PAX West 2019 Roundup

In recent years, the indie video game world has been an incubator for some of the most innovative puzzle games. There’s a VR game that’s Tetris plus archery (Smush.tv). A Plinko game with D&D elements (Roundguard). Even a cooperative platformer about two dogs connected by a gelatinous midsection (PHOGS!). All were on display this year at the PAX West expo.

PAX West logo

Since its inception in 2004, PAX West has been a fan-focused gaming expo catering to gamers of every stripe. Every Labor Day weekend, the show takes over Seattle’s Washington State Convention Center as well as large sections of many nearby hotel ballrooms.

Triple-A companies dominated most of the space with their new installments of Borderlands or Monster Hunter, but PAX always devotes ample sections of floorspace to independent games and this year was no exception.

I met David and Lisa in 2016 when they were at PAX hosting a panel about escape rooms. Respect for puzzle gamers at PAX runs deep. At this year’s expo, I went on a hunt for the best upcoming puzzle and adventure games that will pique the interest of escape room fans.

Satanic Functions

The first standout I found was The Devil’s Calculator by Cinq-Mars Media. This mobile game is likely to divide gamers into two camps at first blush: those who used their high school TI-85 calculator to craft functions that drew beautiful graphs, and those who used it to hide notes on the Pythagorean theorem.

The devil had possessed my calculator, swapping out the plus, minus, multiply, and divide functions with nefarious replacements. Sometimes keys were on fire – too hot to press. The only way to clear each level was to figure out how to make the display read “666”.

Christopher Jarvis, the game’s creator, described it as “a game of interpolation where you’re trying to solve for unknown operators.”

“I never took math past high school and I made all 70 base game levels,” Jarvis said. “95 percent of it is puzzle solving and lateral thinking.” This was good news to me as I definitely fell on the “hiding notes” side of TI-85 users.

The Devil’s Calculator is a non-profit game that is free for the first 20 levels, and totally free for educators and students. It’s out now on the Apple App Store, Google Play, and Steam.

Maintaining Momentum

Another indie selection that impressed me was Deleveled from Toaster Fuel. Described to me by programmer Kyle Donnelly as “a physics-based puzzle-platformer with no jump button,” this was a game that was more easily understood when played. In fact, it’s best to watch this video right now:

I simultaneously controlled two squares on either side of a platforming level made of simple lines, attempting to move all the level’s switches to “on.” Sure enough, there was no jump button so I had to fall and cause my counterpart square to bounce, then conserve that momentum to navigate obstacles in search of my goal.

It was like a combination of Super Meat Boy and a Newton’s cradle.

I was drawn in by Deleveled’s minimalistic design and intrigued by the mind-bending levels. Level Designer Patrick Nance promises smooth ramping to train new players and unexpected twists to hold their interest to the end. As a word nerd, I couldn’t help being delighted by the way their palindromic title echoed the concept of the game.

Deleveled is planned for Steam, Switch, Xbox, and PS4 by the end of 2019.

Both Deleveled and The Devil’s Calculator were selected for the PAX10, an honor bestowed upon 10 games each year by a PAX-selected committee of 50 industry experts.

Zootopia Noir

The most visually striking game in the indie sections of PAX was Backbone by Egg Nut. I played raccoon private investigator Howard Lotor in a 2-D anthropomorphic-noir world. It was set in dystopian Vancouver, B.C., and the city was Blade Runner-beautiful. In the street scene featured in the demo, neon signs reflected off puddles in the street and steam rising out of the sewer was illuminated by the headlights of passing cars. This was all the more impressive because the game was pixel art in the vein of The Secret of Monkey Island.

Unlike that classic adventure game, the focus of Backbone was less on fetch-quests and more on navigating branching dialogue trees to solve a mystery. The demo started with me trying to bribe, persuade, and threaten my way into a jazz club. There were bears, foxes, and dogs inside that I needed to question. Once there, I made a sickening discovery and by the end of the demo my character was doubled over in an alley losing his lunch. Despite the anthropomorphism, this was decidedly adult subject matter.

While Backbone was chiefly an adventure game, Eggnut co-founder and writer Alex Korabelnikova assured me that team wasn’t neglecting the puzzle elements. The puzzle in the demo occurred in close-up view, where I rearranged pieces of paper with cut-out elements to get a door code.

