Marriott x TED – The Curiosity Room [Review]

Puzzles Worth Solving

Location: San Francisco, CA

Date Played: July 20, 2022

Team Size: 1-4; we recommend 1-2

Price: Around $50/ night above standard room pricing, minimum 2-night stay

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

I suspect that many an escape room enthusiast, like myself, has dreamt of sleeping over in an escape room. With Marriott x TED’s new The Curiosity Room experience, something close to this is now possible.

Just off the gritty extremes of Market Street, the San Francisco Marriott Marquis is an instant escape from the outside world. A sprawling modernist lobby presents a neutral calmness alongside the persistent buzz of well-dressed tourists and businesspeople. The staff were friendly, attentive, and accommodating, as one would expect from such a flagship hotel.

The San Francisco Marriott Marquis also contains a secret sanctum, at least for the next 3 months. As I checked in, the receptionist, noting where I’d be staying, knowingly grinned and instructed that I would find a special envelope in my room. I made my way up to the sixth floor, and as I rounded a corner at the end of a long monochromatic hallway, a bright white door with red accents — labeled “The Curiosity Room” in a Comic Sans-esque font — boldly beckoned. What waited inside was much more than just an envelope.

A red and white, TED themed hotel room.

The Curiosity Room experience includes a few different perks. At its core, it is a special hotel room that you can book at the SF Marriott Marquis — a standard 2-queen-bed room that has been retrofitted with a wondrous puzzle adventure, all contained in the very room you’re staying in. As an added bonus, you’ll earn some nifty souvenirs from completing the puzzles. Also included are dinner and dessert for 4 at the hotel’s restaurant. The experience is reasonably priced as an add-on to the standard hotel room, with a minimum 2-night stay.

I am generally skeptical of large brands that try to dip their toes into escape rooms or immersive activations. It can be all too easy to rely on the medium as a gimmick, without the design chops required to actually follow through.

But that was not the case here at all. Marriott’s usual level of excellence and attention to detail in service was more than matched by the creativity and polish of the puzzle design in The Curiosity Room. It was abundantly evident that the designers know their stuff, demonstrating a deep understanding of puzzle hunts, signposting, and audience calibration. Targeted towards families, the level of difficulty was low, yet the puzzles remained relatively puzzly, interesting, and full of surprises. Puzzle enthusiasts will still enjoy and appreciate The Curiosity Room for its bounty of environmental ahas, even if it doesn’t provide much of a challenge.

The Curiosity Room was not an “escape” room, nor was it trying to be. There was no real narrative, other than the pursuit of wonder, and the objective was not to escape. (If anything, the allure of the room somewhat kept me from fully exploring the rest of the hotel!) Though some substantial physical additions were made to the room, it was still recognizably a Marriott hotel room. In fact, the puzzle design particularly excelled in the more subtle modifications of items you’d normally find in a hotel room and the activations of these seemingly mundane objects in magical ways.

As I drifted off to sleep in the shadows of the secrets I’d just discovered, I fondly remembered my childhood summer vacations during which my mom would design treasure hunts in and around our hotel, experiences that played a formative role in making me the puzzler I am now. The Curiosity Room and other games in this format hold the potential to similarly inspire the next generation of puzzlers and wonder-seekers.

A TED themed hotel room, a sign reads, "The Curiosity Room: Start Here"
Continue reading “Marriott x TED – The Curiosity Room [Review]”

San Francisco, California: Escape Room Recommendations

Latest update: April 28, 2022

Back in 2012, San Francisco was home to the first escape room in the United States. Today, it’s a destination for innovative tech and brilliant puzzles. Here is our guide to the best escape rooms in San Francisco and Oakland.

If you’re in the area, check out our guides to San Jose (coming soon) and Sacramento as well.

Image: Golden Gate Bridge Text: "San Francisco, California Escape Room Guide"

Market Standouts

Set & Scenery Driven

Puzzle-Centric

Newbie-Friendly

Palace Games – The Attraction [Review]

The Attraction is one of the best games in San Francisco. Here are our other recommendations for great escape rooms in San Francisco.

Time is flying, never to return.

Location:  San Francisco, CA

Date Played: November 13, 2021

Team Size: 4-8; we recommend 4-5

Duration: ~120 minutes

Price: $410 per team

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push to Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Attraction thoroughly blew my mind, distorted my sense of reality, and set a new and invigoratingly high bar for the future of escape rooms as an experiential art form. This was a world-class escapist experience worth traveling any distance to play.

An ornate bronze door with an eye. Copper pipes emanate from the door.

The Attraction felt like a waking dream. Impressive feats of engineering and Meow Wolf-level immersive artistry converged into something utterly magical. The Attraction perfectly executed certain physical and psychological mechanics that I’ve been eagerly waiting to see an escape room attempt. An impressively diverse range of innovative gameplay and aesthetics yielded a wondrous journey of otherworldly play.

As far as I’m concerned, The Attraction is in strong contention for the best escape room in the world. Palace Games has created something truly breathtaking, and I applaud them for the mountains of creativity, labor, artistry, technical expertise, profound knowledge of the escape room industry, and love that went into creating this experience.

Continue reading “Palace Games – The Attraction [Review]”

Trivium Games – Ghost Patrol [Review]

Ghost Patrol is one of the best games in San Francisco. Here are our other recommendations for great escape rooms in San Francisco.

That’s the spirit!

