Clock N Lock: Virtually Touring A Closing Escape Room Company

Escape rooms have a lot in common with theater. One major similarity is the impermanence of it all. When these games close, that’s it. The magic is gone. There is often very little evidence that the game ever existed except for a review on this website, or sites like ours.

While we never had a chance to play these games, we are taking the opportunity to preserve a little piece of them.

The Invite

When Paula Norder, the owner of Clock N Lock Escape Rooms in Kalamazoo, Michigan, sent us a message saying, “I’m going to be closing, would you like a video tour of my games?” we were honored.

Over the years we’ve gotten to know Paula at various escape room conferences. When we took a trip out to Detroit (a stellar escape room market, by the way) in 2019, Paula and her husband Doug drove out and we spent a day playing games together.

A baby unicorn in a cage.
Unicorn Rescue

She’d told us, “My games aren’t the best, but they are good for where I am. I feel like I could write your review of my place.” And honestly, we’ve long had respect for companies in small markets that serve them well, even if they aren’t producing the world’s most renowned games. It was our intention to return to Michigan, and take a trip to Kalamazoo to play a game or two at her place.

Sadly that won’t happen, but we did get a chance to see what Clock N Lock was all about, and I’m going to share a bit of that with you.

Clock N Lock Games

Clock N Lock games were traditional mom & pop escape rooms. Each one was a lovingly designed, classic-style game, with limited tech, and an emphasis on themed puzzles. They each had a unique mission and objective. They felt like many of the games that made Lisa and me fall in love with the escape room format back in our early years of Room Escape Artist.

In-game: a code appearing un Christmas ornaments.

These games weren’t changing the industry, but they were representing it with care.

UFO Diner

Clock N Lock’s first game was a UFO Diner that – spoiler – had ties to Area 51.

In-game: View of a diner with a 60s UFO theme. In the center of the frame is a podium that says, "Welcome. Please seat yourself."

The experience began outside of the room, and involved solving a short puzzle sequence in a phone booth to gain access.

Amelia’s Attic

Amelia’s Attic explored the story of Amelia Earhart, and not in a crass way.

In-game: an attic with exposed beams, and assorted objects covered in sheets.

While it really was a standard escape room, there was a unique vibe to what we saw. Sometimes it’s the little things.

Baby Unicorn Rescue

This was Clock N Lock’s newest and most ambitious game, and I think that shows from the photos.

A wizard's study with sigils on the stone wall.

I love the Baby Unicorn rescue concept. It’s super clever, and the execution was adorable.

Tough Decisions

For all the avatar adaptations of real-life escape games that we’ve played during the last year, many facilities have sat empty, like Clock N Lock. These games leaned into the tangible – both in puzzles and in customer service – and wouldn’t have adapted easily. For some many owners, a digital adaptation isn’t the right answer. We respect the difficult decision to close a business (in many cases, one that had been healthy before 2020) rather than commit to a digital adaptation and risk the debt. We know many folks are facing this struggle as we cross the one-year mark.

Closing Thoughts

We truly appreciate that we were given a chance to see these games, and share a little piece of them with you.

Paula, the owner of Clock N Lock in the unicorn cage.

If you are closing down your escape room company, and you have something that you’d like to share, please let us know. When someone has put their heart into their games, we want to document what was while we can.

Enigma Emporium – Puzzle Postcards Series 2: Cycle of Learning [Review]

Insufficient Postage?

Location:  at home

Date Played: January, 2021

Team size: we recommend 2-4

Duration: 8-15 hours

Price: about $50

REA Reaction

I really like Enigma Emporium. From the moment that they entered the scene, I found myself taken by the amount of content that they crammed into a few postcards. I’ve also truly respected their sustainable business model. I think what they do makes sense.

It’s with that in mind that I say that Puzzle Postcards Series 2: Cycle of Learning was just ok.

The puzzles were fine, and if that’s what you’re looking for, then I think you’ll find them enjoyable… but this many installments in, it felt like the product line had stalled.

Puzzle envelopes for the 4 games.

Cohesion & Creative Direction

Each of the 4 standalone envelopes within Puzzle Postcards Series 2: Cycle of Learning had a unique theme. Let’s focus on the most eye-catching of the bunch, Cryptic Cryptids. There was an opportunity to pull us into a story by using the postcards, prose, and puzzles to make something cohesive and distinctive… and that didn’t happen. There was a brilliant concept to work with, but that concept felt more like background noise.

