60 minutes. Clock hasn’t started yet. The door closes and I’m stuck in this room with my wife, father-in-law, sister-in-law, and two brother-in-laws. The good news is that I like all of them. The bad news is we have to solve a series of puzzles to successfully escape the room — something only 20% of participants have done.
“I think with all of the technology in our lives, people are looking for different things to do. People are naturally competitive,” said co-owner Joe Deasy to me in a phone interview before we attempted the Escape Room’s Dr. Stein’s Lab. We’re given a setup backstory about Dr. Stein and his research and how we have to solve puzzles to figure out his whereabouts. We all listen for clues, but we’re really just priming ourselves for 60 minutes of puzzle solving once that door closes.
Without giving away any specific insights or clues about Dr. Stein’s Lab, the six of us split up into 2-person teams and tackle a different sector of the room. My sister-in-law and I begin disassembling a lantern and flipping through some of Dr. Stein’s textbooks and notes, looking for any scrap of a clue to solve the series of puzzles that will provide us the code to get out.
The iPad tells us there’s about 30 minutes left. I kind of zone out for some reason. This happens to me periodically. I find myself just watching what’s going on around me and not actively participating. The other five are frantically working on different tasks. I have to snap out of this.
Deasy, 24, first did an Escape Room in Budapest two years ago. “From research, it looks like they started in Japan around 2011, 2012, then made it over to Eastern Europe. They’re still new to the United States,” he explained. That hasn’t stopped he and his cousin (co-owner Corey) from doing a bunch of them in the States and Canada for “research”. They went under-the-radar, not announcing they were owners of one in Pittsburgh. “The guy in Toronto sniffed us out,” he said with a chuckle.
Certain parts of the lab are marked with stickers to signify ‘Don’t Touch’ — like outlets — but everything else is fair game to be poked and prodded. The Escape Room is a true labor of love for Joe and Corey. “It’s been all DIY, which makes it really rewarding,” Joe said. It took the Deasys, plus their electrician friend, six months to get the abandoned storefront in Greenfield up to code. After that, it took them six months to build the two possible rooms.
In order to keep it fresh and keep getting repeat customers, Joe said they’re planning to completely change the room themes and puzzles every 12 months. They’re even scouting locations for a second Escape Room in Pittsburgh.
Our group makes a significant break through. There’s 15 minutes left. We can still do this. The whole room is crackling with newfound energy. All of us are engaged again. I’m out of my funk. It had never occurred to me that we won’t finish it.
I asked Joe who has been the quickest to solve the lab room. After thinking for a minute, he replied that a group from CMU solved it in 34 minutes. When we got to the Escape Room, that month’s record was 38 minutes. Drunk on over-confidence, I envisioned our group taking their place.
Time is ticking down. We solved the last sequence and are hurriedly doing some quick math to generate the potential code. We’re not going to break any time records; I’m just hoping we get out at all. My brother-in-law enters the code and presses the # key. Nothing. The iPad hits 0:00. The door clicks open and the lady running it comes in to show us what we did wrong. I don’t even make eye contact with her. I’m so disheartened.
Again, can’t give anything away, but we misinterpreted one part of the final code that will haunt me for a long time. Some of us recovered from the disappointment quickly — my one brother-in-law is smiling in our ‘loser picture’ — while others (OK, me) let it bother them all day. To be honest, I’m still bummed out.
To comfort ourselves, we walked next door to the excellent Hough’s Brewpub and had a fantastic lunch. Nothing that beer and a burger won’t alleviate. For a short while, anyway.