“There is also going to be a mechanic of Smell-O-Vision, where you can track and trace smells to figure out the clues,” Korabelnikova said. “The dialogue itself is a puzzle, because you need to figure out the approach you need to take with each character, and you need to understand what different species signify inside the world and the stereotypes that surround them.”

This is an ambitious effort but it’s off to an excellent start. Definitely one to watch.

Backbone is slated for release on nearly all platforms in early 2021. The free demo is out now for PC for Steam.

Origami Meet-Cute

I didn’t expect to get “the feels” exploring PAX West’s Indie Megabooth, but there was one game that got me. A Fold Apart from Lightning Rod Games explored a couple in a long distance relationship struggling with the space between them. I played by flipping, folding, unfolding, and rotating the paper that made up their environment. It was a puzzle game with a strong emphasis on narrative.

Steven Smith, co-founder of Lightning Rod games, said, “We deal with communication and miscommunication. So there will be texting back and forth, and someone will say something that brings up a sensitive subject. That will send the other person into an emotional world where they work through their feelings about it and solve puzzles.” Disagreements created emotional barriers that my character had to literally fold their way around to overcome.

As someone who is currently in a long distance relationship, I was definitely moved by the narrative. A nice text message (or the absence of a message) can turn your whole world upside down. The Pixaresque animation and gorgeous score further tweaked my thrumming heartstrings.

I was able to play any combination of two-person relationship between a man, a woman, and a non-binary character.

A Fold Apart will be available on Apple Arcade, Switch, and PC this Fall. Xbox, PS4, Mac, and Android soon after. It was recently featured in an Apple Arcade promo, so it must have Tim Apple’s seal of approval!

Cool REM House

Superliminal by Pillow Castle drew influence from such mind-bending puzzlers as Portal, The Stanley Parable, and The Witness. It was a first-person experience set in a sleep institute. My character had come in for a new dream therapy meant to provide more restful sleep. However, when I woke up, there was no one there. Was I still dreaming?

In this world, perception became reality. When I lined up disjointed pieces of a painted cube, it became three-dimensional. Small objects became large when I dropped them from above me. Items refracted through distorted glass took on new properties. I was able to navigate the facility through the transformation of these items, blowing my own mind a couple times in the process.

Art Director Steve Allen described the look of Superliminal as “interesting mundanity.” Allen said, “At first it’s not too overarchingly surreal, but it just has that sort of glimmer of too much symmetry, too much color, and that clues the player that something interesting is going on in that area.” While the demo only covered the rather tame opening area of the game, the trailer hinted that it takes a dark turn as you uncover more about the seemingly mundane building.

As the most room escape-adjacent game I found at PAX West this year, this will be one that puzzle fans will want to keep an eye out for.

Superliminal will be coming out by the end of 2019. It will be an exclusive on the Epic Games Store for PC, then a year later on Steam.

PanIQ Room – Pyramid Heist [Review]

Decipher like an Egyptian

Location:  New York, New York

Date Played: September 20, 2019

Team size: 2-7; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per player for Public booking, $34 per player for Private booking

Ticketing: Public or Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Pyramid Heist was one of PanIQ Room’s earlier escape rooms. The gameplay was heavily focused on searching, ciphering, and unlocking. That said, despite repetitive concepts, the gameplay moved pretty smoothly. Our teammates – a family of 4 including 2 teenagers – participated in everything and had a blast doing so. It was a traditional escape game in the style that stoked our early interest in escape rooms.

Although the initial office set wasn’t particularly exciting, Pyramid Heist offered more than initially met the eye and escalated dramatically in the second act.

In-game: A sarcophagus covered in sand.

If you are looking for a solid, classic escape room in New York City, Pyramid Heist has been our favorite game at PanIQ Room in NYC thus far. It didn’t offer anything novel to experienced players, but we enjoyed it nonetheless.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • An unexpected second act
  • Opportunities for collaborative solving

Story

We had broken into the Curator’s office at the Museum of Ancient and Historical Artifacts in order to steal the Golden Ankh of Ra. Although security had left a lot of locks to prevent this type of theft, our boss knew we were the team for this heist.

In-game: A desk with an old typewriter, a book, a phone, and an ancient egyptian artifact.

Setting

Pyramid Heist opened in a standard office space with a desk, bookshelf, and a few wall hangings.

In the second act, it opened up into a considerably more exciting gamespace.

