Zelda: Defenders of the Triforce [Post Game Reaction]

On May 5th, our team played The Legend of Zelda: Defenders of the Triforce by Real Escape Games (aka SCRAP) in New York City.

We previously published a review of this game from its time in Los Angeles, California. Our friend and regular teammate Sarah Willson did such an amazing job of guest reviewing it that most of our readers didn’t realize that someone else wrote it.

Looking back at her review, we completely agree with her assessment and will not write an additional review. I’ll add that of the various mass escape events that we’ve played by SCRAP, The Legend of Zelda: Defenders of the Triforce was the most fun and cohesive.

Mainstream reception

Unlike most escape games, The Legend of Zelda: Defenders of the Triforce received a lot of media attention. This came in the form of pre-game hype, followed by a lot of mixed and disappointed post game reports:

Kotaku: The Zelda Escape Room Is A Little Disappointing (And Not Really An Escape Room)

The Verge: We played a real-life Zelda adventure and Ganondorf won

Engadget: Playing Zelda in real life is a lot like doing grade-school homework

Zelda has withstood the test of time, sticking around for 30 years. It has transcended generations. A number of its installments are some of the finest video games ever created. Since Zelda is one of the most beloved video game franchises in history, this disappointment was inevitable for a number of reasons that I’m going to explore.

Misconceptions

SCRAP doesn’t highlight the fact that their mass escape events bear little resemblance to modern escape rooms in North America (especially the high end). Upon further probing, however, they are quick to point out that their mass events are not “escape rooms.” They call them “escape games.” Ironically, this is the same sort of hair-splitting that makes their mass escape events so frustrating.

Image from Zelda II of Link speaking with another character who has stated,

Painting by Squarepainter

As an escape room player and reviewer who simply wants more people to become aware of all of the magnificent escape rooms out there, this drives me up the wall.

Given Zelda’s popularity, this event was an incredible opportunity to introduce more mainstream players to modern escape rooms… but this event didn’t do that.

My very first escape room review was of a SCRAP mass event, Escape From the Werewolf Village, in mid-2014. I left that game legitimately worried that first-time escape game players would think that a SCRAP escape event was indicative of the larger industry (which at the time was admittedly tiny and underdeveloped). I feel the exact same way about Defenders of the Triforce.

It was a fun mass escape event, more fun than any of the other SCRAP events that we’ve played. It was fun when considered as a short puzzle hunt. However, it was neither a good representation of modern North American escape rooms nor an exceptional Zelda game.

Culture gap

SCRAP was founded in Japan in 2007. They were also the first escape room company in the United States when they opened in San Francisco in 2012.

At Up The Game 2017, Yu-lin Chiu, writer of ASIA.EscapeGames, spoke about the escape room markets in East Asia. She explained how escape room design in Japan differs profoundly from other countries in Asia, as well as from Europe and the United States.

Japanese escape rooms are primarily paper-based events with minimal set design or story. They are more similar to short puzzle hunts than what we in the United States commonly think of as escape rooms.

This has confirmed for us what we have long believed to be a fundamental expectations gap between the games that SCRAP brings to the United States and the general market trends within the American escape room scene.

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Possibly the biggest difference between Sarah’s playthrough of Defenders of the Triforce and mine was the release of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on Nintendo Switch… the game that Defenders of the Triforce was essentially advertising on its North American tour.

In February, Sarah played SCRAP’s Defenders of the Triforce in anticipation of the release of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. 

By the time we played Defenders of the Triforce in May, I had been playing Breath of the Wild for 6 weeks or so, sneaking it in between work and running Room Escape Artist. I am loving this game and taking my time to milk it for everything that it is worth. Going into Defenders of the Triforce I had been immersed in one of the Zelda franchise’s most magnificent specimens. This greatly elevated my expectations and set Defenders of the Triforce up for failure.

I’m glad that Sarah wrote the review without having just played Breath of the Wild. She could more easily separate SCRAP’s escape event from the video game expectations.

Actual Zelda room escape

I wish that Defenders of the Triforce were not a mass escape event, but a full blown, large-budget escape room. The material lends itself to an incredible escape room and I can think of a number of escape room companies that could build mind-blowing experiences with the concept.

SCRAP put on a fun mini-puzzle hunt. They leveled up their storytelling and set design. They made the puzzling generally more accessible. They navigated logistics well. Defenders of the Triforce was a huge step forward in meshing Japanese-style escape room events with North American preferences. 

That said, SCRAP is simply not equipped to fully realize the potential of this franchise for a North American audience, especially in the mass escape format.

Defenders of the Triforce paled in comparison to the best permanent escape rooms in the cities that it visited; most of them cost less than the $40-50 per ticket price of this game.

For now, Zelda escape rooms will go dormant for some time. I hope that one day the concept is resurrected and able to become the immersive real-life puzzle adventure through Hyrule that escape room lovers know that it can be. That it should be.

(If you purchase via our Amazon links, you will help support Room Escape Artist as we will receive a very small percentage of the sale).

Eric’s Puzzle Party 17 and Team EMBU

This past weekend, Lisa and I had the honor of attending Eric’s Puzzle Party (EPP) 17 in Auburn, Alabama. This annual puzzle hunt event hosted by Eric Harshbarger was an 11-hour team-based puzzling competition.

In total, there were 28 puzzles. To complete the hunt, we had to find clues hidden all over Auburn.

The puzzles were considerably more involved and challenging than what you’d find in an escape room.

I’m incredibly proud to report that our team walked away from competition with a victory.

