Dirty vs Dirty-Looking Escape Rooms

We’ve played some games over the past quarter that were really %^&*ing dirty.

I’m talking about the kind of game that demonstrates to my teammates that “yes, I do, in fact, have allergies.”

A dirty, dusty, dark room with a pair of old and open liquor bottles casting long shadows.

“But it looks good”

I’m not talking about games that look deliberately dirty. Companies like THE BASEMENT go miles out of their way to simulate filth. Fake gross is cool.

Real dust isn’t a prop and it doesn’t constitute set design.

There are plenty of techniques for making a place look dusty, dirty, and disgusting without real dust. Hire a haunter… they’ll be happy to create that aesthetic for you (once their season is over).

Flu Season

Finally, we’re coming up on flu season, and I know that a lot of you have “outbreak” rooms. That doesn’t mean that you should be creating patient zero.

Disinfect once in a while. It’s the professional thing to do.

Conundrum Escape Rooms – Experiment C73 [Review]

💙 & 💊

Location:  Arvada, CO

Date Played: September 8, 2019

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $80 per team for teams of 2 to $200 per team for teams of 8

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock [A]

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Experiment C73 was David’s type of game from start to finish. The puzzles were tangible and rewarded communication and spatial awareness. A bit of dexterity went a long way.

To top it all off, Conundrum Escape Rooms took some design risks that paid off profoundly.

In-game: A long black and white hallway with doors on boths sides and a large rorschach image on the far wall.

This wasn’t the prettiest game, but even that was deliberate and well-executed.

Ultimately, Experiment C73 was way more than the sum of its parts, and many of those individual parts were great in their own right.

As far as we’re concerned, Experiment C73 is a regional must-play escape room.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Players with at least some experience
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Brilliant mechanical puzzles
  • Strong world-building
  • Engaging communication challenges


The year was 1973 and we’d volunteered for a psychiatric experiment; it seemed like a fun way to make a few bucks.

As we entered the experiment we had a bad feeling about the administrators and their intentions. They seemed keen on making us prove our sanity.

In-game: A strange set of black on white wall adoenments.


Conundrum Escape Rooms’ Experiment C73 was an interesting beast that began as one game and ended as another.

This escape room opened with an interesting twist on the split team game. Then it became something a bit different.

Conundrum Escape Rooms played with the 1973 aesthetic. They used the function of their game to set the tone for its form. If it sounds like I’m being cagey about the direction of the experience, it’s to avoid spoilers.

In-game: strange white on black writing on a wall.


Conundrum Escape Rooms’ Experiment C73 was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty and a split-team beginning.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, dexterity, communication, and puzzling.


➕ Experiment C73 used a small space creatively to make it feel larger than it was.

➕ The set design was smart. This isn’t to say it looked great; it didn’t. It looked exactly as intended, leaning into that 1970’s aesthetic. 

➕ The staging justified the puzzles.

➕ The puzzles rewarded teamwork.

➖ The gameplay in Experiment C73 was uneven. It was easy to end up playing support and not see the best angles. Not all teammates had as interesting or exciting playthroughs as others.

➕ Conundrum turned one classic escape room trope into a completely different one. It was brilliant. They clued this twist so creatively, and even used a crafty psychological hack to increase the odds of it working. It delivered.

➕ The puzzles were unusual, in a good way. What seemed simple was sometimes far more complex, but always fair.

❓ It’s hard to recommend a perfect team size. Although communication and teamwork were essential, the footprint was small and it could be challenging to maneuver around each other. Some of the later puzzles were single-player solves.

➕ Conundrum Escape Rooms added a personal touch that surprised and delighted us.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • This game is at the Arvada location.
  • At least one player will need to crouch/crawl.
  • This game has a split beginning. Not all players start in the same space.
  • Conundrum Escape Rooms will soon open a second copy of this game. Larger groups will be able to book both copies and race each other.

