2017 New York Puzzle Party Announcement

Come join us at the 2017 New York Puzzle Party!

Colorful filtered image of a collection of physical puzzles. Many wooden puzzle boxes, cubes, puzzles locks, and entanglements.

Puzzlers of all types are welcome to bring puzzles, meet each other, and share a love of puzzling.

There will also be talks on a variety puzzle topics. We will be speaking about at-home room escape games.

Event Details

  • Date: Saturday, February 18, 2017
  • Time: 9:30am – 4:00pm
  • Location: Manhattan*
  • Entry cost: $5

At this event last year, we met Rod Kimball, author of Path Puzzles, learned about puzzle locks (and handled some incredible such works of art!), and listened to a talk about testing a puzzle app at the DMV, among other things.

This is an opportunity to purchase puzzles, see interesting creations, and meet new people. We hope to see you there.

*If you would like to attend, please fill out this form in order to RSVP to the event organizer and then obtain the location details.

Escapology – Arizona Shootout [Review]

Not-quite-Westworld.

Location: Orlando, FL

Date played: November 14, 2016

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29 per ticket

Story & setting

In the immediate aftermath of a shootout in front of a saloon in 1881, we found that some of the bad guys had been shot, but others were on the run. We needed to figure out which bad folk had gotten away and then escape from the saloon.

Arizona Shootout was sparsely themed as a saloon. The major setpieces all belonged, but they didn’t create an immersive environment. It was a cute set, but it didn’t feel like 1881.

In-game. An old piano with a beer and horse statue resting on it.

Puzzles

The puzzles weren’t particularly challenging. Arizona Shootout relied on searching, matching, and light indexing. It played out in a standard escape room style.

Standouts

We loved the family-friendly portrayal of the dead outlaws. The adorable design brought what could have been a less accessible theme to a general audience.

Arizona Shootout flowed smoothly.

Shortcomings

The saloon feel was strongest up front. As the game progressed, it felt increasingly like we could be in any building, anywhere, in any time.

One puzzle in particular required heavy searching and anachronistic technology. It didn’t feel like it belonged at all.

The gamemaster sent hints on the screen that displayed the game timer. When a hint appeared on top of the game timer graphic, it was challenging to read.

Should I play Escapology’s Arizona Shootout?

Escapology builds approachable, family-friendly entertainment.

Arizona Shootout would be a good entry point into escape rooms for new players who are unsure about this type of entertainment. The facility was welcoming. The game was solid and accessible.

For experienced players, Arizona Shootout would be an unremarkable game. Neither the setting nor the puzzles delivered excitement, intrigue, or innovation when compared with the broader market

That said, this could be a good choice for an experienced player who wants to solo, speedrun, or bring their multi-generational family and friends. .

Book your hour with Escapology’s Arizona Shootout, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escapology provided media discounted tickets for this game.

President Obama Escapes: Interview with Breakout Waikiki

President Obama and his family escaped a room at Breakout Waikiki during their winter vacation to Hawaii. We recently interviewed MacGregor Greenlee, General Manager of Hawaiian Operations at Breakout Waikiki about his experience hosting the Obamas.

Manoa Market in game image of the game played by the Obama's.

Room Escape Artist: When did you first find out that President Obama and his family were coming to play one of your room escapes?

Greenlee: We didn’t find out about the impending visit from POTUS until about an hour before he arrived. Initially it was only the Secret Service who showed up to sweep the place, do background checks on the employees, and open every single door, drawer, nook and cranny within all of our escape rooms to make sure it was safe. As you can imagine, that part took the longest.

How did the Obamas’ visit come about? What’s the backstory?

I can’t speak with any certainty how they came to visit us, but it may have something to do with a one year old tweet that was sent from the Breakout account. A year prior to President Obama’s actual visit, I found out that he and his family were coming to Hawaii for Christmas and I quickly wrote up a tweet and sent it out, assuming nothing would come of it. At the time, nothing did come of it, no response, no retweet, nothing. But fast forward a year and President Obama walks in our door to do an escape room at our facility. Whether he saw the tweet or his vacation planner did, something caught their eye and drew them to Breakout. Of course, I think it goes without saying that the Breakout ownership has set up a top class business which is reflected in our reviews online. I’m happy to think that some of our customers’ experiences helped inform the President’s decision to drop by.

What was it like interacting with the Secret Service? Did they make you change anything about your operations or your game?