Image of an eagle biting the EPP 17 Trophy.
WAR EMBU!

A few of our favorite puzzles

This EPP was held on April 1 and all of the puzzles were themed on pranks and bad jokes.

The 21 puzzles that made up the main game are all available on Eric’s website. Lisa and I supported the solving of quite a few of these, but the bulk of them were deciphered by our teammates. This being our first major in-person puzzle hunt, we needed some time to find our place on our team.

My favorite of the original 21 puzzles (which it seems many disliked) was the sphere assembly puzzle, “Having a Ball.” (Unfortunately it’s one of the few that you cannot play from home.)

Having a Ball sphere assembled.

Having a Ball

I adore mechanical puzzles and this 3D printed sphere was a great challenge. One of the highlights of the day was when I went to have the puzzle “graded” by Eric. I decided in that moment to take it apart and quickly reassemble it for a higher value victory. I sat down in a big chair in the coffee shop that he used as his base. I was deeply focused, trying to not completely wreck my sphere while improving upon it. A young woman sat down next to me and started interrogating me about what I was working on, why I was working on it, and if she could play. I did my best to be kind and answer her questions… but I desperately wanted her to leave me and my focus alone. Fortunately, everything worked out and I got the thing back together at a higher value.

Finding the Toy box 

After solving the 21 main puzzles, we worked on the metapuzzle (a puzzle that was built from little bits of information pulled from the puzzles of the main game). This culminated in us searching a wooded park for a toy box filled with the second set of puzzles (for those who could find it).

Searching for this box felt like looking for a hidden immunity idol in Survivor. We were wandering down a trail looking for “three oak trees.” Running through the woods in the middle of a day of heavy puzzling was good fun. Plus we had a silly mishap on our end while working with our incredibly talented rival for first place, the ImPEACHables. They got to witness our only major stumble of the day, which is too difficult to explain if you weren’t there. Fortunately it didn’t set us back more than about 15 minutes.

The Toy box puzzles

These were our favorite puzzles of the day. They are not available on Eric’s website. With his permission, however, I am posting two of them. They are, in my opinion, magnificent.

All that I will say is that if you solve them, you will know that you succeeded. If you solve them, reach out. I’d happily fill you in on the context.

Puzzle 1

Puzzle 2

Team EMBU (with a silent b)

Rex Miller, one of our earliest readers, assembled team EMBU. Rex brought us onto an incredible team of puzzle hunters, including Rich and Jonathan from the world famous ClueKeeper platform.

Team EMBU puzzling at EPP 17.

In addition to being a fun and brilliant bunch, under Rex’s leadership our team was highly organized and staggeringly efficient. After the dust settled, we learned that we jumped out to an early lead solving 7 of the initial 21 puzzles before any other team had completed any of them.

Early on, Lisa and I were a little intimidated by the experience and insane speed of our teammates. We were simply trying to make ourselves useful. After we both had a few solves under our belts, we captured the majority of the clues hidden around Auburn, and had become truly functional teammates.

There were a couple dozen clues hidden around Auburn. Our group worked hard to gather them all, which took some doing, considering that none of us were from Auburn. In fact, more than half of our team hadn’t even set foot in Alabama prior to this puzzle hunt.

We knew in the moment that we were doing well, but we truly didn’t realize just how great we had done until the scores came in at the end.

EPP 17 score graph shows EMBU decisively in the lead throughout the entire competiton.

I’m not just saying that because we decisively won. We truly weren’t sure. We even prepared for the incredibly unlikely tiebreaker challenge.

That said… I think that Rex knew we had won.

Last thoughts

This was the first and last time that Team EMBU will compete at EPP. We won’t be able to remain a team based on the rules for team structure at EPP.

Team EMBU victory photo in the Auburn University Student Center. The team is gathered around the war eagle holding trophies.

Puzzling with this particular group of people was a joy. It was intense. It was fun. And it was hilarious.

Wrecking puzzles and escape rooms across Alabama and Georgia with this crew was one of the most delightful experiences that I have had in my puzzling career and I am going to treasure the memory of this weekend. Yes, there is an escape room company in Auburn; get excited for the forthcoming reviews.

I had heard a lot of great things about Eric’s Puzzle Party prior to attending. Someone had described it to me as “the best kept secret in puzzling.” Based on what I saw, I think it’s true. EPP offered a high quality and exceptionally fair puzzle hunt. Eric’s care and attention to detail were on display from the opening moments of the hunt through to his closing, detailed walkthrough at the end of the day.

This puzzle hunt was one cohesive vision. That was truly impressive.

Thank you to Eric and all of the people who helped him organize this event.

Thank you to our teammates.

Thank you Rex. We wouldn’t have even heard of EPP without you. We’re thrilled that you asked us to be a part of your team.

I hope that we can return next year with a new team.

One last time:

WAR EMBU!

Club Drosselmeyer, Behind the Scenes with Kellian Adams

We attended night one of Club Drosselmeyer, Boston’s two-night World War II-themed mass-puzzling, swing-dancing, and immersive performance event, and had a swell time.

The event was so massive, detailed, and incredible that we asked its creator, Kellian Adams, to talk about the intricacies of show.

We were most surprised to learn about how the show changed on night two.

In-game image of a the ornate Club Drosselmeyer stage witha swing band and a floor full of people dancing.

How did you develop the concept for Club Drosselmeyer?

I had always wanted to build an interactive game-based theater piece. I was at a ballet showcase when it occurred to me that The Nutcracker might be the perfect piece to experiment with because

  • It’s modular.
  • Interesting characters move around.
  • The basic storyline connects but isn’t too tight.
  • It’s a well-known story.
  • It lends itself to some great music and visuals.
  • It would have to be performed around the holidays.

