Mystery Oreo – 2019 [Review]

Mystery Flavor Oreos II: The Stuffing Strikes Back

Location:  at home

Date Played: September 17, 2019

Price: $10.50 online

Publisher: Nabisco

REA Reaction

They’re back… The flavor mystery that got us into reviewing flavor mysteries has returned! This year’s mystery is more enjoyable.

The bright white Mystery Oreo packaging with a question mark dotted with an oreo.

By more enjoyable, I don’t mean amazing. I mean, they’re edible and we might make it through the entire package… instead of pranking our friends with them like we did back in 2017.

This time around I’m feeling confident that I know what the flavor is – and you can find that hidden behind a spoiler box down in the “Analysis” section.

I’m comfortable recommending these Oreos as a mystery flavor worth exploring. They’re weird. I wouldn’t buy them regularly. But dammit… it’s interesting and baffling that Oreo manages to make the cream white.

We published a hot-taste video for our Patreon supporters last night. Back us on Patreon for more oddities like this one. A little support goes a long way.

Who is this for?

  • Adventurous Oreo lovers
  • Mystery flavor detectives

Why play?

  • The flavor is interesting and kind of good

Story & Setup

The folks at Nabisco have decided once again to sell us a new Oreo flavor mystery.

Back in 2017, they ran a Mystery Flavor Oreo… and, oh boy, did we hate that one. The good news is: This year’s mystery tastes way better.

Closeup of lines of oreos in the packaging.

From now through November 10, 2019, anyone can submit a guess and enter for a chance to win $50,000.

Setup

Once again, the Oreos look just like regular Oreos. The coloration of the white cream gave nothing away (which is kind of a creepy miracle of science in its own right.)

Closeup of a whole oreo on a plate.

The packaging was also elegant and eye-catching. Having bought ours off the shelf at our local grocery store, that packaging jumps right off the shelf.

Gameplay

Things are pretty simple. You eat the cookie and guess the flavor.

If you want to get fancy, twist open the cookie and guess the flavor (which kind of helps because the cream is the mystery. The cookie part was traditional.)

Closeup of a half eaten oreo on a plate.

Analysis

➕ The cookie didn’t suck and it evoked a strong sense of nostalgia. That nostalgia wasn’t for Oreos, but for a different Nabisco product line.

➖ These Mystery Flavor Oreos were entirely too sweet for us to have more than a cookie or two.

Spoiler: What did it taste like?

Graham cracker and cinnamon. More specifically… I’m betting on Cinnamon Teddy Grahams.

[collapse]

Mystery OREO’s website has started posting hints. The only hint currently visible is super cryptic… but if my flavor guess is correct, then I think that I get it. Kind of. Maybe? I’m still happy to see anything resembling hints.

➕ Once again, the packaging was lovely. The agency and brand managers behind this product line have good aesthetic taste. It’s tough to design bold packaging that doesn’t look like it was designed by a 5 year-old who just got an extra big box of crayons with all of the colors!

Buy your copy of Nabisco’s 2019 Mystery OREO, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

(If you purchase via our Amazon links, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale. We appreciate the support.)

The Fifth Wall Escape Rooms – The Houdini Trap [Review]

A trap Houdini never escaped

Location:  Ferndale, Michigan

Date Played:  August 3, 2019

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $20 per player Sunday – Thursday; $24 per player Friday – Saturday

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Houdini Trap told a unique story in an unusual and beautiful space. The puzzles and props were solid and engaging.

In-game: Glowing red lights against an art deco wall about the exit door.

There were a few nooks that felt underdeveloped, and a handful of puzzles that could have benefited from additional refinement.

Nevertheless, this was a truly delightful game. If you’re in the area, check out The Houdini Trap; it was doing some magical things.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • An elegant set
  • Good thematic puzzles
  • Fifth Wall is a fully themed escape room establishment
  • An interesting take on the Houdini escape room genre
  • The story pulls from Houdini and Detroit history

Story

We entered a trap designed specifically for Harry Houdini by a mysterious individual. Sadly, history’s most famous escape artist passed away in Detroit’s Grace Hospital before he’d had a chance to take on the seemingly impossible challenge room.

Almost a century later, The Houdini Trap was rediscovered and we were given the opportunity to explore the room that Harry Houdini had never escaped.

