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Escape Haus – Backstage at the Magic Show

Escape Haus – Backstage at the Magic Show

Room Name: Backstage at the Magic Show

Business: Escape Haus

Location: 1671 Interstate 35 New Braunfels, TX 78130

Date of Visit: July 29, 2018

Number of Players: 2-6

Our Group Size: 6

Official Description: You just started your dream job as a magician’s assistant. Tonight is his big show and he’s depending on you to set up the stage. As you enter the Prop Room, the door slams shut…and locks behind you. The show starts in an hour. Your dream job is on the line. The crowd is taking their seats. Will you find your way out in time?

Difficulty (official): None stated

Difficulty (experience): Easy-Medium

Time to Escape: 51:27

Review: My birthday rolled around again, and this time we found ourselves at Escape Haus! I was looking forward to this experience and hoping that we would find a room that was more entertaining than their Library of Secrets.

The room was decorated as we have come to expect from an Escape Haus game: many thematic accouterments around the room and room-appropriate wall hangings sold this as a prop room , though it lacked the detail we’ve come to love in some of the larger chain establishments we’ve escaped recently. We loved the giant trunk and the ‘saw the lady in half’ box made a great centerpiece. The handmade pieces in the room were the more striking elements. However, there was a lot of red herring decor, particularly on one side of the room.

There were a couple of moments of clever puzzle solving that we all enjoyed and we were happy to find several unique key locks in this room instead of more modern Master Locks across all of the puzzles (though, as with all Escape Haus rooms, there were a few). This proved to be the game’s high point as we encountered novel locks and an unusual one that we had not seen before. There was a slightly obtuse puzzle that frustrated us for quite some time and we stumbled across the answer, but chose to confirm it with our Game Master to prevent a lock that might timeout from impeding us any further. The puzzle wasn’t impossible, but our excitement at its completion may have been more relief than delight.

This room, as with many at this location, suffers from a ‘wall of locked boxes syndrome’, however this wasn’t as extensive as the wall of boxes in Egyptian Mysteries. We still would have preferred the locked boxes to be placed around the room instead of bunched together in one section. We really enjoyed a blacklight puzzle in this room, but when talking about the room afterwards, couldn’t really think of a puzzle that stood out as being really creative. Certain puzzles upped their difficulty by not being friendly to anyone with poor vision. There was also some outside knowledge required (which can be somewhat controversial in escape room communities).

While we had a great time going through the room, I don’t count this one as a standout. We were missing a magical element in our magic room that we very desperately wanted to see. This room could be easily rethemed without changing many of its puzzles and this is likely the room’s biggest downfall. This may be a great room for someone’s first escape room experience, or to introduce new players to the hobby, but Egyptian Mysteries remains my top recommendation for Escape Haus rooms.

We do want to give a shout out to our Game Master, who remained quiet and unobtrusive until we asked for her help!

Hints Used: One for an actual hint, one for clarification on a lock.

Clue Quality : Variable. We found one to be particularly clever, some were more direct, and a couple of others were just muddy.

Puzzle Creativity: A lot of escape room staples here; creativity was more focused on the unusual locks.

Rating: 2.75/5

Fear Factor:  None.

Things to note: Several puzzles in this room would be difficult to individuals with poor vision.

Project Panic – End of the Line

Project Panic – End of the Line

Room Name:  End of the Line

Business: Project Panic

Location: 4403 Guadalupe St., Austin, TX 78751

Date of Visit: June 30th, 2018

Number of Players: 4-8

Our Group Size: 8, we recommend 6-8

Official Description: For years there have been rumors that the city’s trusty and seemingly innocent subway system has a darker underbelly – it is home to a number of notorious crime gangs. It’s now time to put these rumors to rest! Acting off a tip that a now closed subway line could lead to a coveted hideout, you and your highly trained team decide to take matters into your own hands and begin an investigation of an abandoned station. Will you take the fast track to deliver justice or take an unexpected detour on the way?

Difficulty (official):  Our host stated that this is the harder of their two rooms. The website lists its official difficulty as 7.5/10.

Difficulty (experience): Medium

Time to Escape: 39:00

Review: 

We finally had the time and money to do a new room, and our Escape Room RNG pointed to Project Panic, an offshoot of Austin Panic Room and one of the newest escape experiences in Austin. The location was easy to find (signage for the location is on the glass, not the building itself) and had a small parking lot attached behind the building. We were very thankful for this; parking in Austin on the weekends can be difficult, and pricey, in some locations.