The Secret Service were all about taking care of business just like you would imagine, but they were also very patient and understanding with the employees at Breakout who were no doubt shaking at the thought of running a room for the President. It wasn’t clear which room President Obama was going to do because they had a party of about 30 people who split into four different rooms. His daughters chose our Mission Manoa room which is based on a room at our original location (Breakout Kansas City) and features a hand cuffing component. As you can imagine, the Secret Service was not going to allow anyone in the room to be handcuffed, especially the President!

Was everything else business as usual? Were there other paying customers visiting that day?

There were paying customers that day and everything was running normally up until about 2:30pm. That’s when the secret service came in and started their sweep which definitely alerted the other customers to something going on. We unfortunately couldn’t tell them, for security reasons, so we had to do our best to explain in vague terms that we needed to escort them out after their game was done.

Which game did the Obamas play? Is that the game you would have recommended for them?

The Obamas, specifically President Obama and his two daughters as well as some other family, played Mission Manoa. This was one of our original games at Breakout Kansas City, one of my personal favorites and a perfect one for them to take on. It’s a challenging room, currently with an 18% success rate, that mixes a variety of different puzzle types and incorporates among the most locks in any game we offer.

What was it like to tell the President the rules of your game?

I didn’t run the room personally, but having heard first hand from our employee Janelle who operated the room for them, she was more than a little stressed out. Every room has its stresses, but put the experience of the President in with everything else definitely takes it to a new level. Full credit to her for keeping her cool and taking care of them as she would with any other group. Her and the rest of the staff did an exemplary job under extremely high pressure.

We hear that the Obamas escaped with only 12 seconds to spare. How intense were those last few minutes? Were you nervous that they weren’t going to make it out?

The tension could not have been higher in those last few moments! We knew we had to let them set their own pace and attack the puzzles as they saw them, which was very hard because with a high profile guest it’s hard to resist the urge to take control. However, as anyone who has done an escape room knows, you have to experience for yourself or it’s just not very fun. Fortunately in the end, they had what it took to escape the room just before time expired. They did use all three clues, but they used them wisely and that can always make the difference!

How aggressive were they (or you?) with the hints?

They were fairly average in the way they took clues, never waiting too long to request a hint or asking too early before they were stuck. As with most groups, there were some things they understood immediately and others that they struggled with before overcoming.

Who was the all-star?

Word is that Malia was key to their breakout, doing most of the heavy lifting when it came to solving the larger puzzles!

Did they take a post-game photo with their time?

They did, but we weren’t allowed to take it with our own camera. Instead their Photographer took the photo but it’s licensed for personal use only.

Is there anything you wish you had done differently?

Everything went about as close to perfectly as you can hope. Three of the groups broke out, one did not, everyone had a great time and there were no major issues. All in all, near perfect!

How has business been since their visit? Any notable uptick in escape room players?

We have absolutely experienced a bump in business since the President dropped by. Starting with the night he came in, we had quite a few groups book the same room he did just so they could give it a shot. Since then we have continued to enjoy a little bit of buzz that has carried over.

Do you expect a visit from President-Elect Trump?

Time will only tell, but we are certainly ready to have him drop by! If President-Elect Trump is up for the challenge, he is more than welcome to drop by and take on the Obama’s time whenever he would like to.

Escapology – Cuban Crisis [Review]

I thought it would be warmer in Cuba.

Location: Orlando, FL

Date played: November 14, 2016

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29 per ticket

Story & setting

We found ourselves in Fidel Castro’s office in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis. We needed to discover who ordered the Cuban military to shoot down an American U-2 spy plane.

An old desk with drawers locked shut. Atop the desk are an old fan, typewriter, and rotary phone.

Cuban Crisis took place in a generic office setting, with light decor that nodded to the era. I don’t know what Castro’s office looked like, but this wasn’t what came to mind when I tried to imagine it. This was a lightly themed, approachable game space.

Puzzles

The puzzles were not particularly challenging or memorable. They relied on searching and observation, along with other typical escape room puzzle skills.

Standouts

Cuban Crisis was a solid, standard escape room. Everything worked as designed and flowed logically.

Shortcomings

Despite the intensity of the Cuban Crisis’ historical subject matter, the game never managed to build emotional intensity. Neither the space nor the information we uncovered were any more exciting than the office gamespace.

A bookcase with a smile pile of books and a

There was a larger setpiece that required a little bit of strength to interact with. We recognized what it was and were certain that this was going to trigger open via some kind of automagical mechanism. This isn’t to say that you should be forceful in this game. Rather, an additional clue might help those who approach game pieces respectfully.

Should I play Escapology’s Cuban Crisis?

Cuban Crisis was an approachable, family-friendly escape room. The game flowed logically and everything worked, but it never managed to build any drama or excitement.