In-game: a poster advertising Houdini's "The Grim Game."

Setting

The Fifth Wall Escape Rooms’ facility was fully themed around a secret society. (This made it 1 of 3 fully themed facilities that we found outside of Detroit).

The Houdini Trap was a pretty space. Honestly, I don’t think my photos fully captured it.

The Fifth Wall Escape Rooms built the space with an art deco aesthetic that had a slight otherworldly vibe.

Many of the interactions and props were built from metal and were incredibly solid.

In-game: Closeup of a gearbox.

Gameplay

The Fifth Wall Escape Rooms’ The Houdini Trap was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

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

In-game: Wide angle shot of the room, a water torture chamber in the middle of it.

Analysis

➕ The Houdini Trap was designed in an art deco style. We were immediately captivated by the details in the design.

In-game: A beautiful and ornate art deco wall.

➕ The Fifth Wall Escape Rooms introduced The Houdini Trap with an entertaining video with great art. It kept our attention despite being a tad lengthy.

➕ The puzzles were solid, but the set-based interactions were phenomenal. As beautiful as the set was to inhabit, it was that much more exciting to manipulate.

In-game: Closeup of a control panel with a few dials.

➕/ ➖ One interaction in particular worked as an in-game metaphor for the larger theme. It was unique, conceptually and physically. That said, the interaction needed additional refinement, in both cluing and mechanism.

➖ We were bogged down by substantial reading in The Houdini Trap. Much of the story was told rather than felt. Reading included printed materials, laminated paper, and a journal that, while not quite a runbook, sometimes behaved a bit like one. We also encountered a handwritten clue that caused confusion.

In-game: A water torture chamber hanging from the ceiling.

➖ The audio could be hard to understand, which was frustrating, as it was crucial to one segment.

➕ Although The Houdini Trap flowed linearly, The Fifth Wall Escape Rooms gated (and labeled) puzzles such that large teams could get a jump on later puzzles early without wasting time or breaking sequence.

➖ One nook of this otherwise impeccable space was left underdesigned, which was disappointing.

➕ We adored the timekeeping mechanism in The Houdini Trap. As time rolled forward, intensity mounted. We appreciated that the game displayed our progress as well as the time.

In-game: A tube that carries balls representing the timer.
The game timer: Every 10 minutes a ball fell through this contraption.

Tips For Visiting

  • They have a parking lot.

Book your hour with The Fifth Wall Escape Rooms’ The Houdini Trap, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: The Fifth Wall Escape Rooms provided media discounted tickets for this game.

A Quick Thought on VacuForm Panels in Escape Rooms

VacuForm panels are plastic wall mountings that can be purchased, painted and hung in theatrical environments. They are a quick and easy way to handle some aspects of set design.

A white vacuform panel that looks like a mistrure of stones and skulls sealed with mortar to make a wall.
Unpainted VacuForm

They are reasonably common in escape rooms. Some of the common textures that escape room players encounter are Egyptian tomb hieroglyphics, steampunk gears, and brick walls.

While I don’t think that VacuForm is the peak of set construction, I also see few issues with it when compared to regular drywall. It’s fairly affordable and quick to set up. If a designer finds the right panels for their set… I’m in favor of anything that raises quality and keeps timelines and budgets under control. It’s way better than seeing drywall in an Egyptian tomb.

That said, I have one suggestion:

When using VacuForm, ask yourself this one question, “Can the players reach this?”

Can I Reach It?

VacuForm has a lot of flex to it because it’s hollow. If you touch it, it will usually give… a lot. The result is a sharp break in immersion because your brain is telling you that the wall is made of stone or metal, but then it’s plastic.

The easy fix is to fill in the back to provide it more rigidity. It might still feel like plastic, but it won’t give way to my touch.

Touching hollow VacuForm is like a kid seeing Santa Claus in the mall parking lot getting into a 2002 Pontiac Aztek and driving away. Where the hell is his sleigh?

Extreme Escape – Trapped Below [Review]

The game that we won 3 times in 10 minutes

Location:  San Antonio, Texas

Date Played:  August 8, 2019

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 3

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30.99 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

This is going to be a weird one.

Extreme Escape’s Trapped Below was a mess of contradictions. The near constant clash of high and low quality made this game especially difficult to review.

