Stream the Themed Entertainment – National Design Competition

Last month I had the chance to run a private webcast for some of the college students participating in the Themed Entertainment Association’s National Design Competition.

These students were given 7 weeks to design and build an original 500-square-foot escape room… and they could only work in teams of 1 or 2.

TEA NextGen's multi-colored logo.

During the conversation, they asked many great questions. I had set aside 45 minutes to talk to them and we ended up talking shop for 90 minutes.

Stream the Event

The presentations will happen on Friday, April 26th at noon Pacific (3pm Eastern). The awards are scheduled for 3:30pm Pacific.

You’ll be able to stream this on YouTube Live:

I genuinely have no idea what to expect, as based on their questions I only have vague ideas of what some of these students were hoping to create… but I am excited to see what they have produced.

What’s TEA NextGen?

According the organization’s website, “The NextGen Initiative of the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) helps students and recent graduates find their way into the themed entertainment/ visitor attractions industry and facilitates TEA member companies’ ability to recruit from this fresh talent pool.”

For more information, check out TEA’s website.

What Does REA Cover?

Where is the line between what we will and won’t cover on Room Escape Artist?

We’ve grappled with this quite a bit over the years. Sometimes it’s really simple and straightforward. Sometimes it has required a lot more thought.

Many umbrellas open and hovering between buildings.

Escape Rooms

Ok, this one is a no-brainer. If it’s an escape room or relevant news about the industry, it’s our bread and butter.

I’m not going to belabor this.


We love immersive theatre, conventional theatre, and magic. We don’t write up these experiences, however, unless they meet some specific criteria.

The questions that we ask ourselves are:

  • Did we have agency?
  • Was the experience different because one of us was in it, instead of if someone else had bought that ticket?
  • Should the escape room community be aware of it?

If we don’t have agency and the experience was so on rails that substituting different participants would have zero impact on the show, then it’s not for us… unless we feel that the experience is doing something that escape room people should know about.

If it’s purely immersive theatre, then it’s the territory of our friends over at No Proscenium.


If it’s puzzley, we’re interested. We might not cover it, however, because there are lots of puzzles in the world, but we’re down to investigate it.

That said, we tend to steer clear of some of the more extreme or specialized puzzles and experiences. We might occasionally write about this kind of stuff, but there are more knowledgeable and experienced people writing about crossword puzzles or puzzle hunts like The MIT Mystery Hunt.

Tabletop Games

We’ll cover tabletop puzzle experiences… or tabletop games that really feel like puzzles. We also cover tabletop escape games, a growing category of tabletop games.

We’re big board gamers, but we don’t write about them often unless they meet the criteria above.

Video Games

Video games are great… but whether or not we will cover them comes down to how much puzzle content is in them.

Sensory Mysteries

We started reviewing mystery flavor stuff mostly as a joke… but people seem to enjoy the content. While we usually hate the flavors of this stuff, we do have a lot of fun writing about them.

All Subject To Change

We’ll continue covering what we enjoy writing about and what people seem to respond to when we publish it.

We’ve evolved quite a bit over the past few years. I’m quite confident that much of this will change over the coming years.

It’s important to define what we are and what we aren’t. This is where we are today (1,222 blog posts over 4.5 years).

Speaking at the Escape Summit in Ontario, Canada

👋 Canadians.

I’m really excited to announce that I’ll be delivering a talk on day 2 of The Escape Summit, a conference for escape room professionals.

Unfortunately, I’ll be traveling alone as Lisa has other commitments… so I’ll only be speaking with half of our collective brain.

Escape Summit logo featuring a key in two conversation bubbles.


  • Fleming College
  • 599 Brealey Drive, Peterborough, ON, K9J 7B1, Canada
  • May 27-28, 2019

My Talk

The Player Perspective

“In this talk, David Spira of will provide context and recommendations for anyone opening or operating an escape room business in 2019. People enter escape rooms from a diverse array of backgrounds. This talk will cover how the bar has been raised in this industry and pitfalls you need to look out for. It will also address strengths and weaknesses of industry players from other backgrounds; painting a picture of where this industry has evolved from and where it might go. “

Other Speakers

Our dear friends Errol and Manda of the Room Escape Divas will each deliver talks. (If Errol doesn’t sing something, I’ll be disappointed.)

