Trapped! – Down the Rabbit Hole [Review]

Fantastic Mr. Rabbit

Location:  Upland, CA

Date Played: January 4, 2020

Team size: 1-6; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $32-40 per player

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Down the Rabbit Hole was a charming escape room with a lighthearted premise. Even with the small space and humble scope, Trapped! transported us to an adorable fantasy world.

Though we encountered references to Alice in Wonderland, Down the Rabbit Hole stood alone as a Wonderland-adjacent adventure. The story wove through our experience via puzzles, interactions, and audio guidance.

The playful theme and lower difficulty make this escape room especially appropriate for families. Still, Down the Rabbit Hole provides a low-key escape for anyone who’s young at heart.

If the theme sounds appealing and you don’t require a serious challenge, Down the Rabbit Hole is worth a visit.

A bed draped with sheer fabric sits under a wall covered with various clocks.
Photo credit: Kirk Damato

Who is this for?

  • Animal lovers
  • Families
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Adorable premise
  • Magical moments
  • Whimsical puzzling

Story

Our dog had a habit of running away and bringing home unusual objects. We had followed him down a deep, dark hole into a curious burrow. We needed to rescue our dog and find our way out.

Setting

We found ourselves in a modest but cozy rabbit hole, complete with half-size props and furniture. The theme fit the relatively small space nicely. We almost felt like we were underground.

A large mirror hangs between a fireplace and a chalkboard in a rustic den.
Photo credit: Kirk Damato

Gameplay

Down the Rabbit Hole was a standard escape room with a lower level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observation, making connections, and puzzling, with an emphasis on logic.

Analysis

➕ Down the Rabbit Hole was just plain adorable. From the story to the set to the puzzles, this escape room warmed our hearts.

Teacups, candles, and fruit on a doily-covered table.
Photo credit: Kirk Damato

➕ The story threaded throughout the hour and provided a sense of cohesion and lighthearted adventure.

➕/➖ The audio story/hint delivery contributed to the quaint atmosphere and fit into the whimsical woodland world we’d stumbled into. However, because of its limited range, we missed the beginning of certain messages while heading towards the speaker.

Down the Rabbit Hole was on the easy side, but it didn’t stoop to hand-holding. We always knew what we needed to do without the solutions being overly obvious.

➖ One puzzle slowed us down as we scratched out the solution on a chalkboard. This puzzle felt slightly out of place in an otherwise hands-on game. Solving this puzzle with tactile props might have better preserved our momentum.

➕ Despite the humble premise and setting, certain moments felt magical and memorable.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is ample parking at the venue.

Book your hour with Trapped!’s Down the Rabbit Hole, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

So You Wanna Save the World – Episode 0 [Review]

Who wants to save the %#(@ world?

Location:  at home

Date Played: October 2019

Team size: Unlimited; we recommend 1-2

Duration: Variable; probably 2-3 hours

Price: Free

REA Reaction

So You Wanna Save the World is envisioned as a monthly puzzle subscription service intended to replicate the feel of playing an escape room. The monthly package hasn’t launched yet, but this free prequel episode offers a taste of what the creators have in mind.

Considering the online setting, Episode 0 felt a lot like a puzzle hunt, but with more of a story focus. The secret agency backstory provided a clever meta-explanation for the physical mailer format. Using websites, videos, and phone calls upped the fun factor.

The gameplay itself felt uneven at times, as some moments of insight came significantly more easily than others. Trial and error played a role as we determined which components fit together. The puzzles ranged from delightfully challenging to frustratingly opaque.

Logo with text reading "So You Wanna Save the World: An Online Escape Room Experience."

The tone of So You Wanna Save the World was edgy bordering on aggressive. Players who prefer a more welcoming, supportive atmosphere should probably look elsewhere.

So You Wanna Save the World made big promises of being cinematic and game-changing. Episode 0 delivered a slick and entertaining game, but with some rough edges. Producing fun, balanced content every month isn’t easy, but with lots of playtesting, future installments could live up to those promises.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • The puzzles
  • The edgy, roguish vibe
  • To banter with a smart-mouthed AI

Story

We had been recruited by the Mail Marshals, a secret government agency embedded inside the post office. Two Mail Marshals agents, along with an experimental AI, provided evidence and secret messages for us to decipher in order to prove our worth and catch the bad guy.

