About a year ago, a friend of mine said over twitter “omg they have zombies. we should so do this!”.
Let me backtrack a little bit.
I don’t love zombies. I’m not one of those. I’ve read enough YA novels to have gotten my fill of zombie culture, but you have to admit there’s something alluring about the thrill of the chase.
Being chased, that is. By zombies.
I have a running app on my phone that takes my music playlist and intersperses the songs with a zombie story. Whenever I being to slow down, zombies come snarling after me, and their heavy breathing and shuffling feet and laboring moans make the hair stand up on my arms. I run faster, and get a good burn going, that’s for sure.
I tweeted about it, of course, and how hard my heart was pounding, and how many times the zombies caught me, and it became something of a joke. I ran longer, trying to accomplish the app’s missions as a runner for the lone human compound in the midst of the zombie apocalypse. (And then I got lazy, and quit running entirely, and I haven’t been able to get back into the habit, but as I said–I don’t love zombies like that.)
But my friend’s tweet. She said they have zombies.
This is what I discovered: there is a thing people are doing where they voluntarily allow someone to lock them in a room with a group of strangers (or, sure, okay, friends and family) and then set the timer for an hour and walk away.
And you have to escape.
In under an hour.
I wasn’t sure of the back story (are they chasing me?), I didn’t research her city’s Escape Room parameters, but zombies. The details didn’t really matter, because zombies and then also, wait, hang on, they lock me in a room?
I had no idea what I was starting. We made plans for the coming summer to try the zombie room, and in the meantime, I began hearing about other cities with similar experiences being offered. A room in which you tried to escape a mass murderer. A room where you tried to save the world from a deadly pathogen. And on and on.
And then I found it existed in my own city.
Memphis has Escape Rooms.
Memphis Escape Rooms is a complex physical puzzle. (No zombie rooms as of yet though.) A mass murderer, a crazy clown–that’s just a story they tell you to explain the set up of the room and to also perhaps clue you in on what you’ll be looking for.
Long before I could make it to my friend’s city for zombies, I started my Escape Room obsession here in Memphis with a friend’s birthday party. She and her husband had been once before and they were crazy about it. When I joined them, she had a few friends and family members I’d never met, a couple of people I knew but not well, and yet when it was done and we had escaped (with only two minutes remaining of our hour), we all felt like family.
Next, I took a group of fifteen year old girls from church. I secretly thought we’d have a fun hour running around like chickens with our heads cut off. But we actually figured it out and escaped the room with three minutes remaining.
My last experience (so far) was with my own family. My dad wanted me to fill up the remaining spaces in the room with whomever I thought might best ‘fit’ our personalities. I knew my dad would love the whole experience, but it was pretty amazing how my disparate friend groups came together to solve the room. They didn’t know each other, but by the end of the escape, we were all working together and bouncing ideas off each other and brainstorming. We escaped with ten minutes remaining.
No, there were no zombies.
Are you still confused by the zombies?
Okay. Here’s a step by step of what happens in a typical Escape Room experience.
1). You and your group of seven (or twelve) watch a video which tells you all about the backstory, what happened that will require you to be locked into a room for an hour.
2). You are led to a smallish room and you file inside, looking around nervously, but with that sense of giddy thrill inside (like maybe you are being chased by zombies).
3). They close the door, locking you in. (There is a panic button if you need out, if you have to pee, but the clock still counts down.)
4). The display comes on the screen with a timer, starting at an hour, and begins to count down. Ominously.
5). You look around the room, slightly paralyzed, and take it in. The room will reflect the back story from the video. For example, if it’s an escaped mental patient, the room will be his hospital room where he’s left clues behind to tell you what he’s planning.
6). Start finding clues! Pull out everything! Look in and inside and around everything! Do it one more time because I know you’ve missed something! (If you do get truly stuck, the monitor will prompt with a clever turn of phrase to help give you a nudge in the right direction.)
The purpose of the clues, which build on each other, is to get the code to punch into the keypad that will unlock the door. But it’s a room. And you’re digging through the guy’s trash can or opening up all the books on his shelves and maybe he has a computer you can’t log into, and why are there five locked boxes with padlocks and chains on them?
Each clue leads to another clue. Sometimes one aspect of a puzzle is solved by only first solving a different puzzle. I can’t give you specific examples because you sign a thing saying you won’t divulge the contents of a room, but I can tell you it’s complex and clever and you need everyone in your group to escape.
You can’t do it alone. The best part of Escape Rooms is how this complex puzzle pulls all of us into the fray. We come together, we bond. As cheesy as it sounds, it’s a team-building exercise.
(And what a thrill I get when I manage to escape a room whose pass rate is only 29%.)
I’m so going again. Literally. I have two more lined up with two different groups.