I'm blindfolded, stumbling down a corridor, my hands on the shoulders of the woman in front of me. Our mobile phones have been confiscated. The laughter of ten minutes ago has died in my throat. The air in the room becomes a little cooler. Our shambolic procession stops. I hear a key turn in a lock.
I'm road-testing Strike Wintergarden's new Escapism experience and, though this is just the prelude, I've already started to hyperventilate. Spring-boarding off the popularity of forensic television shows such as NCIS, Law & Order, Elementary, Bones, Luther and so many more, Escapism at Strike Wintergarden offers three interactive, immersive, real-life puzzle rooms where participants become part of the story.
My three fellow captives and I rip off our blindfolds to find ourselves in what is called The Garden. It sounds innocent and even a little enchanting - if it weren't for the fact that we're trapped. I try the door. Nope, definitely locked. Our task is to unravel the mystery of our presence here by finding hidden objects, solving riddles, cracking clues and escaping the locked room in 50 minutes or less.
These escape rooms are the latest addition to the entertainment arsenal of Strike, the same company which dimmed the lights, pumped up the volume and made ten pin bowling cool again. They did the same with laser tag, offering themed areas, scintillating storylines, individual soundscapes and state of the art weaponry. Escapism is billed as the ultimate team-building activity, but it's even better with friends and family. (Personally, the last people I'd like to be locked in a room with are some of my colleagues.)
Ghosts work in mysterious ways. Image courtesy Strike.
I'd like to say the collective brilliance of my group made it a doddle but that would be a lie. Rather, we hunted high and low, racked our memories, invented bizarre theories, tested multiple hypotheses, argued incessantly with each other, pursued fruitless hunches and even resorted to Freudian psychoanalysis at one particularly desperate point. All this, and still we didn't even get close to cracking the case. But actually, it didn't matter, because it was such absorbing fun the 50 minutes felt more like 15. And just to quell those ripples of frustration, staff take you through any sticking points at the conclusion of your adventure.
There are two other rooms to choose from - the far more sinister-sounding Butcher's Burrow (in which you're kidnapped and chained up in a room containing a severed hand on a plate) and Forensic (in which you're part of a team of investigators on the trail of a serial killer). And if you don't solve the puzzle within the allocated 50 minutes? Well, as Escapism's staffers say, legally they have to let you out. Eventually.