Sunday, March 26, 2017

I am a Fox

Last night I played an escape room challenge called the Mad Fox society.  I won't be spoiling any of the puzzles directly, at least in part because my team got the best time to date of over 600 teams and I don't want to get beat!  We are all Mad Foxes now, whatever that means.

The game has a success rate of about 11% and has a time limit of one hour.  We won in 44:32, and the second team that went after us won in 57 minutes.  They had some technical difficulties though, so it is hard to compare.

I really enjoyed the game in general.  There were a large variety of puzzles from word puzzles, crosswords, visual puzzles, and math problems.  Plus there were some puzzles that I don't even know how to describe without giving them away completely.  This escape room was somewhat different from the first time I tried it a few years ago because there was a GM with us in the room to keep us on track.  She didn't solve puzzles for us but she kept us from completely misinterpreting things and going totally off track.  For example, one clue contained a > symbol, which I took to be 'greater than'.  It was intended to be an arrow though, and having someone to clarify that seems quite reasonable.  Figuring out that it was supposed to be an arrow was not supposed to be part of the challenge!

Unlike my first experience with escape games this one didn't have much of a physical component.  In my first game I had to yank a chunk of furniture off a wall and succeed at a puzzle that required strength, dexterity, and communication.  This one was purely a mental exercise because every physical manipulation required was extremely straightforward and you couldn't fail.  In this particular group of hardcore geeks and puzzle nerds I think I am a lot more valuable as the jock than as just another geek, so I didn't have the same defined role as last time.

This time I mostly solo solved a math/algebra puzzle.  One thing that made me a bit disappointed was that the GM gave me a hint about how to solve it halfway through even though I didn't ask for one.  I suspect the great majority of people would struggle with it, which is why she gave me the hint, but I really wanted to do it all myself.  Looking at the line of reasoning I was following I am sure I would have gotten it but it would have taken me an extra ten or twenty seconds without the clue.  I would have felt a lot better about that had I done it without any assistance at all.

One thing I really enjoyed about the game was that you didn't have to solve everything.  There were a couple small things we didn't quite finish but we were able to figure out how to proceed anyway.  It is an interesting twist to have people guessing at an answer with only partial knowledge and the dilemma of locking in guesses vs. grinding away at puzzles to be absolutely sure is one I enjoy.  You only have so much time and brainpower and trying to make leaps to get on to the next stage without doing everything is a cool strategy.

The only real downside to escape rooms is the cost.  I spent $32 for 45 minutes of entertainment and while I don't feel bad about that (because it was a lot of fun!) it is a really expensive way to spend time.  The trick is probably to look at it as the cost for an entire evening and spend time before and after socializing and discussing the puzzles.  It certainly provided a lot to talk about and consider so looking at it in that light is best, rather than a simple $/min calculation.

However, that is still enough money that I can't really make myself want to do it all the time.  I think if I suddenly had boatloads of money I would do every escape room available though.  It is a hobby that makes me feel good in all kinds of ways and I like that it is something I can pursue with a bunch of other people that isn't an environmental mess, which an awful lot of group activities are.

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