I love escape rooms. Whenever I move to a new city, the first thing I do is check whether there are any escape rooms nearby. Over the last four years – excluding the two lockdown-stricken ones – I have completed nine. From escaping a serial killer’s den to a Game of Thrones-themed puzzle room, you name it and I’ve probably done it. An escape room is where I’m at my nerdiest.
Each room is themed and designed differently, and has varying levels of difficulty. But the beauty of an escape room is that while it may be classed as easy, even the simplest of puzzles can baffle you under the time limit. It’s a stressful situation because you only have an hour to escape, but this pressure can be conducive and bring out the best in people.
Forget going to the pub for every single date – an escape room is where you should go to find out whether you and your prospective partner are on the same wavelength. It’s the ultimate compatibility test.
When I’ve said this to my friends, I’ve received some odd looks. How can a room with secret doors you have to rack your brain to open and seven different types of locks which require you to jump through deductive hoops, all while the clock is ticking, be fun?
My friends and I have never done one together, because we might end up screaming at each other and never speaking again. But it’s different on a date. You want to impress your date, but you also want to gauge whether the two of you can make it through without snapping.
Before I started dating my current partner, we went on our fifth date to an escape room in Cardiff. Going on any date can be stressful, but when you add an escape room to the mix, things can go one of two ways: you either coordinate really well, get out with enough time to spare and have a celebratory drink because you’re thinking, “Could this be it? Are we 100 per cent compatible?” or things go wrong and you both decide that perhaps taking it slow and casual is for the best. Thankfully for us, it was the former.
We chose a zombie-themed room which was meant to be one of the hardest ones. While it took us a while to get acquainted with the room, we eventually found our rhythm as we took on individual tasks, and when a puzzle called for teamwork, we communicated well. Most of the puzzles in any escape room require collaboration, but, as the saying goes, too many cooks can spoil the broth. In my experience, it’s best to go with just one other person, so even though you may have conflicting views on how to go about solving a puzzle, you don’t have a third or fourth person breathing down your neck asking you to hurry up.
You can ask the host for clues if you’re really struggling, but they won’t necessarily give you hints if you’re going in the right direction. Lots of people choose not to take hints for some reason – probably ego. I didn’t care, and I was glad my partner didn’t either.
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But we worked well together. Whenever we found an item that could be useful, like a key stowed away in a box or letters inscribed on the bottom of fake food tins, we shouted across the room to let the other know about it. I’ll admit that there was a moment or two when I thought: “OK, we aren’t going to get out, are we? I really like this person, can we please get out of here?” But we escaped in the end, with three minutes and 15 seconds to spare. A week later, we were in a relationship.
Like I said, I’m a bit of a nerd, and that’s probably a bit of an understatement. When we participated in the escape room, I wasn’t sure if we would do another one, but when we passed the place on a night out, my partner asked if I wanted to go again the next day. I’ve been told that I’m not very good at hiding emotions, and the look on my face when I heard that probably gave away all the warmth and adoration I was feeling.
There are cons to escape rooms, sure, because if you don’t communicate well and can’t keep your temper in check, things could end badly. But it will never feel wrong with the right person. Yes, it’s stressful but add a little flirting, banter and humour in there, and nothing could be better.
And if you get it right, it’s a reassurance that the two of you are intellectually compatible and able to collaborate under pressure. It works, trust me. Also, my local place gives you a badge when you complete a room, so it’s a win-win all round.