You have 1 hour to get out of this room
Imagine a film scene, one from 1920s London: You’re in a fancy study. The decor is full of old-fashioned details; you might even call it vintage. There’s a heavy telephone with a cord, a carelessly placed magnifying glass, an old file holder and some old books.
The room is nostalgic and interesting but it’s still just a 10-square-meters room, one in which you wouldn’t normally spend more than five or 10 minutes. But this is not the case. Instead, you volunteer to be locked in here with four friends. And if you can’t find the keys to escape during that amount of time, no doubt you’ll beg for five more minutes to be allowed. Just like all the other groups locked in here…
We are talking about the “Real Room Escape,” a new game. It’s become incredibly popular in the US, the UK and Hungary, enticing millions who are simply bored of ordinary games. In Turkey, “Real Room Escape” is still based on a very simple concept: Find the key in an expertly decorated locked room by following the clues.
In the meantime, there are other versions of this game sweeping the world involving escapes from trains, buses, homes, prisons or even the pyramids. There is no need for any knowledge of general culture or mathematics to find the key. In fact, a brain clear of any of this extra information might even be better when it comes to finding that key because focusing too much on details might make you overlook the “big picture” in all this.
Five of us today are the guests of Escape Planet, one of the few companies in Turkey in this business. Of course, what distinguishes Escape Planet from the other companies doing this is that it is headed by “Brain Team” captain Ferhat Çalapkulu, one of the best-known mental games people in Turkey. Çalapkulu is the person who writes the room scenarios for this game. At this point, there are only two rooms in play, Sherlock Holmes and Einstein. The Einstein room is only a few weeks old and is more difficult than Sherlock Holmes. Newcomers are generally pushed towards Sherlock Holmes. But those who get their first taste of Real Room Escape generally have already starting planning their second experience.
This game is becoming so popular in Turkey that finding room on weekends is getting difficult. At this point, Escape Planet is planning campaigns aimed at tourists and students in order to shift some of the interest and crowds towards the mid-week. And while mentioning tourists, let’s note some interesting details here, like the fact that it takes an average of 10 minutes to clean and organize the rooms after the players have left. Some groups really mess up the rooms in their attempts to find the key while with others, it’s clear that they have watched too many detective films.
We noticed that one painting on the wall here has a ripped back. Melis Çalapkulu from Escape Planet shows us a violin broken by one team looking desperately for the key. Despite this, there are teams that make a big effort to clean up the room, like tourists… Ferhat Çalapkulu thinks that the difference herein is that this game is so immensely popular abroad.
What we mostly lack is team spirit
The Sherlock Holmes room is not just a room from which people have to escape using their minds; they need not only a different perspective on things but also to work as a team. Part of the concept herein is that special teams watch the process from outside the room by camera and are able to give extra clues if necessary.
From his observations, Çalapkulu notes that a “natural leader” generally emerges in these teams. If the person who emerges in this role has good leadership tendencies, the key is generally found in a reasonable amount of time. But if the leader has a big ego, he or she might fail to listen to others, working more solo than as a team. Such a person sometimes winds up grabbing the clue for him or herself, not allowing others to use their minds to figure it out.
Actually, the whole atmosphere turns the room into somewhat of a psychological observation room. “Sometimes one of the quieter, more passive members of the team will interpret a clue correctly, but since his or her voice is lower and less commanding than the others, the other members of the team do not listen much. In situations like this, we can intervene and urge others to listen to their teammate, putting the group back on the right track,” Çalapkulu says, connecting this to the failure in Turkey to place importance on teamwork.
“We don’t know how to work together. This is quite clear in the business world. I provide training to companies. We make recommendations to them. We invite them to come to us so that people in the company learn more about each other, become better friends and work together better,” he says.
Record: 40 minutes
There are sometimes teams that work well together, like the group that got out in just 40 minutes, breaking a record. Talking about a group of six people working in the software division of a company who came in and got organized right away, Çalapkulu said: “They entered and got right to work. Everything they found, they informed the others in loud voices. It was quite clear they were used to working as a team.”
People who try to escape from the Sherlock Holmes room always wind up wanting to try again. Çalapkulu has already started writing up new scenarios with different names like the Byzantine Room, the Ottoman Room and the Agatha Christie Room.
The fact that the rate of escapes from the Sherlock Holmes room is around 50 percent while that from the Einstein room is around 30 percent says everything. Of course there are also those who end up extending their time in the room to beyond one hour; as it is, teams that come to an end of their time but are close are given an extra 10-15 minutes by the company.
Simple but not easy!
The game is, as Çalapkulu describes it, “simple but not easy.” Everything is based on the correct interpretation of clues made from simple materials. In these types of games, there needs to be a limit to the level of difficulty. Here is an example given by Çalapkulu: “If we wanted to, we could create a game that wouldn’t allow people to find a way out even if they took a whole day. But the goal here is not to annoy people, but to entertain.”
“Those who have the most fun are families that come with their kids and groups of friends who know each other really well. When families see what their children can do, they get really surprised.”
Real Room Escape needs at least five people to play. There are some who think the more people there are, the more fun it is while others believe that five is just too many.
As for our group? We managed to find the key and escape in just over one hour and five minutes. When we got out, there were lots of post-game analyses, things like “You said this and she did that…” But we truly had a lot of fun. And the most important thing is that we didn’t fall apart. We are already making plans to go back, but to the Einstein Room this time.