Book your hour with Conundrum Escape Rooms’ Experiment C73, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Conundrum Escape Rooms comped our tickets for this game.

Disclosure: Our trip to Denver was sponsored by the Denver escape room community. Contributions were anonymous.

The Puzzle Effect – Grim Stacks [Review]


Location:  Northglenn, CO

Date Played: September 8, 2019

Team size: up to 6; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Grim Stacks was the kind of Harry Potter-inspired game that we wanted to explore. It stood on its own, but its allusions made fans feel at home.

The bookstore setting was really smart because the Puzzle Effect was able to completely sell it as a real environment.


From a gameplay standpoint, this was a solid, well-themed game. We enjoyed it quite a bit.

We would have loved to see a little more drama from the finale. It was a super crafty conclusion that was a sub-woofer away from greatness.

If you’re in Denver and a fan of J.K. Rowling-esque magical fantasy, go visit Grim Stacks.

Who is this for?

  • Harry Potter fans
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level (but it will be hard for true newbies)

Why play?

  • An adorable setting
  • Challenging puzzles
  • A clever ending


The nefarious owner of a magic book shop had captured a powerful creature and locked it away. The magical beast needed rescuing before it was forced to do evil deeds.



Grim Stacks was a charming twist on the Harry Potter-esque escape game. Instead of placing us within a wizarding school, we found ourselves in a magical book shop. That was smart because it was easy to sell us on this world.

The first act of this experience looked great. The second act was a bit of a step down. It absolutely worked, but it didn’t quite feel as thoroughly designed.



The Puzzle Effect’s Grim Stacks was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, and puzzling.



➕ Grim Stacks looked great. It was magical, in an adorable, nerdy way. It was a bookshop, after all. It was an approachable and inviting space to puzzle in.

➕ The game flowed well.

➖ Some of the cluing was presented on laminated papers. There was an opportunity to better integrate these components into the game world.

➕ The puzzles had depth. They were layered solves. We appreciated puzzles that we could really sink our teeth into.

➕/ ➖ The ending was clever. It provided a conclusion that made sense in the game world, while leaving the heavy lifting to the players’ imaginations. That said, there was opportunity to go bigger, adding bolder visual cues and auditory effects, without changing the concept or blowing out the budget.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.
  • The Puzzle Effect offers this game in other cities as well including Bakersfield, San Luis Obispo, Phoenix, and Boise. The opening scene is slightly different in these locations, but the gameplay is the same.

Book your hour with The Puzzle Effect’s Grim Stacks, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Puzzle Effect comped our tickets for this game.

Disclosure: Our trip to Denver was sponsored by the Denver escape room community. Contributions were anonymous.

The Last Defender [Review]


Location:  Denver, CO

Date Played: September 7, 2019

Team size: 8-16; we recommend 16

Duration: 90 minutes

Price: $35 and up per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Last Defender was a 16-player escape game/ puzzle hunt hybrid set against the backdrop of Cold War nuclear annihilation. It had a delightfully odd and ever-present sense of humor. The puzzles ranged in intensity and intrigue. The world of The Last Defender was whimsically serious. The elegance of the on-boarding and gameflow was on a level that we rarely encounter.

The Last Defender was a hell of a production.

Promotional art for The Last Defender.
Image via The Last Defender

As amazing as its on-boarding was, our biggest gripe with the game was that it served up puzzle hunt-style puzzles, but never really taught the players how extractions worked. We stepped in and helped with that, but a lot of our teammates weren’t getting there by themselves.

Additionally, The Last Defender leaves a few key things to chance. The mix of teammates will make or break the experience. There were far more puzzles to solve than any one player will be able to experience. If you find yourself solving a string of puzzles that don’t speak to you, it probably means that you’re missing out on the ones that would have.

Sadly The Last Defender closed in Denver the night after we played it; its original run in Chicago ended long ago. While at the moment it isn’t playable, should The Last Defender return – and, oh boy, do we hope it returns – this is a must-play for both escape room fans and puzzle hunters.

