Being locked in a mysterious room with a countdown timer and a series of riddles as the only means of escape sounds like the plot of a trashy horror movie. In fact, earlier this year, it was. The movie was called, well, “Escape Room.”
Nevertheless, escape rooms are becoming the go-to choice for game night enthusiasts who are so over Cards Against Humanity, and hip HR reps who totally get it, man. There are currently seven escape room businesses in and around Anchorage. On the surface, each business seems practically indistinguishable from one another, which can make it difficult for newcomers to decide which ones to try.
As it happens, I’ve subjected my fiancée and friends to all seven businesses and compiled the following breakdown of each one (without giving away any secrets). Did we emerge on the other end a stronger group of friends? I’ll let you know as soon as they return my texts.
1. Avalanche Escape Rooms
If you’ve never been to an escape room, or if the thought of paying money to be locked in a giant puzzle box still seems ludicrous to you, then Avalanche Escape Rooms is the perfect crash course.
After a thorough tutorial from a plainclothes employee, players are ushered into the escape room, where an in-character employee awaits to provide assistance. This can be very helpful for first-time players, or nerve-wracking for players like me who get paranoid that everyone is secretly judging their actions.
Once inside, players encounter one of the wider arrays of puzzle types in an Anchorage escape room. The variety goes a long way to ensures things never gets monotonous and that most participants are able to contribute according to his or her strengths. In any given room, puzzles can include decoding words, solving math equations, discovering key objects in hidden crannies, or recognizing the meaning in seemingly random sequences.
Avalanche also gives experienced players a reason to return. Right now, they’re the only business in Anchorage with multiple rooms: Blitzkrieg, which is set in a WWII bunker, The Cure, which takes place in a laboratory, and It’s Mine, which gets its cues from the Alaska Gold Rush.
avalancheescaperooms.com, 907-929-3727, 4111 Minnesota Drive, Anchorage
2. Alaska Escape Rooms
Located in the underground level of a downtown building, Alaska Escape Rooms takes my likening of escape rooms to horror films one step further. The scenario of their single room, Raven’s Eye, tasks players with rescuing a kidnapped woman from a masked madman, which is laid out in an introductory video that runs a bit too long. At what I can only assume to be the video’s halfway point, I thought out loud, “Is there a puzzle I can solve to escape watching this?” No one laughed.
Playing Raven’s Eye makes you feel like you’re in a video game, which speaks to how immersive the room feels and to the unique way progression occurs. The room is divided into four areas, which creates a sense of physical momentum that sets it apart from the other escape rooms in town.
Raven’s Eye also seems to prefer spatial puzzles, which happen to be my favorite kind; ordinary objects that are seemingly placed at random become key items, and a single tool may be manipulated in a variety of ways to yield different answers.
alaskaescaperooms.com, 907-444-6975, 737 W. Fifth Ave. Suite G, Anchorage
3. Trapped in Talkeetna
Proving the increasing ubiquity of escape rooms is Trapped in Talkeetna. Like the town itself, Talkeetna’s escape room was a fun time, despite (or because of, depending who you are) being a little rough around the edges.
Trapped in Talkeetna has most of its Anchorage contemporaries beat by featuring two rooms: Alaska Gold Rush and Cabin Fever. My fiancée and I tried Alaska Gold Rush, which was described to us as the easier of the two rooms.
Once inside Alaska Gold Rush, we were greeted by an overwhelming number of locks. This was jarring compared to the rooms we’d visited until that point. I would later learn that a reliance on locks is a common workaround for escape rooms that lack engineering prowess. While the solution was impressively resourceful, it eventually grew repetitive. After all, there are only so many ways you can decode a password, calculate a combination or find a key.
If I had to offer my own workaround: Cut back on the number of locks. That, or design a room around breaking into as many gym lockers as possible.
trappedintalkeetnaak.com, 13956 E. F St., Anchorage
4. Escape Anchorage
Games at Escape Anchorage begin with the realization that its name is in fact quite literal. The business is located in Chugiak, requiring players to literally escape Anchorage to get there.
