I’m not a celebrity, but get me out of here!

Locked in a room, my every move under observation. That’s exactly where I thought I would end up when I ventured from Monument station to George Yard in London.

In a courtyard off Gracechurch Street, a small sign outside the building instructed me to press the doorbell and descend to where Escape Entertainment sits, home to “The Bank Heist”, and other escape rooms. The slightly dilapidated elevator only heightened the atmosphere of the underground playground for your brain that is an escape room.

Escape Entertainment: A trilby rests on a retro telephone receiver

Death Trap or Ocean’s Eleven?

The premise of an escape room is that you’re in a closed environment – though of course not trapped, as everything is constantly monitored by employees – and you need to solve clues to get out of there before the set time runs out. There are no consequences, but success feels sweet indeed and bragging rights are well earned! Depending on the type of escape room, there can be different caveats, or themes to them. In Toronto, Canada, I saw an advertisement for Escape Game’s “The Unknown” last summer, and it had an 18+ restriction with little else known, while other attractions of this kind were explicit in their shock and horror value.

As more of a fun-loving gal I much more appreciated the light-hearted nature of going through “The Bank Heist”, especially getting to know everyone who was stuck in the same situation – pun intended! The wave of escape rooms is only just trickling into the UK, with London the main chance for outsiders and Londoners alike to test out their brains and brawn. Trip Advisor lists escape rooms in the top 20 of London attractions, outranking the London Eye or even Camden Lock Market – testimony to the excitement that this kind of challenge brings with it.

Escape Entertainment has multiple set-ups for the bank heist mission, perfect for competitive visitors and also good for bigger groups to go through the same experience in a unique way. Up to 6 people can go into a room for this layout, and with six rooms running in parallel it can get busy – don’t be surprised if you can hear the neighbouring group getting excited as they solve their way through the clues. The other current attraction is the Prohibition-era “Speakeasy”, of which there are two rooms that host 10 people each.

Escape Entertainment: Space galore

Team players only, no room for egos

The other thing I appreciated about the bank heist was that there were plenty of puzzles to be solved simultaneously, giving everyone something to do. It never felt like anyone was dominating getting clues because of this, and there was no chance to feel dumb, as the helpful watching eyes phoned in every now and then to check if you were feeling frustrated or getting stuck on something, and offering a clue or a nudge in the right direction via a mystery telephone. And if you really felt like you were going nowhere you could call the hosts and they would provide a clue in exchange for a minute of your time. Of course, I didn’t let my team sacrifice any precious time!

It’s incredible how much work goes into the escape rooms. Working with Hollywood set designers to create a degree of authenticity, but also making sure everything is durable and easy to set back into place after a group finishes in time for the next to arrive, means that you get caught up enough in the game to not worry about being too dim to solve things or not, but also never losing sight of this being a fun activity.

Escape rooms were initially designed with adults in mind, specifically gamers, as the first escape room was created in Silicon Valley in 2006. Still, it’s taken about a decade to hit off, with now more than 2800 escape rooms in the world operating. It’s no surprise they are such a success as age, gender, physical ability and other factors are rendered completely irrelevant – it’s all about team work. Hence such activities are popular with workplaces for team-building exercises.

Escape Entertainment: Staircase to nowhere

The versatility of escape rooms means they’re also a great choice for something like a hen or stag do, as it forces people to get to know one another better. My escape room experience, courtesy of Maximise who offer this activity in London, Barcelona, Berlin and other major European cities, brought me together with relative strangers, but there was never an awkward moment of attempting to get to know each other as it naturally happened in the course of the activity.

I know I’ll be coming back, not just to finally get a group photo after successfully navigating a room, but also because there are more rooms to explore. The novelty of escape rooms doesn’t wear off, as the people behind the concepts know they have to keep them fresh. And I can’t wait to show off to my friends!

Have you been to an escape room? Let us know in the comments below!