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Get Locked In A Room For Fun: 4 Escape Games To Try In Chicago

By Mae Rice in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 2, 2016 3:38PM

A room escape game is exactly what it sounds like: a game in which you're locked in a room, and you have to figure out how to get out. You have one hour. (For some reason, the time frame is always one hour.) These games are sort of like going to a jail where jailbreaks happen hourly—spooky, but not too spooky, because the space is littered with clues to help you escape. Often, you'll stumble on helpful letters from fictional people, or a riddle whose answer unlocks a combination lock, or just, randomly, a key.

Room escape games have grown increasingly popular since 2012, when the first American room escape game reportedly cropped up in San Francisco's Japantown. At this point, there are at least five room escape game studios in Chicago proper, and tons more in the suburbs. We focused on the city ones, and tried out a game at four of the studios—omitting only Escape Chambers, which was unfortunately remodeling while we were writing this. This is our report back from a month of on-and-off recreational captivity.

The interior of "The Bunker" at Fox in a Box (photo courtesy of Fox in a Box)

Fox In A Box's "The Bunker"
Best for creative clues

Fox in a Box is all about the inventive puzzle. We did "The Bunker," the studio's easiest game, and leveraging the clues towards our goal was a varied, intricate... quest? Quest seems applicable. Clues ranged from maps to grenades to what looked like a wooden tampon (spoiler: it wasn't one). The puzzle was exactly the right size for an hour, too. It was perfect—though we ran out of time, which means that according to the game's lore, nukes blew up the world.

Fox in a Box focuses on "mission-based games," as the founder explained to us. That means you have to complete a mission in your room beyond just literally escaping it. Our mission was to disable nukes set to blow by Cold War operative Mr. Fox, who was trying to commit suicide by way of a nuclear holocaust. Due to Fox in a Box branding, Mr. Fox was a literal fox, but our mission still felt real. The atmosphere was spooky as hell: sirens blared, staticky voices yelled at you over the phone, and Sherlock-worthy music occasionally swelled. We might have actually been scared, but we were grounded by the attendant who spoke to us via speaker throughout the game. She was extremely patient with us. We needed a hint even to find a non-hidden pen, and she still treated us with respect.

Fox in a Box is located at 47 W. Polk Street, Suite L5.

A group that didn't escape in time, posing with their zombie afterwards (photo via Facebook

Room Escape Adventures' "Trapped In A Room With A Zombie"
Best for zombie showmanship (and large groups)

Room Escape Adventures hosts "Trapped In A Room With A Zombie," probably the best-known (and most intuitively-named) of Chicago's room escape games. The zombie is, sadly, not a real zombie, but a human actor in face paint. Ours was chained to a cabinet, growling, crawling and occasionally athletically lunging across the floor. Another actor, dressed in a lab coat, oversaw the game, giving us hints that mostly consisted of pointing or raising an eyebrow.

The zombie and its gurgles set this game apart, but so did the size of our group. We did the basement version of the game (easier than the upstairs incarnation, apparently) with a capacity group of 14, by my count. In such a large group, people took on specialized roles; one woman spent the whole time singing and dancing for the zombie, to distract it. We escaped in the end (!!!), but no one really understood the entire puzzle when we did. We all just solved our own elements of the puzzle, and tried to keep each other posted on what we found. This game was designed as a corporate team-building exercise, and you can tell—the most perplexing puzzle is how to get a group of 14 to communicate with each other.

Room Escape Adventures is located at 408 S. Michigan Ave.

Escape Artistry's "The Railcar"
Best for making the L seem spooky

Though they have more room escape games in the works, Escape Artistry has one game so far: "The Railcar." The Speed-like premise is that you're on a runaway train, and you have to stop it and get off before it crashes into a building. The team here doesn't want me to issue any spoilers, and I want very much to honor that, but let me just say—they describe the game as "Chicago-centric," and the signage, combined with the railcar itself, makes you feel like you're on a Blue Line train. Getting on an actual Blue Line train afterwards was spooky! Especially since our team fell just sort of escaping. (The game only has a 15 percent success rate.)

Like "Trapped in a Room with a Zombie," this game accommodates fairly large groups, though groups are capped at 10. And though it didn't have quite the immersive atmospherics of "The Bunker," it did have one truly creepy touch: a Moriarty-esque evil genius played by an actor—ours did not blink much—who gives you hints via a screen that cuts in and out. Another excellent touch was their prop box we raided for our post-session selfie. We found a Hulk-hand glove in there.

Escape Artistry is located in the Flat Iron Building at 1579 N. Milwaukee Ave., in Room 350.

A shot from a hidden chamber in "Tomb of the Cursed King" (photo via Facebook)

Mystory Escape's "Tomb of the Cursed King"
Best for magic

Don't be fooled by the incredibly fake skeleton you see on the floor when you first start this game—it's anything but jank. Really, it uses technology in borderline-magical ways that fit perfectly with the game's lore, which goes like this: You've been presented as human sacrifice to a vengeful ghost of a cursed king, and you have to puzzle your way out of his tomb or get ghost-murdered.

It's hard to create a sense of actual magic on the Near North Side while it's broad daylight outside, but Mystory fully pulled it off. This was the last room escape game we did, and we were surprised by how often this one still surprised (and delighted!) us. We don't want to give too much away, but the game definitely involved runes, skulls, and some strong and perhaps accidental allusions to Watch The Throne's album cover. Also, though this game (like all the games) had a time-limit of an hour, our attendant let us stay five minutes over to finish our slow but steady escape, which was much appreciated.

Mystory Escape is located at 875 N. Dearborn St., in Suite 304.