Escape Zones – Imprisoned [Review]

Why do we keep ending up in puzzle jail?

Location: Auburn, AL

Date played: March 31, 2017

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 4-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $22 per ticket

Story & setting

During the prison warden’s lunch break, we broke into his office to find evidence of our imprisoned friend’s innocence.

Unlike many prison room escapes, we weren’t locked in cells looking to escape, we were breaking in and seeking evidence. As a result, Imprisoned still looked like the typical drab prison. However, we began the game within an office setting.

In-game: A shelf with a camera, a pair of glasses, and a detective's shield.

Puzzles

Imprisoned was first and foremost a searching game. While there was some puzzling, the experience hinged on finding exceptionally well-hidden objects.

Standouts

As far as search-centric games go, uncovering many of the hidden objects was surprisingly satisfying.

In one instance, there was a fun and surprising open.

Escape Zone has designed an unnecessary, yet very appreciated personalized touch into Imprisoned.

Shortcomings

Imprisoned included some unnecessary red herrings.

One particular puzzle had a flawed set-up. It lacked continuity. It was also easily destructible, which would render it unsolvable.

Other puzzles were double-clued such that elements of the experience could be bypassed. This led to some confusion as to the flow of the room escape.

Should I play Escape Zones’ Imprisoned?

Imprisoned leaned heavily on searching over puzzling. The searching wasn’t easy, but it was generally well designed.

I cannot recommend that experienced players get locked up in Imprisoned, unless they are open to a game that feels a little more like a scavenger hunt than an escape room.

If you’re a newer player looking to get into escape rooms, Imprisoned would be approachable. It will teach you to be observant. You won’t be over your head in complicated puzzles.

Book your hour with Escape Zones’ Imprisoned, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escape Zones comped our tickets for this game.

Escape Zones – Black Beard’s Brig [Review]

Pirates of Eastern Alabama.

Location: Auburn, AL

Date played: March 31, 2017

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $22 per ticket

Story & setting

Tossed into Black Beard’s brig, we had a brief window of time to escape while our captors were off plundering and pillaging.

Black Beard’s Brig was Escape Zones’ first game. As such, it looked like a fairly typical first game. The set wasn’t particularly immersive; it was a cute but basic pirate ship.

In-game: A skeleton propped against a wooden wall.
That’s a pretty cunning shirt.

Puzzles

Just as Black Beard’s Brig looked like a first game, it largely played like a solid first escape room design. It balanced searching with puzzling, offering the standard, old-school escape room experience.

In-game: A bird skeleton in a a cage. The cage is locked with a 5 digit combination lock.

Standouts

Black Beard’s Brig was appropriately balanced for the Auburn escape room market, where Escape Zones was the only company in town and nearly all of the local players are first-timers. In terms of puzzling, it was neither a pushover nor brain-buster. More importantly, the puzzles flowed well.

It had a well-hidden surprise.

Shortcomings

In many instances, technology was visibly out of place on the brig. Escape Zones should build housing for their technology so that it can be better integrated into the experience.

Some of the props were in rough shape. We had to contend with breakage and wear, which made puzzles either easier or harder depending on the puzzle and the breakage.

One particular prop had an unintentional red herring built in. It should be modified to avoid leading players away from its actual function.

Should I play Escape Zones’ Black Beard’s Brig?

Black Beard’s Brig was a solid escape room for new players. It combined many escape room elements: searching, puzzles, locks, and tech.

If you’re new to this type of entertainment, you’ll most definitely enjoy a surprise or two.

More experienced players will likely move through it quickly, but will still enjoy a few truly satisfying solves.

Book your hour with Escape Zones’ Black Beard’s Brig, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escape Zones comped our tickets for this game.

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Escape Zones – The Cabin [Review]

We don’t see games like this in New York.

Location: Auburn, AL

Date played: March 31, 2017

Team size: up to 8; we recommend 4-6

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $22 per ticket

Story & setting

On our way to our uncle’s remote huntin’ cabin, our friend was bitten by a timber rattler. Without any cellular coverage, we had to break into the cabin and find the antivenom.

The set looked and felt like a cabin. It was kitschy in a compelling sort of way. There were some great twists and clever design.

In-game photo of a cabin's exterior. The door is barred shut. There is a sign that reads,

Puzzles

The Cabin was a puzzle-heavy game. There was a lot to work through, so much so that we kept 8 serious puzzlers busy on parallel tracks.

The puzzles were blended with technology and set design.

Standouts

In escaping The Cabin we re-enacted a true life-or-death situation… with a lot more puzzles than real life usually offers. It was unusual, entertaining, and delightful.

With this escape room, Escape Zones leveled up their set design. One magic moment in particular relied on expertly crafted, well-hidden technology.

Where Escape Zones’ previous games were search-based, The Cabin was a more complex, puzzle-driven adventure.

The ending was adorable.

Shortcomings

While Escape Zones did integrate puzzles and story, The Cabin still contained some standard escape room puzzles that didn’t necessarily make sense in the context of our life-or-death adventure.

Occasionally, Escape Zones’ attempt to combine puzzles and story resulted in the reading of extraneous, long-winded, sciencey babble. It got a little tedious.

We encountered one puzzle that relied on order preservation. Moving props rendered it unsolvable. This could be easily remedied.

Should I play Escape Zones’ The Cabin?

The Cabin was a pleasure to play. The set was compelling, the puzzling good fun, and the story entertaining.

Escape Zones in Auburn, Alabama is a legit escape room company, despite being the only company in town. They have produced an escape room that would hold up in any market.

First timers might find The Cabin a touch overwhelming, as there was a lot to do. If you’ve never played a room escape before, start with one of Escape Zones’ other offerings to get used to how things work. After you’ve finished with those, return for The Cabin. It’s absolutely worth it.

If you’re an experienced room escaper who happens to find yourself near Auburn, I’d strongly encourage you to spend an hour in The Cabin.

Book your hour with Escape Zones’ The Cabin, and tell them that the Room Escape Artist sent you.

Full disclosure: Escape Zones comped our tickets for this game and outfitted our team in t-shirts.

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!