The set looked beautiful… but it was undermined by confusingly exposed technology and baffling sound design.

In-game: an assortment of mechaical controls mounted to the wall of a mine.
Image via Extreme Escape

The puzzles were well designed and fun to solve… but they were oddly retriggerable. It was a rough game to solve with only one flashlight.

We loved the opening sequence… but the end sequence was botched because multiple gamemasters kept telling us that we hadn’t finished everything when we most certainly had done so (and originally in record time… before we were sent back in to finish the game two more times.) There is truly nothing more confusing in an escape room than standing in a game once you’ve solved every single puzzle, while being told repeatedly that you aren’t finished.

There was a lot to love in Trapped Below… and there were some regrettable oversights (most of which were completely fixable). If you’re looking for a solid adventure and puzzle game, and you’re ok with low lighting and some sloppiness, there’s plenty to enjoy in Trapped Below.

That said, I know that Extreme Escape is capable of making this one great and I hope that they do.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • A cool set
  • Fun interactions

Story

We entered an abandoned mine in search of a lost treasure. We had to find the treasure and plot a path out of the mine.

In-game: the approach to a mine shaft, the floor has trunks filled with mining gear.
Image via Extreme Escape

Setting

We entered a mine shaft and stepped into an old elevator to descend into the unknown.

Armed with a single flashlight, we explored a thoroughly designed mine shaft set. Low light frequently hides weak set design. In this case, most of it was beautiful.

The only glaring flaw with the set design was some exposed technology.

In-game: a wood walled mine with a TNT detinator.
Image via Extreme Escape

Gameplay

Extreme Escape’s Trapped Below was a standard escape room with a low level of difficulty.

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

In-game: A wood walled mine with assorted mechanical interactions on the walls.
Image via Extreme Escape

Analysis

➕ Trapped Below started off in a pretty convincing elevator. It then opened up into a mine with a detailed set to explore. It was a fun gamespace and it looked great.

➖ The experience would have been far better with a few more flashlights.

➕ The gamespace was beautifully constructed.

➖ The tech wasn’t embedded well enough. There were exposed wires, which looked sloppy and also a little confusing.

➖ One early design decision made us cranky. It was a frustrating mechanic that wasn’t adequate for the puzzle gating at that juncture.

➖ The sounds design was unbalanced. The prop that should have made the loudest noise was quiet compared to other triggers.

➖ It was possible to re-trigger puzzles we’d already solved, which was surprising and confusing.

➖ As noted in the reaction, we won this game 3 times in 10 minutes. In each of the first 2 wins, the hints directed us back into the game upon our exit, telling us we’d left a puzzle unsolved.

When we couldn’t determine what we’d possibly skipped, we solved the game again. After we triggered the ending a third time, we had the opportunity to speak with the staff. At that point, everyone came to understand that after we’d revealed and solved a specific puzzle, we’d moved it back to its starting position because it was in our way. This entire sequence of events deflated the experience.

➕ Although Trapped Below had a rough start, and our playthrough had a less-than-explosive conclusion, the majority of the game played smoothly. The puzzles generally flowed well.

Tips For Visiting

  • There are plenty of food options in Extreme Escape’s plaza.
  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Extreme Escape’s Trapped Below, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Extreme Escape comped our tickets for this game.

Introducing the Escape Immerse Explore 2020: Montreal Logo

We’re a week into selling tour tickets for Montreal and we’re a little more than half sold out.

Celebrating the milestone, we’re revealing the logo for Escape Immerse Explore 2020: Montreal.

Escape Immerse Explore logo in red and white, abstractly mimicking the Canadian flag.
Thank you Errol & Manda for your Canadian cultural assistance.

Read up on the tour and consider joining us. We have an amazing selection of companies and games lined up.

Past Tour Logos

With each tour we play with the logo. Check out our past tour logos.

Walkie-Talkies & Escape Rooms [Design]

Walkie-talkies are a funny method of hint delivery in escape rooms. A lot of companies use them. More than a few players hate them (and with good reason). There is potential to do some great things with walkie-talkies… if they are done deliberately and thoughtfully (and this is rare).

“He’s looking at me, Ray.”

Before we dive in, let’s establish an understanding of hint systems:

What Can/ Should A Hint System Do?

