Atherton Escape Rooms: Train Waiting Room

9b[1]

Outside the room

A day after playing the Missing Child, we were back at Atherton Escape Rooms for a second helping. We had a bit more time to chat with them this time, so it was interesting to hear their plans. They’ve still got plenty of space so, after finishing refurbishing their fourth room (after only seven weeks?!), they’re going to be opening up two new rooms. Longer term, they were talking about recycling one room each month, which seemed a little frequent to me but might be the right decision in a small town like Atherton. The other interesting thing is that the vast majority of the unit they’ve rented still won’t be used, so there’s scope for them to add more rooms should Atherton take off. That seems unlikely, but it’s interesting to hypothesise what else they might add to their venue.

There are plenty of things in the same building already, including an indoor rifle range and indoor paintball centre. I can’t help but feel this feels like it’s asking to be a stag and hen do venue. I’m not sure it’s quite got the nightlife, but I can well imagine it being the base for the daytime activities, then jumping on a train into the centre of Manchester for the night time. Time will tell!

We decided that we fancied a challenge this time round, so we’d opted for the Train Waiting room – which no one had ever escaped from until two weeks before our visit. Nothing like a bit of pressure!

Background

You’re in the waiting room at a train station and the last train will depart in an hour but, when you check the door, you find it mysteriously locked.

Inside the room

Again, they’d pulled together some nice props for the room that gave a decent rendition of a train waiting room, and (perhaps because it was only seven weeks old), the room was in good condition. We set straight to work solving the puzzles. I want to use the word “again” a lot in this review, and that’s because, while the puzzles were different to the previous room, it’s a pretty standard formula they use here. That’s not meant to be critical: just that, once you’ve played one room, I get the feeling you’ll have very similar experiences at the others. Don’t expect them to throw in anything amazingly high-tech or surprising puzzles – these are pretty standard fare which make decent use of the props you might expect to find in the room.

Probably the most interesting thing is the difficulty level of this room. It’s rated as high, which you have to remember should be taken in the context of only allowing three hints in the room. We definitely found it harder than your average room and, if you’ve got any sense, you’ll keep track of which potential codes you find and what padlocks/puzzles you still need to solve, to ensure you don’t miss any connections (no pun intended!). The difficulty wasn’t purely down to the puzzles being hard, though. I felt several of the puzzles were deliberately unhelpful and wouldn’t realistically be solved. Two required a painstaking search, where we’d searched the particular areas where we found the clues twice and hadn’t seen them.

The other unfair puzzle was one of my least favourite of all time. Slight spoiler: it involved a three-tries-and-locked-out safe. I’m not a big fan of those because it really interrupts the game play, BUT I don’t think they’re absolutely terrible. What is terrible, though, is when there’s no indication in the room as to what you’re meant to use. What’s that I hear you say “It’s a finale puzzle, so just use your final code”. Oh, but this room has red herrings (several of which are very deliberate) so, if you tried all the potential codes, you’d probably take at least twenty minutes waiting for the safe to reset each time. In the end we burned two of our three clues asking for help on this puzzle and spent probably twenty minutes trying to get past it. When we eventually got the answer, it was unsatisfying for two more reasons that I won’t mention here because it would involve a significant spoiler. Bottom line: Owners shouldn’t put in any “locks” that can be locked out for five minutes unless it’s abundantly clear which puzzle relates to them. Actually, that’s not a bad rule of thumb for locks and puzzles generally – even if there’s no lock-out!

The clue giving system is worth mentioning, since we got to see more of it this time. Assuming you’re happy with the three-clue limit, then I think you’ll like what they do. When you ask for a clue they quickly give you a very cryptic message on the screen. In general, that was enough to point us in the right direction but, in the case that it wasn’t, they then enhanced the clue after a short pause without “charging” us for a second request. Each time they made it a little easier, although on one occasion we used another clue request to speed things up. It was clear they were paying careful attention to what we were doing, because they always gave us the right next clue.

Result

So, in spite of three puzzles that we thought were pretty much impossible, and burning two of our three clues on one of them, we managed to escape with 90 seconds remaining. Fortunately, we managed to entirely bypass one of those puzzles by some creative work by yours truly (in my defence, I thought that was what they wanted us to do!).

