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Arts and Entertainment

Get Locked In A Room For Fun: 6 Real-Life Escape Games In Los Angeles

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If you enjoy puzzles, teamwork and working under pressure, then the real-life escape rooms cropping up all over Los Angeles are going to make your shortlist of favorite activities. If you don't think you like those things, you still might be surprised to find yourself having a great time trying to solve your way out of a locked room. (And we found even more escape rooms after this post published.)It sounds like an odd concept—you pay someone to lock you in a room for an hour while you try to solve a series of challenges, riddles and puzzles to get back out again. But real-life room escape games are hugely popular in Europe and Asia (it's a top-rated tourist attraction in Hungary) and are now popping up all over the U.S.

You may have played something similar as a video game or a mobile game. (The Room and Forever Lost are popular ones.) Your character starts out in a room and must explore. Frequently, you'll come across a box that requires a passcode to open, or a door that needs a key. With enough searching, you'll be able to successfully figure out codes, open all locked containers, root out hidden objects and passageways, and work your way into either the next room or to freedom. Some games are simply rooms with no specific theme while other more complex games come with backstory, horror elements, or other mysteries that the player solves as they advance.

Players not only have fun in the heat of the game—it seems like there's a rush of dopamine every time you hear a padlock click open or unearth a key—but also afterwards when they can commiserate with their partners on their challenges and defeats. Some rooms even market themselves as team-building exercises and offer observations afterwards on how the group cooperated.

We tried six room escape games in Los Angeles, but first we have a couple tips:

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Wear comfy clothing. Some of these rooms will have you crawling through narrow spaces, and there might be a lot of standing, sitting and looking for things on the ground. Also, make sure you communicate. You'll hear this before you enter just about every room. You have to tell your group members if you've solved a puzzle, if you need help with something, or if you've found a clue. If you have, say, a box that won't open until you put in the right five-letter word, and your friend found a secret passage in a book with a five-letter word circled, you won't put those two pieces together unless you're talking. It might be wise to assign a leader of some kind who will keep track of what's going on. Additionally, some of the rooms require you to put together an entire team first, and others will pair you with strangers who have purchased the same time slot. Use your time outside the room to make introductions and figure out who's good at what.

Also, it helps to put all the clues you find in one easily accessible place. Group like items together. Once you've used something or solved something, you might want to designate another area as a discard pile. You don't want to waste time working on a puzzle someone else has already solved. Also, check everything. Clues can be hidden everywhere. Only those who listen, think and cooperate will win.

On to the rooms!

The BasementHorror fans will love The Basement. This is a totally immersive experience with a well-designed and truly chilling room. There's also a complete backstory: you and your friends are the prisoners of a Edward Tandy, a vile, sadistic cannibal. He's killed before, and you're next if you can't escape his basement in 45 minutes or less. The room is dimly lit, creepy and full of grisly artifacts. If you think you might not like it because you hate the cheap jump scares found in a haunted house, know that the Basement relies more on psychological horror. For example, it may require you to do some things that might frighten or disgust you. Puzzle-wise, it's not a particularly easy room to escape, and the shorter time limit definitely means those who get out work quickly and don't waste time. You'll also be in the company of two fellow prisoners from a previous kidnapped group who want to get out just as much as you do, so interacting with them is key—even if they seem crazy or speak in more riddles.

Basement creator Kayden Ressel has a background in haunted houses and is a self-described huge horror fan. He worked with his father, David, to create the creepy environment of the room and Russell Friedlander handles the business sides and works on the puzzles. Ressel said he's noticed how subtle changes in the game can create an entirely different experience for players, such as an actor who spends more time in one spot or a simple word added or subtracted from a riddle. But like the other games, he says communication remains the biggest key.

What sets his room apart is the clear horror theme, of course, but also a sense of urgency.

"A ticking clock can add that much more adrenaline to the situation and just puts more at stake in general," he said. "I personally have a big imagination and love to lose myself in the storylines of really well thought-out haunted houses, and I wanted to have the same effect while people try and escape Edward's horrible basement."

Next, the Basement is working on adding a very small, 5 x 5 room where one to two people will have to work together in the dark while being subjected to "horrifying audio elements." This room will be a continuation of the Edward storyline, but will have paranormal elements. After that, they'll be adding a second large room that dives into the character of Edward's mother. (Ressel mentioned Psycho as one of his inspirations alongside Saw and George Harvey from The Lovely Bones.)

If you don't get out (our group of five did not), you can try again. They'll provide you with a discount code for your next attempt.

The Basement is located at 12909 Foothill Blvd in Sylmar. $30 weekdays/$32 weekends

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Escape Room LAThis room sweeps you back into the 1940s. Your groups finds yourself in the office of a private detective with the stereotypical dame problem. She's given him some precious jewels that he's got to hide from a thieving mobster. Your quest is to find the jewels, hide them, logically deduce who the thief is and get out of the room before he shows up and makes you sleep with the fish.

Creator John Hennessy—also the founder of urban adventurer races Race/LA and City Race—takes pride in the design of the room, tucked into a 1920s commercial building in downtown Los Angeles. Hennessy worked with set designer Jeff McLaughlin (the winner of several Los Angeles Stage Alliance Ovation Awards for his theatrical work) to recreate the feel of a gumshoe's office that feels straight out of a pulp novel. There are numerous period-accurate pieces throughout, accentuated by certain mechanical clues and triggers.

It's not an easy room to escape from and in fact, may have been the hardest of them all. Our group of 12 was part of an early walk-through and we were given many hints on our quest for freedom. There are complex puzzles here, and you'll definitely want to have a team of several people and skill sets to solve them. And definitely bring a math person. Be sure to check every drawer, nook and cranny and pay attention to both visual and audio clues. A lot of thought went into how exactly this puzzle unravels, and then once solved, the whole thing works together.

