Escape Artist (Concord, NC) – Yin and Yang (Review)

Location: Concord, NC

Players: 2-6 (We recommend 2-4)

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

Thing about my ‘scape room it don’t matter if it’s black or white.

Theme:

Escape Artist provides very little information about Yin and Yang on their website, only to say this:

Yin and Yang. Black and White. The fact is that opposing forces actually compliment each other.

Only together will you be able to escape this room.

Are you ready?

And honestly, though there isn’t really a story, it works. Yin and Yang is a pure puzzle room in the best way.

First Impressions:

Going in unsure what to expect from this mysterious room was exciting! I kind of enjoyed being kept in the dark as to what the room would entail, and an efficient and well designed puzzle room was exactly what we needed after the disastrous Mine Trap.

High Points:

Yin and Yang is a smaller room, and unlike many escape rooms we visit, the maximum amount of players is capped low to ensure there is space to move around. Speaking of the room, the set design is perfect for the theme, with a black and white checkered floor, walls, and ceiling that contains just the slightest smidge of color on a couple locks and the timer. In fact, this room harkens back to the classic online escape rooms of yesterday with its simple theme and streamlined puzzling. Your goal is simply to work your way through all the challenges within the room and stop the countdown that has been locked away, just out of reach! Escape Artist really delivers the best in classic escape room design with this room, and the game flow works very well from spot to spot. A semi-non-linear adventure, Yin and Yang challenges you to keep track of each puzzle, allowing you to solve in tandem with your teammates and obtain new codes and items for future and current puzzles all at once. Everything is important within the game, and there is a lot to open up, revealing ever more mysteries! Puzzles themselves are very intuitive, and with a some logic and a little searching, there are several great moments of revelation to be found.

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Monochrome Puzzling Adventure Awaits!

Low Points:

Lock variety is low, and though most items hint at what will solve them, there are a few that do not, leading to the need to exercise a lot of trial and error when unlocking new steps. Though the non-linearity allows for great tandem solving, keeping everyone involved, some items are not gated, making it easy to obtain late game codes early, so a lot can get lost in the shuffle. As with most rooms, though, staying organized can mitigate this problem a lot. A couple of the props within the room could be finicky at times, and one prop in particular had obviously been jostled a little too much and needed repair. Otherwise, the room itself was on point.

Verdict:

Yin and Yang is one of those rare rooms that prove that a simple, more streamlined, and genuinely classic game can still provide an awesome experience! I loved the nostalgia provided by the early days inspired game design, and the efficient set design really helped this one shine more than it honestly had any right to! I recommend giving it a go should you be looking for a pure puzzling adventure. You can get lost in the balance of the Yin and Yang here!

8/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Escape Artist provided discounted tickets for our team.

Finders Seekers – Athens, Greece (July Box Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players: We recommend 1-4

Price: $30 per box

By the gods!

Theme:

Each month, Finders Seekers invites you to accept a mysterious mission from the head seer. These “finds” are located in cities around the world and involve high stakes, cryptic puzzling, and shadowy societies! You’ll need a clever mind and some google-fu in order to piece together the puzzles and complete the find! And when you do, you might even receive a reward! This month, it’s time to head to Athens, Greece! The Society has been contacted to restore an antique amphora depicting the gods of Olympus, and if you can, you might even be able to discern some ancient wisdom passed down by the philosophers themselves!

First Impressions:

I previously went back and forth as to whether I wanted to continue my subscription to Finders Seekers due to some ambiguity and weird logic in initial boxes, but after the great (almost 3 hour,) Petra, Jordan puzzling adventure, I decided to resubscribe to give them one more shot to wow us! When I found out we’d be heading to Athens this go, I was excited for yet another exotic and ancient city to explore!

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Mysterious props and a dense puzzle quest to enjoy!