Verdict –

They told us that it had taken five weeks for the first team to escape from this room and, frankly, I’m not surprised. I always feel a bit of a sore loser when I complain about the puzzles where we need clues, but this feels legitimate. To my mind, the last puzzle in this room was unacceptable and, disappointingly, when I told them I didn’t like it, they seemed unable to accept its obvious flaws. Without that, I think the room would be acceptable – just about solvable without clues, and realistically solvable with two.

It was a disappointing end to a basic room and that was a bit of a killer. I enjoyed much of the room, but there was nothing exciting, nothing really surprising and what would have been the fun part (the difficulty) was let down by the issues above. In all honesty, I can’t really recommend this room, except for experienced escapers who want to challenge themselves and are prepared to put up with a tenuous finale puzzle.

Eating

We didn’t eat in Atherton this time round (although I’d recommend the restaurant we ate in on our previous visit!). To make up for that omission, I’ll mention The Snug, a fantastically quirky cafe just behind the main street with friendly staff, a great array of home-made bakery and eclectic decor. Well worth a visit if you’ve got some time to kill before your game or for some post-game analysis.

Detailed Room Ratings

Venue
Host
Wow! factor
Immersiveness
Difficulty

14 Comments


  1. // Reply

    Again I would like to comment that you did not get out of this room at all & was irked in the way the penultimate clue was given. You may want to re-remember the event but Thank you for visiting us two days running.


  2. // Reply

    I think you must be confusing us with someone else, because we absolutely did escape.


  3. // Reply

    Okay as you say you did get out what was in the safe? or did we show you , You stated that you hated a” clue that was a guessing game”, which it wasn’t because there was only two permutations to unlock the safe & three chances to use them.You did not get the clue so was unable to escape.I have noticed a running theme that the people who love to do Escape rooms always feel irked when something eludes them, & others who don’t escape come out buzzing & complimentary to the rooms, saying how much they have enjoyed themselves it is after all about having fun. Thank you again for visiting We did find you to be lovely people.


  4. // Reply

    My dad and I completed this room (as well as The Missing Child, coincidentally) and had the exact same experience that you did. The safe feature and the clue to get in it do not work at all. It wouldn’t be so bad if A) The safe didn’t have a time out or B) There was some indication of which clue related to the safe. The fact that the designers rather lazily use red herrings in the rooms instead of just using more complex/intelligent clues means that there are multiple options for the code and the fact that you have no idea how many digits the code for the safe is means that you can’t rule anything out.

    When we expressed our thoughts on the last clue, we received a very defensive and argumentative response – much like you have, I see. It’s a real shame because you would expect the owners to welcome customer feedback to continually improve their rooms – especially for a small business for whom word of mouth and repeat business are so important.

    What is also rather pathetic is the attempt to insult your intelligence by suggesting that you just don’t like the clue because you didn’t escape.


  5. // Reply

    Thanks LC – I appreciate getting a second opinion (especially one that agrees with me 😉 ). I’ve talked to a lot of designers, and designed my own escape puzzles, and one of the things I’ve learned is that it’s very hard not to feel your own puzzles are “obvious”. One of the designers from the States that I really respect talked about how they’d make a room with lots of puzzles in and then throw away the ones that just didn’t work during testing, even though they might have spent a lot of money on the props for them. I suspect that’s the problem here – they’ve built the room themselves and they find it hard to see the flaws because, to them, the solution is obvious.

    It’s frustrating for me, because I’d love to help them improve, but I can only give the feedback and hope that they take it on board.


  6. // Reply

    Yes, me too. Like yourself, I’m an escape room addict so want ALL escape rooms to thrive so I they can keep developing rooms and feed my addiction! 🙂

    I think you need to accept that your words are falling on deaf ears here though. Shame.