In-game: A sketch of a sarcophagus.

Gameplay

PanIQ Room’s Pyramid Heist was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, observing, making connections, and puzzling.

In-game: A bookshelf with a sarcophagus statue.

Analysis

➕ Although Pyramid Heist opened in a drab office setting, as our search intensified, we found ourselves in a more impressive and interesting setting. The second act exceeded expectations.

 Pyramid Heist had a lot of locks of similar types and similar digit structures. Whenever we found a key or solved a code, we’d have to try it all around the room. More variation would enhance momentum.

(Ok, we didn’t have to try all the keys in every lock because we used David’s superpower of recognizing which type of key goes to which lock – which left our teenage teammates awestruck – but most players can’t rely on this. I certainly can’t look at a key and know where to try it.)

➖ PanIQ crafted a cipher-centric escape room. While I enjoy ciphering, Pyramid Heist struggled for lack of puzzle variety. There were too many overlapping, but different ciphers, which came into play at different times. This could easily cause confusion, especially among newer players. Additionally, we continually needed to rely on the provided pens and paper to work out the ciphers.

➕ We appreciated some unorthodox opens. These segments were especially enjoyable.

➖ We fell victim, yet again, to playing too gently. In this search-heavy game, not all searching was properly clued. One search in particular desperately needed addition cluing.

Pyramid Heist had thematic puzzles that came together well. We were able to follow the gameplay from start to finish.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is street parking in this neighborhood.
  • If you’re coming by subway, take the B/D to Grand St, the F to Delancey, or the J/Z to Bowery.
  • We recommend Vanessa’s Dumpling House for a quick meal or Lena for wine and tapas.

Book your hour with PanIQ Room’s Pyramid Heist, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: PanIQ Room comped our tickets for this game.

Novel Escape – 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea [Review]

Under da sea

Location:  Austin, TX

Date Played:  August 9, 2019

Team size: 2-6; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $29 per player

Ticketing: Public and Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

I’m going to sum Novel Escape’s inaugural game, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, in one word: elegant

The only thing that impresses us more than a big budget game executed brilliantly… is a humble game executed brilliantly. That’s what we’re talking about here.

The setup, puzzles, and climactic story beat were smart, elegant, and smile-inducing.

In-game: A periscope hanging from the ceiling.

Novel Escape poured a lot of love and care into this game. For those who are looking to have every inch of the set blow their minds or experience mind-boggling technology, there’s a little of each, but it’s the gameplay that stars in this show.

We heard word of Novel Escape from two long-time readers who beta tested the game. We squeezed 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in on our most recent trip to Austin, before Novel Escape officially opened their doors, and we’re thrilled that we did.

If we have one concern for Novel Escape, it’s durability. We played in a pristine, pre-opening version. Some of these props might need additional reinforcement to survive the daily grind of escape room players.

Now that Novel Escape is finally open, if you’re nearby, I highly recommend diving into 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Scenery snobs
  • Jules Verne fans
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Wonderfully crafted puzzles
  • Adorable set design
  • Solid storytelling

Story

Our ship had wrecked and the notorious Captain Nemo had taken us aboard the Nautilus and press-ganged us into serving him. Nemo had decided to be kind and offered us a deal: if we could find and return a long-lost family heirloom of his we would be free to go.

In-game: A locked hatch within the submarine.

Setting

Our adventure opened in a one of Captain Nemo’s submersible pods. The infamous Captain was issuing his orders… and promises.

The set offered a lot of variety, and was a little uneven. None of it was weak, but some segments stood out.

In-game: A shelf covered in shells, ships in bottles, and a lighthouse.

Gameplay

Novel Escape’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around observing, making connections, and puzzling.

In-game: A control panel with a variety of switches and buttons.

Analysis

➕ The puzzles in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea carried this game forward swimmingly. They were thoughtful, clean, well-tested (we played before the game had officially opened), and generally engaged multiple people in group solves. They had depth. Each teammate had a different favorite puzzle, which speaks volumes.

➕ Novel Escape draws inspiration from classic novels. Before we entered 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, our gamemaster read us the rules in the Novel Escape style. We’re hardly ever captivated by the rules, but this thematic delivery was a rare exception.

➕ We commend Novel Escape for minimal reading in an escape room inspired by a book (we were a little worried that we’d be hit with large passages). We appreciated how Novel Escape incorporated text to deliver an “aha” rather than by slowing us down with reading material.