The new location is brightly lit and welcoming, however there were AC issues on our visit which made us somewhat uncomfortable. Our game master greeted us immediately and gave a simple but funny explanation of basic game rules before leading us into the game space.

We’ve played a game from this same company (last year’s Cabin Fever), and like Cabin Fever, this space outdid themselves in decoration. The room is divided into station and subway, and they did a great job creating a derelict station with a cleaner subway car. We really appreciated that the decorative touches all fit seamlessly into puzzles, nothing seemed forced or out of place.

End of the Line is notable for its use of technology; all wires were hidden and puzzles that dealt with technology use were integrated extremely well into the room. This was particularly noticeable with one late-game puzzle on which we all enjoyed working.

While the room was very linear, which can cause problems with a large group, there were enough puzzles that needed to be worked on simultaneously that everyone was always busy. The room was very teamwork oriented; each puzzle had at least two people attempting to solve it.  We were happy that while the room had several escape room staples, they included clever twists. This is one of the few rooms where I’ve had to wait to find all the clues before finding answers.

The biggest drawback we felt was the theme implementation. Without giving too much away, we felt that the premise of the room really wasn’t executed well and the experience ended abruptly without really addressing the scenario again —changing the premise to an urbex adventure or a secret subway could add more to the theme.

Hints Used: Three unprompted (one due to a slight technical failure) and one verification of a “Do Not Touch” sticker. Our host was excellent in his hints; he managed to keep us on track without giving us answers.

Clue Quality : Clues within the game were worked extremely well into the room, only one screamed out as an obvious clue.

Puzzle Creativity: Puzzles were very clever, and while we recognized a couple of pathways from having done several rooms and being puzzle hounds in general, there was enough different about them to keep them interesting.

Rating: 4.75/5

Fear Factor:  None, a few moments of very mild intensity.

Things to note: There are several light and color puzzles, colorblind players should probably avoid this experience.

Escape Hunt Houston – Houston We’ve Had A Problem

Escape Hunt Houston – Houston We’ve Had A Problem

Room Name: Houston, We’ve Had a Problem

Business: Escape Hunt Houston

Location: 125 W Gray St Suite 100, Houston, TX 77019

Date of Visit: October 20th, 2017

Number of Players: 6-12 (hard minimum)

Our Group Size: 9, we recommend as many as you can get.

The well-decorated and inviting lobby at Escape Hunt Houston

Official Description: The most realistic Escape room in the U.S. patterned after the Apollo 13 Lunar Mission that has been called ‘the successful failure’. You and your team will be awed by the realism and fun of this escape room. Working under pressure, your team will need to help your astronauts return home safely from space. You have 60 minutes to save the crew.

Difficulty (official): We were informed that this is their hardest room.

Difficulty (experience): They weren’t lying.

Time to Escape: Failed with thirty seconds left in the final puzzle 🙁

Something tells me their murder mystery room is as well-decorated

Review: We were in Houston for the Houston Arcade Expo, so of course we had to experience an escape that the city had to offer. After a long day of driving and pinball madness, we headed to Escape Hunt. We’re not that familiar with the city but were able to find the building easily.

Escape Hunt’s lobby is reminiscent of your grandmother’s parlor, the one that you weren’t allowed to sit in unless it was a special occasion. We were greeted almost immediately and found the staff members to be extremely polite and friendly.

Prior to entering the room, we were told the story of how the room was built to mirror exactly how Mission Control looked during the Apollo 13 mission, with the puzzles mimicking the challenges that the astronauts faced. We had read the incredible Ars Technica article about the authenticity of the room and were even more excited to experience an escape that wasn’t quite an escape (and while we both survived, our friends weren’t so lucky).

The room’s set design is incredible, and the use of vintage electronics and early 70s touches (such as cigarette props and a chalkboard instead of a whiteboard for puzzles) showed its commitment to providing an authentic atmosphere.  Escape Hunt took great care in this room to conceal more modern wiring, and necessary items such as the countdown clock were built into the consoles. We kept discovering little touches in the room that made it all the more fun to experience.

The room is divided into Mission Control and the space shuttle, and once the astronauts enter the shuttle, communication can only be done by one person from MC. The rest of us were tasked with solving various puzzles and tasks to try and get our astronauts back on Earth.

Seeing as the room is more of a simulation than an escape, this is definitely a room for the more math and science-inclined as the puzzling leaned more towards analyzing and logic than codes or wordplay. I still had a great time in the room—the puzzles were linear but there was enough of them that we could all work on something except for one bottleneck.