If you get stuck, this room (much like The Basement and Trapped in a Room with a Zombie) has an actor. You'll find the detective's charming secretary is locked in with you, and may be able to provide a hint or two, if you're lucky.

Escape Room L.A. is located at 120 E. 8th Street, Suite 311 in downtown. $30 weekdays/$32 weekends.

Maze RoomsThis room has a number of clever gadgets that will only open for those who can solve the puzzles, which makes it feel most accurately like one of the popular video games. Game creators Artem Moshovich, Ruslan Balashov and Natalie Lapidus previously worked in game development before moving from their home in Moscow to the U.S. to start a room escape game business. They opened earlier this month and currently only have one room, but their plans are to open a total of ten rooms with a variety of themes, as well as an extra challenging eleventh room only accessible to those players who solve their way out of the other ten. In about two weeks, we should be seeing a second room from this group with a secret agent feel.

The first game and currently operational room takes place in the throne room of a long deceased king. You and your team are a group of treasure hunters who found the treasure only to have been betrayed by a teammate who's locked you inside the room and fled. What's worse, the ghost of a vengeful wizard is also trapped in the room and will be claiming your souls if you don't get out in an hour.

This room has a number of intricate and custom decorations and quite a few high-tech tricks that make it extra fun. There were many moments where we were surprised and delighted to find how objects opened. Forget your rudimentary physics lessons in the thrill of the moment, and you might be beguiled into thinking there is actually magic at work. We made it out of this room with a small, but cohesive team, which is another way this room differs from other games. You can have a team of two to six players and still be okay, though rooms are booked by the team, so cost varies per person by the size of the team.

Maze Rooms is located at 1182 S La Brea Ave. in Mid-Wilshire. $120/$140 per team.

Exit Game

While Maze Room might make you feel like Indiana Jones, Exit Game has a futuristic feel that requires cunning to succeed. At 7,000 square feet, it's the biggest one on the list. There is an expansive lobby full of games and puzzles to warm up on why you wait for your chance to escape. Creator Jeff Hsin has an engineering background and previously worked at IBM before opening Exit Game. A team of three engineers worked on building Exit Room, and it is currently the most high-tech of the bunch. Hsin also played escape games in other countries while he worked out what he wanted his own to be like. The result is a total of three rooms (and growing), each with different challenges and themes.

"All our rooms have been custom built for the game itself, so the rooms themselves have unpredictable corridors and hidden areas that other escape games do not offer," Hsin said.

The Chamber is a puzzle-heavy room, The Lab takes place in a futuristic Area 51-style laboratory and will require you to use logic (and do a bit of crawling), and The Vault will have you navigating a laser room like a spy.

Admittedly, we didn't play through these rooms in their entirety, but were given a tour and allowed to try the first few puzzles in The Lab. It seemed to be relatively difficult, and definitely not suitable for only two players, though we did appreciate the chance to see the style of the rooms and some of the gadgetry in action.

The Exit Game is located at 111 N. Atlantic Blvd., Suite 148, Monterey Park. $28.

PanIQ Room

PanIQ Room has two completed rooms and one more opening very soon. We played through both of them in one night. We found this room to be well-designed and a lot of fun, with clever clues.

When we arrived, we were met by a host named Vash who played for us a series of videos that set up the feel of the rooms before we entered them and also provided us with a walkie-talkie, just in case we needed a hint.

In the first room, we were a group of military insurgents trapped in a bunker. We started in one small room from which a series of clues led us deeper into the bunker. This room had minor, but well-placed effects, including a running soundtrack that increased the adrenaline. You can expect to do a little climbing around alongside your puzzle solving as you uncover secret passageways and dark crawlspaces. With a team of four, we were able to escape this room without any hints.

Next, we attempted the Asylum. This creepier room requires you to figure your way out of the quarters of a former patient in a foreboding asylum. You and your teammates find yourselves in an ominous red-lit doctor's office with a dark ambient soundtrack. Hopefully, you'll soon find some light and navigate your way through the rest of the facility. We got hung up severely overthinking one clue, and luckily Vash was able to ping us over a provided walkie-talkie and prod us in the right direction. Once we had this hint, we were down to the wire, but managed to escape in the last 60 seconds.

Vash let us know that the next room, complete with a Mad Scientist theme, is his favorite of the three and will be opening up very soon.

PanIQ Room. 3393 Barham Blvd., Hollywood Hills. $159/team.

Trapped In A Room With A Zombie

This room isn't as hard as The Basement or Escape Room LA, but it does have one added challenge. You're in the laboratory of a scientist who accidentally pricked herself with a needle. Knowing she would turn into a zombie, she constructed an elaborate series of puzzles that only a clever human could decipher. She then chained herself up responsibly. However, her chain gets longer every five minutes. After an hour, she'll be feasting on your brains. While you look for clues, you're going to have to avoid her or figure out how to get her off your scent. If she touches you (and you can't touch her), you're out. You'll be able to verbally participate, but you won't be able to freely move around the room anymore.

This room doesn't have the same gory production values of the Basement, and its horror is more campy and light-hearted for those who are worried about being scared. This was the first room we attempted and were able to get out with a large group of strangers and a few hints. There is no actor in the room, but you will be joined by the room's host—we had a charismatic guy named Dylan—monitoring your activity and potentially prodding you in the right direction. When the game is over, he'll also tell you what he observed about each player and give each of you a special title.

This room also changes clues every few months, so you'll be able to try all new puzzles on future attempts. You can also do Trapped in other cities, as there are multiple versions of the same game throughout the U.S.

Trapped in a Room with a Zombie is at 2035 Bay Street in downtown. $28. Show times vary. Buy tickets here.

Escape Games: More Rooms To Get Locked In For Fun

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