The holiday connection was key for an experimental piece because people have more tolerance for playing along with magic and the unexpected during the holidays (as well as spending money on tickets and getting dressed up!).

What were your inspirations?

When I decided that The Nutcracker would be the base for the show, I pulled from a lot of my favorite movies. Casablanca was the main one: I had always wondered what it would be like to be a patron of Rick’s Cafe Americain, where there are all sorts of intrigues happening around you, but you might not be aware of any of them. I designed my main character, Drosselmeyer, as the club owner, which tied directly to Rick, especially where he had his perch up above everyone.

Each character has a fairly involved backstory. For example, mother Ginger – aka Ginger Lamarr – was Hedy Lamarr. Phylo Farnesworth is the inventor of the television and I took his dance team from the movie College Swing. Fritz was modeled after this fabulously devious playboy named Washington Porter Jr. Rhett the Rat was modeled after “King” Solomon, a Boston mob boss in the 30’s. You can see all of our character inspirations on Pinterest.

How much autonomy did each of the performers have?

The performers had a lot of autonomy in developing their characters and the storyline. I built out the structure of the story and they filled in the blanks.

Alice, Clara, and Phylo, for example, delved into radar and so that became a major part of the storyline, which hadn’t been part of my original vision. Also, many of the performers wanted to address the ethical question of whether we should use artificial intelligence, so we did.

The hat idea was from the actor who played the character Beta. One of my favorite parts of the whole show was him wearing a lampshade. He came up with the idea of handing out “research notes” folded into hats. They were detailed enough that many players tried to crack the codes and solve the notes, except there was nothing there!

What were your other favorite moments?

I loved seeing the looks on people’s faces when they came in on Sunday night. I don’t think they had any idea what they had signed up for, but then they walked in and the space looked beautiful: the band was playing, everybody was dressed up, and it was magical. It was so wonderful to watch everyone transition into “Dross mode!”

My other favorite moment happened during a dress rehearsal. A few people came up to me (as the character Kit) and said “WE KNOW WHO THE NUTCRACKER IS!!” Then they pointed at Beta, who at that moment was wearing a lampshade on his head and jumping up and down on the dance floor. In character I asked “that guy?” They looked at me, kind of dumbstruck and followed up with a defensive “well—he’s just a prototype…” and it was this amazing, hilarious moment where they were explaining to me the story that I wrote, and making excuses for it.

I also LOVED the waltz scene. It was a wonderful, magical moment to see everyone spinning in the snow!

Which aspects of the piece were most successful?

I was really proud that the whole “different levels of engagement” thing worked. I genuinely felt like there was something for everybody to do.

I took a lot of different activities that I love, but that can be really intimidating for other people, and arranged them in a way that I think was less intimidating than they expected. I’ve heard the usual comments to these activities SO MANY times…

  • Puzzles… “I’m not smart enough.”
  • Talking to characters… “I’m shy, that’s so awkward.”
  • Getting dressed vintage… “I don’t have anything fancy.”
  • Swing music… “I can’t dance.”

I think when they all appeared together there was at least one aspect of the show that almost everyone could engage with at some level. If none of them were even mildly appealing, you could still just sit in a beautiful time-travel club, watch the floor shows, listen to the incredible, original music of a really good swing band, drink martinis, and hang out with your friends.

What were the biggest challenges to bringing this piece to the stage?

The uncertainty of it was really hard for the cast members.

I deliberately chose my dancer friends rather than auditioning actors because I knew I didn’t want Club Drosselmeyer to be a traditional theater piece, and I didn’t want lots of professional theater people on board telling me I was doing everything wrong (because I was absolutely doing everything wrong). Also with friends, I was hoping they’d be better with the uncertainty of building something nobody had ever seen before when there wasn’t any proof that this method would work. (Nobody I knew of had done it, so I didn’t have much to point to.)

I also didn’t start with a written script, since there were a lot of moving parts. I sort of twisted myself (and my story) in knots trying to incorporate everyone’s ideas and keep them feeling good about their characters. We ended up with some serious story holes as a result. Next time I would write the whole thing out and hand it to them as a finished “script” and go from there. I would also hold auditions for some of the roles.

Pre-show image of the tables set and the band warming up. The room looks beautiful and elegant.

Were there any notable differences in player behavior between night one and night two?

There was a MASSIVE difference in the players between night one and night two.

Night one was a Sunday. At 7:00 everyone was at the door, dressed to impress and ready to play. I met people at the door in character as Kit Hollingsworth so I felt the definite buzz of electricity as everybody came in.

Night two was a Friday. At 7:00 I was at the door and … crickets. People arrived slowly, harried and distracted, and a lot of them weren’t dressed as nicely as they had been on Sunday. Many had been stuck in traffic and were grabbing really quick dinners. In general, they had a harder time transitioning into the right mood.

People also drank a lot more on Friday than they had on Sunday, probably because they didn’t have to go to work the next day.

How did you change the event from night one to night two?

First, we added line management. We added an extra person to “interview” people in the Drosselmeyer line and make sure they wanted to actually be there.

Second, we asked the performers to soften their characters and be more forthcoming with information, even if their character would “never” do that. There was this line between pretending, where you try to get as close to your character’s authentic response as possible, and performing, where you acknowledge there’s more to it. We had to remind ourselves that it was theater and our goals were for people to learn the story and have fun.

And finally, we didn’t change the ending, but the audience did.

