REPOD Episode 8: Season Finale Wrap Up with Room Escape Artist Puppetmaster: Lisa Spira

In episode 8, we chat with Lisa Spira, co-creator of Room Escape Artist, one of the producers of this podcast, and the main puppetmaster holding the strings of two very happy podcasters.

David and Lisa have been married for five years. He calls himself the Penn to Lisa’s Teller and explains that in their partnership, while he’s the loud carnival barker grabbing the attention, Lisa is the shorter, quiet one who is actually pulling all the strings (and we couldn’t be more thrilled that she’s helping us organize this podcast).

Together, we delve into some of the controversy and discussion stirred up by our previous episode with Chris Lattner.

Lisa has not only applied her prodigious organizational talents to producing our podcast, but she is also the driving force behind many of Room Escape Artist’s endeavors, including the Hivemind Review group, the US Escape Room Industry Report, the REA Escape Room Tours, and RECON ’21 – the Reality Escape Convention.

She chats with us about these upcoming projects, giving us highlights of what to expect. I was fascinated to get a glimpse at some of the moving parts behind the Room Escape Artist machine. None of this would have been possible without Lisa’s guiding hand, and we are immensely grateful for her expertise and dedication.

man in glasses and woman with blond hair peek out excitedly from behind a vault door.

Episode 8

Topics Discussed in this Episode

  • David calls himself the Penn to Lisa’s Teller and explains that in their partnership, while he’s the loud carnival barker grabbing the attention, Lisa is the shorter, quiet one who is actually pulling all the strings. [1:19]
David and Lisa on the day that he proposed with a series of puzzles. Lisa had just found a jewelry box with a key and scroll (pictured here).
  • Lisa talks about why they created the Hivemind – the group review project on Room Escape Artist that covers a variety of play-from-home content. [2:08]
  • Lisa says that one of her main struggles with publishing during quarantine is figuring out what games they should cover. She says that previously they covered games based on where they were traveling. [5:24]
  • Lisa talks about how the definition of “escape room” has changed so much, and some of the different types of rooms REA covers. [7:02]
  • David discusses his idea of regional perspectives when it comes to escape room culture. He says that people assume escape room culture is the same globally, but in his opinion, “escape rooms have a lot of regional trends and regional flavors.” [10:30]
  • Peih-Gee notes that this was the first time she thought of regional biases in escape rooms and says, “The way movies are produced and directed are probably different coming from different countries. It makes sense that any other type of entertainment or creative endeavor is also going to be flavored by your own personal cultural biases and perspectives.” [11:39]
  • Lisa muses on what IS an escape room? Does it need to have puzzles? Where’s the tipping point between an immersive adventure and an escape room? [12:16]
  • David states that he thinks the Los Angeles escape room scene, in general, has a more theatrical bent, and an undertone of horror with more illusions. He says they tend to be a bit easier and more focused on the immersion of the experience rather than on the puzzles. [13:34]
  • David says he thinks Seattle has a much more puzzle-focused gameplay, whereas the New Orleans/ Baton Rouge area tends to focus more on spectacle in an artsy way. [14:22]
  • We talk about the differences between theatrical versus spectacle, with “theatrical” meaning more narrative focused, and “spectacle” meaning a big reveal. [15:00]
  • Peih-Gee notes that she loves the personality of regional flavor in escape rooms and David compares it to having regional flavors in music. [17:10]
  • We talk a little bit about escape room culture in China, including the speed dating scene built around escape rooms, as well as the elaborate costumes. [19:35]
  • David and Lisa discuss their data-driven Industry reports on the escape room community and go over a few highlights from their recent industry survey, including [21:07]:
    • 80% of business owners that took the survey are currently operating.
    • 75% of owners said that they had adjusted their schedules in various different ways to make the experience of playing in escape rooms safer.
    • 42% said that their outlook is positive and almost 24% said their outlook is very positive. 
  • Lisa shares some quotes from the escape room industry survey. Some are positive, like one that says “We are doing the best we’ve ever done by adding online live avatar games. It has opened us up to an even larger market.“ [23:40]
  • Some of the quotes are a sad reminder of the hard-hitting reality of this quarantine. ”My enthusiasm and energy after all of this is low. I feel like I’m starting over building my business up.” [24:35]
  • Lisa talks about the escape room tours that REA runs and mentions that the Montreal Tour is planned for October of 2021. [26:53]
David's bus gathered for a group photo at RISE.
Escape Room Tour group in New Orleans in 2018
  • Lisa explains how the tours work. David reminisces about some past players who told him that the tours had changed their life perspective and inspired them to learn new skill sets and make new friends who enjoyed the same hobby. [28:26]
  • Lisa talks about RECON, the Reality Escape Convention created by the REA team, which will be held virtually again August 22-23, 2021. [34:27]
  • We discuss the type of content that will be available at RECON including the curated talks, workshops, ARG, games, and even afterparty bars. [35:07]
  • Lisa tells us about the ticket pricing structure for RECON: the basic ticket level which will be pay-what-you-want, and then the bonus pro ticket, which will get you into games and workshops. RECON will have content for people in the industry and for players. [37:21]
  • Lisa gives us a teaser for one of the speakers at RECON ‘21 – Tasha from Project Avatar (see resources below for links to the Hivemind Review). [41:14]
  • We learn that Errol Elumir of the Room Escape Divas podcast will be speaking about how to design puzzles that integrate into a narrative. [42:11]
  • Peih-Gee talks about Errol’s game Present Quest and how it made her cry (see resources below for links to the Hivemind Review). [42:34]
  • David tells us that the inspiration for his style of interviewing came from a Youtube series called Hot Ones, hosted by Sean Evans, who interviews celebrities while they’re eating a series of increasingly spicy hot wings. [45:43]
  • David and Peih-Gee share some of their favorite podcast reviews. [48:24]
  • Lisa shares one of her favorite escape room stories. [55:36]
Amanda's Facebook post announcing that she and Lisa kicked David & Drew's butts in a head to head game.
David and Lisa posing with their friends Amanda and Drew.
Reality Escape Pod mission patch logo depicts a spaceship puncturing through the walls of reality.

