Escapism in Real-Time
The latest mind bender for puzzle fiends: Exittheroom sets your wits against time, to find your way back to freedom
Time is not on your side. You realise this in a quiet moment as you watch the clock implacably tick down the seconds remaining before abject failure. Don’t dwell on it, nor on your teammates antics, nor the fact that the forest is so dense with trees that the elephant in the room is likely staring you in the face. Yet you simply can’t help yourself, can’t help drowning in the maelstrom of contradictions that… There it is, clear as day!
We may get out of this yet!
For those puzzle fiends seeking a fresh challenge, Exittheroom offers a novel experience unavailable from the weekly crossword or video game:
A real-life, live action game of wits.
Loosely reminiscent of the survival horror genre that popped up around the millennium (the SAW movies or Silent Hill 4: the Room), this white-knuckle brain teaser provides a different sort of challenge than its inspirations, eschewing brute force and terror for something far more cranial:
Logic is a far more intriguing prison after all.
The game was designed for group problem-solving. While a lone challenger could conceivably exit the room and the particularly talented may even do so within the one-hour limit, that would be missing the point:
Half the battle (and the fun) is wrestling with your group dynamic, ensuring that five heads are indeed better than one, rather than too many cooks spoiling the proverbial broth.
To exit the room, you first need to find it: Hidden away in an obscure cellar in the first courtyard of a certain building in Josefstadt, simply getting there can be a conundrum in itself.
Fortunately, the hosts keeps a detailed map on their website as well as providing step-by-step instructions along with your booking confirmation (currently only possible online via PayPal; my one and only gripe).
This only contributes to the sense that you are about to enter a realm far removed from your regular life, that you are a member of an elite secret society, the "Puzzle Underground".
The premises, like all secret lairs, are deceptively nondescript. Behind the bleak door is nothing more sinister than a threadbare antechamber.
The only indication that this is not your generic shady basement office is the wall of fame, inscribed by the very best teams before you. And then there are the three mysterious doors, each with the week’s current record time.
A logical deduction
Exittheroom comes in three distinct flavours: Mind-Boggling puts you up against a series of logical puzzles in order to distil the combination to the lock preventing you from exiting;
Madness challenges your group to escape a lunatic asylum by deciphering the ravings of its inhabitants; and finally, there’s The Bomb, a love letter to agent thrillers (more on that below).
You are given a brief explanation by the helpful staff who monitor your progress via CCTV, as well as a walkie-talkie – a failsafe device that lets you ask for help a limited number of times in the event you get stumped.
Thus equipped, you are then thrust into the room of your choosing, your mind lingering on your questionable decision to be willingly locked into a cellar by strangers – and having paid for the privilege to boot.
Any doubts are instantaneously dispelled however as your attention is drawn to the momentous task at hand.
The Puzzle Palace
The premise of The Bomb is somewhat different from the others: rather than trying to escape, your goal is to find the titular device within the confines of a rather convincing approximation of a Soviet-era Hungarian hotel room – before it blows you to kingdom come.
Valuable seconds are wasted fishing for red herrings as you try to make head or tail of the seemingly innocuous personal effects strewn throughout the chamber – or are they?
The frantic search reaches fever pitch when you finally do uncover the explosive, reinforced by the set design going into overdrive, deliciously overplaying the Cold War melodrama with flashing lights, red army uniforms, globes labelled in Cyrillic… and an ominous black briefcase counting down, complete with launch codes for most of the Western hemisphere.
It occurs to the escapists that they may be playing for far higher stakes than previously assumed, which (depending on your team) either gives you renewed focus or makes the sense of panic palpable.
Aside from gaming enthusiasts, Exittheroom also markets itself to companies as a team-building exercise, pointing out that its specific challenges force you to cooperate.
It’s certainly effective: despite no prior strategy, our team instinctively ignored the menacing clock and fanned out for maximum efficiency, yelling new clues out loud to keep everyone in the loop, with one central member keeping track with a notepad.
Upon hitting a temporary wall, impromptu brainstorming sessions ensued, with each teammate (im)patiently waiting for the previous to finish before blurting out their own idea, consulting the notepad as necessary.
Thanks to the illusion of urgency, what would normally take days of synergy coaching at posh mountain retreats was accomplished in under an hour in a dark cellar on the Gürtel.
After a fevered struggle in the grip of logic, the VR bomb squad saved the world from nuclear Armageddon and exited the room triumphant and elated, wisecracking and high-fiving like the end of a TV show. Our result: 29:17, with no hints used.
However, our satisfaction from a job well done was short-lived: although we qualified for the wall of fame, another team had beaten our effort by just over a minute for the weekly high score. Perhaps the greatest challenge isn’t the room or your teammates after all.