We experienced the cheery ending on night one (because we chose it). Can you talk about the ending on night two and the reaction to it?

The teams were looking for blueprints, in order to bring these to one of the characters and trigger the ending of the show. On night two, the winning team decided to hand the blueprints over to the bad guy.

We actually had two groups get to the blueprints at the same time, but the group that wanted to give the blueprints to Drosselmeyer (the good guy) had one number in their combination wrong, so the other team got them instead and gave them to Rhett (the bad guy).

When other teams realized what was happening, a lot of them tried really hard to keep the bad ending from occurring. They tried to negotiate with the winning team. Then another team tried to negotiate directly with Rhett to get the papers back. Afterward, the actor who played Rhett told me after that he was really concerned they were going to physically restrain him and take the papers back.

The bad ending was really dark. When Rhett walked out, we pulled up the house lights and played Springtime For Hitler over the loudspeaker. No curtain call. Just awkward house lights and silence.

I wanted to create something where people felt that they had agency. I also didn’t want to theater-coat any of it and make the bad ending fun or cheerful or pithy. Choosing to give technology to Nazis is bad and I think we should let it be bad. I got many emails and asides from people telling me they thought it was an unkind ending, but it was 2016 and I didn’t really feel like giving people a happy ending if they didn’t choose it. Some people were upset and said that because they hadn’t chosen the ending – it had been chosen for them – they shouldn’t have had to suffer through it, but things don’t really work that way. Others said that they weren’t even part of the puzzling – they were just drinking and hanging out and then this terrible thing happened, to which I was thinking: EXACTLY. I wrote a lot about this in a blog post.

I don’t think I would do it like that again, but I’m glad that we did it once. That’s where theater and games diverge, right? I never could have done that with a show.

What surprised you most about how the event played out?

We were surprised how crowded the space was and how long people had to wait in line to speak with key characters. We expected some amount of waiting but not to the extent that it happened, so we got that under control the second night.

We were also surprised that people found it hard to engage with the story. They were confused and didn’t quite know what to do. We had three characters whose job it was to pull people in and we had a full “instructions” sheet, but it wasn’t enough. Next time I want to have a “briefing room” where – out of character – we help the audience figure out how to engage.

I was also surprised that people were so upset about the “bad ending” the second night. I did build a ton of story and nuance in there; it was a pretty dark commentary on 1939 and 2016. On the night of, people just looked confused, like it was a mistake. The people who chose the bad ending literally said “wheee! We’re glad he’s dead! Being bad is fun!” Everyone else was just like “oh well.” Later on they expressed that they were upset and even outraged. I wasn’t expecting the “slow burn” on that ending.  

In-show: The bad ending two characters have been shot and a reporter is photographing them.

How did you manage to put on so much spectacle with tickets as affordable as they were?

It’s hard to overstate how helpful it was working with Oberon and the American Repertory Theater. The pricing for the space was really reasonable and they helped with EVERYTHING from staging to lights to sound. This was a risk for them because they didn’t entirely understand what we were doing. I got this wonderful email from them afterwards where they said “we took a crazy risk and it paid out in spades!!” I’m saving that email forever! A bunch of people in the Oberon staff said it was one of the coolest, most unique, and beautiful shows they’d seen in that space.

Also, I design everything based on my resources. We had a lot of dancers and musicians and friends to abuse. Just about everybody worked for us under cost. Hooray for friends!!

Do you have any advice for creating this type of piece that you’d like to share with our readers?

Stay infinitely flexible. Give good people what they need to build good things and just keep your eye on the ball. I’m just so proud of how my team made this crazy idea into something special.

Use your resources. Club Drosselmeyer worked because I had a swing band, singers, dancers, and people who knew how to dress like it was 1939. If I’d had to find these people or have other people create this environment, it would have been much more difficult.

What was it like seeing the entire piece come together?

AMAZING!!!! Day of, I looked at the set and the band and the dancers working on things and I was like “this is exactly what was in my head… and now it exists.” It was a surreal experience. It was both totally natural because it had been hanging out in my head for such a long time and totally unnatural because I’m aware that imaginary things don’t usually exist in real life.

Should we expect a sequel?

ABSOLUTELY!! The story will have to be completely different. I think there will be some new acts and new characters. I think it will have to be 1940… and that brings a whole new set of challenges. Germany just marched into France so we’ve got the French Underground and there are spies everywhere!

Club Drosselmeyer - Cast photo on the stage

What’s next for the team behind Club Drosselmeyer?

We’re buzzing along with our Edventure Builder games and we just released updates to a game we built with the Boston Children’s Museum at lxbgame.com.

I’m most excited about a modular escape room for middle schoolers that I’m brainstorming with the Teacher’s Education Resource Center… I don’t want to say too much about it other than that I really really hope it happens.

We’re also building something for this summer likely called the “society for historical inaccuracies.” It will be an interactive mystery tour around Boston, helping people stay abreast of all the things that never happened in Boston fictional history. I’d like to say we’re making history. Up.

Real Escape Games by SCRAP – Defenders of the Triforce – Los Angeles [Review]

It’s dangerous to go alone…but awfully crowded in groups of six.

Location: Los Angeles, CA*

Date played: February 12, 2017

Team size: 6; we recommend 6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $30 per ticket early bird, $35 regular price, $40 at the door; might vary by city

Story & setting

The story was reworked from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time: As the titular Defenders of the Triforce, our job was to work as a team to find the legendary Master Sword in order to free Princess Zelda and defeat the evil Ganondorf.

SCRAP Zelda Defenders of the Triforce poster featuring silhouettes of Ganondorf and Link.