Resources Mentioned in this Episode

Follow Lisa Spira

Podcast Launch Giveaway Winners

Please see our post on Instagram for the winners of the REPOD Launch Giveaway. Special thanks to our generous sponsors of the giveaway.

Support REPOD

Thanks for listening!

Guest Bio

Lisa Spira, Co-Creator of Room Escape Artist and Producer of Reality Escape Pod

Whether she is editing REA’s content, leading the Hivemind, or wrangling the logistics for RECON or the Escape, Immerse, Explore Tours, Lisa is the reason that everything runs like clockwork. As a linguist and data expert, Lisa also leads our Industry Data efforts and is responsible for our annual Industry Reports. Lisa is the heart of REA and also bakes all of our escakes.

Support Room Escape Artist’s Mission

There are lots of ways to support Room Escape Artist, like buying from Amazon or Etsy 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.

David Kwong’s Enigmas [Hivemind Review]

Enigmas is a puzzle hunt produced by David Kwong, Dave Shukan & Chris Chelko.

The ace of spaces from David Kwong's Enigmas deck.

Format

Style of Play:

  • Play on demand
  • Puzzle hunt
  • Print-and-play

Required Equipment: computer with internet connection

Recommended Team Size: 1-4

Play Time: There’s no game clock. Expect upwards of 30 hours play time.

Price: $18

Booking: purchase and play at your leisure

Description

This deck of cards has embedded puzzles that lead you to an online web portal, where you can download a pdf of a much longer puzzle hunt.

The puzzle hunt consists of 8 self-contained puzzles and 1 metapuzzle. Each puzzle comes with a brief enigmatic explanation of what to do with a provided set of clues, diagrams, and/ or pictures. The explanation isn’t complete on its own, though; you must either analyze the information and deduce the full set of instructions yourself or consult the extensive set of hints. Indeed, you are encouraged to use hints liberally. Each puzzle yields a word or phrase that you enter into the website for verification.

The elegant blue and grey box art for David Kwong's Enigmas deck.

Hivemind Review Scale

The Sherlock Holmes Escape Book: The Adventure of the British Museum [Review]

The game is a book.

Location:  at home

Release Date: March 2021

Date Played: April 2021

Team Size: we recommend 1

Duration: 2+ hours, depending on thoroughness

Price: $14.95

Publisher: Ammonite Press

REA Reaction

The Sherlock Holmes Escape Book: The Adventure of the British Museum is the second in a series of Holmesian branching-narrative puzzle books. With a loose, puzzle-filled story, it leads the reader through a second-person treasure hunt through the British Museum circa 1901.

The Sherlock Holmes Escape Book: The Adventure of the British Museum cover with code wheel.

I appreciated certain improvements over the first installment, most notably how the puzzles felt more connected to the story and setting. The museum location also added some fun historical details. However, The Adventure of the British Museum lacked the playful relationship with the reader that made The Adventure of the London Waterworks so delightful. Instead, it was a more straightforward puzzle-filled story without too many tricks or treats along the way.