One of my favorite escape game designers, Rob Leveille from The Crux Escape Rooms, will be giving a talk as well. I’m a bit sad that we’re scheduled for the same slot because I would have liked to hear his talk… such is conference life.

There are a number of other knowledgeable folks speaking as well. It should be a great time.

Call For Teammates?

I’m trying to put together a dense schedule of games in the greater Toronto area on Sunday, May 26th.

If teaming up with me sounds like something that you’d be interested in… drop a comment or send me a message.

I hope to see you next month.

Hey REA, Will You Sign My NDA?

We’ve had many variants of this conversation over the years. I’m hoping that sharing this will reduce the frequency of this dialog:

Hopeful Creator: “Hey Room Escape Artist! I have this super awesome game concept and I’d love to get your thoughts on it!”

Us: “Sure, we love talking about nifty things.”

Stylized image of a person reviewing a contract.

Over-protective Creator: “Huzzah! So… before I tell you about my super awesome thing, I need you to sign an non-disclosure agreement.”

Us: “Yeah… that’s not going to happen.”

Confounded Creator: “Wait… what?”

Us: “It’s nothing personal… we just don’t sign them. NDA’s are almost always painfully broad and we don’t have any idea what idea you’re going to tell us, so we don’t know how it would affect us. We’re not gaining anything besides interesting conversation and you’re asking us for our thoughts. Take a look at our site. We don’t publish gossip… and whatever you’re going to tell us, I can guarantee we’ve kept far more sensitive secrets that other creators have shared with us.”

Hopeful Creator: “I see… so you won’t write about it or tell anyone?”

Us: “Yup. We don’t trade in gossip. We sat on this story even though it was to our own financial detriment to do so. We’d love to hear what you’re working on, but if you can’t tell us, we totally understand.”

Creator: “Ok. So here’s what I’m working on…” 

We’re down to talk. We aren’t introducing legal entanglements to our conversations.

“Up Your Game” With Us this May

Up The Game Logo - A keyhole in an arrow pointing upwards.

Once again, we’re making our annual pilgrimage to the Netherlands for Up The Game 2019, the European escape room & reality gaming conference.

Lisa & David in Room Escape Artist t-shirts on the Up The Game show floor.

Discount Code

For those who don’t yet have a ticket, we have a bit of a treat in the form of a discount code that will save you 50€ (~$57).

Our discount code is:


Buy your tickets now before the price increases on April 1st.


This year, I’ll be moderating a panel on Innovation and Lisa will be one of the panelists.

Up the Game will soon announce who else is appearing on the stage with us, but we are excited to have a conversation on innovation with these folks.

It’s going to be a good show with some interesting perspectives.

You’ll be able to catch that panel at 4pm (16:00) on May 8th.

Stay tuned for more details.

Meet us at TransWorld in St. Louis!

We’re excited for the Escape Room City at TransWorld’s Halloween & Attractions Show this week.

We’re eager to see all of our old escape room friends and make new ones.

Here’s how to find us over the next few days.

Lisa & David's name tags sitting on an assembled jigsaw puzzle.
We’ll be easy to find.


We’re opening the conference with a panel about ethics.

It’s Thursday’s free (included with your ticket) escape room seminar.

The Elephant in the Room: Escape Room Ethics – the Good, the Bad, the Ugly and How We Can Come Together to Change It!

  • 9:00am – 10:00am
  • Room 260

I will be moderating and David will be on the panel with industry veterans from Escape Games Canada, Museum of Intrigue, 13th Gate Escape, and The Puzzle Effect.

We’re going to cover a range of ethical issues and I’d expect some good… productive arguments.


We’ll be on stage early again to talk about operating an escape room in 2019.

This seminar is also free (included with your ticket.)

Setting Expectations for Escape Room Design in 2019

  • 9am – 10am
  • Room 267

We will cover how haunted attraction owners have raised the bar and pitfalls they need to look out for. We will also address strengths and weaknesses of industry players from other backgrounds, painting a picture of where this industry has evolved from and where it might go.

The talk is written. It’s been rehearsed. We’re ready for this.


Find us at the escape room mixer on Saturday evening.

