Denver Blender, a monthly series highlighting different ways to mix up your usual routine, goes to some unusual places.
This is the second installment of the Denver Blender, a monthly series highlighting different ways to mix up your usual routine, go to some unusual places and meet people in Denver. Have a suggestion for next month’s edition? E-mail us: email@example.com
When you’re trapped in a roomful of strangers with a hungry zombie, you’ve got two choices: make friends or lie flat.
OK, so that zombie is chained to a wall and, yeah, it isn’t real. But the adrenaline in the air at Great Room Escape, one of Denver’s premier puzzle rooms, is.
While not all of Denver’s escape rooms are this intense, they each offer their own illusion of a high-stakes moment. The goal is simple: Solve the room’s puzzles in under an hour and you win. The spaces, which are typically themed after some Hollywood-blockbuster, demand teamwork, typically requiring six to 12 people apiece. That usually calls for playing with strangers.
This is the best part about escape rooms. With the right crew, they’re basically one-hour, high-intensity friend speed-dating services. Stress, no matter how manufactured, not only springs open a personality like a hammer to a padlock, but in the heat of a moment, it can cauterize friendships between strangers.
With that in mind, I went solo to three Denver escape rooms to see if making friends was as easy as having someone lock you in a room with strangers for an hour.
Buried in an Egyptian tomb, or trapped in a locker room by a football team — downtown Denver’s Escape Works had options. But since I saw Brad Pitt in “Ocean’s Eleven,” I’ve dreamed about robbing a casino with an incorrigible band of misfits.
Escape Works’ Casino Room is the next best thing. I headed over on a Tuesday afternoon to meet my crew. They were eight employees from Greenwood Village retirement investment agency Great-West Financial, taking off work a little early for their annual Christmas party. Cindy was the ringleader of the group that spanned in age from late 20s (Josh, our Brad Pitt) to 50-somethings.
Technically, the casino was only supposed to accommodate eight, but Cindy asked the staff to make an exception. If for only an hour, I was a member of the GreatWest Financial family.
The casino door clicked behind us, and the game was on. Within seconds, the personalities of Great-West Financial’s 2016 Christmas party bloomed. Frustrated with a lock, Debbie slipped a laminated menu into a clear, locked box to flip over a clue card that was face down, cueing an Escape Works employee to pop her head in and wag a finger. Jeff, a man of action and few words, spent half of the allotted hour brute-forcing a combination, putting in nearly 700 numbers on a three-number lock before Josh took over and popped it open. Classic Josh.
Despite our best efforts, time ran out with about a third of the room’s puzzles still left. But for me, it was about the connection, not winning.
Which, yeah, is probably why we lost.
Rating: 666¼5 Features a decent mock-up of a casino and vault room, but the initial clues were too obscure.
Friendship status: We laughed, we lost and after offering up a restaurant recommendation, we parted ways.
Escape Works Denver; 1529 Champa St.; $25 per person. More info at escapeworksdenver.com or 303-945-6521.
Denver Escape Room
Denver Escape Room is tucked in a business park cul-de-sac in Northglenn (yes, Northglenn) — a bit of a haul compared to the other two rooms.
Despite the distance, I managed to make it the recommended 15 minutes early. (By the way, if you’re going to do this whole “let’s-make-friends-byshowing-up-at-an-escaperoom-un-invited” thing, showing up early is essential. You can get to know the people you’ll be spending the next hour with, which makes it sting less when they prove much smarter than you.)
I met my five fellow escapees in the lobby. They were leaders at a nearby youth group. Tony, a head counselor, explained his interest in escape rooms — “They’re like interactive board games!” — while the rest twisted and flipped puzzles. Then, another group walked in, including a kid who’d intermittently bust out rap dance moves (relatable) while wearing a familiar red hat that read “Make Youth Group Great Again” (less so).
We piled into Rampancy, which pits you against an A.I. named Kel that would hypothetically cut the oxygen off in the room if you don’t escape in an hour. Minding the crowd, I self-censored my frustrated vocabulary whenever possible, like during a particularly long “Simon Says” memory game. But clad in a holiday knit sweater with the image of Santa peeing the words “Merry Christmas,” Tony radiated forgiveness.
Still, we found our commonalities: curiosity, twenty-something ‘hood and a desperation to not be suffocated by a computer. We gelled, we laughed, we beat Kel with about 6K minutes to spare. Not today, robots.
There are a lot of special effects and easter eggs packed in Rampancy’s two rooms, like unplugging Kel. That said, it’s a bit of a onenote room, leaning heavily on ciphers clinging fast to a linear line of solutions.
Friendship status: The short-but-sweet bond of winners. Denver Escape Room; 11674 Huron St. #300, Northglenn; $28 per person. More info at denverescaperoom.com or 720379-7656.
Great Room Escape
Scheduled just 40 minutes after Rampancy, I made it just in time to my slot at RiNo’s Great Room Escape. High off beating my first escape room, I met my new escape crew in the lobby of the eerily decorated Brighton Boulevard warehouse space, as confident as Houdini.
The six twenty- and thirty-something close friends I was thrown in with welcomed me with the nervous energy of an open mic green room. Down the hall was a door, and on the other side of the door, a screaming zombie woman was chained to a wall in a room faithfully done up like a 19th century Victorian study. Every several minutes, the chain grew a couple of feet longer. If it touched you, you were out until the game master — a maid who essentially played the part of the narrator — said you could rejoin the game.
Tell yourself it isn’t real all you want, but it’s a lot harder to do math with a screaming zombie swiping at your thinking cap. This clear and present danger also casts the newcomer as the veritable desert island appetizer: As the only unknown, I was the easy choice for a human shield. Thanks a lot, Jackson.
But soon, the zombie became the odd one out. With no obvious brainiac to lead the group, we had to come together to get through the room’s riddles and secrets. The last 2 minutes ticked off, and we were still missing one of four keys needed to unlock the door. Our desperate search turned into high fives. The zombie let out a final shriek of victory.
But it was too much fun to be upset about. Outside, the group stood around waiting for a ride home. We’d only just gotten out, but agreed to hang out again soon after in the Great Escape Room’s other set piece, a creepy cabin.
From a zombie actor to a devious array of puzzles, no expense is spared here. That shows in the ticket price, but you get what you pay for.
Friendship status: “Sorry about using you as a human shield. Let’s do it again soon in a serial killer’s cabin.”
Great Room Escape: 4120 Brighton Blvd.; $39.95 per person. More info at greatroomescape.com/denver or 303-586-2689.
Great Escape Denver offers a zombie and a creepy cabin for quick-thinking thrill seekers to escape from — and maybe make new friends along the way.