The gamespace was a hotel ballroom with a couple dozen tables seating teams of six. Stations around the room represented locations in Hyrule, but most of the gameplay took place at the tables.

The decor was minimal—it felt precisely like being in a hotel ballroom—but staff members were dressed for the occasion and interacted with us in character.

Like SCRAP’s other large-scale events, the game was introduced by an emcee and the story was delivered through an intro video, with the gameplay loosely following the story.

Puzzles

In typical SCRAP mass event fashion, we spent most of the hour at the table solving paper puzzles. These were a bit more inventive than past SCRAP pencil puzzles, but familiar to those of us who had played their games before. Some were moderately challenging, but others would not be out of place in a children’s puzzle book.

The more dynamic moments involved basic items reminiscent of the Zelda series, as well as certain tasks that required us to interact with staff members.

At first glance the puzzle flow appeared linear, but it turned out to be more complex. We were given a way to organize our progress, but we still struggled to keep things straight at times.

Solving the puzzles and reaching the ending demanded close attention to the clues we had available. We never had to guess or make logical leaps.

Standouts

The puzzle flow was elegant. Defenders of the Triforce kept our interest and provided an increasing challenge. The first task was simple enough to be almost like a videogame tutorial, and the hardest tasks were last, which made the ending feel like an accomplishment.

We enjoyed the physicality of wearing Link hats and manipulating various props. The final sequence was fun, especially for Zelda fans. We were all delighted by one particular prop interaction that felt unexpected and exciting even though it was low-tech.

In-game: A ballroom full of seated players all wearing green Link elf hats.

Our success in the game depended on teamwork and attention to detail, rather than an insight that could make or break the ending. This was a welcome departure from past SCRAP games, which have notoriously relied on unintuitive leaps of logic in the final puzzle.

Shortcomings

Having approximately 150 people in the same space was a challenge. It was hard to concentrate in a room full of adventurers; waiting in lines to access certain clues created significant bottlenecks.

Because some elements of the game were accessible out of order, we ended up doubling back and uncovering clues we no longer needed. We also spent several minutes fiddling with a (probably) unintentional red herring that could have been prevented with a small design tweak.

We would have appreciated a hint when we got stuck, but there was no discernible hint system.

Due to the venue and the focus on pencil puzzles, we never truly felt like we were adventuring through Hyrule, despite all the references to the Zelda series.

We didn’t get to keep the hats, which was a letdown for some of us (and also made us wonder if they’d been laundered between games).

Should I play SCRAP’s Defenders of the Triforce?

Defenders of the Triforce was lighthearted and not terribly difficult—unlike most of SCRAP’s large-scale games, the majority of the teams made it all the way to the end.

The more physical elements of the game were especially cool for those of us who were Legend of Zelda fans, but non-fans could enjoy Defenders of the Triforce without a knowledge gap.

Because of the theme and difficulty level, Defenders of the Triforce would be a safe bet for younger players, families, and less experienced puzzlers—with the understanding that this game format is missing the sense of mystery and exploration of a typical escape room.

Defenders of the Triforce is a fun game with lots of references for Zelda fans, but the videogame series has so many story and gameplay elements that could be great fun in an escape room, and this implementation only scratched the surface.

If you’re looking for an immersive adventure or a puzzling challenge, Defenders of the Triforce is probably not going to be your thing, even if you are a Zelda superfan. At its heart, it was a low-tech opportunity to put ourselves in Link’s shoes (…or hat) and be the heroes of a real-life Zelda legend.

If you’re looking for an hour of Zelda-themed fun (and there are still tickets available in your area), Defenders of the Triforce is worth your time.

Book your hour with SCRAP’s Defenders of the Triforce, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

*Defenders of the Triforce is coming to Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Diego, Seattle, San Francisco, Houston, Chicago, New York, Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. The event dates and ticket sale dates vary by city.

Lisa & David will be playing in New York on May 4 at 9PM. Look for them there!

 

2017 New York Puzzle Party Announcement

Come join us at the 2017 New York Puzzle Party!

Colorful filtered image of a collection of physical puzzles. Many wooden puzzle boxes, cubes, puzzles locks, and entanglements.

Puzzlers of all types are welcome to bring puzzles, meet each other, and share a love of puzzling.

There will also be talks on a variety puzzle topics. We will be speaking about at-home room escape games.

Event Details

  • Date: Saturday, February 18, 2017
  • Time: 9:30am – 4:00pm
  • Location: Manhattan*
  • Entry cost: $5

At this event last year, we met Rod Kimball, author of Path Puzzles, learned about puzzle locks (and handled some incredible such works of art!), and listened to a talk about testing a puzzle app at the DMV, among other things.

This is an opportunity to purchase puzzles, see interesting creations, and meet new people. We hope to see you there.

*If you would like to attend, please fill out this form in order to RSVP to the event organizer and then obtain the location details.

Club Drosselmeyer [Puzzle Event Review]

Aces!

Location: Cambridge, MA

Date played: December 11, 2016

Price: $45 – 80 per ticket

Story & setting

Set in a 1939 nightclub, attendees had the opportunity to explore dance, take in a variety of performing acts, and puzzle through a story of espionage and intrigue.

The band was incredible. The venue was awesome. The dancers were on fire. The characters were engaging… and damn near the entire audience was decked out in full costume.

About last night #clubdrosselmeyer

A post shared by Kelly Hansen (@keltastic) on

This puzzling event was so much more than a couple of hundred people sitting around tables solving their way through a manila envelope of puzzles. It was a living, breathing, and occasionally chaotic mystery. No one, not even the actors, knew exactly how the evening would unfold.