Communication is absolutely key in this room – potential players should make sure that they are with an experienced group who clearly and concisely communicate their actions during the game. The game is less about puzzles and more about time management.

You failed to save the astronauts. Wouldn’t you prefer a nice game of chess?

Hints Used: Two – one for a puzzle, one for what we thought was technical failure.

Clue Quality : Clues were easily present, there was little searching needed. They were presented in a manner that explained the next steps in the puzzles, but were vague enough that they required critical thinking to understand.

Puzzle Creativity: Most of the objectives weren’t necessarily puzzles – a step-by-step plan is presented immediately upon room entrance. The objectives fit incredibly well into the room; there were no anachronisms that pulled us out of the room for the sake of adding puzzles to the escape.

Rating: 4.75 – Aside from some frustrations with certain puzzles, we all enjoyed the experience and recommend it to Houston players.

Fear Factor:  None outside of the horrible dread of reaching the hour mark and realizing you just killed all your friends.

Things to note: There is no parking lot at Escape Hunt, street parking is available. We would not recommend this room for children under 13 due to the difficulty of the puzzles. Certain areas of the room required physical agility (such as crawling).  As of this writing, Escape Hunt does not have a Groupon available.

Escape The Room San Antonio – Western Bank Heist

Escape The Room San Antonio – Western Bank Heist

Room Name: Western Bank Heist

Business: Escape the Room San Antonio

Location: 315 E Commerce St #100, San Antonio, TX 78205

Date of Visit: Saturday, September 23rd, 2017

Number of Players: Up to 10

Our Group Size: 9, we recommend 4-6

Official Description: Black Bart, the Dalton Gang and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid all were famous for their daring robberies. Now you and your accomplices have 60 minutes to make the biggest score in history. Do you have what it takes to join the notorious?

Difficulty (official): The staff stated this is their easiest room.

Difficulty (experience): Easy-Medium

Time to Escape: 58:00

 

This black and white theme spans all of Escape The Room’s Locations

Review: We had been excited to do this room after a friend recommended trying Escape the Room, as the photographs on the website showed that the room was richly detailed. As we knew we would have a large group, we chose this room in particular due to the space we saw in the aforementioned photographs.

The place was easy to find as downtown San Antonio isn’t too difficult to navigate. We arrived fifteen minutes early and were greeted by…

…well, no one, actually. We assumed that the staff was busy setting up the room as it was the first of the day, so we tried to amuse ourselves with the available time-wasters (which consisted of board games) in the lobby. As our group trickled in, the front desk staff finally appeared, but didn’t greet us or seem to acknowledge our presence until immediately prior to the game starting. She was quite friendly and helpful, however that first interaction soured us a bit on their customer service.

 

Jenga! Jenga! Jenga!

The room matched the website photos perfectly; there was a lot of care and thought put into it to make it feel like a bank in the Wild West. We appreciated all of the decorative touches, such as the antique safe and the wanted posters on the wall. These and other fun surprises in the room contributed to a full immersion in the room’s theme.

Unfortunately, we can’t quite say the same about the puzzles. The room is very linear, and we kept running into bottlenecks with such a large group as there was only one puzzle to really work on at a time. The inputs really didn’t follow any logical thread, and we wasted a lot of time trying to find inputs for codes and where each code went. We’re not fans of just guessing at the answers to puzzles, and we felt this was more of a brute forcing game than a puzzler’s game.

We would still like to go back and see what other rooms are on offer, as we were told that the other rooms at this location are more puzzle-based and not as linear.

 

Escape The Room

Hints Used: We asked for two or three, but were given several unprompted as is the room’s policy to keep players on task.

Clue Quality: Clues were delivered via video, monitor, and microphone. We received the same hint several times, which caused frustration. The clues felt muddy and hard to follow at times.

Puzzle Creativity: Most of our praise for the room comes from the visual aspects and small surprises that came when solving a puzzle, but the puzzles themselves weren’t incredibly memorable.

Rating: 3.25/5

Fear Factor: None

Things to note: Escape the Room San Antonio does not have a dedicated lot, but there is a paid public lot behind the building and some street parking, though the road is busy. Western Bank Heist is family-friendly. As of this writing we did not see any advertisements on Groupon.

Help! I need a hint!

Help! I need a hint!

I grew up in a family that loved adventure computer games. Myst, The 7th Guest, Shivers, Gabriel Knight, we played them all and had fun solving the puzzles within. Being a kid at the time, I would get pretty frustrated with a lot of the puzzles and ultimately turn to the walkthrough for a good portion of the gameplay.

