the room, and I’ve never seen anyone be so patient with six university-educated individuals trying to work out what five plus four is.
“It’s nine”, the attendant whispers dramatically, as we finally escape from the room.
“Congratulations!” says her colleague behind the desk. “You did it!”
Which was a pretty generous statement.
“We only give these signs to those people who complete the puzzle,” says her friend, handing out boards with SUCCESS printed on them.
Which was an even more generous statement.
As the next group assembles to enter the newly-reset room, we hear the rules again. 45 minutes, two hints, and don’t run inside.
Ooops, I think, as our picture is immortalised on Exit’s “winners” wall.
Think you can do better? Head to Exit on Broadway to escape from Transylvania, or book your slot here.
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