Two agents sit at a desk labeled "Mail Marshals" in front of a giant screen showing a close-up of a globe.

Setup

So You Wanna Save the World used websites, phone numbers, and videos to present a series of puzzles enmeshed in a secret agent story. An online account saved our progress in a Case Notes section, complete with writeups of our progress so far. We could confer with other players via the Recruit Network (a Facebook group) if we needed help.

In future installments of So You Wanna Save the World, each episode will start with a physical mailing sent to players’ home addresses. This introductory episode began with a digital version of one of these mailers.

A mailer for Anderson and Sons Plumbing, with additional marketing text and a man in a jumpsuit giving a thumbs-up.

Gameplay

So You Wanna Save the World: Episode 0 was an online puzzle game with a high level of difficulty. Core gameplay revolved around observation and cracking codes.

The puzzles varied in difficulty and usually involved aha moments. This meant some puzzles took just a few moments to figure out and others took far longer.

The puzzles were presented in tandem with a story about the case we were working on. The tasks mostly emerged authentically from the story and the puzzle’s medium (video, audio, or graphic).

Analysis

So You Wanna Save the World integrated websites, phone calls, and physical mailings. The puzzles felt natural in all of these habitats.

➕/➖ The website, videos, and other materials went a long way towards making the experience immersive. The production value was slick and professional, but the characters lacked a sense of urgency. We found ourselves wishing the videos had expressed the intensity that saving the world would ostensibly require.

➖ Our interactions with Tachyon, our AI helper, were persnickety. We sometimes had to experiment to find the specific wording that would get her to react. When she didn’t understand, she berated us with insults that quickly became repetitive.

A chat window with a robot avatar saying "Oh look, it's Recruit Willson here to waste my time."

❓ Speaking of Tachyon…So You Wanna Save the World was explicitly not for children. The cursing was gratuitous and unabashed, and the story included descriptions of violence. This may limit the potential audience somewhat, particularly for families interested in puzzling together.

➕/➖ So You Wanna Save the World presented bonus evidence and Easter eggs concurrently with the main storyline. We enjoyed searching for the extra hidden content. At times the bonus puzzles stood out more than the ones on the main branch of gameplay, so we accidentally forked away without realizing. Further playtesting might help even out the difficulty of the branches.

➕/➖ Solving puzzles and determining which components to combine often required trial and error. Many of the stand-alone puzzles provided satisfying moments of insight. When we needed to choose which clues fit together to make progress, the lack of structure made things more challenging, and occasionally frustrating.

➖ Because we didn’t know what style or caliber of puzzle to expect, we had trouble getting our bearings at first. We spent almost an hour on the first puzzle before the insight necessary to solve it dawned on us. An easier start or some form of onboarding would give players a better idea of what sort of challenge awaited.

➕ The Case Notes section of the website recorded our progress and included recaps of previous puzzles. This helped us keep our findings straight and reorient ourselves after stepping away from the game. The Case Notes also helped show how a puzzle was solved when we weren’t quite sure how we’d done it.

➖ The first-person format of the Case Notes became jarring when the notes expressed attitudes opposed to my own. Late in the game, Recruit Willson praised a character whose actions I would never support in real life. Seeing my actual name on this entry was unsettling. A more neutral stance in the notes would preserve immersion.

➕/➖ The Facebook group was a creative in-game way to get hints. It was tricky to describe where we were stuck, since the puzzles weren’t linear or explicitly named. The other recruits’ posts were helpful, though we had to dodge spoilers for puzzles we hadn’t reached yet. Also, the group could become more or less useful in the future as the community grows or shrinks.

➕ The Mail Marshals backstory explained the purpose of the physical mailer components cleverly. Episode 0 started online instead of via snail mail, but searching through actual junk mail for secret messages in future episodes sounds like fun.