“You should stop doing that,” my mother would always chide me. “It’s no fun if you’re just reading the whole game.”

It was advice that I ignored for a long time until I matured enough to find fun in the frustrations of trying to master and solve puzzles, and I even had fun going back to the old games I played as a kid and trying to solve them without the help of a walkthrough. When I first started getting into escape games, the amount of hints available concerned me. How many were there? Would I really need them? What would my team, or the gamemaster, or anyone else think of me relying on hints?

While we’ve only done a handful of rooms, we’ve experienced different takes on hint delivery. We’ve had varied feelings on each—some systems worked well and others we felt gave us hints too quickly or were poor in execution. There’s a fine balance to create a good hint system—what works for the players, what works for the gamemaster, and what fits within the room.

 

Live Gamemaster (non-actor)

This is the hint system that we’ve experienced at Escape Haus. Our gamemaster sat in the room with us and offered hints, but was not part of the game itself.

This has had varying degrees of success. Our first gamemaster asked us if we wanted unprompted hinting or not (all of us being gamers immediately agreed on the hardcore mode, no unprompted hints), and stayed out of our puzzling and debate until absolutely necessary. This first experience was probably the best we’ve had—we were offered a choice in how we wanted hints delivered and he stuck to our agreement.

The other two gamemasters that we experienced did not offer this option, but also generally stayed out of our way unless directly asked for help. Where we ran into trouble with this system was in the Library of Secrets—our gamemaster seemed to be very unfamiliar with the room, and as this was a live experience, did not appear to have any sort of notes or walkthrough to consult if absolutely needed. This kind of hint system relies heavily on a gamemaster who is intimately familiar with the room and is not a good choice for inexperienced gamemasters.

 

Screen Only

Our screen-only experience was in Silicon Valley at Outer Rim Escape (now Escape San Marcos). As this was a technology-based escape in an office, the hint delivery system fit the room appropriately (push a button to signal the gamemaster, who would then deliver the hint on a computer screen). Using screen-based communication has been the clearest way that we’ve gotten hints, as they can be displayed for as long as needed  

However, this type of hint delivery isn’t ideal for all rooms when it comes to immersion. While it fit well in a tech-driven office, it would feel out of place in a killer’s basement or a prehistoric tomb. Pharoah’s Tomb subverted this by having the screen in the ‘camp’ area of the room and leaving the tomb area without visible modern technology.

Another thing to consider is how well the gamemaster can communicate over text (this includes not only word choice, but also spelling and grammar choices.) If the hints displayed on the screen aren’t clear and concise, the players will spend more time deciphering the hint rather than the puzzle itself.

 

Walkie-Talkie Only

We had a walkie-talkie only experience with Cabin Fever, which fit somewhat thematically with the room (as we were stranded in a cabin in the middle of nowhere.) We had a gamemaster who was quite familiar with the room and was able to give us clear hints when needed to finish the puzzle. It provides for natural communication between parties and allows for the players to quickly ask for further clarification.

The major drawback of walkie-talkies is the problem with reception. We have had walkie-talkie problems in the past (discussed below). This may also prove a distraction for the gamemaster who may be running multiple rooms at a time—if there are multiple walkie-talkies, they may end up giving a hint to the wrong team or throwing them off-track by accident. A walkie-talkie alone provides ambiance, but is probably better used in conjunction with another method.

 

Combination Methods

We’ve been in two rooms so far that have used a walkie-talkie and screen combination, which was very effective. The one that we’re highlighting is the use of the walkie-talkie and screen in The Cursed Ship. On the day that we played the game, it started raining heavily while we were inside. The building has a metal roof, which made the rain echo—it was great for immersion in the room, but it made it incredibly hard to hear over the walkie (especially over the thunderstorm audio and actual thunderstorm outside.) Our gamemaster provided hints to us over the screen after we relayed a request for one, which worked out well. This was also the case in Pharaoh’s Tomb—as we were in the basement, the walkies didn’t always work out very well and the screen was utilized in conjunction with it.

 

Other Ideas

While we’ve only done a handful of escape rooms so far, we’ve been throwing around ideas for hint systems that would be both easily used for communication without breaking the immersion. We’ve thought of things like telephones (which could work for escape rooms set in different eras, from the hand-crank phones of the Victorian era to the clear plastic phone I had in my room as a girl growing up in the 90s.) An intercom system would probably be a better way of delivering hints instead of walkie-talkies, and could fit into a school or hospital-themed room well, but the expense of installing a system may be too much for a smaller company. Passing notes for hints could be a fun element in a detention-themed room, or video conferencing for an office or hacker theme (especially with a good improvisational actor delivering the clues).

