“Can you turn the twisted key?”
Another weekend, another escape-the-room
challenge, this time in the form of Handmade Mysteries’ Poppa Plock’s Wonky Workshop
at The Depot, the pub that is underneath the Pleasance in North London. Handmade Mysteries’ take on the problem-solving genre is a richly fantastical one as we’d previously experienced in their Lady Chastity’s Reserve
and Poppa Plock
proved to be no exception.
The set-up for the game, as best I can recall, is that your team needs to complete one final project by toymaker Plock in order to escape the workshop, which is fantastically eerie with its childhood-games-gone-wrong aesthetic. In order to find the component parts for that project, there’s a whole series of clues to find, puzzles to solve, codes to crack, games to play, you get the picture…
Guiding you on your way is the saucy wind-up merchant Wynne, who has mastered the art of creeping up unexpectedly but also judges the assistance he doles out extremely well, making sure that you’re not lingering too long on any of the tougher challenges. As ever, the fun comes in doing it as a team, so it is worth finding enough pals (up to six) to do it exclusively, as so much of your success comes from the communication between you all.
Altogether, I have to say it was one of the more enjoyable iterations of this ever-compulsive genre (it helps that we managed to complete it, with some assistance as you can see!) as it balances ingenuity with difficulty and never forgets to be hugely entertaining with it. I also recommend the po’boys from the pub afterwards!
Running time: 1 hour
There’s something inevitable about ending up at something called Escape the Theatre but that analysis aside, a half-price offer with Time Out led our regular team of intrepid escape-the-roomers to Millbank Tower, fortified by a Bloody Mary or two. There, you can find an interesting twist on the locked room genre in that this challenge is a large team-based one – you could be one of up to 15 trying to solve the puzzles, competing against another team against the clock.
The premise of Escape the Theatre is that you’ve been invited to a swanky film premiere and as we enter the auditorium for an exclusive pre-film event, the lights go off, the doors are locked and a decades-long mystery is unveiled. There’s a lot to get to grips with and just 45 minutes in which to do so in order to, dun dun duuuuh, escape the theatre.
All the previous games we have done as a team have been exclusively for us, which brings with it the natural advantages of knowing each other’s strengths and (hopefully) communicating well. This game is designed for up to 30 people across 2 teams so it can produce a different dynamic if you haven’t booked your slot exclusively. It’s not necessarily good or bad but it meant that we were working with people we had only just met (who had been split from their friends on the other team), and in some cases who arrived late and so we didn’t actually speak to at all outside of the game.
Thus it became a different kind of challenge for us, about teamwork with strangers which made for an entertaining if slightly odd experience. The number of puzzles, logic exercises and clues to find is really quite substantial and so it is nigh on impossible to get a full picture of what is going on, yet you need at least a couple of strong characters who are able to join all the key pieces together in order to make sure that the problem-solving is all connected. And because there’s no social area to congregate in afterwards, the post-mortem we had (this time over rhubarb gin) was limited to our own experiences – it feels like a missed opportunity not to allow this kind of communal sharing after making it an integral part of the game.
That said, it is cleverly put together and if you’re looking for a corporate activity (or you know, have tons of like-minded friends), you do have the option for exclusive usage which would make it ultimately a more satisfying experience.
can become addictive, as one particular circle of my friends have found out to our cost, and every time a new one comes to our attention, off we trot. Even when one is to be found in the raucous surroundings of Namco Funscape
, the amusement arcade/entertainment centre in County Hall which is filled with the likes of slush puppies, techno bowling and even a set of dodgems.
Here, the escape-the-room concept has been tailored down to a trim 765 second, just under 13 minutes in which you and your team of up to six need to hunt down clues, figure out a set of puzzles, and save the day if you can. There’s a code of silence as with all these games which means I can’t say too much because – spoilers! but I don’t think it is too much to reveal that you take on the role of policemen.
What I can say is that this actually works as a good introduction to the genre. If you haven’t done one of these before, it is short and sweet (and crucially not too expensive) and captures much of what works about these games. The lateral thinking that is needed, the inventive challenges it poses, the sense of fun that comes as your team works together effectively (or not!). Definitely worth a try.
“Fill the briefcase”
And as the name suggests, The Million Pound Heist sees your group take on the role of thieves and rather than escaping the room per se, your job is to break into the vaults of an international art crime syndicate. This you do by solving a series of increasingly fiendish challenges, testing your ingenuity, resourcefulness and downright lateral thinking techniques to make your way through a series of rooms towards the loot.
I can’t reveal too much more about the specific nature of The Million Pound Heist
as that would give the game away now, wouldn’t it, but I can say that our team had a great evening as burglars. Having done a couple of these kind of games together definitely helps with getting into the mindset of finding out what to do next in a room that looks empty (here’s a hint, they’re never empty!) and it is endlessly fascinating to see the way your team acts and interacts when faced with any number of challenges.
To be sure, it’s not the cheapest thing to do, but it is a hell of a lot of good fun and given how the final challenge plays out, you have the chance to make it onto the leaderboard but only if you can convert the full currency of your team’s abilities…
“Listen to Babbage”
One of my favourite discoveries last year was the plethora of escape-the-room games
in London, sparked off by a trip to Time Run
over in London Fields. It was a hugely enjoyable experience and you can read about it – well as much as I could say in a spoiler-free manner – in this review here
. So I was delighted to get the opportunity to go back again and see if we could get any closer to completing the range of challenges that are posed for you.
For the uninitiated, Time Run is a game for teams of 3-5 people, lasting an hour, in which you have to solve a quest of historic importance that stretches across time and space – think along the lines of The Crystal Maze and you’re not too far off, just with less Richard O’Brien. And it remains an excellently conceptualised piece of entertainment – from its quirky beginnings to the neat introductions to the superbly executed production values.