Tips for Playing

So You Wanna Save the World: Episode 0 requires an internet connection and a US phone number. A pencil and paper will come in handy, but otherwise you don’t need any special equipment.

Playing alone or with one companion seems ideal, since the puzzles aren’t particularly collaborative. If you typically like approaching puzzle hunts and similar games solo, try this one by yourself.

And ignore Tachyon when she tells you you’re a useless $*@%. You’ll show her.

Ship of Theseus by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst [Review]

Meta masterpiece.

Author:  J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst

Release Date:  October 29, 2013

Page Count: 472 plus inserts

Price: About $30

Publisher:  Mulholland Books

REA Reaction

Ship of Theseus, also known as S., is hard to categorize. Presented in book form, it’s an ambitious piece of experimental fiction with many layers of story and meaning. Ship of Theseus started with an innocuous central premise — who is the author V.M. Straka? — and infused it with unique storytelling to create an epic reading experience.

Ship of Theseus felt more like a novel than anything else, but its supplemental documents and many narrative layers made it more involving than passively reading a regular book. At times, the unusual format felt as exciting as a movie and as nonlinear and interactive as a game.

Ship of Theseus title page.

There were ciphers embedded in Ship of Theseus, and deciding how to tackle the layers of story required some strategizing. But mostly the point was to explore and gradually gain familiarity with its rich fictional world of academia and intrigue.

Due to its length and complexity, Ship of Theseus was intimidating. If you’re looking for a straightforward read or clearly delineated puzzles, the setup may feel overwhelming. Just like with certain other J.J. Abrams projects, not all the open questions got clear answers. But even without uncovering all of its secrets, Ship of Theseus had a lot to offer casual readers.

If you love the feeling of exploring someone’s communications and unlocking a grand story piece by piece, Ship of Theseus was made for you.

Who is this for?

  • Avid readers who enjoy being immersed in a story’s world
  • Cipher enthusiasts
  • Fans of experimental literature

Why Read?

  • Rich, intricate world building
  • Impressive construction of story layers
  • Mysteries at every turn

Story

V.M. Straka wrote many novels, but his true identity remains shrouded in mystery. His final book, Ship of Theseus, followed a man with amnesia journeying to distant lands to discover his true identity and motivation. Straka’s translator published the novel posthumously in 1949.

Decades later, two students at Pollard State University meet by writing notes back and forth in a copy of Ship of Theseus left at the university library. By delving into Straka’s web of associations and solving hidden messages in the book, Jen and Eric connect over a shared interest in discovering Straka’s identity. Along the way, they’re thrown into a conspiracy story of their own with life-or-death stakes.

Ship of Theseus book and slipcover.

Setup

Ship of Theseus was presented as an old hardcover book. It had copious notes written in the margins and an assortment of paper mementos interspersed throughout the pages. Besides the authors’ names on the box, the entire package appeared to be an artifact from the story’s fictional world.

The novel unfolded as a stand-alone narrative within the literary intrigue surrounding the associates and scholars of V.M. Straka. 

In the margins, Jen and Eric discussed research about Straka, goings-on in their corner of academia, and typical getting-to-know-you topics. They also shared theories about secret messages hidden in Ship of Theseus. They wrote in different colors in different time periods, so part of the reading process involved untangling the timeline of their findings and the events they described.

By perusing the novel, the translator’s footnotes, the conversations between Jen and Eric, and the documents slipped between the pages, I attempted to puzzle out the concurrent narrative threads and eventually solve the central question: Who is V.M. Straka?

Sample pages of Ship of Theseus, along with a postcard that says "Greetings from Brazil."

Gameplay

Ship of Theseus was primarily a nonlinear reading experience, but certain elements felt a bit like solving puzzles. Determining the timeline of Jen and Eric’s notes based on the color of their pens gave me logic puzzle vibes. Piecing together details from different timelines and different sources helped deepen my understanding of the story world.

Ship of Theseus included a number of ciphers within its pages. The margin notes frequently pointed out odd details about certain passages and theorized about possible hidden messages. Jen and Eric wrote out solutions to several of the book’s ciphers in the margins.

