Before I can fumble my way into what I’m going to experience, clues already lead me to it. “You have 60 seconds to Save Romania”, says one poster placed strategically at the epicentre of this bustling shopping centre, and a kaleidoscopic mishmash of complex clues herald the curious onlooker.
I finally find my way into the Riddle Room, unmistakable with a giant keyhole on the entrance door.
I’m greeted by Nishita, the one half of the couple who’ve started this. The space is dimly-lit but warm, the walls are all done with the Riddle Room theme, and a thin verandah is amply lined with seats and stools for the visitors to sit.
My curiosity is growing by the minute and I look around, soaking the mysterious atmosphere in. What is the Riddle Room? Hell, what is even an escape room? How does it work?
Not before long, Venkat, an ex-analyst at JP Morgan and founder of the Riddle Room meets me and explains it all.
“Riddle Room is a live escape room, a form of physical real life interactive game in which players are locked inside a room and have to unearth clues, examine unassuming objects and discard decoys to successfully make it out within 60 minutes.”, explains Raman.
“We are one of the pioneers of this unique concept in India” he beams proudly and goes on to tell me the idea of starting this struck the couple when they came across a similar activity on a trip to Bangkok, and decided it was time for India to experience the same. I also learn that Hungary has 60 of such live escape rooms! The development of games and the design of the escape rooms are all Nishita and Venkat’s own brainchildren, and they have been assisted by Venkat’s design agency and students from design colleges in the city.
Just then, a family of 4 streams in and I assume the role of the fly in the wall while Venkat gets busy playing gamemaster and explaining the rules of the game. This family is coming for the 2nd time I learn, having played the 2nd game out of the 2 the last time.
“You have to use different elements within the room to solve a series of puzzles, find clues, and escape the room within 60 minutes. Participants must be observant and use their critical/lateral thinking skills to “escape” the room”, he tells the family with the patience of a teacher.
I prod the couple to learn more and they only respond with the passion of entrepreneurs who believe in what they do and manage to assure me that this offering is one of a kind in India, and noone can play and not love it. The facts would vouch for it. The Riddle Room in barely 2 and a half month of starting up has attracted over 200 players, ranging from couples, startup groups, to families.
I could see how the activity works great for corporates and startups who seek ever new activities for team building and engagement. Being located in Koramangla – the Silicon Valley of India where startups go – has got to help. Not lost is the fact that this could also work wonders for the corporate employee who’s done with the share of the weekend movie and partying and seeks a different thrill. “Every game is designed in a manner that consumes the group playing it so much so they forget about the world outside and thus feel that this is an escape from reality.”, Nishita confirms, reading my thoughts.
And so I decide to experience it first-hand. After my turn of instructions, I’m blindfolded, ganged up with 3 of my friends, and locked inside a room. But if it sounds brutal, it’s anything but. Once inside an audio clip explaining what’s to come follows, but and the next one hour is nothing but what happens when a fantasy game is played, offline. To give away what happens would be a grave injustice to what Riddle Room is all about. It’s an intense hour of problem solving, clue- hunting and clue-finding, lateral thinking, discussions, some inane laughs, and for once I’m thankful for the break my eyes are enjoying, being away from the screen. (“No phones inside”, one of the game rule says.)
However, what I’m doing inside is being monitored outside on a CCTV, and should we need help with further clues, the team would be happy to assist.
Much to my embarrassment, the group takes longer than an hour to finish our task, and come out “victorious”, however, noone seems to have minded. Fresh from a stimulating mind jog and an enthralling physical activity, the prospect of some tea and cookies is literally what the doctor ordered. “We offer the whole sensory experience. Food is obviously a crucial part of it”, I couldn’t agree more as I down cookie after cookie laid out in colourful crockery in the lounge area.
As I begin to leave the premises, content, high after the thrill that only solving a real riddle or game can, I can’t help but think to myself. Even in the age of online groceries, online cabs, online friendships, online everything, some things stay true and old school, and let you rediscover the joy of a good challenge.
I add one sticky note to the wall already dotted with hundreds, the reviews on all of which seem to be agree with me.