High Points:

Athens is a great location to explore and as always, Finders Seekers provides great pictures and historical tidbits about the locations provided in order to flesh out the story of the city itself while we hunt! The metapuzzle is identified immediately, though putting the pieces together and figuring out what it could mean slowly evolves until the very last moment, creating a satisfying climax to the adventure. Each prop is high quality, and ties into their respective puzzles excellently. Though Athens is a mite bit easier than some other boxes, the experience doesn’t suffer for it, and the game flow is, on the whole, really quite tight and runs like a well oiled machine. (Until it doesn’t, as detailed below.) I really enjoyed playing around with a few of the props, and particularly liked one more banal item due to how we realized what its use would ultimately be. I held onto it for the majority of the hour and a half we spent puzzling, and discerning its use was a wonderful ah ha moment! The variety of puzzles is amazing, and there was something to cater to both myself and my fiancé! I always have the most fun with boxes that allow us to solve in tandem, playing to different strengths as the game moves along, and this one was very good at challenging us both.

Low Points:

There’s always that one puzzle among the usual 11 for Finders Seekers that frustrates and annoys and Athens is, unfortunately, no exception. While the rest of the puzzles are blessedly fun, the game flow screeched to a stop when we came upon the dreaded church puzzle. We figured out what we had to do immediately, but the process of the thing was not only highly tedious, but demanded a level of measurement no one but the most sadistic would find enjoyable. Process puzzles in general do nothing more than pad the solve time at best, and cause immeasurable frustration at worst, so I always dislike seeing them rear their ugly heads. When heading to the facebook help group for direction, we found that more than half the calls for assistance were for this puzzle. After hammering away at it for a while, we decided that we’d rather just skip this one entirely and go back to having fun. Unfortunately, the linear nature of this hunt forced us to ask for the answer and move on. There is also one point during a later puzzle where a particular item is called by several different names, however, only one is deemed correct by the website, causing frustration as we repeatedly found a new name for it, then typed it in only to be greeted by another pop up telling us we were “wrong.”

Verdict:

Athens, Greece furthers the improving quality of Finders Seekers boxes, and definitely vindicated my decision to renew my subscription! I’m hoping this trend of visiting more ancient and far off cities continues next month, and can’t wait to see what puzzles are in store. Order your next puzzle hunting adventure here! If you sign up through our link, we’ll earn credits towards a free box, and can bring you more content! They also provide a fun free Chicago mini hunt if you’d like to get a feel for their style of puzzles.

8/10 (Great)

Escape Tactic – Mine Trap (Review)

Location: Charlotte, NC

Players: 2-10 (We recommend 4-6)

Price: $25 per person

Time to Escape: 60 Minutes

Mine Crap

Theme:

You are a group of miners stuck in a deep mine shaft out in the middle of nowhere, West Virginia. A recent collapse has you stuck far away from the elevator, and honestly, it’s unlikely that the elevator is even working right now. As always with this place, the only thing standing between you and the exit is a whole bunch of padlocks and a light smidge of tech. Have at it.

First Impressions:

We thought King Tut’s Curse was okay, we were disappointed with Amazon Survival and when entering the dark mine shaft, we were really hoping for a miracle. The sparse, black painted walls and Styrofoam coals did not raise my spirits. Luckily, we were paired with a group of six really fun strangers, at least! That’s not sarcasm, they were really cool and I hope they get to do better escape rooms in the future. Those guys were great.

High Points:

At least the room is big enough to hold ten people, even if the game flow is not up to the task. Also the Game Master was responsive and upbeat.

If it seems like I’m having a real hard time coming up with anything nice to say about this room, it’s because I am. What a disaster.

Low Points:

You start out in a dark room, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, some of my favorite rooms start out that way. The problem here is that the mechanism to ever so slightly light up the room is implemented in the worst possible way. One of your teammates is going to be locked down operating the lights for a while, which is possibly one of the most boring interactions I’ve ever come across in an escape room. I’m not saying everything has to be high-octane adrenaline the whole time, but this was beyond the pale. We immediately came across a destructible state puzzle, which is inexcusable for what it was, and the experience was pretty much all downhill from there. The game itself trends more linear for the most part, though the game has branching puzzle paths on occasion, but never really supports 10 players. There are going to be a lot of dead moments for teammates who aren’t actively working on puzzles. The main highlight of Escape Tactic, set design, is also completely absent from this room, as the shaft itself is mostly black painted walls and darkness. There’s just not much else to look at, and what is there isn’t all that interesting. Again, as in previous Escape Tactic rooms, everything here is pulled from the early days of escape rooms, with puzzles we’ve seen done better in far superior rooms time and time again. One particular prop that was used on at least two separate occasions barely worked, and the Game Master had to break in both times to clue us in on what we needed to be hearing. In fact, she did this without our prompting, so it’s obvious this is a frequent problem. Lock after repetitive lock is the answer to every puzzle, save for a precious few, and the trial and error of entering codes gets tiresome fast. The more “challenging” puzzles require enormous leaps of logic, and some even have multiple solutions, depending on the orientation, forcing you to flip and shuffle highly cumbersome large props. The horribly uninspired “shine the blacklight literally everywhere because of reasons” puzzle returns, and is still not clever in any way. What is it with blacklights and mine shafts anyway? Finally, just to cap off our misery, two of our teammates had allergic reactions to this very dusty room.