➖ One puzzle seemed narratively out of place. Although it was a fun group solve, there was an opportunity to do something more relevant with that segment.

➕ In this primarily lock-and-key escape room, Novel Escape surprised us, hiding a twist in plain sight, and cluing it expertly. It was low tech – and low budget – but so well crafted as to deliver an incredible moment.

➖ The set was uneven. Some parts of the gamespace were more inspiring than others. It all looked good, but there was an opportunity to enhance it in some areas.

➕/➖ We enjoyed that our game was introduced in-character. Novel Escape could sell this more strongly, both pre-game and post-game, to raise the stakes of the adventure.

❓ We’re worried about the durability of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. It was in great shape when we visited, but this was before Novel Escape had officially opened. We aren’t convinced that the delicate components will withstand the beating that escape rooms take over time.

In-game: a quote from "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea"painted to the wall: "The Nautilus confirmed the words of an astute engineer, 'There is no well-constructed hull that cannot defy the sea."

➕ Hints floated in as needed. We loved the hint delivery method.

➕ We enjoyed a call back and an Easter egg. These little details added charm to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Novel Escape’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Novel Escape comped our tickets for this game.

Codeword Escape – Curse of the Golden Touch [Review]

Long live King Midas and his weak grasp of basic economic principles.

Location:  Rocky Hill, CT

Date Played: August 18, 2019

Team size: up to 10; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: from $35 per player for teams of 1-2 to $28 per player from teams of 6+

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Connecticut is peppered with lovely mom & pop escape room shops; Codeword Escape is one such location.

While this isn’t a massive-budget operation, they are doing traditional escape room gaming right. They picked a smart, unique setting (King Midas was a brilliant choice), built solid puzzles into the environment, and then let us players make our own fun. It worked.

Regardless of your experience level, there is something to love in Curse of the Golden Touch. If you’re in the area, you should check it out.

In-game: A golden chandelier hanging from an ornate gold ceiling.

Who is this for?

  • Puzzle lovers
  • Any experience level
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Strong puzzle play
  • An elegant set
  • Cute and clever moments

Story

The King had found a magical lamp and used it to wish that everything he touched would turn to gold. It didn’t take long before he had transmuted his beloved daughter into a golden statue. The King had begged us to find a way to break his magical curse and restore his daughter.

In-game: A red and gold throne room.

Setting

Set within a gold and velvet throne room, Codeword Escape made this space look regal… and they managed to rework the drop ceiling so that it added to the aesthetic.

This wasn’t a complicated build, but Curse of the Golden Touch looked elegant.

In-game: Two shields hung on a wall decorated in red velvet.

Gameplay

Codeword Escape’s Curse of the Golden Touch was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, observing, making connections, and puzzling.

Analysis

➕ Codeword Escape built an adventure into an office-y retail space in Connecticut. For Curse of the Golden Touch, they augmented the space to give it a castle-y feel. We also appreciated the King Midas theming, which was a new theme for us, and gave them smart design constraints on the “castle” theme. They leaned into this with great results. For a lower budget build-out, it felt appropriately castlesque and regal. We truly appreciated their attention to the details of design.

➕ Curse of the Golden Touch was a puzzle-driven escape game. The puzzles were varied, interesting, and challenging. There was plenty of content to keep a larger group engaged.

➖ Curse of the Golden Touch relied too heavily on laminated paper cluing. There were opportunities to build more clue structure into the set and the props so that it felt more integrated, rather than layered on top of the gamespace.

➖ In the first half of the game, the puzzles weren’t gated enough. Although we appreciated Codeword Escape directing our attention to the “first puzzle,” something that can be especially helpful for new players, we found that plenty of other puzzle paths could have been solved simultaneously. This wasn’t technically a first puzzle; it was a lengthy puzzle. This led some teammates to feel like they’d missed out on a good portion of the game by following the instructions.

➕ Codeword Escape mapped puzzles and locks well to keep the forward momentum of the solver. The challenges were in the puzzles, not the mechanisms; the game flowed well.

➕ /➖ The final scene of Curse of the Golden Touch was unexpected and adorable. That said, we didn’t spend enough time there. There’s an opportunity to shift a bit more gameplay into this segment so that the game feels more balanced and teams can fully enjoy the artfully designed space.