Undoubtedly, having it done it before was something of an advantage in that it meant it took much less time to get accustomed to the type of lateral and logical thinking that you might need to do. In a similar way, it was like how I enjoyed You Me Bum Bum Train
in a different manner the second time round, once that slight fear of the unknown has been conquered. That said, I was surprised how much I’d forgotten and so I wonder how much it actually helped! It certainly didn’t hinder the experience at all.
Going along with different people was instructive too – me and a friend has each brought another friend who the others didn’t know and so that had its own impact of the ease of communication (which is vital if you are to succeed) – I’d definitely recommend going with people you know well. And with two runs going on in parallel, it’s nice to see that you can have a bit of interaction with another group, to compare notes, as it’s always fascinating to check out the competition/confirm you weren’t all that bad.
Something a bit different and well worth the chance if you’re halfway tempted.
Running time: 90 minutes, once you factor in the introductory business
Booking until 31st March
“Look for my plum bottom”
Not strictly speaking an escape-the-room
adventure but very much in the same arena, Handmade Mysteries’ Lady Chastity’s Reserve
is a raucous take on the live team game experience and with a bottle of wine, nay an aphrodisiac, up for grabs, it has the distinction of being the first of this type that our team of regulars actually completed (who knew the incentive of alcohol was all we needed!).
Located in the depths of The Four Thieves pub in Battersea (and a very nice pub it is too), Lady Chastity’s Reserve is a game for up to 5 players in which a series of puzzles, conundrums and clues have to be solved within the hour in order to liberate the final bottle of the “exclusive wine” for which she was famed. Guided by the idiosyncratic and slightly filthy-minded host Gabriel (who will offer up an assist or two when summoned), it’s all really rather good fun.
I can’t say too much more for the mysteries of the room are yours to be discovered – suffice to say that the storyline is well-constructed and the ways in which the challenges are packed into the intimate space is ingeniously done. It is a small room so it quickly got rather hot, though Lady Chastity was thoughtful enough to introduce an air-con unit, and looking back we would have been better creating a little more working room for ourselves at one key moment (hint, hint).
Highly atmospheric, nicely challenging and deeply satisfying (not least because we completed it with barely a minute to spare), you could do a lot worse of an evening than spend an hour in the company of Gabriel, Lady Chastity and some intrepid team-mates.
“Don’t trust your teammates to check everything properly”
So naturally, I post a review mentioning how much fun a live version of The Crystal Maze might be and within a couple of days, they launch a Kickstarter for that very thing and I found out too late to get the earlybird tickets (I don’t doubt it’ll be ace but £50 is a bit steep…). But in slightly more serendipitous circumstances, a walk back to the office from a meeting revealed to me that HintHunt London was actually less than 10 minutes away from us, just down a side street from Euston station. So gathering the team that tried (and failed) Time Run and adding one more to the mix, we once more attempted to escape the room.
HintHunt has been knocking around for a couple of years now but ever fashionably late to these things, the escape-the-room fad is one that has only recently come to my attention and so I am still ridiculously enthusiastic about it. And because of the nature of the game(s), it is impossible to say that much without spoiling it and I really recommend that you go in blind as it undoubtedly enhances the experience. HintHunt London has two rooms – JM’s office and the Zen room (we did the latter) and is designed for teams of between 3 and 5 people (we definitely benefitted from being 4 as opposed to our Time Run trio).
And yeah, you gotta escape the room. Without giving too much away, there’s a lot of looking for clues (the title says it all really…) to balance with the puzzle solving which means you have to be thorough. No, really thorough. No, really really look hard and look again harder as there’s some fiendish construction of the game that belies its initial apparent simplicity. And the way in which the Zen room progressed was cleverly done, requiring all kinds of lateral thinking, division of labour within the team and a speedy turn of pace as the sixty minutes of the game start ticking away way too quickly. Lots of fun and hugely enjoyable, I can’t wait to go back do the next one.
Running time: 60 minutes
Booking until the foreseeable future
“I promise it will be quite the adventure”
As a kid, there were few things I wanted as much as to go on The Krypton Factor (that assault course aside), it seemed the height of sophistication and Gordon Burns was a bundle of avuncular joy. Along with the pesky kids of Knightmare and the more grown-up charms of The Crystal Maze, the early 90s were awash with these challenge-based game shows, so it is little surprise that a range of escape-the-room immersive theatre experiences are available across London.
The first (and it won’t be the last) of these that I have been to – Time Run
– is located in an unassuming building just off of London Fields and is designed for groups of 3-5 players, so you can pick your own team. The set-up involves time-travelling scientist Luna Fox who is in dire need of help to save the very fabric of time itself (or something) and requires our assistance in locating a precious artefact. Over the space of an hour, your team will have to…well, I can’t give it away…exercise a whole lot of problem-solving skills, shall we say.
It is huge amounts of adventurous fun – so much fun you might not even want to escape the room – with some seriously impressive production values and the three of us all really got into the swing of things, once we’d finally clocked the kind of thought processes needed to crack the various puzzles in front of us. They’re far from easy as well so the experience becomes an all-consuming one as you’re trying desperately to beat the clock. Safe to say, we could have done with a little more time, well a fair bit more, as our lack of focus at the beginning meant we ended up very much against it.
The only real criticism we had was that it was all over a little too abruptly. Dumped like Sarah-Jane Smith out of the TARDIS, there’s no opportunity to compare scorecards or share your experiences – You Me Bum Bum Train’s
bar at the end was brilliant in this respect – and find out if that particular thing took as damned long to work out for anyone else. With some help from Luna’s inspired robot colleague Babbage, we just about got there but if you’ve got a spare spot on your team, give me a call, I’d love to do it again!
Running time: 60 minutes
Booking until 2nd August