California, Jan 2017
2nd on my mini tour of Los Angeles area Escape Rooms was The Fun House at Cross Roads Escape Rooms. This room is based in the Anaheim area, not that far from Disneyland. Quite apt, given the Fun House pokes a sarcastic stick at the Circus/Magic/Fantasy theme. As a “pick-up” format game, you could in theory be paired up with strangers, but in this instance, our team of five had exclusive use of the room.
A marvellous giant clown’s mouth forms the first door you enter, and you’re immediately placed into a room with a huge number of pictures, drawings, cartoon-type door locks and a few carefully placed artefacts. To a degree, it’s an overwhelming beginning, trying to decode the myriad puzzles on every wall, numbers, locks, keyholes the size of an iPhone. Eventually, we got our teeth into something, and began making progress.
This is a good point to talk about the most impressive part of the room – the gamesmaster. Totally in character (and brilliantly acted) was Zoltar the Magician. With sarcastic humour, self-deprecation and witty observations about our efforts throughout, it added a significant amount to the hour. We genuinely laughed out loud a dozen times at his interjections, and some hilarious deliberate set-piece jokes as part of the puzzle flow are made even funnier with the on going voiceover. To do this, the gamesmaster must be completely paying attention at all times, and having been on the other side of the locked door many times, I appreciate the skill and concentration needed for doing this. The gamesmaster/player interactions are a key aspect of escape rooms, and the worst rooms I’ve ever done have been where that did not exist. It does not cost anything, just needs people who care about what they’re doing (for a living). Zoltar also encouraged the quieter team members to be more involved, making them the conduit for help. Very inclusive and something for other rooms to consider.
If we needed a hint, they were forthcoming, but only if we did something in return – a cheesy Zoltar complement, a impromptu juggling act, 20 push ups. It just made the hint system good fun, and we felt like we’d earned those rewards.
The room itself wasn’t terribly challenging. There were a couple of stretches – one puzzle involving animals was a little disjointed, and felt a bit out of place, but everything else was seamless and, well, without spoiling things, there were some magical set pieces that were impressive and timely. Equal measures of sarcastic comedy and Alice in Wonderland.
This wasn’t a panicked, stressful hour, we glided through the puzzle fairly serenely, and rarely hit a brick wall for more than a few minutes. Good levels of parallelisation helped somewhat, and a couple of more physical challenges added some variety to the proceedings.
Even if you can’t make it cross-Atlantic to check this room out, Cross Roads Escape Rooms have some fairly revealing YouTube videos on their site which are worth watching – they show glimpses of the top notch theming and decor, but without giving away any clues to the puzzles whatsoever. Rooms are always very twitchy about seeing behind the locked door, but these videos balance well between realising this is something special, and not spoiling the surprise.
We escaped with 41 minutes on the clock – for a fairly inexperienced overall team, that was not a bad attempt. I would expect expert teams to manage this inside 30 minutes, but that would, to a degree, be missing the point. This is an escape room to savour, to enjoy and dare I say it, relax in a little.