If given the chance, we would replay The Last Defender without hesitation if only to explore the puzzles that we didn’t get to solve.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Sci-fi fans
  • Team players who are comfortable with randoms
  • Any experience level, but experience really helps
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • It was hilarious
  • The puzzles were challenging and engaged a large group
  • Really cool 8-bit cabinets
  • The black rabbits
  • Great player costuming
  • An incredible overall experience


It was 1983 and the United States and the Soviet Union were engaged in the Cold War. The strategic approach of both sides was nuclear deterrence through a policy of mutually assured destruction (MAD).

As members of The Defenders, our job was to work alongside an artificial intelligence put in charge of America’s nuclear arsenal. We had to ensure that if the Soviets nuked the United States, it would end the world even if no one was around to order the strike.

What could go wrong?

In-game: 3 orange flightsuited players working on a puzzle.
Image via The Last Defender


The Last Defender began in a comfortable lobby where we signed in and gathered awaiting the beginning of the game. (Oddly, the lobby had seating for 14, maybe 15 people, but the game played 16.)

At game time, the hosts entered, introduced the rules, and then put on their black rabbit costumes. From that point forward they only communicated in gestures. They ushered us into a locker room.

In the locker room we each received a bright orange flight suit that fit our measurements (which we provided during ticket purchasing). Once we suited up, we entered the game world.

In-game: a character in a black rabbit costume standing before a multi-colored world map.
Image via The Last Defender

The Last Defender’s game world was a hybrid of 1980s arcade and colorful parody of a Cold War nuclear command center. It had a playful vibe which beautifully juxtaposed against the apocalyptic nature of the story.

As great as the set looked, the 80s video game-inspired sound effects were the detail that truly sold the world to me.


The Last Defender was an immersive puzzle hunt. It was difficult compared with most escape rooms and easy when judged as a puzzle hunt.

Core gameplay revolved around teamwork, communicating, puzzling, and some searching.

In-game: 5 players in orange flightsuits working on a puzzle.
Image via The Last Defender


➕ The Last Defender was both serious and entertaining. The writers struck a nice balance in tone with the instruction, presentation, and tasks/ puzzles. It was hilarious yet poignant, with mission-focused gameplay.

➕ As players, we were assigned characters and outfitted in jumpsuits with the appropriate insignia. These were cleverly designed with Velcro patches so that costumes could be easily reconfigured for each group. We each had a personalized uniform that fit us well enough. By costuming up, we were stepping into our roles and naturally taking the experience more seriously. Simultaneously, these were ridiculous outfits, which made the experience that much more entertaining.

➕ Our black rabbit gamemasters directed the gameplay brilliantly. They didn’t speak, but their body language was emotive. They gave direction to individuals and to the group, but they never gave us solutions.

➕ The puzzles were seriously challenging. They were largely tangible and relied on different types of thinking and communication. They could also engage multiple people at once. The Last Defender showcased a breadth in puzzle design.

➖ Not all the tasks and puzzles were of equal value. Some were more fun to solve than others.

➖ It would be easy to get stuck grinding on puzzles we didn’t like or weren’t good at. In an escape room this isn’t a big deal. In The Last Defender you could potentially bad luck yourself into a series of bland challenges and miss the great stuff.

➕ There was plenty to do at all times. Every one of the 16 players in our group was engaged almost the entire time. The Last Defender would certainly be replayable, as there were so many things going on at all times.

➖ When our group played well, the end bottlenecked. When there were only a few puzzles left to solve to save the world, not all 16 people could be actively involved in them.

➕ The set, tech, and sound effects were fantastic. There was a whimsy to The Last Defender that cut its seriousness. Also, the arcade cabinets were too cool.

In-game: 3 players in orange flightsuits working at the Operations cabinet.
Image via The Last Defender

The Last Defender had smooth on-boarding that set up the group for success. Our early tasks introduced us to the space and to the necessity of communication. Things that seemed utterly useless at the time proved critical later on.

