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Arts & Culture

Room Escape: A New Genre of Entertainment Comes to New Haven

Wessel Krul
Creative Commons
Did we mention that the clock will be ticking?

Think of "room escape" like a fancy cocktail: one part mystery, one part problem-solving, and two parts teamwork, with a dash of adrenaline-inducing claustrophobia on top.

If you're still puzzled, then congratulations -- that's the point.

Room escape is a new form of puzzle-based entertainment that's only just begun to catch on in America. It involves transforming ordinary rooms into extraordinary playscapes: richly themed environments in which willing participants are locked inside, and forced to solve mind-bending puzzles in order to escape.

Escape New Haven is the latest edition to this phenomenon, and it's opening right here in Connecticut. Owners Max Sutter and Ethan Torrent plan to welcome their first customers (thrill-seekers and out-of-the-box thinkers) to their new venue on 111 Whitney Avenue in New Haven on February 12.

Before you assume you've got what it takes to defeat their puzzle rooms, know that these puzzles are no pieces of cake.

According to Sutter, "visual puzzles, auditory puzzles, spatial reasoning puzzles and word puzzles" will be just a few of the challenges participants must conquer in their quest to escape. Oh, and did we mention that the clock will be ticking?

Credit Silas Finch / Facebook
From left, WNPR's Josh Nilaya, Max Sutter, and Ethan Torrent talk about Escape New Haven at the Finch Studio near the William Taft mansion, where a real escape game venue will open in February.

Each team of participants will have a total of 60 minutes to complete their puzzles, with the option of receiving two free clues during the hour to help with the particularly challenging ones. Sutter and Torrent said only 30 percent of teams are expected to finish.

"Regardless of the outcome, everyone will have a good time," said Sutter. With the descriptions of the rooms they provided, we're inclined to agree: a dimly-lit study, an authentic-looking workshop, and a library -- each with its own custom furniture decorations, and up to 30 different puzzles.

So where did this form of entertainment come from? The answer is a combination of the very old and the very new. While puzzles such as the Pentalpha board have been dated back to 2,000 B.C., the concept of solving puzzles to escape rooms owes its popularity to video games of the last decade.

In fact the very first example of a real escape game (REG) came from a group of Silicon Valley programmers back in 2006. Since then, the genre has become increasingly popular in China, Japan, Singapore, Australia, and various countries in Europe. 

Escape New Haven owners Sutter and Torrent, both Connecticut natives and graduates of Yale, are hoping their new business will enjoy similar success. "We really want to take advantage of the diverse community here in New Haven County," Sutter said.

Torrent was quick to follow: "All our puzzles require is basic knowledge of the English language," he said. "We want them to be accessible to tourists even from foreign countries. We're also hoping to get families in. Children bring a new type of creativity with them when solving puzzles."

Credit Lee Royal / Flickr Creative Commons
Flickr Creative Commons

So whether things are changing too fast for you, or you or you've become bored by the constant remaking of the same old thing, Escape New Haven should satisfy. Engaging the same drive to problem-solve that has motivated us from the beginning, while incorporating our new-found love for all things unconventional, real-life room escapes offer a rare paradox: a break from the norm that seems somehow familiar.

Escape New Haven opens its doors to the public on February 12.

Josh Nilaya is a producer at WNPR.

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