  • 5:15 pm – 7:15 pm
  • Holiday Inn, Broadway/ Washington Rooms
  • Free to attendees; cash bar

All Show

Stop by the San Antonio Escape Room Conference Lounge, booth 3029, located in Escape Room City. We’ll be hanging out there in between seminars and exploring the show floor.

We’re looking for interesting conversation. Come find us. We’d love to chat.

Escape Room News: February 2019

Art deco news bulletin kiosk.

The monthly escape room newsletter is a new feature on Room Escape Artist. Please share your news with us.

Books & Movies

At Home

  • Throw Throw Burrito is coming soon. It has far exceeded its Kickstarter goal… and you can still back it. Game designer Elan Lee is an avid escape room player. We beta tested it at an escape room enthusiast gathering we attended in Los Angeles last summer.
Amanda Harris posting about Throw Throw Burrito reads, "I playtested a version of this and can confirm that Lisa is straight up savage at dodgeball face-off."


  • The 2019 Cryptex Hunt begins on Friday, March 1 at 9pm Eastern. Play online and through Cluekeeper. It’s free! And yes, there will be prizes! The first person to complete the whole hunt with no hints wins a Nevins Bolivian Rosewood Cryptex. There also will be a drawing among all those who complete the full hunt by March 31 for a standard Cryptex.


Los Angeles, CA

San Francisco, CA

  • Ticket sales are open for Escape, Immerse, Explore: The Palace. Visit Palace Games with us June 1-3, 2019. On this tour you will play 4 incredible escape rooms, including the Golden Lock-In Award-winning The Edison Escape Room. If you’re a traveling player, this is your chance to visit Palace Games!

Orlando, FL

  • Escape Effect just opened a new 2-hour game called A Knight to Escape.

New Orleans, LA

  • Ticket sales are open for Escape, Immerse, Explore: New Orleans 2019. Join us July 12-14, 2019 to visit some of the most amazing escape rooms in the world including multiple Golden Lock-In Award winners such as 13th Gate Escape’s Cutthroat Cavern. Last summer’s tour to New Orleans sold out, but we didn’t want anyone to be left out, so we brought it back again for 2019!

Whitefish, MT

  • Hidden Key Escape Games is opening its third game Saving Camelot. King Arthur and the Knights are away when Mordred attacks. Can you unlock the secrets to release Excalibur for the King?

St. Louis, MO

Santa Fe, NM

New York, NY

Rochester, NY

  • Omega Escape Room is now open in Rochester, NY. You can visit them there or at their original location in Hamburg, NY.

Seattle, WA

Brantford, ON, Canada

Multiple Cities

  • Halo Outpost Discovery is going to have a traveling Halo experience that will include an escape room-style experience called Covenant Escape where players explore a reclaimed section of a Covenant ship. It will travel to Orlando, Philadelphia, Chicago, Houston, and Anaheim this July and August.


  • We agree with this list of escape room pet peeves, compiled by Nate Martin, owner of Puzzle Break in Seattle, WA.
  • We expound upon one of them in this longer piece about red herrings.


  • Niall Horan & Julia Michaels must escape a room on the Late Late Show with James Corden to perform their song.

How To Submit News

Share your own news here!

News items include:

  • Facility openings & closings
  • Game openings & closings
  • Special events
  • Escape room-related products
  • Escape room-related intrigue of all sorts
  • Celebrity visits (if you have a post-game photo that we can publish)
  • Escape room pieces in the general press

Send us your newsworthy information via our news submission form:

Speaking at NYC Salon

We’re feeling pretty honored that we’ve been invited to speak at NYC Salon on March 5th.

The event officially kicks off at 7:45, where we’ll be giving a brand new talk. This event is free.

If you’d like to attend a bonus event, you can come early to play tabletop escape games with us at 6:30. The bonus event costs $5.

The Williamsburg Hotel lit at night.

All of this will take place at the The Williamsburg Hotel.

Please RSVP on Eventbrite.

You can also RSVP on Facebook, but in order to do it, you’ll need to join NYC Salon.

About NYC Salon

“NYC Salon is a speaker series that aims to be ‘TED with friends.’ Over three years ago we started inviting people with novel insights or interesting projects in art, economics, science, technology, and comedy to give talks about their work and process, and have been meeting every other Tuesday since then. Engaging deeply with the material and getting to know other attendees is a core principle of NYC Salon, so after each talk, we break up into small groups and workshop topics related to the talk. Our speakers have gone on to give talks at TED, the UN, and at the World Bank. Our goal is to create opportunities for spontaneity, collaboration, and life long learning.”

