By Alix Norman
We’re frantically scrabbling around the room, clutching at suitcases, flinging sofa cushions to the floor, upending lampshades. Suddenly, the ancient radio hisses, the lights flicker and the clock chimes a rapid five, matching our hastened heartbeats… We’re running out of time and we know it; we’ll never be able to find the cash in time, and the entire fortune will pass, instead, to Mr Whiskers. All is lost…
Thankfully, this isn’t real life, and we’re not about to lose a mint to an ignorant feline. But the game is so exciting and intense, so packed with action and entertainment, that it feels like we’re truly living the out the story. The story of Grandma’s Will.
This is just one of the scenarios in the latest craze to sweep Cyprus: Escape Rooms. From Paphos Lockdown to Limassol Escape, the genre has been springing up in all corners of the island, an antidote to the digital gaming mania that’s held us in its thrall for far too long. Funnily enough, it’s a trend that’s sprung from computer games, taking its cue from the ‘locked room’ electronic puzzles of the early nineties and translating them to the real world – where they’re vastly superior. Because, while engaging in a solo online treasure hunt may be fun, working with a group of friends to unravel actual clues in a real room is miles more exciting.
“Escape Rooms are an entirely new form of entertainment, which we guarantee will be intellectually stimulating, challenging, exciting and something you’ll be talking about for weeks to come,” say the founders and designers of Nicosia’s Escape the Room. “It’s really exciting and gets the adrenaline pumping,” adds Matthew Edmondson from Lockdown Paphos.
Escape the Room is the brainchild of three gentlemen, Christos Tryfonos, Constantinos Avraamides and Polyvios Protopapas, and is one of a long line of similar establishments that provide an entirely novel experience for all ages…
Lockdown Paphos, for example, boasts two rooms: Pirates (in which Pirate Captain Jack Pigeon needs your help to find the important jewel of Asteroth) and Virus (finding Dr Foster’s formula is the only way to save the human race). Adventure Rooms in Nicosia offer The Original Game and The Missing Finger. Escape Limassol provides three scenarios: John Monroe’s Office, Prison Break and Mission Impossible. ClueJob – also in Limassol – affords no fewer than four scenarios from which to choose (Chained, Crazy Granny, Hostages and Trapped Agents), while Trapped – in the same city – boasts The Bank Job and Poker Night.
All have elements in common: an intriguing back story, a series of clues, a race against time, and a locked room. And all require a certain set of skills to solve: teamwork, a spot of manual dexterity, and a dash of lateral thinking. In our scenario, for instance, we’re putting our collective wits together to solve a sequence of codes, messages, riddles and puzzles before the hour runs out. And even with four of us working at top speed, we’re still struggling.
Luckily, we’re allowed to communicate with the games master, who watches the entire thing from outside the room and occasionally sends us handy hints via the walkie-talkie – the only equipment we’re allowed to take into the room – when we’re stumped. Which happens far more frequently than one likes to admit, especially when our team comprises four highly-intelligent problem-solvers. But that’s the fun of escape rooms – you never know what grouping will work in any given scenario until you’re actually living the game…
“Team-building, bonding, excitement and entertainment are what you get from an escape room experience,” we’ve been told by Polyvios in our extensive pre-game briefing. Along with the basic back story, we’ve been instructed in health and safety issues: all escape rooms can be exited at any time, for safety purposes, and participants must disclose any health issues before entry. Equipment (mobile phones, tablets and my Swiss Army Knife – what can I say, I like being prepared) must all remain in safe-keeping outside the room, and players are advised to choose a leader in order to facilitate game-play.
Most rooms on the island can host up to six players, though corporate events can be arranged for larger teams if needed. In fact, Nicosia’s Escape the Room can be tailored to the client’s requirements: though they’re only been open for a couple of months, the trio of owners have already catered to a proposal – check YouTube! – a class of maths students (“We substituted logic problems at the request of the professor,” says Christos) and any number of parties in which the final clue led to a surprise birthday cake!
“Escape Rooms are something completely different from what most of us are used to,” Christos adds. “They’re fresh, they’re different, and they’re suitable for any age; a great way to have fun and spend time with friends and family.” Edmonson adds: “You play it for an hour but talk about it for days.”
Voted number one in Fun and Games on Trip Advisor in destinations all over the world, Escape Rooms seem the perfect remedy for our plugged-in, digitally enhanced lives: as the clock counts down the last few minutes, I realise this must be the first waking hour I’ve spent in weeks in which I haven’t once glanced at my phone. I haven’t had time. Because there’s not a moment to spare as the counter ticks closer to zero…
In the end, we make it out under the hour. (Take that Mr Whiskers!), victory is ours, and we’re all on a complete high. There’s truly nothing like it – we’ve stretched ourselves to our limits, had the most incredible, memorable, exhilarating experience, and emerged triumphant. And we’re sure to be back very, very soon. To escape again.
Escape Limassol (25 256755, [email protected], www.escapecy.com)
ClueJob (25 255191, [email protected], www.cluejob.com)
Trapped in Limassol (25 100044, [email protected], www.trappedinlimassol.com.cy)
Lockdown Paphos (96 219883, [email protected], www.lockdownpaphos.com)