Den­ver Blender, a monthly se­ries high­light­ing dif­fer­ent ways to mix up your usual rou­tine, goes to some un­usual places.

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Dy­lan Owens

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: the­know@den­ver­post.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.

Es­cape Works

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.

Rating: ****

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.

Rating: *****

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.

Sierra Voss, Spe­cial to The Den­ver Post

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.

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