Escape Factor – The Timekeeper’s Trapped! [Updated Reaction]

Back in 2016, Lisa and David reviewed The Timekeeper’s Trapped! at Escape Factor.

Six years later, I (Matthew) had a chance to play an updated version of the game. Though I hadn’t myself played the original version, I was able to piece together a picture of what had changed from discussions both with Lisa and David and with Escape Factor’s owner. This is my updated reaction.

A steampunk-ish room with many clocks, gears, and a workbench.
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Escape Artistry – Roaring Dan’s Pirate Dungeon [Review]

Seavey shanties

Location: Chicago, IL

Date Played: March 10, 2022

Team Size: 1-8; we recommend 3-5

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $34 per player for 3+ players

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A] Push To Exit

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Roaring Dan’s Pirate Dungeon was based around a truly fascinating bit of local Chicago history: the real-life tale of “Roaring” Dan Seavey, a pirate who frequented the Great Lakes. A well-acted intro video and a theatrical gamemaster helped open this historical portal, and while the room and gameplay were otherwise that of a generic pirate-themed escape room, this historical framing helped the room feel rooted in its location.

Escape Artistry’s rooms stand out for their sustainably built sets, and the masonry and woodwork in Roaring Dan’s Pirate Dungeon were solid and beautiful. Even many of the wooden crates strewn around the room were handbuilt, and some contained some neat handmade mechanical locks.

A pirate's den viewed through a cargo net.

That said, the set felt somewhat underutilized for the puzzles, with most puzzles involving standalone elements in the room. The puzzle flow was fair and contained some rather cute moments, but overall it felt quite dated. I’d love to have seen more Roaring Dan and other local Chicago history directly incorporated into the puzzles and props, and generally more of this story driving the gameplay.

Roaring Dan’s Pirate Dungeon‘s immersive set and smooth, accessible puzzle flow would be especially great for newer escape room players. For experienced players, Duck & Cover Classroom provides denser puzzle content and a few more twists and turns, but Roaring Dan’s Pirate Dungeon would also be an enjoyable appetizer if you have time to play both.

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Marriott x TED – The Curiosity Room [Review]

Puzzles Worth Solving

Location: San Francisco, CA

Date Played: July 20, 2022

Team Size: 1-4; we recommend 1-2

Price: Around $50/ night above standard room pricing, minimum 2-night stay

Ticketing: Private

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

I suspect that many an escape room enthusiast, like myself, has dreamt of sleeping over in an escape room. With Marriott x TED’s new The Curiosity Room experience, something close to this is now possible.

Just off the gritty extremes of Market Street, the San Francisco Marriott Marquis is an instant escape from the outside world. A sprawling modernist lobby presents a neutral calmness alongside the persistent buzz of well-dressed tourists and businesspeople. The staff were friendly, attentive, and accommodating, as one would expect from such a flagship hotel.

The San Francisco Marriott Marquis also contains a secret sanctum, at least for the next 3 months. As I checked in, the receptionist, noting where I’d be staying, knowingly grinned and instructed that I would find a special envelope in my room. I made my way up to the sixth floor, and as I rounded a corner at the end of a long monochromatic hallway, a bright white door with red accents — labeled “The Curiosity Room” in a Comic Sans-esque font — boldly beckoned. What waited inside was much more than just an envelope.

A red and white, TED themed hotel room.

The Curiosity Room experience includes a few different perks. At its core, it is a special hotel room that you can book at the SF Marriott Marquis — a standard 2-queen-bed room that has been retrofitted with a wondrous puzzle adventure, all contained in the very room you’re staying in. As an added bonus, you’ll earn some nifty souvenirs from completing the puzzles. Also included are dinner and dessert for 4 at the hotel’s restaurant. The experience is reasonably priced as an add-on to the standard hotel room, with a minimum 2-night stay.

I am generally skeptical of large brands that try to dip their toes into escape rooms or immersive activations. It can be all too easy to rely on the medium as a gimmick, without the design chops required to actually follow through.

