Outside the room
When Clockwork Dog appeared on the scene, I can’t say I took much notice. Yes, they were an escape room and yes, they were based in London, but they were creating a pop-up escape room that would be around for three weeks. There were two ways I could see it going: Either it was a ruse to get people to book early and they would extend the run or they would be putting together a cheap and simple game. I waited my time to see which one it was.
And then I saw Dean’s review on Escape Review. Suddenly, this room looked a lot more appealing and, when it became clear that they were unlikely to extend their run, I knew I had to organise a last-minute trip to see for myself. In the end, more people were available to play than the game could accommodate, so we ended up booking back-to-back three-player games.
The hosts greeted us in character and really set the scene for the game well.
Arthur Langstroth recently died and, in his will, he specified that all the items in his antique shop should be bequeathed or sold. All, that is, except one: an object of incredible power. That item is available to whichever person or people can follow the clues and find its hiding place.
Inside the room
I’ll admit that I was dubious about setting up a pop-up escape room in a shop. When you can customise a space, you have lots of options for integrating the theme into the room, whereas Clockwork Dog were going to have to work with what was there. They’d chosen well, though. This was a shop full of character, with enough nooks and crannies to make it interesting but not so many that searching became a chore. That balance had been retained in their set dressing; there were sufficient props to give the feel of an antique dealer with a particular interest in Egypt but they hadn’t gone overboard with red herrings.
Yes: if you like searching, this is definitely a room for you. The finds were sometimes challenging but never left me feeling they were unfair. Both teams came close to needing a hint for a missing item but, on both occasions, some re-searching of the room resulted in the relevant prop being found so we could happily continue along with the game. There’s nothing quite like that sweet satisfaction of the second search paying off. (At least for the person who finds it, and embarrassment for those of us who missed it the first time round!)
The puzzles made decent use of the Egyptian/antique shop theme, with one slightly convoluted one in particular using an unusual prop in a fun way. Given the game was based around someone setting a trial of puzzles/riddles, almost anything is fair game here, but I did feel that a couple of the puzzles were a bit weak – counting up objects or similar – which was at odds with the quality of the rest of the game. Given the limited budget available for a pop-up, I’m imagining that the designer went out to look for suitable props and crafted the puzzles around them. It’s hard to be too critical given that, and it is frankly impressive that they managed to keep so much of it on theme.
And it wasn’t just the puzzle elements that they kept on theme. I don’t want to give any details away, because it seems plausible that this room will reappear in some guise, but both the clues and the “off limits” labels fitted nicely with the story. It’s touches like that which I think take escape games to new levels and, in this case, they make me intrigued to see Clockwork Dog’s next outing.
Possibly the most impressive part of the experience was what they’d done to control the atmosphere. Both the lighting and sound in the room were used to enhance the experience, and the finale “reveal” would have been the highlight of the vast majority of games I’ve played. They took advantage of the shop and added a little bit of their own magic in a way that still has me smiling when I think about it a week later.
We got out with 22 minutes remaining which, up until a couple of hours earlier, would have been the record time. Unfortunately, we’d let our team mates go in first, and they escaped with 36 minutes, so yet again I have to put up with some teasing for the next few games. Neither team took clues.
Wow. What the team at Clockwork Dog have done in a pop-up environment puts many permanent escape rooms to shame. The hosts were a fun pair with a nice introduction to the story and, while a few of the puzzles were a little bit simplistic for my liking, the majority of them were well devised. It’s disappointing that so few people will get to see the finale, because it really was excellent. You’re already too late to play this game (it sold out not long after we played) but, if you get the chance to play their next oneI think it’s worth taking a punt to see if it’s as well done as this one. I certainly will.
We ate round the corner in the Cellars on Newington Green. Lovely old pub with decent modern food.
Detailed Room Ratings