A new kind of entertainment has arrived in Newcastle. It’s called Escape. It’s a game where participants are locked in a room and have an hour to solve a set of puzzles in order to find the key and get out. Your team have to work together, solve problems creatively, and ideally, not panic, shout or start throwing clues at one another.
It sounded like fun, so four Living North writers decided to give it a go. We arrived on a Tuesday evening, entering through an ordinary-looking office door and signing in at a reception before being summoned to the first floor, like initiates into a cult. Our host, Stuart, explained the rules – he would be watching us on camera while we were in the room and if we were really struggling, he would send us a clue which would appear on a computer screen. The rest was up to us.
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Kate Foley, Food Editor
I’m not much of one for puzzles (always the first to give up on the crossword, or tip the chessboard over in a huff when I can’t get out of check). I’m also slightly claustrophobic, so the idea of being locked in a small room for an hour with nothing to do and no way to get out except solve puzzles fills me with a creeping sense of dread (the things I do for Living North). What if we never get out? What if we can’t even find the first clue? What if I’m terrible at this?
I needn’t have worried. The room we are ‘locked’ in is not a windowless cell with water dripping down the walls, but an inoffensive sitting room set up in an equally inoffensive office building. It’s filled with seemingly random items, some of which hold important clues, others of which are red herrings put there solely to confuse us (unless of course they did mean something, and I just didn’t get it). This is a room designed to make you doubt yourself.
Once we find the first clue, we’re off and running. Three clues in I’m genuinely enjoying it, two more clues and we’re really on a roll. Only once do we get so stuck that we need help from Stuart, who is watching the proceedings through a camera mounted in one corner of the room, like a cross between Big Brother and a Capitol gamemaker from the Hunger Games. It’s so good in fact, and time flies by so fast, that by the time we solve the final clue and retrieve the key which allows us to escape the room, I kind of want to stay.
Laura Steven, Social Media Editor
On paper, Escape the Room doesn’t sound like the most enjoyable way to spend a Tuesday evening. Being locked in a room? For an hour? With colleagues you’ve already spent all day with? Shudder. But bear with me.
I’m one of those (rather sad) people who gets a bit of a buzz when I solve a puzzle. I’m that person who still tears the sudoku out of the paper, even though the rest of the country got over it in 2007, and I think playing Tetris on an old Gameboy is a perfectly legitimate way to spend an afternoon. So a series of obscure puzzles, using peculiar props such as a dartboard, directional padlocks and one of those cryptex devices from the Da Vinci Code, was right up my street.
Before we went in, we were told only around 20 people had managed to escape the room without any clues, so naturally my competitive streak kicked in and I became borderline psychopathic in my quest to become the 21st. When we couldn’t solve one of the codes (a line of nonsensical symbols), I started waving my arms frantically in front of the cameras. “No! Don’t help us! We don’t want a clue!” He gave us one anyway. And I tried to pretend I didn’t care. But I did.
Still, we weren’t complete failures. The speed at which we solved some of the more abstract puzzles was pretty impressive, and highlighted how different four people’s strengths can be. We worked well as a team, and when that final safe clicked open to reveal the elusive key, it was like cracking a million fiendish sudokus all at once. I nodded calmly like a seasoned old football manager, “Good game, team. Well played.” What I really wanted to do was scream and do a victory dance, but it’s important to maintain a certain level of sanity in front of your colleagues.
Roz Tuplin, Arts Editor
I didn’t have much to add to the room escaping. I would describe my role as ‘intermittently helpful’. While the others huddled together over a number puzzle I patrolled the outskirts of the room peering behind furniture and staring meaningfully at objects on the walls. I couldn’t shake the feeling that everything was a clue. If I just absorbed everything going on around me then everything would surely connect. It mostly didn’t. It helps to be a lateral thinker, which I’m not. I’m the opposite – a linear thinker? That sounds about right. I stumble along from A to inevitable B without ever straying too far out of the proverbial box.
But I did find out something surprising about myself. My input was mainly in visual clues. It helps to have as many different types of thinker as you can fit in the room – although, of course, you don’t know how you think until faced with a problem like this. But hey, it turns out I’m visual. The solving of a crucial clue depended entirely on me spotting something that no one else had seen, and we finished with an impressive 16 minutes left on the clock. Everybody – even me – could take the credit.
Rosie Jenkinson, Staff Writer
Escape rooms are not new to me. It was a huge craze in China when I lived there for a year, and I went to three or four. However, I never managed to escape the room before the time was up and I was shamefully let out by the man on the other side. I put this down to my poor Mandarin language skills, but when I decided to go to Newcastle’s escape room I knew that couldn’t be my excuse anymore.
Unlike the Chinese versions which were elaborately themed (an Ancient Chinese History room with a floor covered in sand, and a Halloween-themed room with a suspended coffin) this escape room looked like an ordinary living room, complete with a TV where we would be given clues if we were hopelessly stuck.
It’s interesting to watch the group’s dynamics when you’re put into a confined space. Some people get bossy and authoritative while others give up straight away. However, our Living North team seemed to unite together in the challenge and there were no fights, tears or tantrums (although there was that moment when we couldn’t solve a clue for over 10 minutes and started to wonder if we’d ever escape).
Thankfully, we did escape (only 50 percent of contestants actually do), and we were pretty proud of ourselves. With a prison break-themed room scheduled for the near future, I’ll be willingly locking myself in Newcastle’s escape room again.
Escape Newcastle, Moseley Street www.escape-newcastle.co.uk