Escape real life, get locked in a room

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Heather Newberry | The Daily Wildcat

Maryrose Gutschow, Kelsey Gutschow, David Gutschow and Sarah Spiotti work together at Ace of Escape on Friday, Sept. 16 to solve clues and crack the case at hand. Ace of Escape is an escape room experience here in Tucson that allows groups to work together and have fun while solving clues under a time limit.

Late ‘90s kids—we look back on our childhood, thankful we didn’t spend it glued to a smartphone or tablet. We had the pleasure of real books and dial-up internet and endless PC games. Don’t lie—“Freddi Fish” and “Pajama Sam” will always hold a place in your heart.

Another pastime that came out of this century was “I Spy,” a game based on the Scholastic books that circulated throughout the ‘90s. They were like “Where’s Waldo?” but based on the premise of finding obscure objects hidden in ordinary rooms.

Scholastic eventually brought the concept to our computer screens with a spooky mansion game, where we had to find their way out by finding keys and putting together clues to solve the old abode’s mystery.

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There are plenty of other less juvenile examples of “escape the room” style point-and-click computer games, but with multiple different escape rooms opening in Tucson in the past couple of years, there is clearly a trend taking hold of this unique town reminiscent of your childhood.

Stories are the essence of life and escape rooms allow you to dive into a story you could have never imagined—even if only for a short time—while having a good time and creating future stories with your friends.

Critical thinking teams up with curiosity for an hour of puzzle solving and concentrating to simply get out of a room.

Ace of Escape, at Broadway and Tucson Boulevards, is set up in an office space with three separate escape rooms, all with different stories, varying difficulty levels and suggested group sizes.

Sam Torres, an Ace of Escape employee, welcomes groups in and goes over ground rules, which are slightly different for each room.

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The first group to arrive was booked for “Beat the Clock,” a room with a 70-percent completion rate. Upon entering, your initial task is to turn the lights on. After lifting the veil of darkness, the group has the rest of an hour to save a family watch from a repo man.

“’Beat the clock’ is more of an analytical room,” said co-founder Kathy Gehlert. “‘International Thief’ is definitely more logical and involves multiple things needing to be investigated at once.”

The “International Thief” room experience begins by putting escapees in the office of an engineer and thief. The aforementioned thief left clues for his lover, money and a plane ticket for his lover to find—once she finds the key out of the room, that is.

This room has a 60-percent completion rate and is recommended for two to eight participants. Ace of Escape also offers an altered version for younger players, and do not be afraid to ask for this—the room is complex.

The experience was unique and involved a lot of hectic searching of drawers, emptying of shelves, searching of seat cushions and emptying of nesting dolls.

As a smaller group, we were allotted a couple extra clues, which were communicated over an intercom from Torres outside of the room, who could also see us the entire time.

“My favorite thing about this room is that the pictures are actually of Kathy’s mom and dad,” Torres said. “Even the Polaroid slides are from his different travels.”

We don’t want to give any spoilers, but this room also involved tricks with the lights that for which our group needed to find a clue. It also involved some math and wordplay.

This variety of puzzles demonstrated the need to work with a group of people offering differing strengths.

Even though we did not manage to complete the room, the feeling of unlocking each drawer was a success worth celebrating.

Gehlert and Torres entered our room when time was up, congratulated us and laughed, saying they had never seen anyone use one of the props in the way we did. They appreciated our imagination, as they do with every one who comes through their rooms.

After getting supposedly two-thirds of the way through this room before our time was up, we were allowed to peek in at the third room titled “The Illusionist,” which features a blacklight, creating a magical atmosphere. It requires at least five people to attempt this two-room escape effort.

Gehlert co-founded Ace of Escape with friend and puzzle master Allison Vivas. Their escape room has not been active for a year, but they plan on relocating sometime in the next few months. Their escape rooms have steady bookings and it is easy to understand why challengers would keep returning and bring their friends.

“We have teams of professional escape teams visit us,” Gehlert said. “They travel from city to city, country or even world-wide, completing these rooms without hints and often with 10 or more minutes to spare.”

Though you are not likely to pick up and travel the globe—or solve fabricated mysteries, at that—you can learn a lot in these games. They require teamwork and succint communication to be successful.

It is an unconventional, yet unquestionably effective way to quickly learn the strengths of your friends, family or co-workers.

Ace of Escape supports exploring other Tucson escape rooms such as Fox in a Box on University Boulevard, but has an attractive back-to-school sale for adventurers to take advantage of until the end of this month.


Follow Gretchyn Kaylor on Twitter.



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