Lisa and David in costume swing dancing.
A shot of us swing dancing, courtesy of our friend Denise Kuehner.

Puzzles

The puzzles weren’t delivered to the tables; we had to earn them by interacting with the various non-player characters (NPCs). They would send us on quests to gain bits of information or give us things that we had to solve. While some puzzles were straightforward, others involved less-than-usual interactions with the cast.

Every puzzle advanced the story, even if it only added a little depth to a character.

Standouts

The band and Lindy hoppers were of particular note. Both fit beautifully into spectacle of the evening. Let’s be real; in 2016, a swing band and a gaggle of folks Lindy hopping with style and skill isn’t exactly an everyday occurrence.

The setting was amazing.

The audience looked awesome. We were shocked to see so many people fully commit to the evening. My hat is off to everyone in attendance. Such a classy bunch.

The actors were exceptional at improvising with us. We didn’t see anyone break character.

#snowball #💗 #❄️

A post shared by Annaliese Rittershaus Brauman (@vonvalkyrie) on

The puzzling and live action roleplaying were strong. Our team was split into puzzlers and interacters. Lisa and I spent most of the evening playing with the characters, unraveling the interpersonal mysteries, and dancing. Lisa solved two puzzles and I only got around to solving the last one. There was a lot to do.

Attendees who wanted to dance could pretty much go the entire night doing nothing but dancing.

Attendees who wanted to puzzle could puzzle the night away (if they teamed up with some folks who would handle the NPC interactions).

Attendees who wanted to passively watch everything unfold could simply enjoy that.

Shortcomings

We attended opening night and there were a few places where Club Drosselmeyer felt like a public beta test:

  • A lot of players seemed to struggle getting started and finding their place in the narrative.
  • There were moments when we became confused, and therefore baffled the actors a little bit because they didn’t understand what we weren’t getting (and no one was breaking character, us included).
  • One particular character was a bit too necessary and popular. A line formed to interact with him and that slowed the game’s pace and progression.
  • The area around our table was consumed by people waiting on line to meet with the aforementioned popular character.

The stage acting at the end felt very forced. It was cute, but it wasn’t compelling.

The VIP ticket designation didn’t matter. At any ticket level, audience members made their experience what they wanted.

Club Drosselmeyer’s run is only two shows. The final show is tomorrow night (December 16, 2016).

Should I play Club Drosselmeyer?

Club Drosselmeyer was more than I could have ever hoped for from a puzzling event and I couldn’t help but go in with high expectations.

Puzzling, swing dancing, and interactive theater are three of my favorite things.

We worked hard throughout Club Drosselmeyer and left exhausted. It was worth every ounce of effort. Our team was the only one to unravel the main storyline and thus I got to choose the path that the ending would take.

If you’re going tonight, dress up, become a character, team up, and play hard. There are plots and subplots to explore (many of which went unexplored on opening night). There’s more than one evening’s worth of fun at Club Drosselmeyer. I wish I could go back.

Club Drosselmeyer is sold out… as it should be.

Join us at Boston’s Club Drosselmeyer

Our love of puzzles and immersive theater is well documented.

What you may not know is that we also love music and dancing, particularly swing and salsa.

So… we’re pretty damn excited about attending Club Drosselmeyer in Boston on December 11th.

Image of a nutcracker. Text reads: "Club Drosselmeyer Coming to Oberon December 11th and 16th. An interactive Nutcracker in Swingtime!"

What is Club Drosselmeyer?

Set against the backdrop of The Nutcracker, the website describes it succinctly:

“Puzzle hunt meets vintage cabaret in this immersive, interactive swing-dance extravaganza!”

The website also describes it less succinctly.

Where and when is Club Drosselmeyer?

The festivities will happen at Club Oberon in Boston’s Harvard Square.

There are currently two shows:

  • Sunday, December 11th, at 7:30pm
  • Friday, December 16th, at 7:30pm

Our impression is that there’s a chance that there will be more shows in the future if these two are successful.

Who’s behind this madness?

The folks of Green Door Labs. We haven’t met in person, but we’ve been Twitter buddies for a long while.

Is it good?

We can’t say yet.

Puzzles, immersive entertainment, live music, and swing dancing: worst case scenario is a night dancing and puzzling… so we’re feeling hopeful.

Book now

Get tickets while they’re still available.

If you plan to attend on December 11th, do let us know.

Book your evening at Club Drosselmeyer and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Escape Room and Puzzle Hunt Directories: Interview with Dan Egnor

Dan Egnor’s Escape Room Directory was the first of its kind, an international listing that’s been around for nearly as long as escape rooms have been in North America. We are thankful for his work documenting the global proliferation of this industry. We recently asked Dan to share his insights, both on the growth of these games and the other, more complicated puzzle events he enjoys .

Room Escape Artist: What is the Escape Room Directory? Give us the basics.

Dan: The Escape Room Directory is what it says on the tin — a directory of escape rooms. You can find it at escaperoom.directory. It’s been up since October 5, 2014, so, 20 months or so as of this writing. There aren’t any reviews or maps or details — it’s just a big list of cities worldwide and escape rooms in those cities.

How did you get started?

I was just getting into escape rooms, and they were just starting to multiply, and I wanted some way to keep track of them. Putting every escape room in the world on a website seemed like a reasonable weekend project (ha ha), and seemed like a natural extension of puzzlehuntcalendar (which I also run, but is trivial by comparison).