Because Ship of Theseus was presented as a found object, no other solutions were available. The creators initially published websites and social media posts dedicated to solving the mysteries of Straka, in the vein of an ARG. These are cryptic, however, and some of the links may have decayed in the ensuing years.

Reading and rereading Ship of Theseus and its supplementary documents created an increasingly clear picture of Straka’s life and legacy. I felt comfortable putting the book down when the story seemed complete enough. Hunting for puzzles to solve felt like a whole new dimension — one that, in my case, eventually became a burden.

Analysis

Ship of Theseus felt like an artifact with a rich backstory. The paper and binding were yellowed and worn like a real old book. Maybe I’d imagined it, but the pages even smelled a little musty. This authentic design set the stage for the story to come. It also meant I didn’t have to be careful with the book. If you scuff it up or accidentally splash tea on the pages, that only makes it more lifelike.

➕ Between the novel itself, the translator’s footnotes, the inserts, and the margin notes, Ship of Theseus contained at least half a dozen points of view from several different time periods, all presented at once. It blew my mind to imagine the work that must have gone into keeping all these layers straight and combining them to create an immersive, cohesive story world.

A sample footnote plus margin notes from Ship of Theseus.

➕ As a novel, Ship of Theseus stood on its own as an odd but engaging piece of fiction. The parallels between the novel and the side stories added to the intrigue.

➕/➖ The expansiveness of the mythology was impressive, even extending to seemingly official websites and social media posts. But the book came out in 2013, and certain links are no longer live (if they ever were). I found online communities dedicated to solving the book’s mysteries, but the conversation had died down since its publication. At that point, I felt like I was on my own.

➕ Because of all the simultaneous layers, the material appeared out of order and without full context, especially the margin notes. This structure may sound daunting, but in practice it felt empowering to make connections among all the story threads. After I’d spent a few months with Ship of Theseus, it felt like a major triumph to have gone from utter confusion to near fluency with the story’s literary world. But that doesn’t mean less patient readers will get lost: even without deep knowledge of what everything means, the story feels complete, and regular plot reminders help keep most things straight.

➕ Jen and Eric were strong, fleshed-out characters, right down to their distinctive handwriting. Because of Ship of Theseus’s nonlinear design, they developed over time in a unique way. The older margin notes reminded me of my own college days. The more recent ones illustrated how the characters have grown.

➕ Most of the ciphers in the book were pre-solved in the margin notes, but usually not on the same page. I appreciated being able to consider them as long as I wanted before reading on to find the code explained. Cipher aficionados might prefer to spend more time poring over the text before moving on.

❓Sometimes the notes indicated a seemingly important detail that might be part of a code, but never resolved the mystery. My internet research didn’t turn up any answers about the importance of these details. If they are secret messages, they’re extremely hard to decode. If not, they’re just red herrings.

➖ Ship of Theseus felt like it contained a multitude of hidden messages, but I didn’t find much to actually solve. Of the ciphers explained in the margins, the average puzzler couldn’t solve most of them without help. Not that they should’ve dumbed it down — but it hurt a little to solve literally nothing on my own.

➕ As a whole, Ship of Theseus presented a message of hope and perseverance. The conclusion of the various threads felt emotional and satisfying — though it never exactly felt like the end, because I can always pick up the book again and revisit Straka’s world someday.

Tips For Reading

Some of the margin notes refer to things that happen later in the novel, so reading the novel before the notes would be an efficient way to set out…in theory. However, it’s hard to ignore the eye-catching notes in the margins. See what feels right. You could read chapter by chapter, or go through the notes again after reading the whole book in order.

Even if you don’t attempt any extra sleuthing, Ship of Theseus is not a weekend read. Because it’s a longer narrative experience, it helps to keep notes, however you approach your readthrough. With all the out-of-context references, it might even be worth making an index. It all depends on how serious you want to get.

If you aren’t interested in rabbit holes, you can read casually and have most of the details doled out like a regular book. Without the extra trappings, Ship of Theseus is still a memorable, satisfying story.

