U of T Escape Room. Courtesy Lynelle D'Silva.

Escape rooms have become increasingly popular in Toronto, and now U of T is getting in on the action. “Campaign for Community” hosted its very first U of T-oriented escape room at Sidney Smith hall last Wednesday.

The game originated in Silicon Valley in 2006, and requires participants to solve various puzzles in order to escape the confines of a locked room.

I arrive on the second floor of Sid Smith — which is still crowded although it’s 8:15 pm — waiting to find pairs of friends and groups of strangers in anticipation. A novice to the escape room phenomenon, I am quickly assigned to a team who I anxiously interrogate about the rules of the game. While many confess to being as inexperienced as myself, my team also boasts some devoted escape room aficionados.

The concept seems simple enough: a group of six to eight people are locked in a room with hidden clues, scattered but connected in guiding the escape. Among other things, there’s a time constraint, and impending doom if we don’t complete the task on time. For the sake of maintaining the U of T theme, the ‘impending doom’ is a severely decreased GPA.

As we get ready to enter the room, my teammates try to sneak a peek into the mysterious game-space. I, on the other hand, have to remind myself that this is an escape room and not a history tutorial, considering the all-too-familiar setting.

U of T Escape Room. Courtesy Lynelle D'Silva.

U of T Escape Room. Courtesy Lynelle D’Silva.

The similarities vanish when I step inside the cryptically re-vamped classroom, however.

A mix of maps, posters, toolboxes, and printouts of Michelangelo’s most acclaimed works make for an especially confusing scene. In the foreground, a blackboard is crowded with what can only be described as a medley of math equations. Most striking are the Starbucks cups, half-full with an unnamed liquid that a few teammates suggested we drink in the hopes that it will lead to a clue. Thankfully, the idea is quickly abandoned.

In advance, we are told the record for quickest escape-time: an impressive 16 minutes that we’re determined to beat. Despite adrenaline, my teammates remain surprisingly calm as they scour every corner, carefully inspecting each item. Nothing is random, they tell me — anything can conceal a valuable clue.

Among the 2,800 escape rooms worldwide, the successful-escape rate stands under 50 per cent. The statistics seem to confirm the general consensus among my teammates, who felt that the difficulty level of our own challenge was fairly mild.

Nonetheless, everyone seemed to have a good time. Fourth-year student and Escape Room rookie Dhyey Sejpal said the game “was a nice break from assignments in this stressful exam time.” Another teammate called the U of T adaptation of the game “very creative” in its ability to get people motivated and working together. Clearly, the efforts of organizers and designers at Campaign for Community paid off.

In the end, my team did not break the record. We escaped at just under 20 minutes in this short time, the room itself became an escape, locking out the stress of finals and transporting us from student worries without leaving the comfort of campus. 

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