But that was not the case here at all. Marriott’s usual level of excellence and attention to detail in service was more than matched by the creativity and polish of the puzzle design in The Curiosity Room. It was abundantly evident that the designers know their stuff, demonstrating a deep understanding of puzzle hunts, signposting, and audience calibration. Targeted towards families, the level of difficulty was low, yet the puzzles remained relatively puzzly, interesting, and full of surprises. Puzzle enthusiasts will still enjoy and appreciate The Curiosity Room for its bounty of environmental ahas, even if it doesn’t provide much of a challenge.

The Curiosity Room was not an “escape” room, nor was it trying to be. There was no real narrative, other than the pursuit of wonder, and the objective was not to escape. (If anything, the allure of the room somewhat kept me from fully exploring the rest of the hotel!) Though some substantial physical additions were made to the room, it was still recognizably a Marriott hotel room. In fact, the puzzle design particularly excelled in the more subtle modifications of items you’d normally find in a hotel room and the activations of these seemingly mundane objects in magical ways.

As I drifted off to sleep in the shadows of the secrets I’d just discovered, I fondly remembered my childhood summer vacations during which my mom would design treasure hunts in and around our hotel, experiences that played a formative role in making me the puzzler I am now. The Curiosity Room and other games in this format hold the potential to similarly inspire the next generation of puzzlers and wonder-seekers.

A TED themed hotel room, a sign reads, "The Curiosity Room: Start Here"
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60 to Escape – Hidden Temple [Review]

Hello, Mr. Big Stone Face

Location: Gurnee, IL

Date Played: March 13, 2022

Team Size: 2-8; we recommend 3-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $90 for up to 3 players, $30 for each additional player

Ticketing: Private

Accessibility Consideration: Kneeling/ crouching required for at least some players

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

The set of Hidden Temple was stunning. Stepping from a bland and generic shopping mall hallway into a cinematically lit, vividly textured temple chamber, the contrast was instantaneous as we were immersed in a different world.

As the game progressed, the temple continued to open up in exciting ways. Hidden Temple was as much about exploration and ambience as it was about puzzle-solving, and the puzzles skewed more towards fun process, with the occasional aha in the mix.

A stone temple with a carved face illuminated by sconces.

While Hidden Temple at 60 to Escape’s Illinois location did nearly everything right, it felt like it was playing in much safer territory than 60 to Escape’s Wisconsin location, where the rooms had quirkier themes, endearing characters, and more nonstandard gameplay.

Both approaches are valid. Hidden Temple and the other offerings at the Illinois location would be phenomenal introductions to escape rooms for newer players or families. Enthusiasts would enjoy both locations but likely will especially appreciate the Wisconsin rooms for their showstopper finales and the risks they each take.

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Escape Factor – Ghost in the Graveyard [Review]

Apparitional aspirations

Location: Forest Park, IL

Date Played: March 13, 2022

Team Size: 2-8; we recommend 2-4

Duration: 60 minutes

Price: $140 for the first 3 players, $30 for each additional player

Ticketing: Private

Accessibility Consideration: Slight crouching/ crawling required for at least some players

Emergency Exit Rating: [A+] No Lock

Physical Restraints: [A+] No Physical Restraints

REA Reaction

Ghost in the Graveyard presented a charming investigation at a quaint cemetery.

Keeping in the general style of Escape Factor’s earlier rooms, Ghost in the Graveyard presented creative puzzle-forward gameplay that led us to uncover various secrets subtly hidden throughout the details of the set. We encountered more varied and refined inputs than before, as Ghost in the Graveyard had more tech and was notably less combination lock-heavy.

A cemetery filled with headstones and lit by two hanging lanterns.

Yet while Escape Factor’s previous rooms thrived in their scrappy, quirky humor, Ghost in the Graveyard took on a generally more somber tone. From the tombstone epitaphs at the start to a somewhat dark narrative twist later on in the game, the seriousness of the environment never quite aligned with the light whimsy of the bulk of the gameplay.

Escape Factor tried to refine their craft with Ghost in the Graveyard. In some respects they succeeded — the set was lovely and clean, and the puzzles were enjoyable. Yet going forward, I hope the humor and energy that made some of their earlier rooms so memorable will persist more strongly in their future creations.

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