What all of these systems have in common is having an attentive and alert gamemaster. Ideally a gamemaster should have their attention on only one game at a time, be intimately familiar with all of the room’s puzzles (or have a detailed walkthrough handy), and be able to speak and write well in the area’s native language(s). Without a strong gamemaster to deliver the hints, the room can fall apart and cause a negative experience for the players who may then be turned off of escape rooms permanently.

Aside from delivery, the breadth of information and timing of hint delivery is critical to the group’s success. My group is reluctant to ask for hints unless we are well and truly stuck, and a couple of unprompted nudges in rooms were timed right as we were hitting the sticking points and helped us decode the puzzles without giving away too much information. This is also an art in itself—make the hint too obtuse and your players will be frustrated, spell out the entire puzzle and your players will feel discouraged that they couldn’t figure out the mechanics. We have experienced rooms that we have enjoyed, but the gamemaster was a little too free with hints and told us where to look and what to look for just as we started to work on the puzzle. This detracted from our group’s experience of being able to solve the room ourselves (and probably contributed to our fantastic escape time). We also had a fantastic gamemaster who paid attention to our comments on a puzzle and let us fail several times before giving us a nudge to the solution. If possible, the gamemaster should speak with the group beforehand to get a feel for their experience level and favored play style and then give hints accordingly.

 

While a lot of people (me included) now loathe asking for hints, sometimes ‘hardcore mode’ isn’t quite the way to go, especially if you want to experience the room in all its glory. Definitely don’t sit and wait for the gamemaster to show you the answer to a puzzle. Sometimes the puzzles really are that tricky and you shouldn’t be afraid to lean heavily on a hint on a particularly challenging clue. The right nudge can even help players appreciate the room even more!

What are the best and worst examples of hints or hint systems you’ve experienced in an escape room? What is your personal preference in receiving hints during a game? Let us know in the comments.

Escape Cape – Pharaoh’s Tomb

Escape Cape – Pharaoh’s Tomb

Room Name: Pharaoh’s Tomb

Business: Escape Cape

Location: 1231 Broadway St., Cape Girardeau, MO 63701

Date of Visit: Aug 21, 2017

Number of Players: Up to 8 (as few as 4 may book as a private room for an additional fee)

Our Group Size: 3

Escape Cape
Escape Cape

Official Description: The recent discovery of a pyramid, presumably the resting place of a long-forgotten Pharaoh, has set the world’s imagination afire. Rumors of a mysterious Pharaoh and an ancient curse have been circulating in the media. Whether these rumors are true or not, you have always been fascinated by ancient Egypt, so you assembled a team of leading archaeologists to join you on your mission to reach the inner tomb and discover the identity of this forgotten Egyptian king. Many teams have ventured into the pyramid before, but none have escaped. The mysterious disappearance of these explorers has supported the rumors that the Pharaoh had his burial chamber cursed. You must discover the inner tomb, identify the Pharaoh, and escape within 60 minutes, or else you too may fall victim to the Pharaoh’s curse!

Difficulty (official): We were advised that this is their hardest room.

Difficulty (experience): Medium

Time to Escape: 45:01

Escape Cape
What’s behind the door?

Review: We traveled to Anna, IL to view the solar eclipse and after finding that the town was lacking in entertainment, chose to head to Cape Girardeau, MO for the day to try an escape in a different city. Although we were unfamiliar with Cape Girardeau, we were able to find the building easily. Despite it being a busy day with only one person working there, we were greeted warmly and had a few questions answered while she monitored groups in the other rooms (kudos to that great time-management skill!)

The room itself is divided into the former team’s campsite and the pyramid. We enjoyed a lot of the decorative touches, particularly in the campsite room. The attention to detail there made that area really feel like a makeshift campsite at an archaeological dig. We also enjoyed the pyramid setup (complete with sand on the floor), but there was a visual element that was anachronistic enough to take away from the overall ancient pyramid aesthetic. However, we enjoyed some cleverly hidden pieces.

The puzzles are somewhat linear, but there are enough of them that all three of us were busy working on different elements of them so that each puzzle came together with everyone’s help. We enjoyed the variety—there wasn’t an abundance of combination locks, and no answer was flat-out given to us. The clues were easy to follow, but challenging enough to keep us entertained.

