Escape rooms offer tricky brain-twisters

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Debbie Purdy in the Circus room. PHOTO/JOHN BORREN

By Scott K MacLeod

"Geez," says photographer John Borren. "My brain is ready to explode."

It's disturbing enough being stuck in a small room with another middle-aged bloke. Add a bunch of padlocks, switches, plastic daggers, hula hoops, cryptic puzzles and a clock relentlessly counting down to zero, and you've got a recipe for mental ruin.

We're in the Circus room at Escape Masters Tauranga, and we can't get out.

To make progress, we have to scour the room for clues that will help us open locks and access items we cannot reach.

The strain of this mental exercise has produced on Borren's brow what might be described as bullets of sweat, although he prefers the term "glistening gleams of masculinity".

We've already been stuck in here 25 minutes, and we only have 35 minutes left. We have, however, made progress. Locked compartments have been opened and fresh clues have been found.

None of this is quite as straightforward as it sounds.

We'd been introduced to the Circus scenario by Escape boss Debbie Purdy, who'd given us one hour to "escape" from the room after finding three "stolen" items.

Mrs Purdy had offered us four levels of difficulty. With combined IQs well into double figures, Borren and I had boldly chosen "Medium".

Larger groups, with more collective brainpower, would find this challenging enough, Mrs Purdy had said. It proved to be harder still for two people.

"Help," said Borren, pressing a button. Mrs Purdy came to the room and gave us some hints.

More progress was made, but not enough. When the clock hit zero, we still had some way to go.

An hour had passed very, very quickly.

Back at reception, franchise owner Phil Holland said he got the idea for these puzzle-rooms after visiting Auckland's original Escape Masters with his teenaged daughters.

He opened the Tauranga version last Tuesday, offering three scenarios.

Borren and I came away thinking that this would be great fun for groups of three to six adults, maybe after a beer or two. Families might also enjoy it, although the puzzles would be tough for pre-teens.

So how did the photographer feel after his mental gymnastics?

"Knackered," he said.

Escape Masters Tauranga

Room 1: Eyre's Family Store

Room 2: Circus

Room 3: Prison Break

Location: Upstairs, 27 Spring St, Red Square, Tauranga

Price: $20-$33 per person, depending on group size/concessions

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