Verdict:

I haven’t been in a room this bad in a long time. I try to make sure I vet each location we visit for quality, since we hate to waste our money on a subpar experience, and our time is valuable to us when we travel, but sometimes a real stinker like this one slips through the cracks. An awful game through and through, Mine Trap isn’t worthy of visiting, and I absolutely cannot recommend this one to anyone. The impeccable Twisted is right across the street guys, and there are tons of better rooms in the Charlotte area, Masterpiece Escapes, The Box, and Exit Strategy, to name a few. Go there. Not here.

1/10 (Rubbish)

Escape Reality Sarasota, FL– Descent Into Madness (Review)

Editor’s Note: We welcome back our good friend Cathy Nanni for another review of the fantastic Escape Reality Sarasota! Thanks again to Cathy for her insight, and we look forward to hearing more from her in the future!

Location: Sarasota, FL

Players:  Up to 8 (We recommend 4-6)

Price: $27 per person

Time to Escape: 60 minutes

“Descend Into the Darkness”

Theme:

A Gothic Horror Tale set in London, 1905. Face your fears and enter the mind of a man who, after a recent trip to South Africa, has become entangled in forces beyond his understanding. The disappearance of the man and his family has managed to stump Scotland Yard’s finest. Can you solve this supernatural case?

First Impressions:

I never thought I’d write about the bathrooms of an escape room location in a review. Fortunately, it’s a favorable review! Escape Reality carries their fun party theme all the way into the lavatory with Disco Bathrooms. There’s disco balls, glittering walls, and color changing lights; it’s a rare occasion to find a place that encourages you to party in the potty! That’s just one of the many things that make Escape Reality a total gem! Not only do they have several fun escape rooms but there’s also ample space to hang out with your friends afterwards. They have a beer and wine license, a huge selection of board games, and host fun party events like trivia and karaoke. I have to admit when I was first looking at escape rooms to check out in Sarasota, I passed over Escape Reality the first few times. I was worried it was a bar just trying to jump on the escape room bandwagon and wrongfully assumed that the escape rooms would be an afterthought to the bar activities. I couldn’t have been more wrong! The owners are enthusiasts themselves who understand the need for a place to decompress after a room and chat about the experience with your friends.

High Points:

The wacky bathrooms weren’t the only surprise in store for us at Escape Reality. Descent Into Madness also had many fantastic twists and surprises! When we first entered the room, I wasn’t sure it was going to deliver the fear and tension I love so much about horror rooms. The decor is set up to look like a living room in Victorian London with a few occult themed items placed throughout. We began to solve the room and collected clues and hints about the story, and just when we thought that was going to be the gist of the room, everything flips on its head and the room instantly becomes much darker in tone –  which was a welcome surprise for this horror queen!

For a room set in jolly ol’ London, it has quite a bit of tech. Escape Reality does an excellent job of inserting the tech based puzzles seamlessly into the story of the room so it doesn’t feel jarring other than possibly making you jump in fright. As with Mafia Mayhem, my favorite part of this room was that I never knew what to expect and all of the room’s surprises were on theme and really engaging. I also appreciated the fact that there are a variety of puzzle styles throughout the room so there’s opportunity for all group members to have a moment to shine.

Low Points:

This room is more linear so occasionally there were moments when a few people had to wait for other teammates to solve a puzzle. After having such a well themed clue system in their Mafia Mayhem room, I was a bit disappointed to be using walkie talkies for clues in this one. It was really the only aspect of the experience that felt off-theme.

