Escape the Room Challenge

Judging  by  the recent cities I’ve visited, Escape Room challenges are a worldwide trend right now. We’ve had a new one pop up in my area of town (West Chester, Ohio) which prompted me to secure a challenge for my close-knit family of geniuses.

We love to play games and are a competitive bunch, so I assembled a multi-generational family team and Dan, the Manager, gave us a private experience in their hardest room challenge: Esmeralda’s Curse (rated 4 out of 4 for difficulty).

My thought was that as different ages with different life experiences, we’d each bring unique skill sets and knowledge to the task. (I was correct, but this is about to get humiliating.)

The Players:

Jo – the 71-year-old  family Matriarch

Julie – the 40-something parent

Mac – the 27-year-old USAF Staff Sergeant

Chelsea – Mac’s 23-year-old wife and veterinary technician

Izzy – the 16-year-old high school Honors student

None of us knew quite what to expect. We knew we’d be locked in a room for an hour and would have to solve puzzles and riddles to get ourselves out. Izzy had participated in a different escape room experience and offered her best advice: “If you see anything unusual, say it!”

You’re not gonna believe this — we didn’t listen.


This is the only thing they would let me take a picture of in the room.

We entered Esmeralda’s curse and our staff helper, Alicia, locked the door. We immediately scattered in the fortune teller/gypsy-ish room and began peeking through scarves and jewelry boxes and knick knacks decorating the shelves. I found a few books and riffled through them, searching for clues. I didn’t spend years reading Nancy Drew for nothing! But it wasn’t until we found a key hidden in a box and found something that the key unlocked that we started to understand the game: we needed to decipher the puzzle inside the locked drawer to lead us to another key — which we hoped would unlock the door.


There were word puzzles like these hanging in the lobby. I could solve all of these, but that didn’t help.

I won’t go into specifics because I don’t want to ruin the game for anyone else. Suffice it to say, there were puzzles and riddles and codes to decipher. The three youngsters were all over it! They figured out the clues and deciphered the codes. My mother and I stood close-by, waiting to see if we could be of help. The kids often tossed us a bone: “We need someone to write this down!” And in that (meager) way, we contributed.

We came within minutes of escaping the room. I’m not exaggerating. We were working out the last piece of the puzzle when time ran out and Alicia came back in. She’d been watching us on a screen and lending a few hints to guide us through as we uncovered clues.

“You guys were really close to finishing. Really close. Do you want to go ahead and finish the last piece?”

We did. Another two minutes and we would have escaped Esmeralda’s Curse.

“I bet it seemed like the shortest hour of your life,” Dan said as we exited into the lobby area.

It did. But probably not the way he meant it, at least for me. It wasn’t that time ran out too quickly. I’d been watching the countdown clock the whole time. What amazed me was how MANY puzzles/riddles/codes my kids figured out in one hour. At least 25! I stood in awe of them, knowing that my only real contribution to our escape was that I gave birth to the two of them.

I can’t even remember the patterns, puzzles, numbers, tangible clues and secret codes we uncovered. While Mac, Chelsea and Izzy were deciphering messages, I was looking for crumpled up pieces of paper, Nancy-Drew style. But the escape room didn’t use the kind of deductive reasoning that I’d grown up with to solve mysteries. It was high-level problem solving, ciphering, and making connections like a Special Forces unit in the movies racing against time.

I humbly admit that I was more hindrance than help. But I was willing to step aside and let them take the lead.

Kind of a metaphor for life, isn’t it?

That’s the type of riddle I spend my time thinking about these days; pondering life in the years to come. Watching my kids in action gave me a better glimpse of the future than any crystal ball ever could.

We all do have a bit of advice to offer anyone who decides to try an escape room. Take it or leave it, but we did come away with a smidgen of wisdom.

Izzy: Voice your ideas. If you have an idea that you think could mean something, say it. Someone else might have the other half of that info.

Chelsea: Let others help. If you realize you’re doing most of the work, step back and let other people try.

Mac: Approach the clues like a smart-ass, but stay flexible. Don’t overthink it.

Julie: Make sure you can see. Bring your glasses or readers. A magnifying glass, if you need it.

Jo: Try not to be overwhelmed by the ease with which young minds work the puzzles in the room and the clues they untangle while you’re still reeling from the amount of staging in the room. Let yourself join in the hunt for clues because it’s a fun, fast hour, and you’re a part of it with them.


Sage advice, no? But that’s all we can offer. We don’t have the answers to the riddle YOU’LL encounter in your challenge.

Is this something you’ve been thinking of doing?




10 responses to “Escape the Room Challenge

  1. Erm, no. It sounds too much like team-building and stuff. Like on the big rides I’ll just hold the coats and let everyone else carry on thank you. Interesting though how the younger ones homed right in to the essence of the task – I’d be a bit like you Julie, Sherlock Holmes-like with a magnifying glass 🙂

  2. This sounds like a really great family activity, or surprise birthday party or any time you want a break from TV or technology!! Use your brain and have a lot of laughs and closeness. This is a wonderful opportunity for families to get up and out and use their brains! I’m a person who could not figure out a thing but that would not stop me from having fun and enjoying watching the younger intellects figure out the puzzle.

    • I agree. And your comment about it being a break from TV and technology made me wonder: were my kids better at it BECAUSE they’re good at video games and such? Things where there may be codes or paths to follow? Makes me curious.

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