When I started the Escape Room Directory, I thought it was the first worldwide directory, but it wasn’t; Essa’s Intervirals site came first by a long shot.

And how did you discover escape rooms?

I’ve always been into puzzle hunts. I was working at Microsoft when I got my start with “The Game” (note, the Wikipedia article is a little… exaggerated) which was a weekend-long, no-sleep, team-van-based hunt run by enthusiasts for enthusiasts. My first hunt was “ISETV”, an alien-themed game run in Los Angeles in 1998.

Since leaving Microsoft and Seattle, I’ve kept an interest in puzzle hunts — though I prefer them a bit more cerebral than the classic “Game” was. As I noted above, I run a little calendar of puzzle events, which mostly exists so different people don’t accidentally schedule puzzle hunts on the same day!

Anyway, when SCRAP opened “Escape from the Mysterious Room,” which as far as I know was the first North American escape room, we in the puzzle hunt community were naturally intrigued and excited by this amazing new concept. As more rooms opened I organized an “escape crawl” where I and some friends tried to do all the local (SF Bay Area) escape rooms (that we hadn’t already done) in one day. That would be a preposterous idea now! But then, that only meant doing six.

Where are you when you aren’t escaping rooms?

I’m a programmer at Google; I live in Palo Alto, which is a town about 30 miles south of San Francisco.

So, six in one day to jump start this hobby… what’s the count now?

At this point I’ve played… somewhere in the neighborhood of 40-50 rooms, I think? (I need to update my spreadsheet.) Which is not actually that many. It’s certainly not enough!

Any favorites?

My favorite is probably Time Run in London UK. Actually I’d say overall London has the best rooms I’ve seen overall. Closer to home I’d give a shout out to the Great Houdini Escape Room, which is probably the best in the area.

My taste is the same as most people’s, I think — I like a good mix of inventive puzzles, an immersive experience, and magical technology (that works); I think the rooms I named above hit the spot on all of those dimensions.

Back to the directory… How did you amass this vast amount of data?!

So, originally, I assembled the directory by doing a lot of searching. I’d look for other lists of escape rooms (mostly local), I’d search business directories (like Yelp and TripAdvisor), and I’d just google “escape room <place>”. Like, I’d find that Malaysia has some escape rooms, so I’d just start searching for “escape room <city>” for every city in Malaysia, and copy down everything I saw.

Remember, this was early days. I figured, how many escape rooms can there be in the world? A couple hundred, tops? Even then, that was terribly naive. Anyway, this got old fast as you might imagine. I have a day job after all! And it’s not like I want to make a business out of this or anything. So I put up an invitation to send me mail with listings or corrections.

What is the multi-submitter? How does that fit in?

Somewhere around then, Chris Dickson (then of exitgames.co.uk, now of exexitgames.co.uk) had the excellent idea that there should be a one-stop shop for escape room owners (and others) to post details about a new escape room, so they wouldn’t have to go add their listing to every directory individually. Owners get an easy place to register updates, directories get more updates sent to them, it’s a win-win!

As Chris handed off day-to-day maintenance to other local enthusiasts, I ended up taking over the multi-submitter, and took the opportunity to revamp the form after some conversation with other recipients (such as the owners of this lovely site!). It’s pretty low-tech, just a Google form that fills out entries into a spreadsheet and emails updates to all of us. You can find it at escaperoomsubmitter.com.

We know how much work it is to keep a US map current. How are you doing keeping track of the entire world?

At this point, I mainly just take updates from the submitter, and from whatever else gets sent to me — from the submitter alone, in the last week, for example, there have been 33 reports — almost all of them for new facilities.

I haven’t been doing a lot of proactive research. As a result other directories, especially local/national directories (like this one!) tend to have better data. I occasionally think about retiring my directory, or somehow federating data in a better way, but it’s all work! Meanwhile I hope it provides a good service to people who enjoy its global reach and simple presentation.

After following the global spread, what’s your sense of the growth of the industry?

I really only have subjective impressions, which would be that the industry is continuing to expand rapidly (understatement!). The usual pattern is that a region gets seeded, followed by rapid hypergrowth as the trend is imported, followed by “merely” exponential growth, which is where most of the North American market is at now. You’d expect saturation to follow, and there are anecdotal reports of saturation in some markets, but I haven’t seen the numbers to bear that out.

I am always happy to see escape rooms taking root in new countries, especially when it looks like a local operation rather than a flag planted by some global franchise.

I was super interested and happy to see your post about growth rates. This is something we’re all interested in, and whenever I get interviewed by the press, it’s always something they’re asking. (In fact, if you ever feel like a follow-up post, I’d love to see growth on a regional/metro basis.) I’ve always thought it would be fun to dive into the data to try to get that kind of thing, but there are a lot of challenges, particularly since my data is mostly submitter-based and thus rather noisy (especially around closures and updates and timing).

Room Escape Artist: Stay tuned. We are struggling with some of the same data issues, but we are looking at how best to organize a regional study.

You grew into room escapes from puzzle hunts, while we are expanding from room escapes to other puzzl-y and interactive experiences. Which puzzle hunts do you recommend? For us and for our readers?

Puzzled Pint (a once-a-month puzzle-fest at a local bar or pub) and DASH (a once-a-year walking hunt) are great places to start, if they happen to be where you live! Online from anywhere, Shinteki’s Puzzle of the Month (free) is a monthly puzzle; P&A Magazine (US$10) is a fun monthly puzzle hunt magazine. In all these cases, sample puzzles or back issues are available, so you can get a sense of the style before you dive in. Happy solving!

