Insomnia Escape – The Alchemist [Review]

A magical experience

Location: Washington, DC

Date played: May 28, 2016

Team size: 2-7; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per ticket

2016 Golden Lock-In Award - golden ring around the REA logo turned into a lock.
2016 Golden Lock-In Winner

Story & setting

The Order of the Alchemists has created the mythic and powerful Philosopher’s stone. We had to¬†steal this stone from the library of the Master of the Order before¬†the Order could use it to take over the world.

The library staging was both believable and fantastical. Despite the wealth of objects in the room, it wasn’t¬†cluttered. Through the furniture and props, Insomnia Escape achieved an ornate and mythical ambiance that was dead-on.

The setup was a heist, which was as plausible as the fantastical could be.

In-game photo of a wizard statue, an intricately engraved human skull, and a stainglass window in the background.


The puzzles in The Alchemist worked their way through the objects in the room. The game¬†cleverly zeroed in on the important items¬†so we didn’t feel trapped in a room of red herrings, even though there were more than a few items that weren’t incorporated into puzzles.

In part, this stemmed from a linear game flow. The escape room set clear intermediary goals and the puzzles marched forward pretty directly.

Additionally, The Alchemist told its story through the puzzles. It used a variety of interactions to continually escalate dramatic intrigue.


The library of the Master of the Order was an intricate, beautiful, and fun environment to explore for an hour.

Double wood doors with runs painted on them, beset by a pair of black lion door knockers.
Quite the knockers.

The technology in The Alchemist was well hidden and seamlessly revealed additional information as the game unfolded. It was elegant.

In this escape room, Insomnia Escape flawlessly executed their own take on some typical escape room standards. Nothing felt cliche.

This library included quite a bit of reading material. However, we weren’t bogged down¬†by the amount of text.


We felt a lack of supervision. We were supposed to speak to the camera to receive a hint, but the gamemasters weren’t very responsive. We know that it can be difficult to communicate through these surveillance systems, but even so, this was excessive. It may have worked in our favor, given that twice we ended up not needing a hint after we’d asked for one and¬†not received it. (We never actually used a hint.) Regardless,¬†we had asked and it didn’t come. This would likely be more frustrating for less experienced players, or players¬†neck and neck with their clock.

Team victory photo taken in the Alchemist's study.

In a few instances, once we’d solved a¬†puzzle and knew how to proceed, it became tedious to execute the solution.

Should I play Insomnia Escape’s The Alchemist?

If you like artful design, story, and beautifully hidden technology, then yes, this is your game.

The Alchemist was mystical and magical. It transported us into a solidly constructed, carefully crafted alternate universe. Furthermore, our mission was clear and we felt like characters in an unfolding fantasy heist.

This is not an ideal game for new players because they will likely have trouble finding and following the thread of gameplay. We recommend that players get a few games under their proverbial belts before taking on The Alchemist, as they will find it far more enjoyable if they have a firm grasp of escape room mechanics, tactics, and flow.

Book your hour with Insomnia Escape’s¬†The Alchemist, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Insomnia Escape – Cosa Nostra [Review]

“La Cosa Nostra” is the Sicilian Mafia. Who knew?

Location: Washintongton, DC

Date played: January 10, 2016

Team size: 2-7; we recommend 2-4

Price:¬†It’s complicated.

Theme & story

Cosa Nostra was your standard Prohibition escape room setup:

It’s 1933 and we were a team of federal agents entering a speakeasy to find documents linking a politician to the mafia.

The twist in Cosa Nostra was its superb execution.

An old bar with a rotary phone on it. Behind the bar is a mirrored wall lined with liquor bottles.

Design and Production

Insomnia Escape managed to assemble a collection of functional props that are of the era (or at least feel like it), and used them to build a room that felt like another world.

Cosa Nostra was beautiful and it is fully illustrated by their incredibly well-produced intro video (which was not available when we played the game). The video was largely shot within the game and will give you a sense of what is to come.

Irreplaceable experience?

Most of the objects in Cosa Nostra felt like they ought to belong in 1933. There were a few items that felt a little out of place such as key chains, some liquor bottles, modern money, and plastic poker chips, but for the most part, the game was firmly set in the past.

There were two large set pieces that floored our team. These old, heavily mechanical pieces were large, in working condition, and absolutely essential to the game. In a lot of ways, these set pieces made the game.

My long-term concern for Cosa Nostra is: what happens if these objects break? I cannot imagine that finding replacements would be an easy task. This is a hypothetical risk. At this point everything works well, but it could become an issue.

An old bar with a rotary phone, and a mechanical cash register.

Crowded space and bottlenecking

Parts of Cosa Nostra bottlenecked both physically and in gameplay.

There were a few locations within the set that only allowed for one or two players to participate at a time. When these locations became relevant, the game hinged on the two people involved.


Insomnia Escape crafted an experience and they want their players to see it through to the completion.

To that end, the game was not overwhelmingly difficult. It was meant to be solved. That’s not to say that there weren’t challenging puzzles; it would certainly be possible to lose. However Cosa Nostra¬†was¬†a far more player-friendly game than most.

Max support

We played Cosa Nostra with a family of fellow escape room addicts. One of our teammates was a 3rd grader, Max.

We’ve written about playing escape rooms with children before and how to maximize their fun. None of those rules applied with Max. He was incredible and played like he was born to solve puzzles.

Should I play Insomnia Escape’s Cosa Nostra?

Absolutely. Only avoid Cosa Nostra if you are looking for mind-boggling difficulty.

Insomnia has built a vibrant room that captures the 1930’s about as well as I imagine any escape room ever will. It’s attractive, entertaining, and includes some wonderful set pieces.

Insomnia Escape and Escape Room Live DC share a building. Go play with both companies. They have different approaches and both companies do great work.

Book your hour with Insomnia Escape’s Cosa Nostra, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.