➕ The pathing worked well. As a group, we progressed from structured to unstructured activity without missing a beat. The gameplay built us into a team remarkably quickly.

➖ While The Last Defender taught much of the gameplay through play, it didn’t teach the puzzle hunt concept of “extraction.” It was crucial that players solve a puzzle all the way through to the extraction, which was a novel and challenging concept for newer puzzlers.

❓ Individual experiences at The Last Defender will vary. Not all puzzles were equally as interesting. Not all teammates were equally as fun or as competent as others. Some of your experience is the luck of the draw – what role you and others are assigned to. Some of your experience is what you make of it, or where you find yourself needed.

Tips For Visiting

  • The Last Defender is no longer running in Denver.

If The Last Defender comes to your city, book your hour and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Last Defender comped our tickets for this game.

Disclosure: Our trip to Denver was sponsored by the Denver escape room community. Contributions were anonymous.

Loaner Reading Glasses in Escape Rooms

Here’s a quick read for you.

Last month we traveled to Colorado and played 31 games in 4 days. All of the reviews are written and will publish throughout the rest of 2019.

While we were there, we saw something that I thought was just lovely.

Loaner Reading Glasses

While visiting Locked In Escapes in Colorado Springs, we noticed a small bowl on their front desk filled with reading glasses.

The Locked In Escapes logo above a bucket of loaner reading glasses.

People who use over-the-counter reading glasses are notorious for forgetting to bring them when they go out. Some people can get by fine when the lighting is good. Many really struggle to read or see digits on a lock in dim lighting.

With a bucket of loaner readers, should a player forget to bring their own, they could borrow a pair for use in the game.

What Should You Buy?

Our team on our crazy Colorado escape room marathon included optometrist and fantastic escape room teammate Dr. Chris White.

I asked Chris what should be included in a loaner reading glasses box. He said that they should at least cover the correction range of +1.25 through +2.50.

An easy way of covering that range (and then some) is to buy an assortment pack. The pack that Chris suggested includes 25 pairs ranging from +1.25 through +3.25.

This is a simple, sweet thing to offer your players.

I wouldn’t be shocked to learn that other companies are already doing something similar, but Locked In Escapes was the first place we saw this, so I’ll give credit where it’s due.

Support Room Escape Artist’s Mission

There are lots of ways to support Room Escape Artist like buying from Amazon after clicking into the links included in this post or backing us on Patreon.

The money that we make from these helps us to grow the site and continue to add more value to the community that we love so much.

Enigma Emporium – Carte Rouge [Review]

Loaded Deck

Location:  at home

Date Played: Summer 2019

Team size: we recommend 2-3

Duration: 8-12 hours

Price: $25

Publisher: The Enigma Emporium

REA Reaction

We’re big fans of Enigma Emporium’s postcard-based puzzles… so we were eager to dig into their larger, more elaborate, and beautiful deck of puzzle cards.

We ciphered through the cards in two extended sessions and found the experience mixed.

The Carte Rouge deck.

We loved the concept, the art, and a lot of the early puzzles… but as the mystery pressed on, it got repetitive. Then it got really repetitive.

Overall, Enigma Emporium absolutely delivered when it came to production value. From a gameplay standpoint, there was a lot to love and we’re happy that we played through it. At the same time, it’s hard to keep ourselves from imagining other things that could have been done with such a gorgeous deck of puzzle cards.

If you’re into cipher-play and have the patience to buckle up for a 6 – 12 hour mystery, then Carte Rouge is worth exploring.

Who is this for?

  • Code breakers
  • Story seekers
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Beautiful card art and high production value
  • An interesting story hidden behind ciphered messages
  • You enjoy progressive discovery


A mysterious and strange deck of cards had arrived in the mail. A note was included asking us to investigate its origins and purpose.

The King and Queen of Hearts from Carte Rouge. Both have clearly have ciphered messages around the boarders and on their clothes.


