I was recently locked in a billionaire's study, and my only hope of escape was to find a stolen jewel and figure out the room's security code before I got caught. With the help of some puzzle-solving friends, I made it out with a only few minutes to spare.
This may not sound like a typical way to spend a Saturday night, but it's fast becoming one as escape rooms, a relatively new form of interactive entertainment, spread across the United States.
Escape room games lock players in a themed room where they must find clues and solve puzzles to escape the room before time runs out.
While paying to be locked in a room for an hour to solve puzzles isn't for everyone, for many people there's something undeniably exciting about facing a room full of clues while seconds count down on the clock.
books on shelfWhat kind of puzzles do you face in an escape room? It could be anything — riddles, number games, combination locks, actual jigsaw puzzles — and the clues are often incorporated seamlessly into the room.
The number of books on a shelf could be important. A bookmarked page could be important. The clue written on that page in invisible ink is definitely important. (Of course, you have to figure out the clue is even there.)
And while you may think you're confined to one tiny space, many of the games feature trapdoors, secret passages and hidden rooms that reveal themselves as the game progresses.
Each game has a theme and story, and all the mental challenges fit within it, whether you're escaping from a moon base before you run out of air, solving a crime before being imprisoned, or creating an antidote in a lab before a deadly outbreak claims your life.
Escape rooms got their start as computer games in the 1970s, and the first real-life one was founded by SCRAP in Japan in 2007. Since then, SCRAP, as well as other escape-room ventures, have spread throughout Asia and into America. As of 2015, SCRAP claims to have temporarily imprisoned more than 10 million willing participants.
The games didn’t make their way to the United States until 2010, and now they're popping in cities from coast to coast.
How tough is it to escape from one of these rooms? It varies from game to game and group to group.
Mission Escape AtlantaMy team escaped from Mission: Escape Atlanta's "The Study" with only two minutes to spare, and Kyle Rubis, one of the game's creators, says the fastest escape time so far is about 46 minutes.
"Currently the escape rate of The Study is at 26 percent, and there has yet to be a group of four or less successfully escape," he said. "People seem to really love the challenge."
While some escape-room owners pride themselves on low success rates — many even displaying the single-digit figures on their websites — others offer games that can be more easily solved. Many such businesses have rooms with around a 30-percent success rate, but also offer a more challenging game.
"The Japanese don't care if you get stuck, but American audiences are not like that," Jonathan Murrell, co-founder of the Nashville Escape Game, told Newsweek.
"The success rate is one of the biggest debates we have. It needs to be a substantial challenge to feel worthwhile. Also, if you lose and everyone else is escaping, you'll feel like an idiot."
Of course, if you and your teammates find yourselves stumped, you're likely allowed a few hints. Some games my limit the number you can request, but others will provide unlimited hints if they see you're struggling.
Want to test your wits in an escape room? Find one near you.