Before the event
Back in May, I decided to branch out from the usual escape room events that I’d been attending and visit A Door in a Wall‘s event The Life and Death of Paul Marrane. I’d never heard of the company before, but what was clear to me was that they had a loyal following, and the reviews were, without exception, excellent. They billed this as being similar to their previous events, but with a bit more outdoor exploration, which sounded right up my street – puzzles while rushing around – and with a 6:30 start and post 10pm end, it looked to be decent value for money.
Despite being down in Poplar, which was a pain in the neck to get to, I still managed to convince ten of my friends to join me on the adventure, and on a drizzly May evening we descended on Docklands to dust off our detective skills.
Oh wow. I use the word immersive when talking about escape rooms, but I feel ashamed to bandy that term around when I think about this experience. The moment I saw the first setting, I knew we were in for a treat. They’d taken over one unit in a parade of shops, and decorated it up to look like an old fashioned law firm, inside and out.
You were greeted at the threshold, in tones of reverence, by one of the employees of the firm asking if you were here for the reading of the will. They handed you a glossy brochure, packed full of information, and directed you to take a seat while you waited. We’d turned up with a few minutes to spare, so we glanced through the booklet, chose team names and affiliations (see later), then registered ourselves. After much debate and deliberation, we’d split ourselves into three teams of three or four people, which I think was probably the right choice in retrospect – there was a lot of moving around, and as the saying goes, you’re only as quick as the slowest member of your team.
At 6.30pm the room quietened down and the head lawyer started his introduction. He explained a bit about Paul Marrane’s life, his recent disappearance and the strange set of instructions he’d left in the will, before impressing upon us that we must be back in the room by 10pm and not a minute later. It was beautifully delivered and set the scene for a wonderful night of immersion.
The puzzle was split into two parts – the four life trails and the seven element trails. They’d been pretty vague about what each set of parts would entail, other than to strongly encourage us to do all four life trails.
Afterwards it became apparent that the element trails were trails of puzzles that didn’t involve any significant human interaction, while the life trails were like mini role plays, where you’d have to solve some puzzles before having some sort of experience with actors. The latter were obviously the more impressive part of the experience, although to be honest, all of it was pretty amazing.
As soon as the will reading was over, we set off from Alder & Alder and headed to our initiation point – determined by what affiliation we’d chosen. There were spiritual, financial, scientific and military factions, and we’d gone for financial (my fault – I’d just watched Divergent!). In truth it made little difference which faction you were part of, other than that, when you followed the life trails, which corresponded to each of the factions, they would treat you in slightly different ways (we got a lot of disdain!).
After that second briefing, we headed off to one of the far points (using the glossy A2 map which had the start of each trail marked), on the principle that we wouldn’t run into other teams. It was apparent straight away that this wasn’t going to be an old fashioned treasure trail. The first clue on this life trail was located inside the window of a local business, which then took us over to a puzzle attached to some church railings, which then sent us to a pharmacy located back where we’d started.
I realised at this point, that rather than go straight there, we could start a second (element) trail that was nearby, and not waste our time running around the streets of Poplar. So we got to the start, where we found some flyers, which led us to look at the Docklands skyline to get a clue which took us to a website, that gave us a crossword but without numbers for the clues, and pointed us at a nearby street where the paving stones had the numbers laid out correctly…
First element collected, we headed back towards the start via a second puzzle, but quickly got distracted while solving that one to reach a third puzzle. Before we knew it, we had five or six different puzzles with a swathe of clues and were struggling to remember what we were meant to do now. Wow, this was more challenging than I’d expected.
I could give you a blow by blow account of all the puzzles we did and the interactions we had, but I think the previous couple of paragraphs give you the idea of the frenzied nature of the evening, so I’ll just pick out a few things that I really enjoyed.
The spiritual Life trail – we followed a variety of clues that ended with us in the basement of a shop, with a “guru” teaching us about the path to enlightenment. One step was to tell a story a line at a time around the team (in fact two teams). Each of the life trails involved interacting with the leaders of the factions, so as well as the guru, we had to deal with a very officious leader of the Daunt Trust (geddit?), the serious C Stern institute and the General from GUARD. All very different experiences, but all involved some sort of interaction, and occasionally some puzzle solving.
What else? Well, there was a board game we had to play against another military figure, a telephone that rang every fifteen minutes to give you clues, a pair of binoculars at the top of a clocktower that allowed you to see a message written on a nearby block of flat’s eighth (or so) floor, some maritime signal flags to decode, a chess board puzzle to solve, a telephone based game that required you to speak some passwords to pass their security.
In fact, the telephone game was particularly fun, because it required you to speak three phrases that, when rearranged, sounded like “the arch duke dies at dawn” or something similar. Later on we got the (rearranged) segments played back to us in a way that made it sounds like one of us was plotting to kill the duke.
It went on – indeed, we didn’t come close to finishing all the puzzles, so there may well have been several other puzzles that we never saw. What I do remember is that we were constantly trying to remember which puzzle we were working on, what the next steps were, what the most efficient way of solving the remaining puzzles were and whether we had enough time left to do everything we wanted.
Frantic, fantastic and fun.
Everyone who took part enjoyed it. There were amazing actors, amazing sets, amazing use of the cityscape and amazing puzzles. Afterwards I came home with six or seven pieces of paper which were like professional publications.
I can give no stronger praise than that I intend to sign up for their next puzzle as soon as it’s announced. I can only cajole you to do the same!