Puzzle post cards fanned out.

Postcards are an incredibly inexpensive medium to work with. When I look at the price of these puzzles, we are paying for the art, the writing, and the puzzle design. The puzzles were the only portion that carried its weight.

Puzzle Integration

As I said, the puzzles in Puzzle Postcards Series 2: Cycle of Learning were good. Reasonable people could disagree about some of the cluing, but where I really felt let down was that a week after solving these, I couldn’t remember which puzzles went with which installment.

Ultimately, the entire game felt like a puzzle book in loose-leaf form. Another page, another puzzle. And again, that’s not inherently bad… but for the price, this needed more to grab and hold my attention.

I say this knowing that the folks from Enigma Emporium are capable of pushing their products into a cohesive and coherent direction. We’ve seen them do it.

Cycle of Learning game box has a 3d mobius strip

Tips For Players

  • Space Requirements: A small table
  • Required Gear: An internet-connected device, pen, paper

Buy your copy of Enigma Emporium’s Puzzle Postcards Series 2: Cycle of Learning, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Enigma Emporium provided a sample for review.

Tomorrow: David & Peih-Gee Livestream on Puzzle Hunts with IndieCade’s Beyond Screens

David Spira and Peih-Gee Law, the hosts of REA’s new podcast the Reality Escape Pod, will be livestreaming on Twitch tomorrow as part of IndieCade’s new weekly show Beyond Screens.

A microhone resting on a mixing board.
  • Date: Wednesday, March 10
  • Time: Noon PST / 3pm EST

Tomorrow’s Livestream

In this episode, David and Peih-Gee will be joined by Matthew Stein, REA Hivemind reviewer and co-creator of Escape The Plagues (Review), a beginner-friendly Passover puzzle hunt. They’ll be discussing puzzle hunts:

  • Solving techniques for beginners
  • Escape The Plagues, and Matthew’s intent and approach to designing it
  • And they’ll work through one of the puzzles live

This is live and interactive, so bring your questions! It’s totally fine if you show up late or need to leave early. We hope you’ll drop by!

Monthly Appearances

IndieCade’s new weekly show Beyond Screens has a rotating cast of hosts livestreaming on Twitch on Wednesdays at Noon Pacific / 3pm Eastern.

David and Peih-Gee will host about once a month, sometimes with other guests. They’ll vary the format of their streams. You can expect conversation, games, puzzles, and fun!

About Beyond Screens

Beyond Screens is IndieCade’s new Twitch show exploring work that pushes the boundaries of, or comes entirely off of the screen. Genres covered will include participatory theatre, alternate reality and live-action roleplaying; escape rooms; Big Games; and alternative controllers. Each hour-long episode will feature an in-depth conversation with creators of these genre-defining games.

This show is weekly, every Wednesday at Noon Pacific / 3pm Eastern.

Follow IndieCade on Twitch to stay up to date.

The Magic Puzzle Company – The Sunny City [Review]

Sunny side up

Location:  at home

Date Played: February 6, 2021

Team size: we recommend 1-4

Duration: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Price: about $20

REA Reaction

For our third adventure into The Magic Puzzle Company’s unusual jigsaw puzzles we assembled The Sunny City. This installment had a more muted, mature vibe without the overt playfulness of The Mystic Maze and The Happy Isles. This puzzle felt like it was designed with someone else in mind, and I say that not as judgment, but as a compliment.

Setting aside aesthetics, The Sunny City felt similar to The Happy Isles. Daunting at first glance, these puzzles were cleverly designed such that little details throughout the puzzle made these seemingly similar sections far more approachable than they’d initially appeared… and for me that continued to feel more magical than the actual magical transformations offered by these jigsaw puzzles.

Of the original three puzzles, while this one didn’t speak to me on an emotional level, I can easily imagine folks who would greatly prefer this over the others. Regardless of my sensibilities, I genuinely enjoyed puzzling through The Sunny City. I hope that we see more from The Magic Puzzle Company; I think they are onto something.

Continue reading “The Magic Puzzle Company – The Sunny City [Review]”