In any escape game, the hint system must:

  • Provide a means for players to get unstuck and continue their adventure
  • Allow players to communicate with the gamemaster in the event of a game failure or emergency

In a great escape game, the hint system can:

  • Be intuitive to use
  • Integrate the gamemaster or hint giver into the narrative and world
  • Make receiving hints a delightful part of the experience

With that in mind, let’s talk about walkie-talkies.

The Case For Walkie-talkies

In principle, a walkie-talkie is a great, immersive hint delivery mechanism for many escape game scenarios. Anything set in the last century or so can narratively justify the use of a walkie-talkie.

Additionally, it’s easy to make the gamemaster into an unseen character over a walkie-talkie.

This can make the walkie-talkie a useful tool for escape room design.

Let’s examine where walkie-talkies fail. Then we’ll look into how to incorporate them well.

Where Walkie-talkies Fail

There are two reasons that walkie-talkies tend to annoy me as a player: user interface & uncertain communication.

User Interface

The overwhelming majority walkie-talkies that I’ve encountered in escape rooms are too convoluted. They are a mess of buttons, dials, and dust covers that look like buttons.

Two commonly used escape room walkie-talkies
On a side note: if you give me a walkie talkie that has a flashlight built in and then get angry at me for using the flashlight… I do believe that you can go to hell.

This leads to gamemaster instructions like:

  • “Twist this… and you turn it off.”
  • “Press these and you’ll change the channel. If you do that we won’t know when you’re asking for a hint.”
  • “This, on the side… this is the button you need to press to talk. Don’t press the thing that looks like a button on the other side… or the button above this one.”
  • “And when you’re done speaking, you have to release the button or I can’t respond.”

All of these instructions are problematic. In any other game interaction they would be considered laughable, but for some reason they are fairly normal when it comes to hinting. I find this funny because hinting is critical. Hinting isn’t just part of the game, it’s a necessary aspect of customer service.

Moving on.

Uncertain Communication

That last bit of instruction, “…when you’re done speaking, you have to release the button or we can’t respond…” is a problem.

Although mechanically it’s not hard to do, that interaction creates uncertainty.

Most obviously, you have players who will death-grip the “push to talk” button. When a player does this, there’s nothing the gamemaster can do other than wait.

The less obvious problem is the question of, “when have I said enough?” Walkie-talkies have an etiquette and a jargon that professionals will employ. Amateur escape room players… not so much.

It gets awkward when you have to ask a question or start describing where you’re stuck. Players keep rambling to get enough information across in order to get the optimal hint (having to ask specific questions to get specific hints usually sucks, but that’s a topic for another day). This kind of thing also creeps up when something goes wrong in the game and the team needs support from the gamemaster to fix things.

The easy solution to this for an escape room is to have attentive gamemaster and only require the players to pick up the walkie-talkie and say, “we’d like a hint.” Honestly, this is usually fine, except in those edge cases where something has gone wrong.

How To Walkie-talkie Right

When a room only has a live microphone in it, and the gamemaster hears everything, this is a user interface for the players:

The players speak. They are heard. The gamemaster can respond.

We don’t usually think of this as an interface, but it is an interface. And it’s fantastic.

A walkie talkie in a cradle at the controls for a boat.

One-way Walkie-talkie

I’ve encountered escape games (and I cannot remember which) that had a hot microphone in the room, but the gamemaster responded through the walkie-talkie. This effectively removed all of the previously stated challenges from using walkie-talkies in-game.

This was a significant improvement from a player perspective because it gave the immersive walkie-talkie effect, while removing almost all of the user interface encumbrances.

The one downside was that the gamemaster still had to give the same, “don’t touch the dials” instructions; this wasn’t a big deal.

Modifying the Walkie-talkie

There is an opportunity to modify the walkie-talkie and disable the various buttons and dials so that only the “push to talk” button works… or better still, that it’s just a housing for a speaker and a wifi antenna.

Turning the walkie-talkie into a dumb output device seems like an opportunity for a prop builder.

The coolest part about doing it this way is that you can just leave the walkie-talkie in the room for the team to find. They can pick it up and push whatever button they want and it will just work. Anytime you can remove interface explanation from the experience, you’re improving upon it.