Carte Rouge was an actual deck of 52 cards plus a pair of jokers. Embedded in the card art (particularly the face cards) we found hidden messages and puzzles.

They were printed on quality card stock. If one wished to purchase this deck and use it exclusively to play card games, that would be a viable option.

The cardback from Carte Rouge.

The art itself looked fantastic. Enigma Emporium managed to maintain that classic card art, while hiding loads of messages.


Enigma Emporium’s Carte Rouge was a play-at-home escape game with a high level of difficulty relative to most tabletop escape games.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, deciphering, making connections, and keeping organized.

The Jokers from Carte Rouge are covered in intricate ciphers.


➕ We were captivated by the puzzle-in-playing-cards concept. This setup also facilitated collaborative gameplay. We could spread the cards out among players and work through the puzzles as a team.

➕ The cards were beautiful and intricate. They looked and felt like the real deal. The artwork was exquisite.

❓ The puzzling in Carte Rouge was almost entirely deciphering. If you enjoy ciphers, this is your tabletop game; it’s great. If you don’t want to solve ciphers and translate passages, this will not be for you.

➕ Our favorite ciphers were clued brilliantly by other patterns. For us, these ciphers were the pinnacle of the gameplay in Carte Rouge. Most of them appeared earlier in the experience.

➖ Much of the ciphering resolved to narrative embellishments, but didn’t advance the plot of the game. We translated brutally long passages, working through them long after the aha moment. In the end, a lot of it was flavor. This got repetitive.

➖ Multiple puzzles used the same cipher. Once we’d worked out that particular system, we had to work through a number of different instances. This was repetitive and seemed like a missed opportunity.

➖ While sometimes the ciphers were subtly clued in the artwork, other times they weren’t clued it all (as far as we could tell). As we played, we found that there were limited encipherment options. We’d just hack at different possibilities until a passage resolved to something meaningful.

➕ Enigma Emporium crammed a lot of game into only a little space. This was impressive. They fit an incredible amount of information into a card.

The 2, 3, & 4 of Clubs from Carte Rouge. They look normal except for an "R" printed in the middle of the 2.

➖ The deck of cards itself felt like a missed opportunity. We were anticipating mechanics involving magic, placement, math, poker hands… really anything that one does with a deck of cards. Yet, it didn’t matter how these cards were held or arranged. In fact, there was little interaction between the cards at all. Additionally, most of the cards were barely used. The gameplay revolved around only a small portion of the deck and we didn’t need to do much beyond regard and rotate.

➖ The hint system lacked sufficient granularity. We’d be hinted at the same thing repeatedly and then be provided the answer. Furthermore, the hints for some key puzzles were buried in the sequence of hints for the final puzzles. In an effort not to spoil later puzzles for ourselves, we didn’t find them until well after we needed them.

➖ All these ciphers begged for an interesting extraction, hidden within the cards. Instead, the game resolved with a narrative quiz of sorts. This felt out of character with the rest of the experience.

Tips For Player

  • Required supplies: a small table, an internet-connected device, paper and pencil
  • While you don’t need a laptop, we found keeping track of solutions in a spreadsheet to be helpful.
  • If your reading vision isn’t great, you’re going to want a good magnifying glass.

Buy your copy of Enigma Emporium’s Carte Rouge, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Enigma Emporium provided a sample for review. 

Reminder: New York City Escape Room and Immersive Meetup on Wednesday!

This Wednesday join us for the New York City Everything Immersive Meetup, co-hosted by Room Escape Artist and our friends at No Proscenium.

Glo and Bulder looking into one another's eyes with the mountain in the background.


Please RSVP on Facebook or by contacting us.

  • Wednesday, October 9, 2019
  • Starting at 6:00pm and continuing for a few hours
  • Shades of Green Pub (125 E 15th St between Irving Pl and 3rd Ave)
  • We will be congregating in the back room

This is a casual gathering. There is no formal programming. Stop by at your leisure.