➕ The ceiling was great. They did a really smart thing with their drop ceiling… and there aren’t many companies doing smart things with drop ceilings.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Codeword Escape’s Curse of the Golden Touch, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Codeword Escape comped our tickets for this game.

Adhesive Residue – The Silliest Immersion Breaker in Escape Rooms

The silliest immersion breaking-detail that is often overlooked is super easy to fix.

Yet it’s the kind of tiny detail that even good escape room creators sometimes overlook:

Labels & Label Residue

We’re frequently searching a room when we lift something like a steampunk statue and underneath it we find the residue of a label.

The residue of a tron sticker.

Now, this is not the kind of nitpick that typically finds itself in a review, unless the game is operating on such a high level that we feel justified in picking the nits.

Is it a catastrophe? Hell no.

Is it a cheap and easy detail to mind? Hell yeah.

Easy Adhesive Removal

If you’re looking to get rid of this stuff easily, here are two fantastic tools to get the job done:

  • Goo Gone – A liquid adhesive and sticker remover.
  • FOSHIO Plastic Razor Scrapers – A plastic razor blade that when used with Goo Gone makes quick work of stickers and the adhesive residue.

This $15 solution and a little elbow grease will help you maintain immersion and look more professional.

Support Room Escape Artist’s Mission

There are lots of ways to support Room Escape Artist like buying from Amazon after clicking into the links included in this post or backing us on Patreon.

The money that we make from these helps us to grow the site and continue to add more value to the community that we love so much.

Decode Ann Arbor – The Minerva Project [Review]

SASS

Location:  Ann Arbor, Michigan

Date Played:  August 3, 2019

Team size: 3-15; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $28 per player

Ticketing: Public

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The Minerva Project was a brilliant game, especially considering that it’s been around for a few years. Decode Ann Arbor packed in a complete narrative (with good structure), strong puzzles, and appropriate technology. They built it all around an engaging and entertaining character in the form of the AI, Minerva.

In-game: A view of a 3D map of Detroit that is spun out of order.

A few elements of this game felt dated and stale. During our play-through there were components that were out of play because they were coming soon (which was disappointing). That said, this was a delightful game.

This game was one of our rare losses. I can confidently say that it was 100% our fault. We foolishly discarded an unused clue in a silly place.

There was a lot to love in The Minerva Project. If you’re in the area, we strongly recommend it. It isn’t as impressive as Decode’s latest game, The Aurora Society, but it’s well worth the time and money. If we had more time we would have eagerly played the second Minerva game as well.

Who is this for?

  • Adventure seekers
  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Sci-fi fans
  • Any experience level
  • Players who don’t need to be a part of every puzzle

Why play?

  • Good storytelling
  • Plenty of well-designed puzzles

Story

We entered a research lab and met an adolescent artificial intelligence named Minerva. This sassy computer wanted to learn from us through a series of puzzley experiments.

In-game: a "MINERVA Project Access Badge" held up to a scanning station.

Setting

Like Decode Ann Arbor’s other facility in Ypsilanti (I love that name), this location was fully themed: in this instance, around the artificial intelligence experiments of the Minerva Project.

The experience began in the lobby as our in-character gamemaster introduced us to the AI that would oversee our experiment and learn from us. This setup was smart because it justified us entering a fairly traditional and aesthetically unremarkable escape room.

In-game: wide shot of the puzzle room with three set pieces in view.

Now just because the game began in a traditional setting does not mean that things remained old school. This is one of those instances where I’d love to say more, but the experience would be harmed if I did so.

Gameplay

Decode Ann Arbor’s The Minerva Project was a standard escape room with a moderate level of difficulty.

Core gameplay revolved around searching, observing, making connections, and puzzling.

In-game: Scanning and input station 1.

Analysis

➕ Minerva was the star of this escape room. Decode Ann Arbor developed a voice for this sassy AI, which remained integral to the experience from the first moments through the conclusion.

➕ The staff at Decode Ann Arbor interacted with Minerva skillfully, developing the narrative.

In-game: Closeup of a "Puzzle Room Door Lock" status indicator.

➕ The story had a beginning, middle, and end (win or lose). We especially enjoyed “the turn” which will likely surprise most teams.

➕ With Minerva, there were additional dynamics to navigate in the game world, beyond solving puzzles. When we had the opportunity to make a choice; it felt meaningful.

