Last weekend my husband and I happened to be travelling through Dayton, Ohio on the birthday of our friend Bobby (who lives in Dayton). His partner, Lela, asked us if we wanted to go to Breakout for Bobby’s birthday.
Paul and I weren’t exactly sure what that was, so Lela explained it to us like this: “They lock you in a room like you’ve been kidnapped, and you have one hour to solve puzzles that lead to your escape.”
Naturally, I thought that sounded like fun.
Breakout Dayton was located in an eerily quiet office park, and it was only when I signed the waiver that I learned we would be handcuffed and blind-folded inside the locked room.
“Do people ever freak out?” Lela asked the kid at the front counter.
“I better go to the bathroom first,” I said.
The kid led me down a long, gray-carpeted hall with numerous black doors on either side. As we passed one of the doors, I heard the screeching of metal and a human shout. I went to the bathroom quickly and returned to the others.
Then it was time. We were blind-folded and led one by one into the room, where we were handcuffed to a metal bed frame.
I won’t give too much away, but I will say that it took us an embarrassingly long time to figure out how to get out of the handcuffs. The room was dark and creepy and littered with clues that we then used to open several lock boxes, all of which contained more clues. Some of those clues were in the form of body parts. (So cool and creepy!)
The ultimate goal was to figure out the combination to the lock that would break us out of the room. Every now and again the voice of the “kidnapper” came over the loud speaker, telling us how much time we had left until his return, and by the end we were frantic, running around the room, shouting out numbers and holding up fake body parts.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get out in time.
But still, it was fun.
On the way home, we rehashed the experience. I thought it was interesting how we willingly — no, eagerly — paid twenty-five bucks each to experience a fake kidnapping. “Humans obviously crave this sort of thing,” I said. “Solving puzzles, feeling the adrenaline, having an immersive experience.”
It’s why we go on roller coasters and watch scary movies and read crime thrillers. Because that rush makes us feel more alive.
It’s also interesting that the creators of Breakout (and there are other “rooms” to play as well — Museum Heist and Casino Royale, for example) make these multi-step puzzles that are challenging enough to stump a room of five people with advanced degrees (us), and yet possible for the average person to solve in just under one hour. You don’t need any specialized knowledge or physical strength. Only the ability to think creatively.
And then I thought, given how much I enjoyed Breakout and how much I love puzzles in general, I clearly don’t read enough mystery novels. Why not? Well, I suppose they’re often seen as more “low brow” and not so “literary.” But I’ve read that one of the best ways to learn how to plot a novel is to read mysteries. Mystery authors, the good ones anyway, excel at building tension towards a climax. They are great at doling out the clues just when you need them, tossing in red herrings, and making all the strands tie together into a satisfying ending.
There’s no Breakout here in the DC area, but there is something called Escape Room Live, so I definitely want to check that out. Until then, I can read mystery novels and have a similar heart-thumping and brain-scratching experience. Plus, I might learn a thing or two a plotting along the way!
P.S. In the two days of driving after leaving Dayton, I started listening to the new podcast Mystery Show. Host Starlee Kine (whose voice is cute for about thirty minutes, after which point it gets annoying) solves very low priority mysteries such as “how tall is Jake Gyllenhaal really?” and “why did some random woman have the licence plate “ILUV 911?” But it just goes to show you how much people crave a mystery with a satisfying conclusion. Starlee always solves her mysteries, and she gets some interesting stories out of people along the way. I would recommend the Britney Spears episode. Skip the Jake Gyllenhaal episode. As you might imagine, the answer to that mystery is not overly exciting.