For new players interested in dipping a toe in the room escape waters, Cuban Crisis could be a good place to start. Escapology was a professional, welcoming facility and the game wasn’t scary, intense, or too difficult.

For more experienced players, there wasn’t anything particularly remarkable or intriguing in Cuban Crisis. It would be a fun solve, but without some of the challenge, ambiance, or exhilaration that exist in the wider market.

That said, this could be a good choice for an experienced player who wants to try a solo or speedrun.

Book your hour with Escapology’s Cuban Crisis, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escapology provided media discounted tickets for this game.

 

The Escape Game Orlando – Gold Rush [Review]

There’s gold in dem der hills.

Location: Orlando, FL

Date played: November 11, 2016

Team size: 2-7; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $32 per ticket

Story & setting

In this modern story of the California Gold Rush, a successful gold prospector has gone missing and we wanted to uncover his stashed gold before anyone else did. The backstory felt unnecessary, but it was charming. In short, this room escape was a mission to find gold.

Gold Rush started in the cheesiest presentation of northern California woods, but it became rapidly more compelling as the scenery changed.

In-game: A odd looking artificial birch tree beside a log gabin with wilderness painted along the walls.

Puzzles

As Gold Rush progressed, so did the puzzles. They started off easy and relatively uninteresting, but by the final section of the game, we were puzzling against a challenging and interesting opponent.

Throughout the game, the puzzles rewarded the observant player.

The best of the interactions defied our expectations.

Standouts

One exhilarating segment of Gold Rush would never fly in the NYC. It was thrilling to watch David crush this; I would have struggled enormously.

The Escape Game Orlando beautifully crafted the gamespace to allow for the fun and surprising moments. It was a thoughtful, perceptive design. Parts of this set were magnificent.

At its best, Gold Rush executed simple things brilliantly.

Shortcomings

Early on the set was pretty silly.

Not only were the early puzzles easy, some of them were simply annoying.

We experienced a technical failure on a crucial puzzle that really diminished our experience. Our gamemaster was quick to respond, but this failure deflated what otherwise would likely have been the Gold Rush‘s finest moment.

Should I play The Escape Game Orlando’s Gold Rush?

The Escape Game Orlando minds the details. While at times the set was cheesy, it was also deliberately designed and crafted for the experience the company intended. The rough edges were purposeful; the rest was polished.

The game flow of Gold Rush would be an excellent on-ramp for new players. It led us from easy to hard. Both the scenery and puzzling escalated as the game progressed. While we would have loved to see a stronger start, more often than not, escape rooms fizzle as they progress. We’d rather start low and build up than the reverse.

Gold Rush is great family-friendly fun. While it does require a fair bit of mobility and the handling of a heavier object, most of the game offers a less intense path for those who need it.

For escape room veterans, by mid-game, there will be delightful surprises that continue on until you find the gold. And if you’re not from a more left-leaning region, well, you’re in for a treat.

Book your hour with The Escape Game Orlando’s Gold Rush, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: The Escape Game Orlando comped our tickets for this game.

 

Curious Escape Rooms – The Dollhouse [Review]

Feel little again.

Location: Fitchburg, MA

Date played: December 10, 2016

Team size: 4-8; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

Story & setting

In The Dollhouse we entered a life-size dollhouse.

The Dollhouse looked like the hodgepodge mess of furniture and toys that one would find in a kid’s dollhouse. Not mine… which was anal-retentively matched, but I certainly had friends with dollhouses that felt a lot like the one built by Curious Escape Rooms.

The pretense for this excursion was secondary to the puzzle adventure in the world Curious Escape Rooms created, but that journey was magnificently child-like.

In-game: A giant Barbie doll sitting at a table dressed as a child-like detective in a dollhouse.

Puzzles

Many of the puzzles in The Dollhouse required substantial searching.

As long as we had all the components, the puzzles made sense and flowed logically one to the next.

Standouts

Curious Escape Rooms built this entire experience with a small budget and a lot of creativity. The designers knew their strengths and steered into those skills when they conceptualized and constructed The Dollhouse. As a result of their ingenuity, they produced a unique game with some imaginative, yet budget-conscious innovation.

The Dollhouse manipulated perspective in unexpected ways. It was an unusual theme and it came to life, so to speak.

A pair of particularly surprising moments added depth and made The Dollhouse pretty damn compelling.

The conclusion was clever.

Shortcomings

While the aesthetic held together, some of the set could have been more thoroughly cleaned, especially considering the extent to which we had to scavenge.

The Dollhouse involved moving more substantial setpieces than experienced players will generally feel comfortable with.

One puzzle overstayed its welcome and probably should have been broken up into a few smaller interactions.