Location:  Emeryville, CA

Date Played: September 21, 2021

Team Size: 4-8; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 90 minutes

Price: $275 for 4 players, $30 for each additional player, discounted on weekdays

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Trivium Games’ Ghost Patrol was a spiritual experience. I mean this both punnily — the room was brimming with ghostly interactions — and sincerely — this premium game so beautifully embodied the delight, whimsy, and abundant moments of revelation that I seek in an immersive puzzle-driven experience.

Ghost Patrol had it all: a touching narrative, meticulously clever and satisfying puzzles, loads of magical custom tech, impeccable lighting and sound design, and expertly fabricated props and set pieces. Moreover, Ghost Patrol demonstrated exceptional intentionality and thoughtfulness in every single element of its design.

This comes as no surprise: while Ghost Patrol may be the first brick-and-mortar escape room from Trivium Games, its creators have extensive experience creating long-form events in the puzzle hunt world, as well as professional backgrounds in tech, design, and audiovisual engineering. They are pros, and it showed.

An elegant old study with zodiac symbols painted on the walls.

More subtle than showy, Ghost Patrol contained many wondrous little innovations and perfectly designed puzzles that are still at the forefront of my mind days later. Ghost Patrol was unabashedly a puzzle-forward experience, and it will be best appreciated by puzzle lovers with a moderate amount of escape room experience.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Story seekers
  • Best for players with at least some experience
Continue reading “Trivium Games – Ghost Patrol [Review]”

Palace Games – Escape The Palace [Review]

Puzzle Palace

Location:  San Francisco, CA

Date Played: June 2, 2019

Team size: groups of 30 to 125 players with 4-7 players per group; we recommend 4-5 per group

Duration: up to 2 hours

Price: contact Palace Games for pricing

Ticketing:  Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

We’d really wanted to play Escape The Palace, Palace Games’ large format escape room/ puzzle hunt hybrid, for some time. Since they don’t typically open tickets to small groups, we assembled a large group by bringing our escape room tour to Palace Games.

Not only did Escape The Palace live up to the hype; as a puzzler, it exceeded it in quite a few ways.

Exterior of the gorgeous Palace of Fine Arts.

Palace Games struck a balance between challenge and fair that we rarely encounter. While Escape The Palace was noticeably more difficult than most escape rooms, it never strayed deep into frustration territory. Some of that was the high quality gamemastering, but most of it was the satisfying way in which the puzzles came together. The puzzle play also felt heavily escape room-inspired, which we enjoyed.

It wasn’t perfect. It fell short of conveying narrative (although the main character was utterly delightful), and the imposing Palace of Fine Arts building didn’t feel that essential to the game.

Wide shot of all of the players gathered.

If you’re looking for a large-group intellectual challenge in San Francisco, this is a fantastic option. This made the very short list of games designed for corporate groups that are legitimately fun in their own right, and not simply “good enough for mandatory fun.”

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

  • Challenging but fair puzzles
  • Hybrid of puzzle-hunt and tangible inputs
  • Fun mechanisms

Story

We were assisting a renowned professor with scientific research in the Palace of Fine Arts when the Professor left, locking us in. We needed to solve our way through his experiments to escape the palace.

The game's main character in a labcoat and goggles.

Setting

Escape the Palace took place in the Palace of Fine Arts from the 1915 World’s Fair. It was a large open space with tables in the middle.

The puzzles were spread out around the room, at tables and on the walls, and in an adjacent room with some nifty props. There were multiple identical stations containing each puzzle so different groups could solve simultaneously.

An "Escape the Palace" Banner hanginging over a stairwell with my team under it.

Gameplay

Palace Games’ Escape the Palace was an escape room-style puzzle hunt for groups of 30 to 125 players.

Playing in teams of 4-7 people, groups moved together from station to station, solving the puzzles and collecting answers that resolved to a final metapuzzle.

Escape the Palace had a high level of difficulty relative to escape rooms, but was easier than a typical puzzle hunt.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, puzzling, and moving about the large gamespace.

Lisa and Drew surrounded by other players.
Sorry mom. I joined a puzzle gang.

Analysis

Escape the Palace kept a large number of people engaged throughout the game. There was plenty to solve and the puzzles required teamwork, always engaging multiple players at once. There was room to move between the puzzle stations as a group.

➕ The puzzles varied a lot. We relied on different types of thinking to solve different puzzles. What one person struggled with clicked for someone else.

➕ The puzzles solved cleanly… straight through to the metapuzzle. Palace Games gave us enough to chew on, but nothing took too long to work through. Escape the Palace was challenging, but fair. It rewarded us with satisfying solves.

➕ While many of the puzzles were paper-based, Palace Games included more active solves using tangible inputs and a bit of tech. In this way they blended escape room gameplay with a puzzle-hunt framework. We enjoyed interacting with these props as a group, inputting information to solve puzzles.

➖ The space felt underutilized. Although it was neat to be in the Palace of Fine Arts, it felt like these puzzles could have been placed anywhere.

➖ The story and puzzles didn’t feel connected to Palace Games or The Palace of Fine Arts beyond the science-y theming.

➕ The staff for Escape the Palace were phenomenal. They were engaging characters. They floated around providing hints, as needed. This hint system worked well and kept teams from falling too far behind the others.

Tips For Visiting

  • Parking: There is parking at Palace Games.
  • Food: There are lots of good options on Chestnut Street.

Book your hour with Palace Games’ Escape the Palace, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Palace Games provided media discounted tickets for this game.