➕ The puzzles were varied and usually interactive. They were largely tangible, with buttony buttons and the like.

In-game: closeup of a 10 digit mechanical numberpad with green buttons.

➖ While many of the puzzles were interactive, we also encountered a few too many paper components. Sometimes these involved substantial reading, which we found frustrating… and one of these puzzles recurred in a much more elegant form in Decode Detroit’s more recent game, The Aurora Society.

➕ We enjoyed the local nod to Detroit’s music. Also, the music was great.

➕/➖ We interacted with puzzle stations through keypads. The UI on some stations was intuitive. On others, we wasted a lot of time not understanding how to properly work the mechanism, or how it interacted with a puzzle. We were thrown off by the inconsistency between devices that looked the same, but behaved differently.

➕/➖ Decode Ann Arbor was actively improving upon The Minerva Project. We encountered entire props and puzzles labeled “in development.” These were in the gamespace, but had no bearing on our gameplay. We respect Decode Ann Arbor for iterating; too few companies commit to upgrading in this way. Also, because the game was set in a research lab, they could justify devices that were in development. That said, these props took us out of the game, as we had to stop and comprehend “not in play.” Additionally, this created a weird sense of FOMO; they looked pretty cool. So, later players are just going to have cooler toys to play with.

Tips For Visiting

  • There is a parking lot.

Book your hour with Decode Ann Arbor’s The Minerva Project, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Disclosure: Decode Ann Arbor comped our tickets for this game.

The Escape Room World Record is Officially in Print

About one year ago, a team of escape room players set the world record for “Most escape rooms attended in one day.”

Guinness World Records 2020 book cover.

Now that Guinness has committed that feat to print in Guinness World Records 2020, it’s that much more official.

Part one of the print entry reads: "Most escape rooms attended in one day. On 3 Oct 2018, Richard Bragg, Daniel Egnor, Amanda Harris (all USA) and Ana Ulin (ESP) - aka "Bloody Boris's Burning Bluelight Brigade" - visited"
“Bloody Boris’s Burning Bluelight Brigade” was quite the team name.
Part two of the print entry reads: "22 escape rooms in 24 hr in Moscow, Russia. The team were able to extricate themselves from all but one of the rooms in the allotted time."
Guinness really hitting that one loss home.

Congratulations to Rich, Dan, Amanda, and Ana!

The team in a room surrounded by Ironman suits.
Left to right: Amanda, Rich, Ana, Dan all surrounded by standard Russian indifference to copyright :p

Get Your Copy

You too can own a copy of history!

Learn More About Their Record Attempt

For more about their amazing feat of brain power and stamina check out our two interviews with the world record holders: anticipating the attempt and reflecting on setting a record.

Montreal Tour – 2020

We’re excited to welcome all 4 of these escape room celebrities to Montreal with Escape, Immerse, Explore: 2020. We hope you’ll join them and us on this continual journey to enjoy these amazing games.

Support Room Escape Artist’s Mission

There are lots of ways to support Room Escape Artist like buying from Amazon after clicking into the links included in this post or backing us on Patreon.

The money that we make from these helps us to grow the site and continue to add more value to the community that we love so much.

An Interview Peih-Gee Law & Anthony Robinson on the Puzzle of Survivor

I haven’t made a huge deal about it over the years, but I’m a pretty big fan of Survivor. The mix of interpersonal social dynamics, gameplay, physical challenges, and – of course – puzzles has provided me with a ton of entertainment over the years.

To celebrate the premier of the 39th season of Survivor: Island of the Idols, I guest hosted an episode of the No Proscenium Podcast to interview ex contestants/ escape room fans, Peih-Gee Law and Anthony Robinson, about the ultimate immersive game.

Survivor Island of the Idols logo

Background

Back when I first met Anthony Robinson of No Proscenium at the Immersive Design Summit, we geeked out about his time as a castaway on Survivor: Fiji.

He also mentioned that there was a contingent of former Survivors who loved escape rooms, notably his friend and two-time castaway Peih-Gee Law (Survivor: China and Survivor: Cambodia — Second Chance).

The Episode

You can find the full episode here:

No Proscenium – Everything Else: Survivor

Timestamps

We covered a mix of escape rooms and Survivor. I have timestamped the entire show for your convenience.