Should I play Curious Escape Rooms’ The Dollhouse?

The Dollhouse was a fun escape room that brought childhood memories to life through creative perspective and skillful use of technology.

Note that this room escape is playful and approachable for all audiences; it is not creepy.

The puzzling was relatively basic. The beauty of The Dollhouse was playing around inside it. It was a great beginner game.

Curious Escape Rooms is a little over an hour’s drive west of Boston, but also accessible by train. It might be a hike, but The Dollhouse is worth a visit for experienced players interested in seeing how escape room designers embraced constraints and used their skills to create something brilliantly unusual.

Book your hour with Curious Escape Rooms’ The Dollhouse, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Curious Escape Rooms comped our tickets for this game.

 

Escape Room Madness – The Perfect Crime [Review]

The average crime.

Location: New York, NY

Date played: November 27, 2016

Team size: up to 12; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $31 per ticket

Story & setting

We were in a detective’s office investigating a crime. We needed to determine whodunit, before they got us too.

This was a standard, mundane office setting with locks all over.

A faux rotary phone in the foreground. Wood paneled walls and a bookcase in the background.

Puzzles

Escape Room Madness relied on common escape room puzzle tactics. The Perfect Crime combined a lot of escape room cliches with a few less standard puzzle executions.

Standouts

One particular puzzle’s output was especially elegant.

The game flow was clear.

A line of a dozen "Private Investigator" badges hanging on chains along a wood paneled wall.

Shortcomings

The Perfect Crime’s story arc was flat. At no point did we feel a sense of urgency or heightened stakes.

Escape Room Madness relied on multiple locks with identical input structures, which further flattened the emotional experience of the game.

Tons of details were ultimately useless.

We didn’t need to be in this particular office to solve The Perfect Crime. The escape room could have been equally dramatic, perhaps more dramatic, if it had come in a box for at-home play. The environment was simply a container rather than part of a story.

Should I play Escape Room Madness’ The Perfect Crime?

The Perfect Crime wasn’t a bad game. The puzzles made sense and flowed clearly from one to another. Everything worked.

That said, it wasn’t an exciting room escape either. The environment didn’t contribute to the experience. It never created anything from all that puzzling.

If you’re a new player, looking for an approachable and non-threatening place to start out in Midtown Manhattan, The Perfect Crime is fine. However, there are far more exciting room escapes to experience.

Escape Room Madness is a company with potential. They understand game flow; they got a lot of the basics right. It was clear that they care. If they are willing to push themselves to produce a game that makes a statement, they could grow into a viable competitor in the Midtown Manhattan market.

Book your hour with Escape Room Madness’ The Perfect Crime, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escape Room Madness provided media discounted tickets for this game.

 

America’s Escape Game – Crisis at 1600 [Review]

Crash the White House.

Location: Orlando, FL

Date played: November 14, 2016

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 5-7

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $35 per ticket

Story & setting

A paramilitary group launched missiles at the White House and we needed to enter the Oval Office to disarm them.

For the most part, Crisis at 1600 was a standard office escape room with a style of furniture and props that suggested a governmental office. It was themed, but the set design didn’t elevate the drama of the mission.

A white wall with a portrait of Lincoln mounted to it.
Image via America’s Escape Game

Puzzles

Crisis at 1600 relied heavily on busywork puzzles. Once we had determined how to solve something, it took quite some time to execute the solution.

The puzzles were not distributed evenly throughout the game. This unevenness created bottlenecking, which would be magnified with large teams.

Standouts

The penultimate segment of Crisis at 1600 was unusually designed and a lot of fun.

Shortcomings

Everything before and after that aforementioned section lacked punch. We were completing tedious puzzles in a governmental office.

One particular portion of the game demanded accuracy while forcing us to use an inaccurate toy as a precision tool. The concept was exciting, but the execution was frustrating. Our gamemaster interrupted this segment to inform us that should we not succeed at the task, we’d have to burn a hint to move forward in the game.

Players with knowledge of American government and history will be able to steamroll portions of Crisis at 1600. We completed a section of the room escape out of order because we had the outside knowledge to both speed up and bypass puzzles.

There was one tedious newspaper-style puzzle.

Should I play America’s Escape Game’s Crisis at 1600?

Multiple people in Orlando have suggested to us that this is the greatest room escape they’ve ever played. We don’t know what to make of that. Did they seeing something we didn’t? Or is it that everyone loves their first time?

This is America’s Escape Game’s flagship game. While Crisis at 1600 may have given the company its start, at the end of 2016, it felt dated. If they want to lean on this experience as a flagship, it needs to be updated. It’s a great concept and there is opportunity to create a dramatic space, an emotional roller coaster, and more interesting puzzles. They could make this game that into that special something.

