4 years at Escape Rooms

4 Years at Escape Rooms

I have worked in a café, garden centre, car factory, flour mill, pub, and escape game. Quite a variety, and each with their instructions in human nature. It was the last, however— ‘Escape Rooms’—that has, after four years, left the deepest imprint.

Just so we’re on the same page, an escape game involves being locked in a themed room full of puzzles, in which teams must work together to escape within an hour. Think Crystal Maze without the crystals, or Takeshi’s Castle without the brutality. The concept arose from phone apps before turning tangible. Our own company was, I think, the third such game in London. There are now dozens, attesting to their explosion in popularity. We are a small company of two venues, preferring quality to quantity, but there are now escape game companies from Dubai to Norway, Romania to New Zealand.

My interview involved playing one of the games. I was terrible, so they must have seen something else in me. I was soon officially a ‘Game Master’: introducing teams, telling back-stories about the game, and watching them on-screen, with a walkie-talkie to provide the occasional ‘hint’ (no more than three to make it on the coveted wall of fame). Two years later, we opened another venue, in Angel, with another two games. Trained on all four, I continued in this role before briefly becoming one of the managers.

I mentioned ‘instruction in human nature’. This was unavoidable—and equal parts funny and depressing. Observing families, colleagues, and friends stuck in a room together reveals among other things, for instance, dire levels of literacy. Bankers who strut it wearing Rolex watches frequently ask me to define ‘simultaneous’ without any evident embarrassment. Teachers—teachers!—have asked me to explain the difference between rows and columns. Given the hint to search for digits, teams often reply, ‘We haven’t found any letters.’ And the query, ‘Can I ask you a yes or no question?’ is self-evidently annoying. But teams may also edify. We have a Rubik’s Cube in the lobby, and it’s always children who manage to solve it. One team playing the Pharaoh’s Chamber claimed to be distant relations of Howard Carter, the man who discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun.

I’ll miss this place. I’ll miss the unexpected variety and delightfulness of customers, from Waughian reactionary to Sheikh to builder to professional Rubik’s cube solvers (seriously). I’ll miss Martin Freeman and Woody Harrelson, both of whom popped in (not together) without notice or fanfare. I’ll miss the email we received, from out of the blue, from the actor who played Mike Teevee in the original Willy Wonka movie. I’ll miss my colleagues, who hailed from as far as Pakistan, the Philippines, Bermuda, and the north. I’ll miss the bald chap who walked into a door. I’ll miss the visitor who mistook us for a sauna. I’ll miss my old manager’s French bulldog, Malcolm, who baptised customers with his tireless tongue. I’ll miss our mascot Colin, literally a skeleton in the closet. And I’ll miss feeling at home here, belonging, being known.

This job has sustained me through my first years in London, providing structure, friendships, and of course rent money. But I shall never see it in purely instrumental terms. As I move on to the next job, I will not forget my time here. Je ne regrette rien.

By Oscar Yuill