Freshman Allison Zhang (center) and her friends gather by a chalkboard displaying records for each puzzle room at Escape Sacramento. Locked in a room, with an hour on the clock, Zhang and her friends collaborated to solve puzzle after puzzle so they could "escape" the room.

Only a dead battery keeps freshmen from escaping puzzle room in record time

At 5:30 on a Sunday night, I was locked in a room with six friends, with one hour ticking away on a clock.

We were at Escape Sacramento (1831 I Street), a recently opened business in Midtown where we had paid to be locked in a room for one hour.

There were puzzles in each room, and with some hard work and a lot of luck, we had to find a way to escape through the door.

There are currently only two rooms, the Gallery and the Study. We were in the Gallery, which proved to be a mistake.

The website had said the Gallery was easier, with a 30 percent success rate, compared to the 20 percent of the Study. So deciding to take the easier route, I booked the Gallery.

However, upon entering the building, we saw a large chalkboard with the record times of each room. The quickest time for the Gallery was 50 minutes, and 40 minutes for the Study.

Strangely, there were only two groups who had completed the Gallery and many more who had completed the Study. (The puzzles don’t change in the rooms, so once you go, there isn’t a reason to go back, unless you want to “beat” the record time.)

When my friends and I stepped into the room, it looked like a typical gallery. Paintings from local artists hung on the walls, and there were a few pedestals with statues.

We were not surprised to see many locks on the bases of these pedestals, keeping compartments shut. However, there were no keys, no combinations and no hints to be found.

After some initial shock and exploration, I found a wooden box with a ball inside. There was a maze in the box, and I had to get the ball out through the opening.

After some vigorous shaking, the ball fell out with three numbers written on it. Thus, we got our first combination.

We rushed to find the lock that worked, and it opened to a large space under the pedestal, filled with more puzzles and boxes with locks.

These puzzles were of all difficulties and types. There is a puzzle for someone who is an abstract thinker. For an observant person, there are puzzles focused mainly on keen observation.

After a puzzle is solved, it has a key or a combination for a lock. Because of this, each puzzle must be solved in order to escape.

The puzzles flew by, and morale was high. It had only been 15 minutes, and this seemed like a breeze. How hard could escaping be?

We opened more locks only to realize we were just at the tip of the iceberg.

A significant pile of puzzles had formed in the corner of the room, each puzzle waiting to be solved. But we couldn’t figure any of them out.

After plenty of arguing and shouting (afterwards we were told we were one of the loudest groups), we realized we would need a plan.

Luckily, the computer monitor that was our clock could display messages, and it flashed us a quick hint. We decided to divide and conquer, with groups of us doing different things.

Soon after what was once the pile of unsolved puzzles was arranged neatly on the floor, with each secret having been unraveled.

Only a few remained, and we still had 10 minutes.

Next was the safe, and we had the combination, discovered through a previous puzzle. We punched it in and attempted to open it.

It didn’t work.

We tried again, and again and again. The computer monitor was acting like an overprotective parent, trying to give us hints.

“Did you put in the right code?”

“Did you remember to push the star after entering it?”

After five minutes without success, we decided to give the safe some time to cool down. Maybe we had accidentally put in the wrong combination too many times and it had locked.

We waited, and we waited. We were wandering around the room, hoping to find something – an incorrect number or another clue – but we never did.

In the last minute before time was up, we tried the safe one last time, but it didn’t open.

The buzzer went off, and we stood there, defeated. We had the safe combination, and plenty of time. What had we done wrong?

A man working there led us through the remaining steps the we didn’t get to. There were only a few. Before leaving, we asked him about the safe, and if he could open it.

He tried and failed. He tried again and failed. “The battery is probably dead,” he told us.  

All of our hard work, our sweat, our perseverance had been demolished by a dead battery!

Despite being outsmarted by a broken safe, I had what was possibly the greatest hour of my life.

I learned new things about my friends – who the natural leaders were, and who worked better off of instructions. I learned who could problem-solve, and who worked well under stress.

But most importantly, this strengthened the bonds my friends and I had already formed through years of friendship.

The shouting, the arguing and the complete confusion were all worth it because in the end I got to spend it with my friends, and that’s all that really matters.

The Gallery may have defeated us, but soon there will be new champions of the Study, and no dead battery will stop us.

—By Allison Zhang

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