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Take on this Long Island escape room without leaving home

Puzzle Break LI, in Syosset, has turned its "Grimm Escape" room virtual. Players enter through Zoom and are given a series of puzzles to solve within 60 minutes.  Credit: Puzzle Break Long Island

You’re trapped in an enchanted forest with only 60 minutes to escape. Your adrenaline rushes as you piece together clues to maneuver your way out. But there’s one catch — you haven’t actually left your living room.

Puzzle Break LI, based in Syosset, has moved its in-person escape rooms online, where you’ll be challenged to solve eight brain-teasing puzzles to beat the clock and “break free” of an “enchanted curse.” It’s called “The Grimm Escape,” and it’s bringing people together by way of Zoom for $25 per player.

“It definitely got my mind going. We ran out of time but we were so close to escaping,” says Rachel Katz, 40, of Syosset who took on the challenge two weeks ago with her son, Max, 9, four of her friends and their children. “It was the perfect thing to do while stuck at home because it got us all working together.”

Justin Williams, the co-owner and COO of Puzzle Break LI, says the game, which is mostly “mental puzzles” is best played with between three and 12 players. Entering the Zoom room with your teammates, you’ll be welcomed by a game host (a Puzzle Break LI employee) who will guide you through various rounds of brain teasers, found on the company’s website, while a strikingly large clock counts down your progress on the screen. The game host switches up the puzzles based on the age group and desired difficulty of the players. Solve them all to reach the final “lock” and win the game.

“It takes you out of the quarantine for an hour or so,” says Williams. “Your entire goal is to find the spell to cast to break the witch’s curse on your virtual enchanted forest. Obviously, you’re not escaping anything, you’re not escaping your house, but you do have to work together to cast that spell to win.”

Williams says Puzzle Break — which also has locations in Queens, Seattle, Washington and Newton, Massachusetts — first decided to go virtual as a way to help keep some of its employees on payroll. But the response has left Williams considering keeping a virtual game option once the locations reopen.

“We knew there would be some of the avid escape-room-goers that would be interested in this, but people are really, really liking it,” he says. “It’s even reaching more people than we expected to.” That being people outside of its physical scope.

Brian Cargerman, 40, who lives in Chicago, and his wife Jaime, 38, stumbled upon the virtual escape room while searching for something to do online. They played the game with eight members of their family, who are scattered across the country and New Zealand, as a way to come together for Easter.

“We had been getting together via Zoom once a week to play games, like Scattergories, so we thought it would be a good idea to see if there was anything virtual being offered,” he says.

Cargerman, who successfully escaped, adds, “Some of the stuff was very difficult. The cool thing was with 10 people everyone contributed at a different time throughout the hour. If you weren’t good at one thing, you might be better at something later in the game.”

Kristen Memoli, 45, a clinical psychologist based in Huntington, and her 11-year-old son also successfully cast their spell with the help of four of his 5th grade friends. The parents “wanted to find something that would keep them in contact with each other, but also meaningfully engaged,” she says. “It was a mix of logic and word puzzles, so the kids had out paper and pencil and had to break codes. It was very much about the work they were doing in front of them.”

Virtual room time slots are offered daily at PuzzleBreakLI.com/tickets. Dates are listed through April 2021.

Another local escape room, Escape Game Long Island, with locations in Ronkonkoma and Brookhaven, is currently in the process of getting a virtual activity up and running, says owner Andrew Craig. “Likely, it will be one of our staff members with a POV camera set up on them, at the command of a group of players,” he says. “It should be something unique that we make a permanent part of the business.” A launch date has not yet been determined. 

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