Escape rooms, for one reason or another, have experienced a surge in popularity in the last decade. Perhaps it’s because we love to watch others struggling with complex challenges, perplexing puzzles and ludicrous labyrinths on television (The Crystal Maze, anyone?) howling at the screen while the frantic, fumbling participants crack under pressure. We know full well that we could do a better job – although most of us don’t really fancy taking our chances before the judgmental eyes of the nation.

Well, this is where escape rooms come in. It’s a great opportunity to challenge yourself, to find out if you’re really as smart as you think you are, and whether you crumble in a crisis or come out calm and collected on top. It appeals to our competitive nature, except in this case that you’re working with a team, joining forces to take on the room together.

Visit Nottinghamshire like to think of ourselves as a brainy bunch, so we couldn’t resist trying our luck. We head to Escapologic, a stone’s throw from the Broadmarsh shopping centre, to find out if we can beat them at their own game.

We meet our guide for the evening, the mischievous and friendly Tom, whose wit and warped sense of humour becomes apparent almost immediately. He leads us to our escape room, the mysteriously-named Curio, which turns out to be a hexagon-shaped old-fashioned living room, filled to the rafters with travel-related items such as compasses, maps and hats. We learn that this is the home of Alexander Curio, a legendary explorer who has spent a lifetime collecting trinkets from all four corners of the globe and now uses his treasure to lure unsuspecting, would-be thieves to his home, like some sort of twisted Indiana Jones.

Our aim, Tom explains, is to find Alexander Curio’s pride and joy, a huge crystal (what is it with crystals?), as this glittering gem is the only way to escape the room.

Tom seems to sense that we’re mildly apprehensive – most of us have little to no experience with escape rooms – so he puts us at ease with wry humour and outrageous tales of some of the things he’s seen happen in the room while supervising through the cameras. They do have a couple of frightening escape rooms, he tells us, such as Howitz, a terrifying toy shop, or Butcher, which, well, speaks for itself. Curio, however, has been played by children as young as 10, although Tom notes that these particular intrepid explorers sadly did not make it out.

Reassured, we’re raring to go. The hour-long escape room experience begins as soon as Tom closes the door behind him, although his rather dramatic parting question - ‘Do any of you have motion sickness?’ – leaves us scratching our heads for a moment.

It would be a barefaced lie to say that during our first few minutes in captivity, we worked logically, methodically and as a cohesive and efficient unit. Instead, 10 minutes of rather frantic scrabbling around ensued, as we pressed, pulled, twisted and turned everything we could get our hands on in the room (and trust us, there’s a lot to play with). 

Eventually one of our group seized upon the first clue and this is where the game begins in earnest. It isn’t long before we discover the room’s huge secret; a real game-changer that will leave your head spinning and your mind whirling – but we’re not telling.

The game has distinct sections composed of multi-step puzzles. Often, it takes a while to even find the puzzle in the first place, let alone begin to solve it. Thankfully, Tom keeps a watchful eye throughout, and from time to time his voice floats through the antique radio with a cryptic clue to get you back on the right track. You really have to think outside the box (well, room), and there are red herrings left right and centre to throw you off. The attention to detail is so precise that it’s easy to forget that this is all an elaborate set-up, and not just, you know, your life now.

Yet in the midst of all the impressive contraptions, painstaking puzzle design and jaw-dropping realism, perhaps the most interesting thing of all is the people inside the room and how they react to the game. The relationship between the team members develops as you progress; the group dynamic is, well, dynamic – people fall into different roles, and individual strengths and weaknesses come to light. It’s an intriguing thought experiment, a fascinating insight into the human psyche. If only we could be a fly on the wall.

Time passes and our team cracks code after code and completes puzzle after puzzle, becoming increasingly effective as a unit, revelling in our successes and supporting one another through the frustrations and failures. There’s no timer to be seen, but the music increases in intensity to raise the pressure, providing an unmistakeable indication that your time is running out. The spine-tingling soundtrack raises to a final countdown crescendo while we’re battling with a particularly intense puzzle and … that’s it. Time’s up.

Tom re-enters and is brimming with awe and regret on our behalf; unbeknownst to us, we were actually on the brink of escape when the time ran out. Another 30 seconds and we’d have made it. We were painfully, devastatingly close – although we feel slightly better when he tells us that this is their most difficult room, and in fact only 10% of people successfully make it out. Knowing that we did better than the average certainly softens the blow to our pride somewhat.

But despite our best efforts, ultimately we failed to escape, and so, tragically, we’re writing this blog from Alexander Curio’s living room. We’re settling in for the long haul. Visit Nottinghamshire, over and out… (or not). 

This blog was written by Sophie Milne, Communications Executive at Visit Nottinghamshire.

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Thrills, suspense, mystery and horror await in our incredible rooms! Every locked door in Escapologic opens on another world.

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