If you don’t know what an "Escape Room" is yet, chances are you will soon.
The concept was born in Japan a decade ago but has exploded in popularly around the globe over the past few years - especially in Eastern Europe.
What exactly is it?
It's very simple: you (and some friends) are locked in a room. You need to find clues, objects, keys to open safes, activate some mechanisms, solve riddles, etc.
Your only goal: Get out of the room.
3 Poker Pros Walk Into a Room
When the European Poker Tour stopped in Malta a few weeks ago we sent three Team PokerStars poker pros to an Escape Room to see if their combined poker brain power would help them with this challenge.
Those three pros: Fatima Moreira de Melo from the Netherlands, Theo Jorgensen from Denmark and Luca Pagano from Italy.
Before the game began they were all quite excited to try their hand at the challenge. Among the three only Theo had already tried his hand at Escape Rooms before (and failed).
“I played twice in Krakow with my family," Jorgensen said. "The themes were 'Secret Room' and 'The Planet of the Apes.' We failed and I thought that both were really tough. I don’t imagine it will be any easier today!”
Luca had never heard of Escape Rooms, but Fatima had:
“I work with a lot of TV projects and one of the cameramen I work with had already done a video about it in the Netherlands and told me a bit about it. He said it was very clever, so I’m curious to see it from the inside. It does look fun.”
Our three challengers weren’t too optimistic about the outcome, though. Said Fatima: “We will do our best, of course. But that doesn’t mean we will succeed. But it’s not all about winning, it’s also about the experience.”
The pros seemed to be counting on Luca’s reasoning. “He has a calmer personality," said Fatima. "He’s able to solve things." To which Theo added, “He will be great. He is our captain after all!”
Luca, the “brain” of the team, also had something to say:
“So an Italian, a Dane and a Dutchwoman are locked in a room... It sounds like the start of a joke. (laughs) Let’s see how it goes.”
Sand, Pyramids & Gas Masks
Our three adventurers found themselves in Egypt, which was the easiest (60% success) of the three Escape Rooms available at Scavenger Escape Malta, which opened in March 2016 in Sliema, Malta.
Once they were introduced to the concept they entered the darkness of an Egyptian souk and the timer started with 60 minutes to get out.
Even if the three prisoners found the first riddles quickly, they were harder to solve than it seemed. But 15 minutes later we witnessed the first high-five between Luca and Theo after they solved the Roberval scale riddle.
With a little luck our three heroes quickly reached the second room where they found themselves wondering what to do. Sand, a pyramid, rocks and a gas mask ... as soon as Luca put the mask on the game master sent them some smoke for fun.
After half an hour, they asked for their first clue. But time flies and they only had a few minutes left when they finally got into the tomb where mysterious statues surround them.
The clock ticked, they asked for their last clue... but they were stuck.
“Game over, time is up!”
They were close but our pros didn’t manage to escape.
“Hard, but Fun!”
“I’m feeling so dumb," said an angry Theo when he got out of the room. “I think we failed pretty bad but I was proud of us sometimes.”
Fatima, on the other hand, wasn't as critical of their performance.
“We did find a lot of things. But it’s really not easy.”
“I thought we were doing well at the start," said Theo, frustrated by the difficulty of the riddles. “But it was fun. Much more fun than I thought.
"It’s definitely the best Escape Room I’ve been to, by far. It’s really good.”
“I knew I would be the first one to give up and that Fatima would quickly be next, while Luca would just keep going. If it was up to him we would be in there for 4 hours before taking a clue.
"He was so angry when me and Fatima asked for one!” (laughs)
Fatima: “It’s definitely a lot of fun! The hardest part is figuring out what is real, what is useful and what is not.
"Sometimes you ignore something you shouldn’t. We got tricked by the statues at the end, they all look the same. Time doesn’t matter that much, you just need to focus on what you have to do.”
The trio had such a good time that they already wanted to come back the next day.
“Let’s just do the same one again,” joked Fatima. In the end there was no follow-up but Luca told us later that they would try again in Prague for the last stop of the EPT this December.
Neither Better or Worse
So how did our poker pros fare compared to the average Escape Roomer?
“Neither better nor worse than everyone else,” says Michael Pedersen, who came from Denmark to run this Escape Room, owned by one of his friends.
“It’s team work, but it’s still quite personal. The hardest thing for people is to work together.
"You know how it is: in a group there is always someone who has a big influence. This can be a distraction and prevent you from focusing on your instinct.”
"Some people work better with teammates and take advantage of the variety of minds but it can also create some conflict.”
“The best teams are the teams where everyone works as an individual but also as a teammate. So when an idea doesn’t work out someone else can take the lead and find the solution, or someone else can have a go, etc.”
Where Can I Try One?
While our top pros couldn't solve the challenge it’s easy to understand why Escape Rooms have grown so popular.
Not only is it profitable for whoever owns or runs it (fees range from €20-€30/person depending on how big the team is), but it’s also an original, interactive, immersive and accessible game for people of all ages.
There are already thousands in the world and and several often in the same city. Budapest, for example, has over 20, and you can find more than 200 in Moscow!
You can also find a lot of online Escape Rooms from very simple (in Flash and free-to-play) to complex ones with great design.
Try one out yourself, or check the video below to get a sense of it.