It was a dark and stormy night. In 1947. And I was a Hollywood starlet, locked in the apartment of a serial murderer known as the Starlet Killer. I had one hour to figure out how to escape the place before the Starlet Killer returned and added me to his roster of victims. Thankfully I had friends with me... and thankfully it was just an escape room.
The first escape room was opened in Silicon Valley in 2006; today there are over 2,800 across the globe. The underlying gameplay in these rooms are the same: you and your friends are locked in a room. Within the room are clues, and successfullly solving the clues will get you out of the room, and into victory. But there's a time limit, and if you don't solve all the clues and complete the challenges you've lost. If you've ever moved statues around to trigger a hidden door in a video game you understand the basics of the room escape.
The challenge is a big part of what makes a room escape great - the level of difficulty, the teamwork required, the cleverness of the clues and puzzles - but that isn't the only thing that makes an escape room worthy. Rooms come with themes and stories as varied as the people who make them, and a good story can elevate a decent room into greatness.
The latest story at Captured LA, one of the many (many, many) escape rooms in the greater Los Angeles area, sends an already excellent escape room into the stratosphere. I'm a sucker for noirish mysteries, and in The Starlet Killer you're plopped down right in the middle of one. James Ellroy could have thought this tale up, and it comes complete with old timey radios, mysterious lockets and gruesome crime scene photos inspired by the Black Dahlia murder. I won't give away any of the secrets of The Starlet Killer but I will say that from the moment you enter the room you feel transported to a dingy version of the Golden Age of Hollywood, and as the lights flicker and lightning flashes outside boarded up windows, you feel the tension grow with each passing moment.
Working as a group my friends and I were able to piece together the clues we stumbled upon, and there's nothing as satisfying as hearing a latch click across the room when you're putting items in the right order or hearing the light bulb go off in your head as you suddenly realize what that weird item you found 40 minutes ago means for the entire puzzle. We made it to the final locks as the clock stalked towards the end of our hour, and we barely got out by the skin of our teeth (and the kindness of the proprietor, who gave us a couple of extra minutes after we lost a crucial item in the darkness). Along the way we had some frustrations, but mostly we had a lot of great moments of discovery and excitement, and almost everybody with us had their own eureka moment where they successfully pieced together clues that had been nagging at us.
As with all escape rooms your mileage will vary depending on the quality of the group you bring with you and your willingness to work together, but the puzzles in The Starlet Killer all felt reasonable, like they had a medium difficulty. Often we would understand how a puzzle had to be solved, but would have to spend time figuring out the clues that would allow us to get the solution. That means we always felt like we had goals, and were always moving forward - there were no moments where we stood around, stumped as to what we should do next. Every puzzle had enough difficulty to make them a challenge, but none felt like cheats or game breakers. Captured LA found the exact right middle ground that makes you work for achievable victories. And they wrapped it all up in a very, very cool LA crime package.
Captured LA is located in Downtown Los Angeles, and you can buy tickets and get more info here. But if you live in any big city there should be multiple escape room experiences near you, most of which are run by small business owners who just happen to love creating mysteries and puzzles. I can't recommend the experience enough, and I'd love to hear about the rooms from which you've escaped.