Compared to the first book, the difficulty curve felt uneven, with no smooth on-ramp to introduce the gameplay. Also, The Adventure of the British Museum suffered from errors in several puzzles. Ultimately they weren’t game-breaking errors, but they signaled a need for more playtesting.

If you enjoyed The Adventure of the London Waterworks and want to check out another take on the same format, The Adventure of the British Museum offers an afternoon of puzzling entertainment. If you haven’t yet read The Adventure of the London Waterworks, that would be a better place to start.

Who is this for?

  • Sherlock Holmes fans
  • Gamebook aficionados
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • To take a virtual tour through the British Museum
  • Code wheels are fun

Story

I assumed the role of Sherlock Holmes as he investigated a mysterious letter that had led him and Watson to the British Museum. By following a series of puzzles through the museum’s exhibits, I attempted to thwart a villainous plot and escape unscathed.

The Adventure of the British Museum included abundant references to Sherlock Holmes lore, but reading without background knowledge wasn’t a problem.

An ilustration featuring Sherlock and Watson in front of the museum entrance.
Continue reading “The Sherlock Holmes Escape Book: The Adventure of the British Museum [Review]”

The Chernobyl Septology [Hivemind Review]

The Chernobyl Septology is a light online puzzle hunt created by Wild Child in Israel.

This review is based on chapters 1-3 of this 7-part series, released episodically from March 24 – May 5, 2021.

A photo in Google Street view of the ruins of Chernobyl.

Format

Style of Play:

  • Online native experience (can NOT be played IRL)
  • Play on demand
  • Light puzzle hunt

Required Equipment: computer with an internet connection

Make sure your computer can load the 360-degree images. Also, it’ll be helpful if you set up an online drawing collaboration tool that all team members can draw on.

Recommended Team Size: 2-4

Play Time: about 60-90 minutes per chapter (for each of the first 3 chapters)

Price: $30 per team (up to 5 connections) for all 7 chapters. This discounted price is available through April 2021. Starting in May 2021, the price is $60 per team.

Booking: purchase and play at your leisure

Description

Players log into the website and assemble their team. You can then select a mission from the chapter you want to solve, and you’re taken to an image of the puzzle to solve, along with a Google Earth link that you need to research to find the puzzle solution. Most solutions are a single English word.

Chapter 1 title card: Core Galore

Hivemind Review Scale

Komnata Quest – Sinful Pleasures [Review]

Puzzle Hard

Location:  at home

Date Played: April 4, 2021

Team size: we recommend 2-3

Duration: ~ 60 minutes

Price: £15 (about $21)

REA Reaction

We’re gonna get weird today.

We’ve played every game that Komnata Quest opened in New York City, as has our friend and Hivemind reviewer Fro. When they released the play-at-home Sinful Pleasures, she promptly shoved her credit card into Komnata’s website… and then nothing happened:

  • No game was delivered
  • No communication was sent
  • Attempts to contact Komnata were met with a full inbox

With no response from Komnata, Fro eventually cancelled the charges. However, driven by hilarious memories of the real-life version, 7 Sinful Pleasures, as well as a casual disregard for credit card safety, she reordered the game. This second attempt worked. The game showed up in her inbox.

Fro brought this bundle of puzzling pleasure to our home. We poured ourselves some wine, established a safeword, and let the experience unfold.

An attractive redhead in lingerie, rolling stockings up her leg.

… And the first thing we encountered was an entire print-and-play game formatted for metric paper that we didn’t %^&*ing have. Once we figured out how to handle that nonsense (more on that later), we got things started.

What we witnessed was a fairly competent, if unremarkable puzzle game blended with a strange mix of sexual imagery. From moment to moment Sinful Pleasures bounced between cheeky teasing and hardcore imagery, never really committing to one or the other… which was off-putting. Were we supposed to laugh with this game or be aroused by it? I have no idea. Both were acceptable options as this game was clearly labeled for adults, but at some point you have to pick one and commit.

In the end, Sinful Pleasures felt like the game equivalent of a person who thinks that if they crack enough sex jokes, their crush will sleep with them.

Who is this for?

  • Leisure Suit Larry fans
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players with at least some experience

Why play?

If you meet all of the following criteria:

  • You have the sense of humor of a horny middle schooler
  • You like puzzles
  • Metric paper is loaded in your printer

Story

There was an ARG standing in the way of our friend Richard and an invite to a sex party. We had to help him get in.

In-game text chat, the main character exclaims, "Hey, this is Richard You can call me Dick. Thank you for giving me a hand."
Continue reading “Komnata Quest – Sinful Pleasures [Review]”