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
Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock
Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints
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.
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.