Semantics aside, the room my group tried, hard-boiled detective-themed Dirty Harry, was similar to Trapped in Talkeetna in that most of the puzzles ultimately came down to unlocking locks. However, the reliance on locks felt considerably less apparent given there were far fewer around to remind you they were there.
Escape Anchorage has two other rooms. The first is Witch’s Cottage, which honestly seems like a perfectly adequate room. The second is MindScape, and that one sounds like the room to try. Paraphrasing one of Escape Anchorage’s designers, MindScape starts by placing individual members of a group in separate rooms, where they then have to solve puzzles on their own with the hopes of reuniting in a central area.
Now I hear you asking, “Why don’t you just go back and try MindScape if it sounds so cool?” First of all, at about $30 a person, trying these rooms is really starting to add up. And second of all, Escape Anchorage has already deconstructed MindScape in preparation for its move to a new location in Chugiak with five new escape rooms. If one of the new rooms is as unique as MindScape, then I’ll be there, just as soon as I can afford it again.
escapeanchorage.net, 907-854-9482, 20905 Eastside Drive (new location coming soon), Chugiak
5. Time Out Escape Rooms
Located in the lower level of Anchorage Junior Academy, visiting Time Out Escape Rooms can feel like stepping into a school project, albeit an impressive one.
According to our attendant the day we visited, Time Out started as a proof of concept for a separate escape room business. Time Out’s dry run must have been successful, given that it’s begun to look for a space it can call its own, and I can understand why.
Time Out has one espionage-themed room called Secret Agent, and it has a similar overreliance on locks as its contemporaries. However, Secret Agent’s smart design made me forget about any shortcomings. The room translated a thorough understanding of the spy genre into making me feel like I was playing out one of the non-murderous parts of a James Bond movie, and that’s nothing short of impressive.
For example, the setting of Secret Agent’s second area was practically a no-brainer when I looked back on it, but made me giddy nonetheless when I uncovered it in the moment. Secret Agent is also the only room I’ve been to that underwent a change while I was in the middle of playing it, resulting in one of the most nail-biting experiences I’ve had in an escape room.
timeoutescape.com, 907-317-6260, 5511 O’Malley Road, Anchorage
6. Escape Alaska
Escape Alaska is the summer blockbuster of escape rooms and sets a new bar for how astonishing and engrossing the experience can be.
As impressive as other escape rooms in town have been, I never forgot I was in a room built to look like someplace else. Escape Alaska’s only room, Egyptian-themed The Tomb, is more akin to traveling through a portal. The first door opens to a long hallway lined with torch-like flickering lights. Walking down the hallway, you start to feel sand beneath your feet. Turn the corner at the end and there’s a brief, well-produced video to set the scene. Finally, it’s one last corner before you enter a tomb that’s straight out of the movies and devoid of anything from the outside world.
Regarding the obstacles, there’s a wide variety of puzzle types, all of which are pulled from the mummy genre’s most memorable movies. There’s one awe-inspiring puzzle in particular that plays with elements so far unseen in any Anchorage escape room. When you trigger it, you’ll know. Even the way hints are delivered is completely committed to the room’s setting and manages to stick the landing between being helpful without being unintentionally distracting.
My only complaint with Escape Alaska is that there wasn’t another room ready for me to immediately jump into. Although, the wait won’t be long. While I was gushing to the owner, he teased two new rooms in development, the first of which will hopefully be ready for play this fall.
7. Breakout Alaska
If you ever grow bored of playing in rooms designed by The Establishment, give Breakout Alaska a call. Breakout specializes in bringing escape rooms directly to your home or business, and building the room around a theme that you decide.
My group tried their Earthquake Escape Room Experience that was built in partnership with Anchorage Public Library. I was impressed with how personalized the experience felt and how robust the puzzles were given the traveling nature of the business.
Because they’re bound by what materials they can bring and what resources are available at the destination, Breakout isn’t able to construct intricately-engineered puzzles, instead relying on locks.
However, the limitations to puzzle variety is a small price to pay for the potential to play in an escape room based on a theme as intangible as “my fear of alienating everyone I care about and driving them away,” which Breakout’s owners told me is something they could actually construct.
Matt Jardin lives in Anchorage and is a writer, filmmaker and comedian. Connect with him on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube at @mattjardin.