Escape rooms: 99% looking for lock combinations, 1% “other”.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to experience the Back to the Future “escape room” experience by Universal Studios. I have been aware of escape rooms for some time, and while I thought they sounded interesting, I was never interested enough to try one. But this one was different… I had no idea how different it was until I visited a traditional escape room later.

Universal Studios’ experience is automated, and the puzzles involved pressing buttons and plugging things in. Not once did I have to find some four digit code written on the brim of a hat hanging on the wall in order to open a box that would leave me to another four digit code.

But I digress.

At Universal, your experience begins with a preshow (video of the rules), then you enter the initial room. This is where they set up the story through a video presentation (which featured Christopher Lloyd voicing his Doc Brown character from the movies). The room would have various puzzles that were randomized (allowing for re-playability) and if you got stuck, the show system would give hints. Eventually, a door would open and you’d go in to the next room (even if you didn’t solve anything).

Since each room had several levels of puzzles, you might get none, or all, but you still get to proceed. If I recall, this experience featured five (or six?) different rooms, and kept you moving.

There was great sound, music, effects, lights and even smoke.

And that set the bar too high.

Recently, we went through an unlicensed (*cough* copyright infringement *cough*) E.T. the Extra Terrestrial escape room in Branson, Missouri. We spent an hour in two rooms, mostly trying to find codes to various combination locks.

Retromania – Branson, Missouri

Most were four digit number locks. One was a five letter combination lock. And one was a school-locker style three digit combination lock.

That was the majority of the experience! Tryingto find (mostly) four numbers that opened a lock!

There was one different bit where you used a magnet on a string to retrieve a key from the end of a pipe (after you found the pipe), and another puzzle involving getting a code by counting blinking lights. The final puzzle, where time ran out on us, were a few knobs that displayed numbers in LED panels. We couldn’t figure that one out before the hour expired.

What I am curious about is — how many escape rooms are mostly just looking for four digit codes and opening locks? We did a local one, ran by a friend, and it did feature many four digit codes, but it had alot more puzzles and was vastly more interesting.

What is a “normal” escape room?

Comments welcome.

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