There were two puzzles that we didn’t enjoy as much as we thought we could have. One we had been alerted to earlier as the most difficult puzzle of all three of their rooms. The idea was very clever, but there were no starting points or indications on solving it. The second was a late-act puzzle, which we felt was clever in design but didn’t quite match the rest of the room in execution.

Overall, we really enjoyed our experience at Escape Cape (we even made our first Leaderboard here!) and wished that we lived closer to the area to try out their other two rooms. The amount of love and enthusiasm put into creating the room was evident, and we would love to see how that translates into their other escapes.

Escape Cape Leaderboard
The Leaderboard after we left.

Hints Used: One prompted, three unprompted to ensure we were on the right track

Clue Quality : Clues were very clear and we easily figured out to which puzzle they pertained.

Puzzle Creativity: This room had several clever moments and their puzzles tied well into the theme, aside from the aforementioned frustrations.

Rating: 4.5 /5

Fear Factor: None

Escape Cape - CSI Academy
CSI Academy poster

Things to note: Escape Cape is accessible by street parking on Broadway or in the neighborhood adjacent as well as parking lots nearby. Two of the rooms are handicapped-accessible, but the nature of Pharaoh’s Tomb and its location in the basement of this building make this difficult/unsuitable for those who require mobility aids.  Also, we feel that while you can book up to eight for Pharaoh’s Tomb, the entrance section to this room may become cramped for such a large group. We would suggest this room with a group of up to five participants. This room is family-friendly with one mildly-intense moment.

Escape Haus – Library of Secrets

Escape Haus – Library of Secrets

Room Name: Library of Secrets

Business: Escape Haus

Location: 1671 Interstate 35, New Braunfels, TX 78130

Date of Visit: August 13, 2017

Number of Players: 6-12

Our Group Size: 12

Official Description: A famous English detective wishes to retire and is trying to find someone his equal to succeed him. He has placed the best candidates in his Library of Secrets where not everything is as it seems. You must use your powers of observation and deductive reasoning to unlock the door and show that you have what it takes to be the next great detective.

Difficulty (official): Medium

Difficulty (experience): Medium, some clues very easy

Time to Escape:  51:53

Review: We’ve been wanting to do the Library of Secrets since our first time at Escape Haus. We had peeked into the room before and found the decor and theme to be interesting. Our group purchased five tickets, and we were joined by a family of seven, most of whom had never done an escape before.

The room itself is, like the other Escape Haus rooms, decorated to the theme (this one being Sherlock’s library). We were disappointed that the walls and floor didn’t quite tie into the Victorian library theme; they felt too modern. We realize this is kind of a nitpick, but after seeing the care put into the designs in rooms like Cursed Ship and Cabin Fever, we’re growing used to full immersion. We would have liked to have seen more nods to the literary Sherlock, like a journal or references to some of his cases.

This room had one electronic lock (not quite Victorian), but used a couple of interesting manual ones that we have not yet come across. Some of the clues were also quite clever, and we enjoyed the twist at the very end. We did appreciate the solution to a cipher in the room, but were disappointed when the clue revealed had already been completed, which rendered the code unnecessary.  

Like the other two rooms we’ve done here so far, several puzzle devices were reused. We were hindered by a lock that, while we had entered the correct code twice, were not instructed prior to starting the room how to manipulate it. It was only after the room operator heard me calling the correct numbers that we were told how to open the lock. She also seemed unsure of the puzzles and item locations in the room (after completing the room, we asked about the location of a piece we were missing and she had no idea where it was.) This was unusual, as the other two operators we had at this location were very knowledgeable about their rooms.

While we enjoyed the room in full, this could really be improved by different locks and slightly trickier clues. Most of the time spent was us running around trying to match code to lock versus figuring out puzzles.

Hints Used: Two unprompted (one for the aforementioned lock, one for a clue location.)

Clue Quality: The clues were very clear, perhaps a little too simple. There were way too many of the same type of combination lock, and a room dedicated to Sherlock provides a wealth of opportunity for interesting clues and lock variety.

Puzzle Creativity: For the library belonging to the master of deductive reasoning, there was very little to deduce. Most of the riddles and clues had solutions that were outright handed to us with no overarching puzzle or real moments of frustration or deducing. We were hoping to piece together a major puzzle throughout the room.

Rating: 3.25/5. The flavor was great, but the puzzles were lacking. This feels like it should be someone’s first or second room to get one’s feet wet in the world of escape rooms.