For more information, read the meetup announcement or check out the Facebook Event.

Should I Attend?

We love meeting other folks who enjoy immersive entertainment. This is a space to share ideas, find collaborators, talk about experiences (with spoilers!), and give/ get recommendations.

If you’re part of the New York City escape room and immersive community – or if you happen to be in town this week – we’d love to meet you.

Also, we’ll have some popular friends joining us from the other side of the world!

Cain’s Jawbone: A Novel Problem [Reaction]

This is a true story

“In 1934, The Observer’s crossword writer, Edward Powys Mathers, wrote a unique novel Cain’s Jawbone. The title, referring to the first recorded murder weapon, was written under his pen name Torquemada. The story was not only a murder mystery but one of the hardest and most beguiling word puzzles ever published.”

Cain’s Jawbone was a 100 page novel/ puzzle presented in loose-leaf. The book had no binding, the pages were simply stacked. The goal was to deduce the proper order of the pages… and there were 32,000,000 possible permutations of the pages.

The box art for Cain's Jawbone depicts a library with a deadman on the floor and a person in the shadows outside of the window.

Back when it was originally released, only 2 people were confirmed to have solved the puzzle. The solution, however, was never made public.

Crowdfunding A Recreation

In 2017, a crowdfunding project was launched to reproduce Cain’s Jawbone.

Along with 826 other people, I backed it. It took a few years, but it exists now.

Cain's Jawbone's box open, it contains a stack of individual book pages.

Solving Cain’s Jawbone

I’ve spent a bit of time rummaging through Cain’s Jawbone without any serious solving intent. It’s a whole lot of puzzle. It would require a level of time commitment and intensity that I simply do not have. I knew this when I backed it… My contribution was because I liked the idea of this puzzle existing.

Maybe one day in retirement I’ll find the time to solve something this deep; I mean that without a hint of hyperbole.

Cain's Jawbone open and the loose pages removed.


Since I cannot review this product, I am going to share a few observations to help you decide if you want to buy this puzzle.

It’s from the early 1930s and that comes with a two big implications:

  • There are a lot of antiquated references that I suspect you’ll have to research if you want to solve the puzzle.
  • It uses phrases that are generally deemed offensive today.

On that note – yes – Edward Powys Mathers’ use of the moniker “Torquemada,” presumably in reference to the first Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition, seems a strange choice almost a century later. One might call it unexpected.

Solving Cain’s Jawbone is going to require a hefty mix of obsession, time, and organization. I love that it exists, it’s fun to peruse, and I like having it on my shelf staring at me and me thinking, “maybe one day…” but that I’ll likely never solve it.

Loose pages of Cain's Jawbone.

If this sounds like the kind of challenge or conversation piece that you’d like to own, buy a copy of Cain’s Jawbone while you can.

A Dynamic Guide To Adhesives

So… this is the coolest utility website that I didn’t know existed:

This To That, a source for all things glue.

Glue dripping down the top.

Solving Adhesive Woes

Sticking things to other things is a struggle… especially if you need them to last… especially especially if you need the bond to withstand the weapons-grade destructive force of an escape room team.

Solving the puzzle of “which glue do I use for this problem” is a function of chemistry and This To That solves it with two dropdown menus.

Screenshot: This To That reads, "Because people have a need to glue things to other things." There are two dropdowns to choose what to merge.

Do you need to attach ceramic to leather or metal to rubber? Apparently E6000 is your non-flammable solution.

How about adhering glass to fabric? Weldbond is your solution.

So many of the possible combinations on This To That never occurred to me… but the answer is there waiting for that special day when I have a desperate need to stick leather to glass.

Silicone II… for what it’s worth.

Check out This To That to solve your sticky situations.

Support Room Escape Artist’s Mission

There are lots of ways to support Room Escape Artist like buying from Amazon after clicking into the links included in this post or backing us on Patreon.

The money that we make from these helps us to grow the site and continue to add more value to the community that we love so much.