That said, as we played it, Crisis at 1600 was a very average room escape. New players will enjoy it; experienced players could certainly have fun puzzling for America, but won’t find much to write their representative about.

America’s Escape Game seems a well-managed and disciplined company, but we don’t understand the Crisis at 1600 hype. We hope they can build more drama and intrigue into their White House.

Book your hour with America’s Escape Game’s Crisis at 1600, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: America’s Escape Game provided media discounted tickets for this game.

 

America’s Escape Game – Pandemic [Review]

Curing Ebola in an hour or so.

Location: Orlando, FL

Date played: November 14, 2016

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $35 per ticket

Story & setting

In Pandemic, we needed to stop an infectious disease from destroying the planet. We took over where the scientists investigating it had left off (or died off).

In-game, an elevator door.

The overall game had a stark medical feel. It felt a bit like a slightly industrial, poorly lit doctor’s office. It didn’t look bad but wasn’t much to look at either.

Puzzles

Pandemic’s puzzles relied heavily on busy work. Once we’d figured out how to solve something, we had many minutes to go before completing the solution. At least five separate puzzles all required this type of repetitious execution.

Pandemic included one dated newspaper-style puzzle that played more like an elementary school reading comprehension exam than an adventure puzzle game.

Standouts

Pandemic included one particularly exciting interaction that we hadn’t seen until we visited Orlando.

The game flowed logically and smoothly.

Shortcomings

Many of the puzzles involved busywork rather than progressive discovery.

One prop was badly jammed and the hint to reinvestigate it was delivered with unnecessary condescension.

Close-up of a wall with gas masks hanging from it.
Image via America’s Escape Game

Asking for one hint resulted in heavy-handed followup hinting. We found this frustrating because we were already back on the right track and it was simply taking time to execute on something that was tedious by design.

Should I play America’s Escape Game’s Pandemic?

Pandemic was a competently designed escape room; the puzzles flowed logically from start to finish.

The set wasn’t particularly exciting, but the gritty environment added a little urgency to our mission.

In late 2016, the game felt dated. Much of the puzzle difficulty was in the execution, not the solution.

Pandemic was perfectly passable. There’s plenty here for new players to enjoy. However, more experienced players shouldn’t expect to be wowed.

That was the thing with Pandemic. There wasn’t a lot wrong with it, but there also wasn’t anything special.

Book your hour with America’s Escape Game’s Pandemic, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: America’s Escape Game provided media discounted tickets for this game.

Quest Zone – Alcatraz Escape [Review]

Where does everyone buy this metal toilet?

Location: Ridgefield, NJ

Date played: November 3, 2016

Team size: 2-8; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29.95 per ticket

Story & setting

We were investigating a prison break from Alcatraz by going back into the escaped prisoner’s cell and recreating his escape.

In-game image shoth through the bars of a jail cell. A small kot and table rest in the room.Scratched into the cell's grey walls are the words, "God will give me justice."

The set had your standard unremarkable office-space turned prison look: barren and uninviting. There were components that were clearly out of place in the set.

Puzzles

The puzzles in Alcatraz Escape relied on standard escape room themes.

While a few of the puzzles presented interesting challenges, the hardest part was making the right connections between components.

In-game image of a combination steel sink/toilet.
I’m serious. Where is everyone buying this thing?

Standouts

One great puzzle culminated in a surprising set-based interaction that felt truly in character with the story.

Quest Zone repurposed some interesting technology into a game component. One of these hacks was at the end of the game. It was pretty funny to realize what they had used to build the interaction.

Shortcomings

Alcatraz Escape had an unusual layout due to the geography of the building. Quest Zone did their best to work with it, but the unusual layout felt like a missed opportunity. It wasn’t used to escalate drama.

The fiction was shaky and Quest Zone didn’t build it out enough to “up the stakes” of our investigation-turned-escape. As Alcatraz Escape advanced, it fizzled into a traditional, lock-heavy game with an uninteresting set.

Some of the puzzles relied on pretty random associations.

Should I play Quest Zone’s Alcatraz Escape?

Alcatraz Escape was a solid introductory game in a suburban market. Although located just 30 minutes outside of Manhattan, this northern New Jersey game caters to a hyperlocal audience. New players will enjoy this generally standard experience, complete with a few fun quirks.

For experienced players, Alcatraz Escape is not worth journeying across the river and through the woods, considering everything that New York City can offer. It was solid, but not outstanding.

Book your hour with Quest Zone’s Alcatraz Escape, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Quest Zone provided media discounted tickets for this game.