Our First Puzzled Pint

The New York City Puzzled Pint migrated across the East River out of Brooklyn and into Manhattan, so we finally went to one… because Brooklyn was literally a bridge too far.

What’s a Puzzle Pint?

Puzzled Pint is a free puzzle event on the second Tuesday of every month in ~35 cities across the English-speaking world (and Vienna, Austria).

The puzzles are community-created and they are posted online, so if you aren’t near a Puzzled Pint, you can still participate.

To learn the precise location of the bar hosting your local Puzzled Pint, you usually have to solve a location puzzle that is posted on the website the Friday before the gathering. In most cities, the location changes each month.

A photo of hands working on solving a puzzle on a bar table. The puzzle is surrounded by beer glasses and plates of food.
The guiding hand of Brett Kuehner, our friend and guide into the wider world of puzzling.

Not a room escape

Over the past two years, we’ve been wading deeper into the puzzle world; it’s a great time.

Puzzled Pints are decidedly not escape rooms.

At the Puzzled Pint we visited, all puzzles were paper-based (we needed to bring pencils, scissors, and tape). There was no environment (other than the bar). We were timed, but there was no winning or losing. (Note: the events are timed, so you can be competitive if that’s your thing).

A coaster that reads, "Guiness: Competiton on the field. Friendship in the pub." rests in front of a variety of paper puzzles.

This is a pure puzzle event for people who like to solve puzzles.

We had a blast

This isn’t a review, but it’s safe to say, we’ll be back as often as we’re available (so long as they stay in Manhattan).

If you’re the puzzle type, absolutely check out Puzzled Pint. It’s free. It’s fun. And if you cannot attend the events, they are freely available over the internet… along with all of the Puzzled Pint puzzles dating back to July 2010.

Enjoy!

A flock of 7 origami birds.
When all was said and done, Lisa folded a flock from our puzzle pieces.

SCRAP – The Crazy Last Will of Dr. Mad [Review]

The reading of Dr. Mad’s will was a tragic event.

Location: New York City, New York (Traveling Game)

Date played: January 26, 2016

Team size: 6; we recommend 6

Price: $29.50 per ticket

Theme & story

Things started out well enough.

A charismatic and energetic man emerged on stage and explained to us:

“50 years have passed since the death of Dr. Mad, a physicist known as the greatest genius of the last century. Rumor has it that he uncovered the secret to human prosperity, but passed away before revealing it to the world. In accordance with his last wishes, his will was sealed for 50 years following his death. And now the time has come for it to be opened. Many mysterious clues lie hidden within, along with the following challenge —
‘Can you unravel the mystery of my life’s work?'”

The setup was clever, fun, and certainly had enough meat on it to sustain an hour long puzzle adventure.

With a quick look around the room I could tell that the game was set up in the same manner as other SCRAP mass events. I wasn’t titillated by the setup, but SCRAP’s last mass event, Escape From the Walled City, was a step in the right direction, so I had hope.

The clock started, we opened our packet of materials, and my hope died a swift death over the course of the following 15 minutes.

Red, white, blue, and black poster announcing The Crazy Last Will of Dr. Mad.

Homework

Wordy and tedious, the puzzles mostly felt like homework.

SCRAP always works in a few puzzles that are genuinely cool. That was true in Dr. Mad, but they were few and not everyone experienced them.

The rest was a grind.

Staging

The game had two rooms that we had to earn access to. Our gamemaster went out of his way to stress how observant we needed to be in those rooms and that there was an experiential component to them.

While we did need to be mildly observant to find a few things in each room, they were storage closets. When we actually attempted to search the room, we found an assortment of items belonging to the restaurant/club that was hosting the event.

There were puzzles; there was no environment.

Solution

When time ran out, we had about three puzzles remaining. However, we had actually guessed the final answer to the game about 20 minutes in.

And we wrote it on our answer sheet.

It was an actual cliché.

Later in the game we became confused and modified it by adding an additional word. We never would have counted it as a victory, but if Escape from the Werewolf Village had a deeply obtuse solution, The Crazy Last Will of Dr. Mad had the most painfully obvious one.

Déjà vu

Back in June 2014, I wrote my very first escape game review on my personal blog. Having played quite a few games, I fell in love with them. Then I played one that I absolutely hated. That game was SCRAP’s mass escape game: Escape from the Werewolf Village.

To pull a quote from myself:

“My big concern is that there were people in that room who were doing a room escape for the first time and think that Escape from the Werewolf Village is representative of all room escapes. If this were my first, I am not sure I’d have gone to a second one.”

It’s now 2016 and pretty much everything I wrote about Escape from the Werewolf Village applies to The Crazy Last Will of Dr. Mad. However Dr. Mad was a worse experience because the escape game industry has evolved dramatically since those early days.

Culture gap

By playing escape games in six countries, I’ve learned that expectations shift from culture to culture.

I wonder if something is getting lost in translation from Japanese culture to American culture.

Should I play SCRAP’s The Crazy Last Will of Dr. Mad?

I have a deep reverence for what SCRAP has done for escape games in the United States. They produced the first escape game in the US. They have also created a few of the most memorable and incredible puzzle experiences I have ever experienced.

At the same time, their games are tedious to a fault and comically difficult (no one won). Their mass escape events are a poor ambassador for their permanent room escapes and the industry at large.

The Crazy Last Will of Dr. Mad was supposed to be a two night event, but they had to conglomerate the games due to poor ticket sales. Perhaps it is time for SCRAP to rethink their approach to the US market.

Full disclosure: SCRAP comped our tickets for this game.