Our Talks & Plans for Escape Room City in St. Louis this March

TransWorld’s Halloween & Attractions Show in St. Louis includes Escape Room City, an area dedicated exclusively to the room escape and adventure game industries.

We will be speaking as part of the Escape Room City seminar series.

Show Details

  • March 21-24, 2019
  • St. Louis, MO
  • America’s Center (701 Convention Plaza)

Seminar Details

We have two sessions at this show, both of them are free (included with your ticket).


The Elephant in the Room: Escape Room Ethics – the Good, the Bad, the Ugly and How We Can Come Together to Change It!

I will be moderating this panel of escape room industry veterans:

This is a free early-bird seminar.

  • Thursday, March 21
  • 9am – 10am
  • Room 267

We believe that escape room owners and operators can come together to address topics such as safety, intellectual property, and competition. Through collaboration, we’ll grow a more sustainable escape room industry for the future.


Setting Expectations for Escape Room Design in 2019

We will provide context and recommendations for anyone opening or operating an escape room business in 2019.

We will cover how haunted attractions owners have raised the bar and pitfalls they need to look out for. We will also address strengths and weaknesses of industry players from other backgrounds, painting a picture of where this industry has evolved from and where it might go.

This is a free early-bird seminar.

  • Friday, March 22
  • 9am – 10am
  • Room 267

We believe there are many opportunities for creating escape rooms in 2019. Join us to think about out how you fit into the bigger picture.

Early… but Free

We will be on stage first thing in the morning two days in a row. We promise not to book too many late escape rooms the nights before these talks.

Escape Room Mixer

We will be attending the Escape Room Mixer on Saturday night. Find us there!

  • Saturday, March 23
  • 5:15pm – 7:15pm
  • Holiday Inn, Broadway/Washington Rooms
  • Free to all conference attendees
  • Cash bar

Visiting in St. Louis

This will be our first year attending TransWorld’s Halloween & Attractions Show and Escape Room City. We are excited to see the show, play escape rooms, and meet new people.

Recommend an Escape Room

This is our first trip to St. Louis.

Do you own or operate an escape room in St. Louis and want us to visit? Do you have a favorite escape room in St. Louis that we should visit?

Please contact us with recommendations.

Meeting Up

We will not have a booth at this show… but we’re still happy to meet up with folks.

Let’s schedule a time and a place to get together and talk escape rooms… or other things. Please contact us to schedule a time to meet at this show.

We look forward to seeing you at Escape Room City!

Talking Escape Rooms on Top of Mind with Julie Rose

I spent 20 minutes on BYU Radio speaking with interviewer Julie Rose about escape rooms.

Top of Mind with Julie Rose banner features their logo and a black and white image of the interviewer.

Julie asked some of the best questions that any interviewer has ever raised. She even had me momentarily stumped when she asked a question that no one has ever asked us before.

Top of Mind with Julie Rose – Measles Outbreak, Escape Rooms, Food Preferences, Llama Nanobodies

As usual, we’ve timestamped the entire interview for your comfort.

Interview Timestamps

19:10 – Intro

20:05 – Why did I start reviewing escape rooms?

21:00 – What’s my favorite escape room? (Man From Beyond)

21:30 – What is an escape room experience like?

22:40 – What’s the history of escape rooms?

23:45 – How has the definition of escape room changed over the years?

25:30 – How do escape rooms vary across countries and cultures?

27:00 – What kinds of themes do you commonly see in escape rooms?

28:15 – What makes for a good escape room? I low-key mention Bill Chang.

29:00 – How do escape room creators come up with their games?

30:25 – Where do escape room creators get puzzle ideas from?

31:20 – What kinds of challenges show up in escape rooms?

32:40 – What the most creative puzzle that I’ve ever seen? …I’m momentarily stumped.

33:40 – How do escape room creators tune the difficulty of a game?

34:50 – What safety precautions should be taken when designing an escape game?

36:00 – We talk about the tragedy in Poland.

37:15 – Outro