A new trend in group entertainment has hit LA, and it may be one you haven't wrapped your mind around yet: escape rooms. Certain assumptions would seem obvious from the moniker (you need to escape, right? From a room?), but in fact most of my friends seem to know very little about them. Personally, I was curious. And beyond my personal curiosity, I was even more interested to know whether an escape room might be an adventure to be shared with bigger kids who enjoy a little challenge and mystery. Well, it turns out that yes, yes it is a totally and utterly cool thing to do with kids. So get ready for the thrill of locking your kids in a room, and then watching them try to get out. For an hour.
The first thing that the group of 11-13 year-olds I brought wanted to know was, is it scary?? And if you know any tweens yourself, you may forgive my taking a little pleasure in watching them sit slightly daunted in the large leather chairs of a dimly lit waiting room, asking a total stranger that same question. A little daunting never hurt anyone, right? The answer to their pressing question turns out to be no; the kindly host who introduced our group to their hour's challenge neither did nor said anything scary, and no one else came into the room. There is no one to jump out, no sudden noises, no smoke machines or ghouls. The room is, in fact, more of a puzzle to be solved. Clues are everywhere, and players must work together to solve them. If enough clues are solved in the right order in the time allotted, the team succeeds in solving the room and escaping. And that turns out to be a huge buzz.
The escape room we tried was at Escapedom in Westwood. Escapedom has two rooms—one with an FBI story line (The Lair), and one with an occult theme (The Den of the Occult). True confessions: our adventure was quite soon after the presidential election, and I was really not in the mood for anything that sounded remotely governmental, so we played it safe with the occult. This room has a wizarding theme that turned out to be great for our kids—very Potteresque. The seven kids in our group burst into the room with a surplus of energy that verged on counterproductive, and for the first 15 minutes I truly doubted that they would solve anything, as they picked up and put down clues in rapid succession. Our host assured me, though, that this is pretty much always how young players start off, and as they began to show signs of focusing, he helped them stay on task. Gradually, they divided into groups of two and began working productively on tasks together. Our host didn't give any answers, or even any extra clues, but he was wonderful at keeping them from getting distracted by things that didn't matter. I wish he could follow my son around more often!
Once the kids began solving clues, the adventure picked up pace, as they caught the scent of accessible victory. The excitement and tension built, until one climactic moment, when some important keys opened the dramatic final chapter of their mystery: seven voices squealed in unison at the big reveal, in a scream that could be heard several rooms away! Our kids had succeeded in solving the room, which not all adult groups manage in the hour allotted. The thrill for the kids was huge, and they all came out full of enthusiasm and a desire to return to try the other adventure that Escapedom offers ASAP.
The pre-adventure briefing
The kids I brought were all in 6th and 7th grade, which was a great age for The Den of the Occult, though I don't think I would attempt that room with anyone younger; I'm not sure that the youngest in our group could have managed the tasks without the older ones forging the way. In talking with our Escapedom host afterward, I learned that the other room, The Lair, is a little less of an intellectual challenge and more of a straight-up action adventure. Kids as young as 4th or 5th grade are able to crack the mystery of that room without too much trouble, so it might be a better starting adventure for families with younger kids; it's also the bigger of the two rooms so could probably fit up to a dozen kids. Parents are welcome to participate, sit in the room and observe, or (if kids are old enough) wait in another room to watch via tablet. Other escape rooms are springing up around LA all the time; if you visit a different one, I recommend talking to the owners in advance to find out which of their rooms is most appropriate for kids or families.
Escapedom books up to six people per adventure, which can be reserved directly on the website, for hourly slots running between 11am-9pm most days. Groups smaller than six people may end up combined with others. There is also the option of booking a private slot or requesting a larger group. From our experience, I would recommend that more kids is better: we had seven but could easily have had as much success or more with eight or nine kids. The room is probably too small for more than six adults at a time, but for smaller people, filling the space and working in pairs definitely improved the experience. For an intimate group of pals, it's a great birthday party plan. It's even a great option for a family looking to escape a rainy day. Not that it ever rains in Southern California.
Escapedom is offering Mommy Poppins readers a $4/ person discount; use the code MOMMYROCKS when booking.
All photos by the author