Two board game connoisseurs are offering a new type of entertainment in which participants are locked in a room for an hour, working together to escape.
On Feb. 12, Ethan Rodriguez-Torrent ’13 and Max Sutter ’11 opened Escape New Haven on 111 Whitney Ave. The room escape challenge has teams of two to nine people who attempt to solve a series of brain teasers in order to break out of the room as Sutter and Rodriguez-Torrent monitor the team and administer clues via a computer from a separate control room. Puzzles and hints can include anything within the room: Furniture, books, coded messages and locks could all be the key to escaping — or a red herring.
“We take a team of people, we stick them in a scenario, we close the door behind them and say, ‘You have 60 minutes to escape. Go,’” said Rodriguez-Torrent.
Room escape games have been surfacing in the past year across the country, opening in Washington, D.C., New Jersey and New York City over the past few months. They derive from a sub-genre of video games, exemplified by the online escape game, “Crimson Room”, in which players find items in a room that provide clues on how to escape.
Non-virtual escape gaming began in Japan in 2007, and the trend began spreading to the east coast of the U.S. in early 2014. Rodriguez-Torrent first had the idea to bring the concept to New Haven after playing at a room escape venue in New York City.
“I liked the concept,” said Rodriguez-Torrent. “I started brainstorming about how to do it better.”
Sutter and Rodriguez-Torrent started a prototype of the game last summer and found that their friends enjoyed the challenge. They subsequently decided to expand it into a business. Since opening the escape room, the duo has had to add new weekend time slots to accommodate growing demand. Slots often fill up weeks in advance, said Rodriguez-Torrent.
According to one team of Yale graduates, Escape New Haven’s scenarios are mental challenges.
“It makes you paranoid,” said Alexandra Nasser ’12 after “semi-successfully” completing the puzzle with her friends. “And you learn to let go of your ideas.”
Nasser said her team escaped the room but broke an object in the room in the process.
Both Nasser and Beza Getachew ’12, who played on Nasser’s team, said they would definitely return to Escape New Haven.
Rodriguez-Torrent predicted that future players will likely include Yale students seeking to bring glory to their residential colleges. He added that he hopes to make Escape New Haven the University’s next intramural sport. The college to beat would be Davenport, as a group of Davenport students recently became the first team to escape the library scenario — one of three possible rooms — without using hints. They clocked in at only 52 minutes and 28 seconds.
Roughly 10 percent of participants so far have successfully escaped without clues, and 30 percent have succeeded with clues.
In addition to the library scenario, the venue currently offers a workshop room and a studio room. Rodriguez-Torrent and Sutter intend to replace scenarios on a rotating basis every three months to keep the experience fresh. The two accept ideas for new scenarios both on their website and directly from teams that attempt the puzzle at the venue.
Student tickets cost $22.