Fear Factor: None. The room is large and easy to move around in, even with twelve people in the room plus the operator.

Things to note: This room is very family-friendly. Parking at Escape Haus is plentiful, and as of this writing they do not have Groupon. They do offer a $5 discount on tickets for groups of five or more.

Austin Panic Room – Cabin Fever

Austin Panic Room – Cabin Fever

Room Name: Cabin Fever

Business: Austin Panic Room

Location:  1205 Rio Grande St, Austin, TX 78701

Date of Visit: August 5, 2017

Number of Players: 4-10

Our Group Size: 10

Official Description: A fierce blizzard has hit your secluded ski resort! So much for that relaxing trip. Caught in the snow, you and your friends were forced to take shelter in a nearby cabin. But beware! The old wooden structure can only stand the brunt of the storm for so long. Can you find a way to save yourself and your companions? Or, will you succumb to the fury of the blizzard?

Difficulty (official): Medium, according to our room operator

Difficulty (experience): Medium (hard for the last puzzle)

Time to Escape:  51:06

Review: Happy birthday to me! This was both my birthday celebration and our first experience with teaming up with strangers to solve a room.

We did not have a hard time finding Panic Room Austin; there is a clear sign on the front of the building. We were greeted quickly and led into the small waiting room. We did not see any of the warmup puzzles or riddles found in other escape rooms.

We then met our room operator, who gave us a good explanation of the room including the difficulty level and was available via walkie-talkie throughout the experience. She did a great job of helping us when we needed it, but we did have a couple of first time players in our group and there was no basic explanation of how these games work.

The room itself had incredible decor. Panic Room has done a terrific job of turning a room into a winter cabin for people who are not used to winter. We loved all of the touches in the room that made us feel like we were taking a ski vacation, despite us being in the middle of summer in Texas. The clues were very well integrated with the decor except for one, and we had a great time exploring.

The majority of the puzzles weren’t difficult to figure out, but they did require deductive reasoning and finding several pieces scattered around the room ( even a week after finishing, we are still talking about one particularly clever puzzle). One particularly fiendish puzzle kept us occupied for nearly twenty minutes, which did get to the point of being too frustrating. There were a couple of red herrings in the room, which is something that we haven’t seen prior to this.

The only real negative for this room was the puzzle we spent so much time on. We’re probably a little salty as this puzzle cost us breaking the room record, but even with ten people focusing on it, it took us quite a while and hints from our operator to solve it.

Hints Used: Three (two for the aforementioned puzzle).

Clue Quality: Very clever. There were a couple of outright clues, but most of them required puzzle solving.

Puzzle Creativity: Most puzzles fit very well into the room; there was one that didn’t seem to fit the theme at all. However, it was still a nice little challenge.

Rating: 4.5/5

Fear Factor: None. This room is technically two adjoining rooms, and was easy to maneuver at max capacity.

Things to note: Panic Room offers a very limited parking lot (a permit is required but can be obtained by an employee) and some street parking. We recommend carpooling. This room is family-friendly but is probably more enjoyed by teenagers than younger children due to the puzzle difficulty. Groupon is available.

Lockout Austin – The Cursed Ship

Lockout Austin – The Cursed Ship

Room Name: The Cursed Ship

Business: Lockout Austin

Location: 1700 South Lamar Suite #330, Austin, TX 78704

Date of Visit: May 28th, 2017

Number of Players: 2-6 Players

Our Group Size: 6

Official Description: Stranded on a desert island, you find an old ship. On board, you discover a captive who gives you harrowing news: You have 1 hour to escape, or the island is coming for you. What exactly is happening? Can you escape?

Watch the room’s trailer here.

Difficulty (official): This room boasts a success rate of only 22%. Our room guide stated afterwards that this is the hardest room available at this location.

Difficulty (experience): Medium-High. We were able to figure out what we needed to do for different puzzles, but there was trial and error involved as we tried to figure out the correct answers.

Time to Escape:  50:18

Review: Lockout Austin is situated in a nondescript building in a strip mall. We had no problems finding the location. When we entered, we noticed two lobby areas (a pre-holding/check-in room and the actual lobby). The staff greeted us cheerfully and check-in was very smooth; we were then allowed into the lobby. The lobby itself has a variety of puzzle warmups (metal detach puzzles, brain teasers, and a few more that were being used while we were there.) Another staff member then demonstrated two of the more unusual locks that we would encounter in the room (very helpful!) and also went over basic rules. After the briefing and setting the scene, we were allowed into our cursed ship.