Finally, don’t let the inserts fall out. But if they do, you can find guides online that describe where they all go.

Buy your copy of Ship of Theseus, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

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.

Scout Expedition Co. – The Nest 2019 [Reaction]

Press play.

Location:  Los Angeles, CA

Date Played: October 8, 2019

Team size: 1-2

Duration: ~60 minutes

Price: $95 per time slot

Ticketing:  Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The 2019 iteration of The Nest retained the poignant beauty of its original run in 2017, and added some new flourishes.

The first version of The Nest offered the unique, haunting experience of rummaging through an abandoned storage space and listening to snippets of a woman’s life on hidden audiotapes. The Nest felt so singular and complete that I hesitated to revisit it for fear of detracting from the original experience.

As returning visitors, knowing the story unavoidably took away some of the surprise and wonder of the original show. However, the changes in design, both large and small, moved us and added to the overall experience.

The original run of The Nest reminded me of playing through a video game like Gone Home (Nintendo Switch) or What Remains of Edith Finch (Xbox One) (Nintendo Switch), only in real life. Returning to see the updated version felt a bit like replaying an old favorite game rereleased with updated effects and new content.

A View-Master, a globe, and other curios sit on a desk under a lamp.
Photo credit: Jeremey Connors

What’s Different?

After Scout Expedition Co. crowdfunded this new run of The Nest, they set up shop in a new location, a former storage building reimagined as Los Angeles Storage Co. The new setting brought the story to life. Riding the freight elevator up to our floor and opening our storage unit felt magical.

Besides the location, the most noticeable change was the feeling of the space itself. The set felt dreamlike and abstract, like a symbolic representation of Josie’s life merged with an artful collection of her belongings. Subtle lighting and sound effects directed our focus and helped make our entire visit more cinematic and immersive.

Light shines on a cassette tape dangling from a piece of twine in front of a background of tree roots.
Photo credit: Jeremey Connors

A couple of new puzzly interactions were swapped in or added, along with some new technical flourishes. We also encountered a new area of Josie’s past. Overall, this iteration of The Nest was a bit less indie and more polished.

In this version’s backstory, rather than being Josie’s distant relatives, we had bought the contents of her storage space at auction. But at its heart, The Nest depicted the same story and the same Josie.

This time around, I walked away with a slightly less melancholy view of her story. But it’s hard to say whether that’s because The Nest changed or because, just like real memories, the experience changes ever so slightly each time you revisit it.

A cassette tape labeled "My 12th Birthday" sits on top of a tape recorder.
Photo credit: Jeremey Connors

Tips For Visiting

The Nest is currently sold out, but Scout Expedition Co. plans to release more tickets soon. Sign up for their mailing list or follow them on your social network of choice for updates.

  • Street parking is available.
  • The Nest requires at least one person to kneel and/or crawl.
  • The Nest has escape room elements, but it’s fundamentally an immersive experience with no ticking clock. Take your time and let yourself get swept up in the story.
  • Each time slot costs the same amount for one or two people. If you choose not to go solo, go with someone you trust to feel all the feelings with, and to share the flashlight.

When new tickets are available, book your hour with Scout Expedition Co.’s The Nest, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Scout Expedition Co. comped our tickets for this game.

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.

Escape the Night Escape Room [Review]

“This is not the afterlife I had envisioned.”

Location:  Los Angeles, CA

Date Played: August 14, 2019

Team size: 1-6; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $55-85 per player

Ticketing: Public or private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Escape the Night Escape Room was a limited-run experience that provided a memorable hour of adventure for fans of Joey Graceffa’s YouTube Premium series. It didn’t break new ground for escape rooms, but it offered plenty of entertaining interactions and detailed props to play with. Despite a few hiccups with some of the puzzles, we had a fun time and left interested in learning more about the show.

The approachable difficulty level and the in-room gamemaster made the Escape the Night Escape Room accessible to newer players. It wasn’t the best fit for seasoned escapers looking for their next challenge.

