I am an unapologetic geek. I love puzzles, codes and games of all kinds. I geocache, subscribe to Lumosity Brain Games and play Solitaire, Scrabble and Bridge online.
That’s why, when I heard about the new "breakout room" at the Mainstay Suites in Port St. Joe, during the Jan. luncheon of the Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce, I was ready to play.
I was not disappointed.
For those not in the loop, escape rooms are a new form of live action entertainment. Basically, players spend an hour in a locked room trying to find a way out by cracking codes, discovering clues, and solving puzzles. Players generally work in teams of four or more. Breakout rooms are billed as a great way for families, friends and coworkers to learn more about one another and develop teamwork skills.
Now normally I am a team player, sort of, anyway since I couldn’t convince any of my friends to tag along, I undertook the challenge alone on Friday.
Players are guided to the game room at the dead end of a side corridor by the very charming Ricky Reid, recently arrived from Chicago. He explains the game as you walk to your destination, and installs you in the room where he starts a videotape counting down to your one-hour time limit.
Then he leaves.
The videotape begins with an interview from a mysterious stranger who informs you the room will self-destruct in one hour, and the countdown begins.
Just so you’ll know the room is not actually locked. The phone works and you can leave whenever you want.
I was a little surprised when I found myself alone with no particular puzzle placed before me, but I was surrounded by possible clues, locks and assorted paraphernalia, so I got to work. The setting is an actual hotel room, of course, and there are clothes in the drawers and the closet, strange clothes but clothes. There was food in the fridge and dishes in the dishwasher and the bedroom and bath looked much lived in. I guess spies aren’t neat freaks.
Following the basic tenet of geocaching, I fired up my mojo and looked around for something that didn’t belong. That got me started. Hmmm, a slide rule, haven’t seen one of those in a while. Look, a cribbage board and what’s that ammo can doing here? It feels like it’s full of rocks. Soon I had discovered and embarked on the first challenge and, by the end of the game; I had unlocked four doors, an ammo can and a variety of luggage and cabinets and solved more than a dozen brainteasers and riddles.
Yes, I did finish the puzzle and found the key to unlock the breakout room door, but it took me an hour and 15 minutes so, I guess I would have been dead. Kapow!
Ricky said I did okay, considering I worked alone. So far, Team Clancy, a foursome, holds the record time with a solution in 33 minutes.
I hope I can return to the Heartbreak Hotel next month because I had a blast.
Our local version of the breakout room is located at Mainstay Suites, 3951 US 98 in Port St. Joe.
It was created by Dr. Heather Luckarift, a microbiologist who works at Tyndall Air Force Base. (Shades of the X-Files, Mulder!). She was assisted by friends and members of the hotel staff. She said the experience is designed for players 14 years of age and older.
Luckarift said she and her husband love to play trivia, and a group of like-minded friends began staging trivia-themed scavenger hunts, "trivenger hunts."
"Some of the (trivia) teams were getting quite clever, which is where the idea for trivenger hunts came from, Luckarift said.
She said the breakout room is a spin-off from the hunts.
Mainstay Manager David Ashbrook said he views the breakout room as a marketing tool. He said December, January and February are traditionally slow months at the hotel and he hoped the game would generate some income and draw interest to the establishment.
The breakout room was originally planned to remain open from Dec. 1 through Feb. 15.
"Considering the small start-up cost, it’s been profitable," Ashbrook said. "If we continue to have players we may do it for the rest of the year. I think it would be great for tourists."
He said if the room becomes a long-term feature of the hotel, there are plans to change the theme and puzzles periodically. Right now, "Heartbreak Hotel" is under consideration for a new breakout room theme that could be launched on Valentine’s Day.
So far, about 10 teams with an average of four players each have visited the breakout room. Each player pays $25 for the experience. Ashbrook said Mainstay Suites sold a number of gift certificates to be given as Christmas presents, which have not been claimed.
"We’ve really been rolling the last few weeks," Ricky Reid said. He plans to create a Facebook page for the breakout room.
If you’d like to step away from your X-box and laptop for a while or leave reality behind for an hour, visit the breakout room. You won’t be sorry.