  7. // Reply

    No words are falling on deaf ears whatsoever, you asked me to come in & explain the penultimate clue, which I did. You then stated it was the worst clue ever, both you & your father then said you would not ever be bothered that you hadn’t grasped how it worked,you then stated it was random…fine, the code had two permutations with three attempts to use.. these were locked up so on a more basic level people would then think they were important to the game…I do completely agree that the clues make more sense to the compiler but you was however not the most gracious in accepting your losing. When trying to explain both you & your father were throwing all kinds of things to me & when I reasonably tried to explain would not allow, that you were just a little annoyed in not escaping. You was more than willing to give your name towards beating the missing child record & was more than polite, however the next room seemed to take all of that away in that a simple goodbye was beyond you. I do however appreciate you took the time to visit us. Best regards


  8. // Reply

    Hi, The logic escapes me.. I need to redress all of this, first & foremost I welcomed your constructive criticism as it is always good to build on what we have. We had dry runs with family & friends & asked for complete honesty on how they found it,None of who had ever done an escape room before. We opened & still found we had made mistakes or hadn’t made the rooms secure a very big learning curve So yes we are always open to improving the rooms we have to offer.You have made me think about different clues or ways to make them a little different, I did mention to my husband that you had given very constructive comments but I am always defensive of our home town,so felt a little hurt. However as much as you & your partner were not in any way rude to us I did feel a little small town over your comments/reviews. That is my fault & re-reading all you wrote have to say you put a balanced account across. Regards Angela.


  9. // Reply

    You gave your explanation for why you thought the clue was acceptable and instead of listening to why we thought it was not, you just kept repeating yourself. You said the important part of the clue was the order in which you found each of the elements. When I explained that we had actually found two of the elements in a different order to what you were proposing, your response was that we have three attempts at the code so could try both. We then explained that if it’s possible to find the elements in more than one order, there is no reason to think that the first element should be fixed – thus giving us 6 permutations, not two. I also explained that there was no indication that those elements related to the safe at all and you said that they ‘are train related’ so I pointed out that everything in the room is train related. Giving you a logical explanation of why the clue does not work is hardly ‘throwing all kinds of things to you’.

    Again, you suggest the issue is that people who give you any criticism are just bad losers. I can assure you that I also criticised how easy The Missing Child was to your colleague who was there when we left the room and were told that the two of us had beaten the room record at a time of 38 minutes. I was looking forward to The Waiting Room in the hope that it would be more mentally taxing but there was no intellectual challenge – just red herrings. When we were stuck in the repeated time-out situation, I came to get you to ask about the clue as I knew we weren’t going to escape in time. I don’t think that you can say we were being ungracious? I was perfectly pleasant and polite. I was perfectly reasonable when I said I felt fine about not escaping because I don’t think that the clue was achievable and you immediately became defensive and argumentative.

    We didn’t say goodbye because you made the situation utterly negative and awkward. It’s a strange point for you to make considering you also did not say goodbye.

    Instead of resorting to making personal insults to anyone who gives you an honest critique, it might be wise to take the comments on board in a more reasonable and less emotional way. If the clue works for the majority of people and they are able to decipher it (without the need for additional help), then fine…but if you’re receiving the same feedback from multiple people, it is perhaps worth tweaking.


  10. // Reply

    Two people only ………


  11. // Reply

    Wow! Was looking to visit Atherton Escape Room at some point but won’t bother if that’s the level of customer service.


  12. // Reply

    For what it’s worth, we encountered exactly the same problem with this room. We found the final puzzle answer parts in a very different order to that which was “intended” and so had far more possible combinations we’d have to try than you could do in 60 minutes with a 5 minute safe timeout. A fatally flawed room design, in my opinion, but one they have no intention of fixing it would seem given that two months has passed since this original review.


  13. // Reply

    Liam – yes, we hit the same problem as you. We bypassed one of the earlier puzzles by accident, so we found the required items in the wrong order (plus, by the time we got to the end, we didn’t know what order we’d found them in). That meant we’d likely have had to burn a timeout on the safe. That was even assuming that we’d realised those clues were the critical ones and the red herrings were just that.


  14. // Reply

    “We had dry runs with family & friends & asked for complete honesty on how they found it” – I think that potentially explains the entire drama. Friends and family never give an honest opinion, even if you ask for it.

    Always test your thing on strangers, no matter what it is (escape room, board game, etc.) I know a few very famous comedians who actively seek out rooms to appear unannounced and try out new jokes on the unexpecting audience. Because they know that if they organise something themselves, they end up playing to an audience of their own fans, who will laugh loads anyway because they’re just happy to see them. They don’t get a real measure of how strong the material is until they test on people without preconceptions.

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