The story, set, and puzzles were all geared toward viewers of the YouTube series, which made it especially exciting for fans. But you didn’t have to be familiar with Escape the Night to enjoy the real-life version, if you didn’t mind the steep ticket price.

Photo credit: Kirk Damato

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Fans of Escape the Night
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Exciting interactions
  • Elaborate props
  • To play as characters from Escape the Night

Story

Playing as some of the characters who had previously died in Escape the Night, we had been trapped in purgatory by the Collector. We needed to find nine keys in order to recover the cosmic sphere and make our way back to the world of the living, or risk dying for good.

The premise roughly matched the premiere of Escape the Night’s fourth season, which began in July 2019.

A painting of the Collector collecting a soul.
Photo credit: Kirk Damato

Setting

The gamespace was decorated to represent different episodes of Escape the Night’s fourth season. We started in ancient Egypt, then the game transitioned to various other themes depicted in the show.

We encountered many of the same items used in Escape the Night, some of which evoked particular moments from the series. The detail of the props and puzzles contributed to the room’s sense of mystery and adventure.

The head of a minotaur under glass.
Photo credit: Kirk Damato

Gameplay

Escape the Night Escape Room was a standard escape room with a lower level of difficulty. Core gameplay revolved around observation, searching, and basic math.

Escape the Night Escape Room generally emphasized adventure over puzzling, with the tasks split between traditional escape room puzzles and fun large-scale interactions. Though the puzzles tended to be simple, the room was packed with gameplay.

A grid of tiles depicting different hieroglyphics, with several squares lit up.
Photo credit: Kirk Damato

Analysis

➕ The Escape the Night Escape Room escape room had plenty to offer fans of the YouTube series. The story, props, and pivotal moments in the game related back to the show. The young superfan in our group could hardly contain himself.

➕/➖ The set design didn’t manage to fully disguise that we were in a pop-up space, but the room was filled with ornate props and set pieces that heightened our experience.

➕ Escape the Night Escape Room gave us a lot to do. The active, hands-on interactions felt adventurous. Whereas most escape rooms have one or two big moments, Escape the Night Escape Room had several.

The hilt of a sword in the foreground, with museum pieces including a bust under glass in the background.
Photo credit: Kirk Damato

➕ Our in-room gamemaster provided guidance throughout and ensured that the game ran as smoothly as possible. The gamemaster triggered certain events once we had solved the corresponding puzzles, and these moments mostly felt natural and seamless.

➖ At one point, when we tried a less obvious but correct answer to a puzzle, nothing happened until the gamemaster realized our answer also worked. More playtesting might have uncovered this alternate solution. Even better, designing the puzzle with just one solution would have prevented any confusion.

➕/➖ The puzzle flow kept us busy and avoided bottlenecks despite its linear structure. However, we noticed a couple of items left over from ghost puzzles and had to bypass another due to a prop malfunction.

➖ Certain interactions required a good amount of handholding. For example, at one point the gamemaster cleared items off a surface just before it popped open, presumably to avoid flinging treasure all over the room. A more self-piloting design would have preserved the surprise and kept us immersed in the game during these moments.

➕ We enjoyed solving one particular riddle that involved themed items in the room rather than outside knowledge or sudden insight.

➖ In another puzzle, we struggled to figure out the order of certain items, but it turned out the placement didn’t matter. This ambiguity caused us to spin our wheels longer than we needed to.

➕/➖ In a few exciting instances, one player took an action alone to move the game forward. At first we decided together who would participate, but for the last of these decision points, the outcome was decided by random chance. If we’d been given an interesting challenge or choice inspired by the show at the end of the game instead, we would have walked away with more to discuss and reminisce about long after the night was over.

Tips For Visiting

For promotional games like the Escape the Night Escape Room, if you’re not familiar with the brand, including at least one fan in your group will add a lot to the experience. If you are a fan, bring money for the merch table, and don’t forget your cosplay for the photo wall.

Escape the Night Escape Room took place in August 2019 and is not currently running.

Disclosure: Escape the Night Escape Room comped our tickets for this game.