I’ve always fancied myself as something of a sleuth, so when the brains behind Chester’s newest attraction RoomsQuest extended an invitation for a ‘crack team of Houdinis’ from The Chronicle to try it out I couldn’t pass it up.
Having rounded up a team of four escape room novices, our first challenge was to actually find the place.
Tucked away in the east wing of Chester railway station behind a green door with just an ‘A’ board outside announcing its location, up a flight of stairs and off an otherwise nondescript corridor lies an experience which features aspects of cult 90s TV shows Fort Boyard and The Crystal Maze.
We were greeted by RoomsQuest’s charming owner Rob Wilkinson, who delivered a passionate and insightful spiel about the origins of escape rooms.
With a nod to that 1979 Remington advert in which its president proclaimed he liked the razor so much he bought the company, Rob explained that he loved the rooms he has tried so much he decided to trade in his light engineering business for a piece of the booming industry. He revealed six escape rooms have launched in Liverpool alone over the past 12 months.
Save for putting up the walls himself, Rob has painstakingly devised all the puzzles, visited endless auctions for props and designed all the rooms – with two more in the pipeline, there will be three in total – in a real labour of love.
But what does it actually involve?
The premise of RoomsQuest couldn’t sound more straightforward: “Solve the problems... Escape the room.”
In a nutshell, teams of between three and five must work together to decipher the clues and crack the padlock combinations to escape from a locked room within 60 minutes.
For better or for worse we were left to our own devices, ‘trapped’ in the cloak room of a casino.
As journalists, we should be well-versed in spotting subtleties and not readily taking things at face value, so I was feeling pretty confident
We got off to a promising start cracking the combinations to a few of the many padlocks dotted around the room and uncovering some all-important clues, but as the minutes ticked by my optimism started to dwindle.
After about 15 minutes, Rob appeared through one of the windows to give us a gentle nudge not to be too polite in our approach and to get more stuck-in.
On our hands and knees we went scouring for hints and codes to not much avail so the pointers on the computer screen started to come thick and fast.
It’s funny how your mind works when confronted with a situation like this, lurching from taking clues too literally or discounting them as red herrings because they seem too obvious.
Some of my colleagues steadfastly refused when I asked them if they wanted to come along, saying they were never any good at maths at school so they didn’t think they’d be much help.
But escape rooms are by no means numbers games, so don’t let that put you off.
Rob, who is dyslexic, explained later that it’s less about the numbers and more about how your mind works.
Alas, the room got the better of us and we failed miserably in our attempt to escape within one hour.
I have a sneaking suspicion we may well have still been on the wrong side of the door given another hour.
I’m taking comfort from Rob’s words about how the first time is always the hardest as you’re not quite sure what to expect.
But we had a real giggle and it made a nice change from our usual post-work excursions which consist of chewing the fat over a pint, which is why RoomsQuest would be an ideal choice for team-building activities, hen and stag dos or just an outing with mates.
On that note, I’m off to pit my wits against one of the many escape room apps so I don’t have to brandish ‘the room beat us’ sign next time.
Have you tried RoomsQuest yet? Let us know in the comments below or tweet us @ChesterChron.