A closeup of a Star Trek Communicator.
If you start playing with the form factor… there are so many possibilities.

Closing Thoughts

Most uses of walkie-talkie in escape rooms are mediocre.

Sometimes they are included thematically. A lot of the time, they feel like corner cutting. Walkie-talkies were just a cheap easy way to avoid having to run wire and set up microphones (and often cameras).

A gamemaster should always have eyes and ears on their players for their safety as well as the safety of the game itself.

Setup the microphones and cameras; they are an essential part of safe escape room design.

If you want to use walkie-talkies artistically to build your world, then do so… but don’t do it at the expense of safety or the experience.

Escape Hour Austin – Lab Rats [Reaction]

We returned for science.

Location:  Austin, Texas

Date Played:  August 9, 2019

Team size: 8-18; we recommend 9

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $33 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Back in January 2017 we played, reviewed, and loved 15 Locks’ Lab Rats.

We were enamored with the Lab Rats’ unusual structure, floor-plan, and technology because it was one of the only games that we had encountered up to that point that could truly handle a team of 10 engaged players. We also hypothesized that it could be replayed by disciplined players.

In-game: The Yellow Room features a variety of interactions colored yellow. A blue locked box is mounted to the wall in the foreground. The Red Room is through a glowing doorway in the background.
The Yellow Room

At the end of 2017 we were eager to bestow a Golden Lock-In Award on Lab Rats.

Two and a half years later we returned to Lab Rats. This time it was under new management, having been acquired by Escape Hour Austin.

In-game: The Blue Room features a variety of interactions. Through a barred window, the Red Room is visible.
Blue Room

I’m happy to report the following:

  • Lab Rats held up. It was in great shape and it felt like the game that we remembered and loved.
  • Our review held up. I’m not going to retread over all of that. I will add that the technology for room transitions seemed simplified and that smoothed over a few of the shortcomings that we had reported.
  • Yes, Lab Rats was indeed replayable… and still a whole lot of fun the second round. Lisa and I stuck to rooms that we hadn’t played before and it worked well.

Lab Rats remains a strong recommendation from us… but only if you can assemble a team of at least 7 communicative players.

In-game: The Red Room features a variety of interactions pained shades of red.
Red Room

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Escape Hour Austin’s Lab Rats, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Escape Hour Austin provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Clue Carré – The Bookie [Reaction]

Rebookied

Location:  Metairie, Louisiana

Date Played: July 11, 2019

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 45 minutes

Price: $23 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

RISE Escape Rooms is no more, but their games live on. 13th Gate picked up their more celebrated games Hijacked and Golden Lock-In Award winner Spellbound. Clue Carré took on The Bookie, which I felt was a deeply underappreciated game.

While it was far less bombastic than Hijacked, for my money, I think that The Bookie was a tighter, more complete package with superior gameplay and puzzles.

In-game: A bar beside a blackjack table in a back room casino.
Image via Clue Carré

Almost 2 years after we first played it, we visited Clue Carré’s new Surge Trampoline Park location and sort of played/ sort of watched our friends play the new, streamlined version of The Bookie.

What’s Different?

Clue Carré slimmed down The Bookie, cutting the game clock to 45 minutes and simplifying some of the puzzle play.

Additionally, Clue Carré added a big board to guide players towards the puzzle stations that hadn’t been solved.

In-game: A back room casion with blackjack, roulette, a craps tables.
Image via Clue Carré

It still looked and felt like the same game that we knew and loved… it just played a bit quicker and smoother. All of the set pieces remained, as did the most memorable puzzles and moments.

To put it succinctly, the leaner version was a better game. It eliminated a lot of the things that were convoluted in the original. I wasn’t expecting to love this game 2 years later, but here we are.

In-game: An old maintenance closet.
Image via Clue Carré

The only loss was to the difficulty level. Frankly, the number of players who will truly miss a little extra difficulty is greatly outweighed by the majority who will enjoy the faster pace.

Between Alien Encounter and The Bookie, Clue Carré’s Surge Trampoline Park location should be high on your playlist for New Orleans.

Tips For Visiting

  • This game is located at Clue Carré’s Kenner location inside Surge Trampoline Park
  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Clue Carré’s The Bookie, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Clue Carré comped our tickets for this game.