This was the first room that we’ve done that had a live actor involved, and he was invested in setting the scene without giving any of the room’s secrets away. We were then free to explore and solve puzzles. The room’s decor is very thematic–a lot of love and care was put into making us feel like we were on a deserted island–even the locked boxes and chests kept up with the theme. We kept noticing little touches and nods to pop culture in the puzzles, which made it even more fun to solve. The room has several puzzles, and all of them required good teamwork–within our group, no one solved a puzzle alone. We cheered our escape, groaned when we were just two minutes away from making the leaderboard, and had a great time from start to finish.

While this is a small room, the amount and complexity of puzzles requires a moderate to large sized group. We recommend a group of at least four attempt this room.

Hints Used: We asked for a nudge when we felt stuck at one point and we were given four unprompted clues, three of which we had not yet figured out.

Clue Quality: Clues ranged from simple and outright to clever, but nothing was vague or without a logical answer.

Puzzle Creativity: High. A number of riddles and interesting interactive features, along with a mixture of unique combination locks and custom mechanisms made the room much more than searching for the key to the next Master Lock.

Rating: 5 out of 5. This was an awesome room and we all thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Fear Factor: There are some moments of intensity especially at the start of the game and when certain items are revealed, but nothing is frightening. The room is quite narrow which may induce some feelings of claustrophobia, but I (as the lone claustrophobe in our group), felt all right as the room has a high ceiling.

Things to Note: As Lockout Austin is in a strip mall, there is plenty of free parking available. The Cursed Ship room may frighten young children due to thematic elements and mildly intense moments.

Lockout Austin offers Groupon deals Sunday through Friday.

Outer Rim Escape San Marcos – Silicon Valley

Outer Rim Escape San Marcos – Silicon Valley

Room Name: Silicon Valley

Business: Outer Rim Escape San Marcos

Location: 700 N LBJ Dr. Suite 112, San Marcos, TX 78666

Date of Visit: May 20th, 2017

Number of Players: 2 (the website lists two, the leaderboard shows larger groups may be allowed, up to 4)

Our Group Size: 2

Official Description: You’ve received a disturbing video message from your friend David Chen asking you to come by his workplace. David works for a leading tech company in the valley and his video leaves you worrying his life might be at stake if you don’t come down there immediately. Upon arriving at David’s office his door slam shuts and a video on his computer starts… Your life, his life, and the lives of millions of people hang in the balance of what happens in the next hour. Can you and your team figure out what David left for you?

Difficulty (official): The owner has stated on social media that Silicon Valley is the easiest of their three rooms.

Difficulty (experience): Medium, mostly due to the time used to decode items.

Time to Escape:  45:00

Review: We arrived at Outer Rim Escape and were promptly greeted by a staff member, who both did a great job explaining the room and helping us through a payment problem. She confirmed that we understood how to use certain items within the room before leaving us to solve and explore. Some technical issues early on hindered our puzzle experience, but they were quickly solved and we got right down to solving.

The room itself has visibility issues (no overhead lighting, light is provided by standing lamps), as well as visibility issues concerning one of the puzzles that we found more frustrating than the puzzle itself. The puzzles are quite linear and there are very few, but the room gets creative with its technology theme, and we enjoyed having to use electronics to figure out puzzles versus pen and paper. Having an available whiteboard was a great touch, though.

What we found disappointing was how the room itself is styled. We both work in technology environments, and found the room to be lacking in decoration (no posters or toys, not even a coffee mug or general office accoutrements.)  Our excitement over the puzzles wasn’t enough to mitigate the lack of theme in the room.

We enjoyed escaping this room (and will be back to try out the other rooms). The staff is invested in providing a fun, quality experience in San Marcos, and they are reaching their goal.

Hints Used: One prompted hint that we had not fully explored an unlocked item.

Clue Quality: Clues are very linear and all lead to the end puzzle. We were a bit disappointed that unlocking one puzzle gave us all the clues to the next puzzle versus having to unlock several things to piece it all together.

Puzzle Creativity: Medium. Some fun surprises, but there weren’t very many puzzles to judge on.

Rating: 3.5/5

Fear Factor: None. The room is large and easy to move around in. The door in this room is locked but the players can unlock the door from their side at any time (e.g. emergencies).

Things to note: Outer Rim has several Groupon promotions. It is situated in a shopping center with plenty of available parking. This room may pose difficulties for people who have poor low-light vision.