Spyscape NYC [Review]

A web of truths and blurred reality.

Location:  New York City, NY

Date Played: September 18, 2018

Duration: 1-2 hours

Price: $39 per adult, $32 per child

REA Reaction

The interactive museum Spyscape highlighted the power and danger of 21st century persistent surveillance and celebrated the history of clandestine operatives.

Through interactive challenges, Spyscape engaged the skills (or abstractions of those skills) necessary to function within an espionage organization. It then evaluated what type of spy each visitor would be.

Spyscape logo underlined with security cameras bearing the logos of many major internet companies like Google, Facebook, & Twitter.

The exhibits within Spyscape were generally well written and thoughtful without being worshipful of the double-edged sword that is the conglomerated international surveillance apparatus. That being said, the Hacking exhibit was a bit thin and the Deception exhibit presented glaring factual misrepresentations. A few missteps notwithstanding, Spyscape was impressively executed.

Spyscape was an artfully created, playfully intense interactive museum. It would be great for families, anyone interested in clandestine operations, and those who enjoy interactive puzzle challenges.

Who is this for?

  • Wannabe spys
  • Puzzle lovers
  • The historically curious
  • Interactive museum goers

Why play?

  • An engaging opening
  • Elegant explanations and gamification of complex concepts
  • Some surprisingly challenging puzzles (It’s ok if you can’t solve them.)
  • An original enigma machine

Story

Spyscape was an interactive museum where visitors explored the various aspects of surveillance and espionage in the 21st century through education and mini-games.

The museum monitored us over the course of the experience and evaluated our skills and personalities.

An endless wall of Guy Fawkes masks.

Setting

Sypscape spread out over six primary exhibits:

  • Encryption
  • Deception
  • Surveillance 
  • Hacking
  • Special Ops
  • Intelligence 

Each of these exhibits included historical items or movie props and beautifully written, concise explanations of the history of the subject matter.

Each exhibit (except for Hacking) concluded with an activity that tested our competency with the material in the exhibit. This wasn’t a pop quiz; it was an engaging activity such as encrypting/ decrypting a message or lying/ detecting lies.

We rounded out a personality profile by solving three collections of puzzles on touch screens and answering an assortment of personality questions that asked us to make value judgments about ourselves. 

Censor and RFID bracelet.

The museum tracked our progress throughout the experience via an RFID wristband. At the conclusion the experience, we could view our scores on screens and find out our ideal job within a spy organization. I got “spymaster” and my friend received “special ops officer.” (In her case this seemed wildly off-base.)

The surveillance exhibit surrounded by security camera feeds.

Gameplay

The gameplay within Spyscape varied heavily from challenge to challenge.

First we solved traditional puzzles on touch screens. Next we exercised the basics of substitution ciphers. Following this, we had to lie to a computer. Next we looked for suspicious behavior on a massive surveillance system. Finally we completed tasks while navigating the obligatory laser maze. The museum followed this order, but visitors could complete these challenges in any order.

A laser maze.

The gameplay varied heavily; it included something for everyone. While none of the challenges were obligatory, if you skip them, your evaluation will be incomplete.

Analysis

➕ Spyscape was well equipped and fantastically laid out. It provided lockers, was designed for accessibility, and allowed us to explore the space in our own way and at our own pace.

➕ The opening sequence of Spyscape brilliantly established the thesis of the entire museum and painted a stark, realistic, and slightly frightening picture of the breadth of modern surveillance.

An original enigma machine.

➕ Spyscape had an Enigma Machine!

➖ One odd exhibit lacked clear value or meaning. The rather thin Hacking exhibit that devoted a strange amount of its limited space to random stuff like prison art from convicted hacker Jake Davis. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

➕ The RFID bracelet tracking our progress through the museum worked well as an interaction… and was also an elegant metaphor for how our phones track us throughout our real lives.

➕While I found some challenges to be easier than others, I generally had fun solving them. I enjoyed the Surveillance challenge most.

➖ The Encryption challenge will bore anyone with even a basic grasp of substitution ciphers.

❓ While some of Spyscape’s challenges were legitimately difficult (a handful of the puzzles they threw at us stumped me), it wasn’t as engaging as the continual gameplay of an escape room. We divided our time between the challenges and more traditional exhibits. Spyscape was still a museum, not an immersive adventure.

➖ It was strangely unclear how many rounds of puzzle challenges and personality questions we’d encounter. We only realized this when we went to get our scores at the end of the experience and realized that we hadn’t finished everything… so we went back to finish.

➖ When we wanted to complete the touchscreen challenges rapidly, we encountered a strangely long cool-down period before the touchscreens would allow us to start the next challenge. This was by far the biggest annoyance that we encountered in Spyscape.

➕ I loved the look and layout of the museum. Everything about the space – the logo, exhibits, and challenges – was deliberately designed. You can tell that they know how great their logo is by how creatively they use it throughout the experience and in their merchandise (which was actually pretty nice).

➕ The worlds of espionage, surveillance, code making, and code breaking exist entirely within shades of gray. I had worried going into Spyscape that the entire museum would be groveling at the feet of the alphabet soup of spy organizations. I found their exhibits to be a fair bit more honest than I had been expecting. Spyscape largely embraced the moral murkiness of the subject matter.

➖ Oh boy, did Spyscape overstate the power of the lie detector. The overstatements of this pseudoscience would have been funny if we weren’t using these devices entirely too much throughout our government and justice system where their inaccurate nonsense actually ruins lives.

➖ I really respected Spyscape’s Surveillance exhibit, but was saddened to see them framing up the false “privacy vs security” debate. Like so many politicians from across the political spectrum, they neglected to mention that data isn’t private without security. If we whittle away our privacy in the name of security we’re sacrificing both. If it isn’t private, it isn’t secure.

Tips For Visiting

  • Spyscape has thoroughly explained parking, transportation, and accessibility on their website.
  • All activities are isolated player moments. You don’t complete these challenges as a team.
  • For nearby restaurants, we recommend Toloache and Kashkaval Garden.

Book your session with Spyscape, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

2 thoughts on “Spyscape NYC [Review]

  1. Sounds like an interesting afternoon. Gotta agree with the Lie Detector comments having personally been affected by the inaccuracy of the test and the misuse of the “results” by decision makers. Also, “data isn’t private without security” is sooooo true. One only has to read headlines to know that data isn’t private without security, and there is no security.

    1. It was an interesting afternoon and I’m glad that I went.

      I’m sorry to hear about the lie detector problems that you’ve had. Those things are a very bad joke.

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