  • 4:05 – Introductions.
  • 5:05 – How did Anthony & Peih-Gee get cast?
  • 8:26 – What’s it like being on Survivor?
  • 10:45 – How Survivor has changed and become more aggressive in recent years
  • 12:40 – Why Survivor has become more aggressive
  • 14:36 – Anthony & Peih-Gee’s run-ins with some of the strongest personalities in the history of the show… and carrying goats
  • 20:50 – Playing the tabletop game Diplomacy and other bluffing games
  • 24:45 – Survivors playing Stash House in LA with a special twist
  • 29:35 – Peih-Gee’s favorite escape rooms
  • 32:45 – Anthony’s favorite escape rooms
  • 34:00 – David’s favorite escape rooms
  • 36:50 – Escape games with cocktails
  • 41:05 – What is it like solving puzzles in the heat, on television, and with Jeff Probst narrating your failures?
  • 46:15 – Survivor puzzles showing up in escape rooms
  • 47:05 – Why no Survivor Escape Room Experience?
  • 49:15 – Talking Season 39 Survivor: Island of the Idols
  • 51:45 – Season 40’s “all winners cast” & other season concepts
  • 53:25 – More on Season 39
  • 55:35 – “The shut up button” and “having a talent for getting people to fight”
  • 58:00 – Season 39 predictions
  • 1:04:20 – The Season 39 twist
  • 1:07:10 – Playing with a Survivor super-fan
  • 1:11:00 – Lisa and I got recruited for the reality show Hunted
  • 1:16:22 – What escape rooms are you excited to play? (Hex Room & Zoe) Games that foster emotion.

“Escape Room” Enters-Merriam Webster Dictionary

With new concepts come new words. “Escape Room” was among the 533 new words that Merriam-Webster added to their dictionary in their latest batch of updates.

Today we’re going to look at their definition and see if we can improve upon it.

Merriam-Webster’s definition of escape room

a game in which participants confined to a room or other enclosed setting (such as a prison cell) are given a set amount of time to find a way to escape (as by discovering hidden clues and solving a series of riddles or puzzles)

Stylized image of a dictionary open on a table.

Parsing This Definition

They nailed a lot of the key elements here with “game,” “participants,” “set amount of time,” “discovering,” “solving,” and “puzzles.”

We don’t love that “confined” is part of the definition. That gives some people the wrong impression that this activity is dangerous or claustrophobic. That said, as written, this captures that physical space is a key element.

It seems strange to argue with “to find a way to escape” as part of the definition, but in this aspect of the wording, I think Merriam-Webster is just a bit behind. This was true for quite some time, but the term now encompasses broader goals.

Why we love Merriam-Webster

We love Merriam-Webster because they are dedicated to describing the language we use. They watch as terms gain staying power or evolve. They make updates. And they are descriptivists; so are we.

The Room Escape Artist Definition

Escape Room – (noun, singular) a game where a group of participants collaboratively discovers and solves puzzles, tasks, and challenges that require no outside knowledge at a physical venue in order to accomplish a goal within a set amount of time.

In our ERban Dictionary, we also define two synonyms: Room Escape, Escape Game

Room For Discussion

In escape rooms, players both “discover” and “solve” the challenges. There aren’t any directions provided. Discovery is part of what separates an escape room from other types of puzzle games.

“No outside knowledge” separates escape rooms from puzzle hunts. While both are challenging, puzzle-solving activities, escape rooms should be self-contained and shouldn’t require any specialized knowledge.

“Physical venue” separates escape rooms from video games and VR. The idea of real-life or meetspace is a crucial differentiator.

We define escape room and escape game as synonyms. At present, these terms are mostly used interchangeably… except when we don’t want to argue the finer points of a “room” when discussing experiences that take place outdoors, around a table, or in a ballroom, stadium, or theater.

And these points are, of course, arguable. Our definition encompasses physical venues that are outdoors or that hold more than one team at once. These are atypical, but we still see them as escape rooms.

More Room for Discussion

The elephant in the physical venue is the word “escape.” Why is the activity called “escape room” when the goal is to find a relic, steal a McGuffin, or disarm a bomb? In these cases, there might not even be any escaping.

This takes us back to Merriam-Webster. Dictionaries don’t ask why. They describe how language is used.

This term has evolved since its early usage in English somewhere between 2010 and 2012 when “escape” described the sole goal of the activity. That’s what we recognize in our definition.