Escape rooms are a rising trend, and several venues have opened in the East Bay. This group activity lasts about an hour and requires participants who are capable of solving puzzles and working as a team. On the morning of my son's 13th birthday, my dad (Grandpa Rick), my sister (Auntie Em), and a 12-year old friend headed over to Alameda where I had reserved a 10 am escape room session for us.
The first puzzle we had to solve was “Is this the right building?” as we found ourselves parked on a semi-residential street in front of a pink duplex with a little girl sitting on the window sill. The proprietor of Doom Escape Room is a homeowner/dad who is currently looking for a retail space for his brand-new business, so it's currently being run out the lower floor of his duplex. (It did occur to me to quickly text the mother of our guest to alert her that we were entering a stranger's private home, but our host was so friendly and upfront about his new business, he made us comfortable right away.)
We had found the right building and we were welcomed inside, oriented to our challenge, and relieved of our cell phones for the hour.
What is an escape room?
The room itself is decorated with props that support a storyline. Ours had to do with a conspiracy theorist and a bomb that would go off in an hour. Hence, a bulletin board with articles pinned to it — some with highlights — and secret codes stashed in hidden places turned the small bedroom-sized room into the scene of a paranoid individual's home office.
All escape room storylines lead to the players' hypothetical demise if they are unable to escape the room in 60 minutes. The key to escaping the room is, well, a key. But the key is hidden in a box. Or maybe a box within a box.
Essentially the whole thing is a series of locks — padlocks and combination locks — but getting the combination or finding the key requires solving puzzles. The puzzles' clues are embedded in the props in the room.
Here's an example. This bulletin board could be in the room. Counting the thumbtacks in groups of colors will tell you the combination to the lock. Got it?
This type of lock might be holding a drawer closed or securing a treasure box with another clue inside. The combo is 4-5-3-3 because the first dial is red and there are four red pushpins. See? The next digit is green – five green pushpins. Ok, you get it.
I won't divulge more specifics of the Doom Escape Room plotline or puzzles. We found ourselves completely engrossed in our mission until we accidentally set off the bomb, losing our chance to finish the puzzle. Our host came into the room and then debriefed us, telling us our strengths and revealing all the secrets we had not noticed in the room. It was surprisingly fun, and my son said it was the most fun activity he's ever done after iFly.
Who can do an escape room?
Kids 12 and up who can persevere through a puzzle are most likely to make progress. I would guess that a group of 9 or 10-year olds might need some adult leadership to help them focus, but you never know! Nine years old is the youngest allowed at the venue we visited. Doing it with my 70-year old dad and 35-year old sister was certainly breaking the norms of the types of things we usually do together and we all enjoyed it tremendously. I recommend it for parents with teens, and especially with visiting grandparents or an extra pair of childless adults.
It is best for a group of 4-8 people.
East Bay escape rooms
Doom Escape Room is located in Alameda.
Omecape is a chain of escape rooms with a location in Richmond.
Limitless Escape Games is in Livermore.
Prices are about $25 – $30 per person.