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A Childhood Obsession Led To This New Atlantis-Themed DTLA Escape Room

The Poseidon Temple inside Escape Room L.A.'s Atlantis. (Mike Roe/LAist)
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There are more than 2,000 escape rooms across the country, with hundreds available here in Los Angeles. One of the most popular homes for escape rooms, Escape Room L.A., opens one of their most ambitious projects to date this weekend: Atlantis.

Escape room designer John Hennessy said that the idea for this room has been brewing for a long time.

"I've been obsessed with Atlantis since I was a little kid," Hennessy said.

This is the sixth room that he's created. He's also the founder and director of Escape Room L.A. The room took a year to develop, from conception to opening it to the public.

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The game's interconnected rooms let you discover different facets of Atlantis. (Benjamin Jet for Escape Room L.A.)

We went to a media preview and tried out the new game. The story begins with an eccentric professor who, like Hennessy, is obsessed with Atlantis. The professor has discovered how to open a portal to Atlantis, with your mission involving a search for the mysterious MacGuffin of the Poseidon Crystal.

You start inside the professor's office, solving clues to activate his machine and open up the portal. The professor gifts your group with the ability to breathe underwater through a special hand stamp (just go with us here) and four Atlantean pendants.

Note: whenever you start out with an item in an escape room, you're always going to need to use that item somewhere else. A door opens, and you're whisked away to Atlantis.

Continuing to create original experiences is one of Hennessy's biggest challenges.

"It gets way harder," Hennessy said, "because you start getting lazy, and you're like, 'Oh, well I did this before, so maybe we could just change things around...'"

But Hennessy said he didn't want to do that. While he admits the puzzles are similar to other puzzles he's designed before, he wanted to make sure there was a new spin on everything.

Play the chimes, piece together the shards, and find your way inside the locked scroll case... (Benjamin Jet for Escape Room L.A.)

The game is light on story overall, but where the room excels is in the aesthetics, taking you into a simulated underwater world. Hennessy said he feels that it's one of the most beautiful escape rooms anywhere. Everything is custom-designed, with theatrical scenic designer Jeffrey McLaughlin creating the sets you work your way through.

There's a watery aesthetic to all of it, from shimmering lighting to the mix of aqua colors surrounding you. You'll feel a sense of nature, with sound playing a big part in the clues you must solve, along with water continually playing in the soundscape. There are chimes to strike and a series of pipes playing various natural sounds -- as usual, solving the exact order of what to do everything in is key.

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The design was inspired by some of the potential real world inspirations for Atlantis, taking an ancient Greek setting and putting it underwater. It drew inspiration from Greek architecture, Minoan civilization, and Atlantean legend.

Each Escape Room L.A. game features a character inside the game, both to add to the story and to help guide you toward a solution when you get stuck. The character inside this one doesn't have a major story role, but the professor's secretary is on-hand to document your journey and tell you when you just screwed up a puzzle over and over and over and over again, while you yell at your teammate "Come on, Kenneth, pull your weight here!" (Oh wait, is that just us?)

One of the early puzzles shows the importance of testing an escape room. Hennessy explained that people weren't noticing what the letters on some spinning blocks meant at first, so they added brighter paint, Roman numerals, and designs to help clue gamers in.

Atlantis features a wide variety of puzzles, with the discovery of new rooms and new interactions throughout the game. Teamwork is also even more key than in many escape rooms, requiring at least two of you working simultaneously on spyholes, adjusting scrolls, and more.

The Nautilus Chamber, aka the Octopus Room. Watch out for those tentacles... (Mike Roe/LAist)

After you solve puzzles in Atlantis's courtyard, library, and a secret room, you enter a room that the designers call the Nautilus Chamber, though most people have been calling it the Octopus Room because there's a large octopus design on the ceiling and more tentacles built into the walls around you. This was the puzzle that my team struggled with the most during our playthrough, and a somewhat claustrophobic room that we recommend not having everyone try to tackle at once.

After solving all of the puzzles thus far, you come to one last room: the Poseidon Temple. There's also a nice sense of discovery and accomplishment, and items you've found before or that seemed to have no use finally come into play.

If you succeed, you'll have uncovered an Atlantean secret. Our test team made it out in time, but Hennessy gleefully showed us what happens if you fail -- and, well, good luck to you for when your ability to breathe underwater runs out.

One Easter egg to watch for: a motif in Atlantis artwork has been concentric circles, according to Hennessy, so you can watch for those circles throughout the design of the game. Another detail to watch for is that Atlantis replaces a previous Escape Room L.A. game, the Cavern -- so you can find a couple of the dials from that room incorporated into the professor's portal machine.

Escape Room L.A.'s Atlantis opens this weekend in downtown Los Angeles. (The actual Atlantis remains undiscovered, to the best of our knowledge, or at least as far as we have been led to believe. The truth is out there, friends.)