REPOD S4E9 – Ukrainian Resilience: Tasha Tarkhanova, creator of Project Avatar, Ukraine

In Season 4, Episode 9, we share stories from Ukraine. We talk to Nataliya (Tasha) Tarkhanova of Hypno Dive, creator of the Project Avatar series of virtual escape room games. Project Avatar is an incredible virtual experience that plays like a live-action video game, where you are directing a live actor (the Avatar) through an enormous abandoned warehouse. With stylish, acrobatic moves and impressive special effects, tech and visuals, Project Avatar was a high point in quarantine-era virtual escape rooms.

Then war happened. On February 24, 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine in a major escalation of the Russo-Ukrainian War, which began in 2014. This episode is a bit of a departure for us, but we wanted to share Tasha’s story. We begin with discussion of Project Avatar and escape rooms, but in the second half of this episode, we dive into how the invasion has turned Tasha’s life upside-down. It’s a heavy episode. It’s not graphic and there are no explicit depictions of death or violence, but Tasha candidly shares stories of the upheaval in her life and business. There is an emotional story of the war’s impact on her daughter that brought both David and Peih-Gee to tears.

woman with blue makeup and tribal like facial markings next to a stylized logo for project avatar. titled Ukrainian Resiliance: Tasha Tarkhanova, creator of Project Avatar, Ukraine

The stories that you’re going to hear are tragic and hilarious and kind of off-the-wall. Tasha is resilient, creative, and captivating. We think that this is a really important story to tell.

We are donating all of REPOD’s income from this episode to Direct Relief, earmarked for the crisis in Ukraine. If this episode touches you, scroll to the end of the show notes and click the button to donate.

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A Reflection on Thanksgiving, War, and Podcasting

Since the early days of Room Escape Artist we’ve given ourselves a little leeway to take a step or two in a non-escape room direction. Usually we use this freedom to get a little silly with content like mystery flavor reviews, animals solving puzzles, or deep dive podcasts about larp design.

Our audience doesn’t just tolerate our journeys into different related realms or silliness… a lot of you seem to enjoy it. This content performs really well. And some of our readers literally ship us mystery flavor products and email us videos of animals solving puzzles.

We love dreaming up new and related places we can take you, and deeply appreciate the freedom that you afford us.

Stylized image of an American Thanksgiving table with turkey, stuffing, potatoes, and bread.

Covering Darkness

Our work is usually focused on creations that bring joy, wonder, and entertainment, but when necessary, we’ve proven that we’re able and willing to tackle serious subjects, as we did for the 2019 Polish Escape Room Fire.

Tonight we’re going to release a podcast episode that is one of the most important pieces of work we’ve put out… and it brings us no joy to do so.

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EXIT: Advent Calendar – The Hunt for The Golden Book [Review]

24 puzzling days ’til Christmas

Location:  At home

Date Played:  November, 2022

Team size: 1+; we recommend 1-2

Duration: Average 10 minutes per day for 24 days

Price: about $49.95

REA Reaction

When I first heard that Exit: The Game was coming out with a new advent calendar this holiday season, I immediately called my local gaming store to find out the release date. Having played their Mystery of the Ice Cave last year, I knew to expect fun, think-outside-of-the-box puzzles with those special aha moments found in their standalone games. An Exit: The Game puzzle each day for 24 days until Christmas? Yes, please!

Lifting the lid of the rather large box-shaped calendar, I noticed the detailed artwork depicting a snow-covered village under a large, glowing moon. 24 sealed doors, each with a lock icon and 3 mysterious symbols covered the lower half of the scene. I couldn’t wait to find out what puzzles lay behind those doors. I also couldn’t help but check out the rest of the box, wondering what, if anything, might be part of a puzzle!

Large EXIT: The Game Advent Calendar box depicts a book opening to a beautiful and spooky European city lit by moonlight.

Solving Exit: The Game-style puzzles takes creative thinking and looking beyond the obvious. The puzzles ranged from simple to tricky. We solved most within 10 minutes, including the time to read each day’s story page. The simple mechanic of discovering which door to open next worked really well and ensured we didn’t open the wrong one by mistake. We also enjoyed a few unexpected references to well-known holiday movies and real-life people. Though there were a few puzzles that were confusing or overly complicated, and one that referenced information more common in the UK, most were delightful and fun to solve. 

The Hunt for the Golden Book is a fun, family-friendly experience, appropriate for kids 10 and older. Fans of the Exit: The Game series will find a lot to like as well. It’s those unexpected discoveries and seeing puzzle components in a completely new way that keep me coming back for more. 

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TERPECA Voting Time Is Here!

It’s that special time of year again. People all over the world are making their lists and checking them twice. It’s finally that time again when escape room players have their chance to vote in the Top Escape Rooms Project Enthusiasts’ Choice Awards.

TERPECA brings the international escape room player community together to recognize the very best escape rooms. I can’t overstate just how valuable this project has become to me as both a traveling enthusiast and as someone who recommends games to friends near and far. 

TERPECA 2022 logo.
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Great Escape of Central Texas – Back to the Fourth Grade [Review]

It’s elementary…and that’s okay!

Location:  Killeen, TX

Date Played: August 31, 2022

Team Size: 2-7; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $25 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

As a former elementary school teacher, Back to the Fourth Grade felt like a homecoming of sorts. I recognized the floor tiles, the desks, the posters… heck, I probably even bought some of those posters once in my life. In both its decor and activities, the room captured the core essence of a classroom. It successfully made a school-day fun.

This was also the sparsest of the three rooms we played at Great Escape of Central Texas and showed a bit more wear than the others. Here, the minimalism hid some clever mechanics in plain sight, making their discovery that much more exciting. However, players looking for a richer environment should play Mobfather or Lost Tomb of Anubis.

Puzzle-wise, the room offered a good balance between straightforward activities for younger or newer players and a few trickier challenges. One puzzle suggested more patience than it ultimately deserved, but otherwise everything was well-clued and fair. Experienced players will likely fly through much of this experience but may still enjoy the nostalgic interactions here. I did.

After lamenting the scarcity of good family games in the Austin area, I brought my kids (ages 6 and 9) back to play this room with a couple of their friends. They loooooved it. They were able to make most of the puzzle connections without too much help, and they were delighted by the set interactions and surprises. I had already enjoyed this room with my enthusiast crew, but seeing it from my kids’ perspective made me appreciate its extra charm for fresh eyes.

Back to the Fourth Grade was an endearing room that is highly approachable for families, including a couple of clever ahas to delight enthusiast chaperones. Families in the Austin or Killeen area should definitely check it out.

Wide view of a 4th grade classroom.
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