What I Learned From Being Locked In A Room

This past weekend, I decided that I wanted to celebrate my birthday by getting locked in a room with a bunch of strangers for an hour, then being tasked with escaping before a timer went off. The experience is called Escape the Room NYC, and essentially, it’s a real life version of those colored room browser games that were so popular in the late '90s and early 2000s — y’know, the Crimson Room, the Viridian Room, and so on. (Yeah, I'm cool like that.)

Once you’re locked into your room with your group, you have to look for clues and solve puzzles in order to find the key that will allow you to make your escape. There are three different experiences to choose from: The Office, The Agency, and The Home. The Office can be played by up to 10 people at a time and involves escaping your workplace before your boss comes back (or else you’ll be stuck there forever); The Agency, for up to eight players, is all James Bond-y and spy-themed; and The Home, for up to six players, has a mysterious, Victorian flavor to it. I did The Home, and doing it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Seriously.

You’d be surprised what you can learn, by the way, from trying to escape from a locked room with a bunch of strangers. I don’t want to give too much away about the game itself — it just wouldn’t do to spoil it for you all — but here are the seven biggest life lessons I took away from the experience.

1. You can make friends with just about anyone

Teamwork is essential in high-stakes situations, so it behooves you to make friends with everyone — even if you probably wouldn’t hang out together IRL. Introductions were a little awkward — three out of the five members of our group had unusual names, which made for a lot of "I'm sorry, can you say it again?" — and we didn't have much to say to each other in the way of small talk before we entered the room. Once the key was turned, though, we split up, started scouring the room, and made sure to call everyone over if one of us found something. Making an effort to get along makes it that much easier to work together.

2. The things you work for the hardest are the most rewarding

One of the puzzles we had to wrap our brains around involved finding the combination for an electronic lockbox. Sure, we probably could have strong-armed our way into the box simply by trying out every possible combination without bothering to look for any clues — but what would the fun be in that? We all felt so very proud of ourselves when we finally figured it out.

3. It’s okay to accept help, even if you haven’t asked for it

Normally, Escape the Room experiences allow you to ask for a hint twice over the course of your escape. You’ve got an Escape the Room team member in the room with you, both for safety reasons and to stop you from cheating. Our proctor dropped us a few hints when we were close to working something out, but maybe needed just a tiny little nudge to get there. And there is no shame in taking help when it’s offered, so put away your pride and just say “thank you.”

4. Never underestimate the worth of random knowledge

Is there any reason why I need to know what a planchette is in my day-to-day life? No, there is not. But that doesn’t mean that having that little tidbit of trivia stored in my noggin doesn’t occasionally come in handy — especially when, y’know, trying to get out of a room that looks like Sherlock Holmes’ study on crack.

5. It pays to think outside the box

The ability to draw connections between seemingly unrelated things and use objects in ways they may not be intended to be used can definitely serve you well when it comes to problem solving. Whether that problem involves an unexpected word association that will help you escape from a locked room, or whether it's figuring out how to market your company’s newest offering.

6. Don’t get distracted by all the noise

When you’re picking through a crazy room full of stuff ranging from a chess set to a vial of cinnamon (really!), it can be hard to tell what might help you and what’s just there to distract you. So, too, in life: Don’t let the background noise pull you away from the things that really matter.

7. Just because you failed at something doesn’t mean you’re a failure

There’s a Samuel Beckett quote I always come back to when I’m feeling particularly down about something: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” We managed to escape the room literally at the last second — but if we hadn’t, I almost certainly would have wanted to go back and do it again until I succeeded — or rather, until I failed better. Success is relative: if you’ve managed to get something out of an experience, it was worth doing, even if you didn’t “win.”

Interested in Escaping the Room yourself? Get more info here. Happy puzzling!

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