Verdict:

Descent Into Madness is really a descent into an excellent and terrifying escape room. The creators seem to understand good horror and how to put players on edge. After starting in a seemingly ordinary room, the tension builds as you slowly discover the story and things begin to change in room slowly, creating a creepy atmosphere until you hit the climax of the story when the room becomes truly terrifying! Book your descent here!

9/10 (Excellent)

Full Disclosure: Escape Reality provided media discounted tickets for our team.

The Gray Matter Sodality (Review)

Location: Your Home!

Players:  We recommend 1-2

Price: $17 – $25 per envelope (Price ranges depending on Plan selection)

Sorry Albert, your brain just isn’t worth it.

Theme:

From the Gray Matter Sodality website:

After Albert Einstein died, his brain was dissected and studied by scientists determined to discover the roots of the renowned physicist’s immense intelligence. They failed, and pieces of Einstein’s brain were shipped all over the world: some to academic institutions, some to private collections, some to places dark and unknown.

The result of an international commission, The Gray Matter Sodality was formed to track down, acquire, and re-assemble every piece of Einstein’s brain.

First Impressions:

Puzzle based subscriptions are a lot of fun, and generally more cost effective than an escape room, so I keep a lookout for new experiences. The Gray Matter Sodality is more cryptic and mysterious than other boxes I subscribe to, so my interest was peaked by what could possibly be the goal of collecting Einstein’s brain. For this review, I was sent Months 1, 3 and 7.

High Points:

Each envelope comes with a varied amount of props that all contribute to the completion of each month’s puzzle. There’s a meta puzzle that spans all 12 months, but each pack is self contained. The props range from good hints as to what needs to be done to the centerpieces of the game itself! Puzzles are well thought out and break the mold from the standard puzzling fare, leading you on a multi-step hunt for the answers. The puzzles have a definite end point, and it is very clear when you have finished each month’s challenge.

Low Points:

The value for money here is very, very low. Every envelope, should you be on the monthly plan, is going to cost you $25, which is the average price for a month to month subscription box, but instead of receiving a full mystery as you do with other boxes we’ve reviewed, such as Sleuth Kings, The Deadbolt Mystery Society, Dispatch, or Finders Seekers, you receive a total of one puzzle. One. There is literally no way that price is worth it, and though the puzzles tend to be multistep, the best month, month 7, took us 15 minutes to complete, that’s more than a dollar a minute! In fact, we can attribute most of the solve time for month one from our digging around for a certain tool that very few people are going to have on hand, and we were just lucky enough to own. What we were sent was, functionally, $51-$75 worth of envelopes, and I figure that the total time we spent solving every puzzle was less than an hour. There’s absolutely no justification for that ratio of cost to play time. It blew my mind that for the price of a 3-month subscription to almost any other subscription box, you’d receive around 10% of the puzzling. It just makes no sense. Sorry for the rant, but you’ve got to know how sparse this one is. While the puzzles that are included can be clever, there is literally no way I’d subscribe to this one for any more than $10 a month, and that’s being very generous. The climaxes of each puzzle are fairly vague and unsatisfying, further damaging the value of the subscription. I was unable to experience the meta-puzzle, but I can’t imagine paying $204-$300 to figure that one out. The puzzles themselves can stray into leap of logic territory, and since there’s only one a month, the subscription itself is very hit or miss. If you don’t like the style of a month, you’re out of luck.

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$75 worth of puzzles, apparently.

Verdict:

The Gray Matter Sodality is an interesting idea that costs entirely too much. There are some good puzzles, but nothing that’s worth the price. The good is hugely outweighed by the asking price, and you can receive multiple quality puzzles for your money from many other subscription boxes as previously stated. I’d probably rate this higher if it were cheaper, but the insane asking price is such a huge negative that I cannot recommend this one as it currently stands. Even if it were reasonably priced, I’d definitely say it was just alright, as other subscriptions blow it out of the water. If you’d like to give it a shot, however, you can do so here.

4/10 (Subpar)

Full Disclosure: The Gray Matter Sodality provided three complementary envelopes.