First-person account: The Great Escape (Almost)

First-person account: The Great Escape (Almost)

Madison Chan, Staff Writer

Editor’s note: The following is a first-person account of staff writer Madison Chan’s experience at an escape game with her friends. To learn more about the growing trend of escape games, check out editor-in-chief Katie Matthews’s story here.

My four companions and I stood in a small, sparsely furnished room. Some pieces of luggage were piled against one wall. Against the opposite wall, a desk dominated the blank space, upon which two briefcases lay. But our attention was held by the figure standing in the doorway.

“You have 60 minutes.” Then the voice fell silent, and the figure withdrew. The door clicked shut. We were locked in. And for a brief second, our eyes met. Then someone screamed.


As if we’d all been simultaneously shocked with a taser, we jumped and sprinted to separate corners of the room, flinging luggage and briefcases in our desperation to find the key to escaping.

I found something! I found someth- cards? What am I supposed to do with cards?

Has anyone found a key?

How are you even supposed to- someone help me!

Oh, oh, oh! I know what to do!

I got it open! I- what are these, poker chips?

No, we were not the victims of a kidnapping. In fact, we weren’t being held against our will at all—quite the opposite, in fact. We paid for people to lock us up in this room together. This was Knoxville’s Which Way Out, one of the latest in a series of escape room games that have spread like wildfire.

As for being locked in, it was far less daunting than any of us had thought. Far more terror-inducing was the red digital clock on the wall, slowly counting down the time we had to escape the room.

While it became increasingly obvious that none of us was the next Sherlock Holmes, we had our small share of successes. There was nothing quite as satisfying as the click of a lock opening…but also nothing as disappointing as realizing that there was yet another puzzle inside. And the puzzles were challenging, no doubt about that.

Without revealing too many of the game’s ins and outs, we were asked to do just about everything you could imagine. From basic crossword puzzles to using your sense of smell, from paying attention to minute details to connecting patterns, every challenge was different.

At one point, as I was fiddling with an extremely difficult lock, my friend ran up to me with a container and demanded, “Does this smell like oranges to you?” But more often than not, the most difficult part was simply figuring out what the question was.

I sat in the floor with 13 playing cards spread around me. And for the life of me, I could not figure out what do with them. I counted by suit, color, card, paired them, stacked them, sorted them, inspected every square inch of every card and still met my defeat at the hand of these few scattered playing cards.

My friend had more luck plotting a course on a map using masking tape, which revealed a secret message. Overall, our venture could best be described as rapid vacillation between “I’ve got it!” and “Ah, never mind, don’t got it.”

We were allowed three extra clues from the supervisors for use whenever we needed it. That turned out to be one of the most anxiety-inducing parts of the game. “Should we use a clue?” “No, we’re desperate, but we’re not that desperate.” “What about now?” “Okay, now we’re really desperate, but we might be more desperate later.” (By this point we were all sweating, and panicking unnecessarily; no one should be in that much panic unless he or she is literally being chased down by a bear.)

With three minutes left, there was a lot of screaming. We were at the end. We were so close. (Of course, we really weren’t, but we continued to delude ourselves as we became more and more invested in the game.) “Someone pass me the next piece of the puzzle!”

With two minutes left, we were throwing the pieces.

With one minute left, we had abandoned all semblance of order and were jamming the pieces anywhere they might go. Arms flailed, pieces soared, voices rose in pitch and frequency.

5…4…3…2…1… BEEEEEP.

The timer ran out and showed a depressing “00:00”.  We all slumped as we realized that we had failed. But we’d also just had the most exciting hour of our lives. For not actually being in a dangerous undertaking, the thrill of solving the case and the promise of glorious success had certainly been an adventure. The staff also informed us that watching us run around screaming for an hour had been extremely entertaining for them as well. That’s nice.

After we paused to take a goofy picture, holding signs that said, “We got out (almost)”, we stepped out into the cool air, talking nonstop about our many struggles and triumphs. I was pleasantly surprised that the game had something for everyone; it tested your logic, trivia skills, attention to detail and ability to think outside the box, and allowed you take something just seriously enough to rush to the last second but at the same time, laugh the entire time.