WASHINGTON - The timer is running. People have 60 minutes to escape from a room they paid to be locked inside of.
The room - one of two offered by Timothy Smith's Escape Lounge in Washington - is designed to mimic the Oval Office in the White House. It features a presidential seal embossed rug, an iconic desk, presidents’ portraits and other props.
“It is a game with clues that are spread throughout the room. And there is no starting point. You start wherever you feel like. It is up to you to put the clues together in order to find the key to get out,” Smith says.
Everyone loves a good mystery. Playing detective and creative problem solving games are as old as the Riddle of the Sphinx. The genius of Sherlock Holmes morphed into the game of Clue where everyone got the chance to play detective. Now, in the Internet age, games like Escape Room, where gamers are locked in a room and must find clues to get free, have kept the genre fresh and alive. Now the Escape Room game is showing up in the real world and it's going viral.
The fun part of Escape the Oval Office is that anything here could be a clue to solving the puzzle: The antique typewriter from the 1930s. Or the vintage turntable that plays records. Or the map of Washington, D.C. And then there are hidden messages that can only be seen under a black light.
Sometimes, the hot line on the desk rings.
“Would you guys like a clue?” the voice on the line asks.
The game master monitors the progress on a camera and calls to offer hints as needed.
Teams can be made up of co-workers, families, tourists or friends. This particular group is made up of six friends and two strangers who just met before the game starts.
One of the participants, Kat Matus, says she has never been on any of the Escape Rooms before. "So it was a lot of fun. And I think that it was actually great that we didn't know each other because it really forces you to have to learn how to work with one another.”
It is estimated that there are about 600 Escape Room adventures across the country. When Smith opened the Escape Lounge a year ago, there were two others in the Washington area. Now there are 12 and growing.
While each experience has different themes and settings, the formats are similar, and solving the puzzle requires social and physical engagement and quick, creative thinking.
Demetrios Psihopaidas came with friends. ”It was a little stressful. Some of the clues seemed really complex. But it was a lot of fun, and we had no idea what to expect. None of us have ever done it before," says Psihopaidas.
With seven minutes left, the team finally found the key. Psihopaidas runs to the door with the key. "It works! The door opens!" As he shouts, everybody reacts with joy.
“I was a little worried that we were not going to find all the clues and we weren't going to get out in time," Psihopaidas admits, "So I was happy that we were finished. ”
Smith says the escape success rate is between 30 and 40 percent.
“So it is pretty challenging. Escape the Oval Office is not an easy game. I think this game is popular because it gives an individual a chance to be a detective or to be a James Bond.”
But, Smith says, like most team sports, this game is really all about being a good teammate and having a good time.