Popup Escape Room: A Licence to Escape

One of the joys of living in London is that so many unique events happen here. In a stunning stroke of genius, Thinking Bob and Yelp had put together a one night only, escape room popup extravanganza. They’d invited along some companies, organised for free alcohol and hired a venue near Paddington. Even better, I’d managed to get an invite (which, admittedly, wasn’t that hard).

And so it was, on a dreary Friday evening we headed down to London to be entertained by City Dash, clueQuest, Escape Rooms, Enigma QuestsEnigma Escape, Lock’d and Mystery Cube. Unfortunately most of my usual escapists were busy, so there were just the two of us, but the evening was geared around individuals and we were thrown together in a team of six. We were the only ones who knew anything about escape rooms (or City Dash), so this was going to be an interesting experience…

The event was centred round finding a treacherous henchman in the “Evil Octopus” organisation. Solving escape rooms would give you clues that you could then use “Guess Who?” style to eliminate people from a booklet that contained 32 (or so) people. Your times to escape the rooms, a bonus from City Dash and whether you identified the evil henchman would determine your overall ranking. Not that it really mattered – this was about having fun.

City Dash

As an appetiser, we went out on a mini City Dash event. Three zones, three clues and a guard in each. When I went along to City Dash: Code Red last month, we all, sort of, knew what we were getting ourselves into. This time around, apart from myself and the person I’d come with, the rest of the team didn’t have the vaguest idea of what this was about. It was great watching them start off just wandering round, not really knowing what they were doing, until we had our first guard encounter. That moment was fantastic – I’d expected them to not care very much, but the fear caught them and they raced off into the darkness.

The guards did their job well – sneaking, chasing, doubling back. They ran fast enough to make life difficult, but still give your team a chance. Getting all nine clues was probably too much of an ask, but we did manage six from two of the zones before we headed back. The only downside was that we didn’t always run in the same direction, and eventually two of us got split off from the rest of the team. Note to self – always exchange phone numbers in chasing games! Job done though – they conveyed the feeling of their events nicely, and had I not already been planning on going to their room this week, I’d probably have signed up!

Escape Rooms

Back indoors, our first challenge was with Escape Rooms. It was an interesting start to the evening, and first taste for our team mates, because this was probably at the most cerebral end of escape room puzzles. The first part was to spot what the rules for the game were, and then once you’d done that, follow those rules to complete the puzzle.

It took me a couple of minutes to crack the rules, but once we did that I explained to our team mates and started completing the puzzle. If this had been with my usual group or in a normal escape room, I’d just have started completing the puzzle, but I thought it was important to bring them along, so I talked all the way through the process. Unfortunately, that lack of concentration meant I made a mistake and we had to go through the whole thing again to find where. At that point it almost went horribly, horribly wrong. One of the other players decided they knew exactly how the game worked and started changing all the stuff I’d done. Fortunately another player stopped her, and we were able to recover with about thirty seconds remaining.

Definitely a good taste of (harder) escape rooms: cryptic puzzle that had simple rules (once you’d found them), making mistakes under pressure and (with the right people), could be split up to solve as a team.


Probably the most elaborate of the evening. They said on social media that it would involve a laser, so I had a rough idea of what might be required, but it turned out to be significantly more impressive than I’d expected.

This one definitely required teamwork, with different people solving different parts of the puzzle. You were crowded round a table, just the right size for six people, and where you stood pretty much determined which part of the puzzle you’d be involved with. Indeed, I barely even saw half of what our team did. Fortunately, myself and my usual team mate were at opposite ends of the table, so we could help move everyone in the right direction.

Another good escape room challenge: a sequence of mini puzzles that came together, some physical aspects to the puzzles, a nice clue that had an “obvious” (wrong) solution and a slightly less obvious (right) solution and, of course, a laser!

Enigma Quests

I was definitely looking forward to my first glimpse of Enigma Quests, who’ll be hosting a game for us in a couple of weeks. True to their first room, they’d gone for a magic theme. This room involved a little bit of searching to start off with, then some “magic”, a riddle and finally a cryptex. And, oh, was it a beautiful cryptex. The tumblers turned so easily that it was hard to get them all to the right place because they’d spin away under the slightest pressure.

One nice aspect of this room was that that the henchman clue was locked inside the cryptex. In most games, the puzzle had given you a code to put in the website, but there was a second piece of information which was handed to you by the host if you solved the room.

Three down, and I was seriously impressed with the variety. With searching, riddles, a cryptex and some sort of “magicesque” device, they’d exposed a few more aspects of escape rooms.

Enigma Escape

Fourth up was Enigma Escape, who’d gone to town with the decoration. Most of the companies had put in a puzzle, but hadn’t really tried to make it a room. I totally understand why you’d do that for a popup event, but I’m glad that someone had made the effort to have a complete room. They’d stuck with “the Killer” theme and created a crime scene story, where you had to determine the next victim.

Like Escape Rooms’ offering, they’d gone with you having to determine a particular rule, but with much less in the way of clues, and far more extraneous information. On the flipside, the rule was incredibly simple once you worked it out. Unfortunately I started by getting totally the wrong end of the stick (and the wrong side of the room!), so was pointing us in totally the wrong direction. When we started looking at the right side of the room, we spotted the pattern and quickly found the next victim.


Four from four and things were starting to get interesting – would we get a 100% record? Lock’d’s room was immediately imposing – there were more elements to the puzzle than any of the previous ones. This was a room for teamwork, and the level was set about right for our just-starting-to-gel team.

First off was a search of the room to find all the relevant clues, then you split up into two or three teams to solve those individual clues, before coming back to the obvious end point for the end game. I can’t say a huge amount about the game because I was solving a code for most of it, but it did have a good level of teamwork, a little bit of “magic”, some simple decryption and a bit of searching, so again, a fairly good representation of what escape rooms are about.

We just managed to get the code and enter it into the web page before our five minutes was up (despite panicking over a screen lock!).

Mystery Cube

[Do read the comment below though, to get some context about this room]

Sixth and last came the Mystery Cube. I was intrigued about this, as it was the only escape room that I hadn’t done and didn’t have a booking for. It’s so far south for me, that I’d likely only get to it when I run out of other options closer to home. Would they convince me to make that long journey sooner?

Well, no. Aside from sour grapes, because this was the only room we didn’t beat, what they showed didn’t inspire me. Don’t get me wrong – they’d done a good representation of escape rooms, and, with my usual team mates, it would have been fun, but they relied a bit too much on padlocks and keys for my liking. More to the point, the padlocks were all four digits, which drove us nuts. In fact, I’m pretty sure we got one of the codes but didn’t unlock the corresponding box because we gave up too early.

There were nice mechanics for hiding the codes though. Considering they’d gone minimalist, and basically brought along six locked boxes, it was actually quite impressive. By far the hardest puzzle though – according to our hosts, only two teams had escaped with the clue. And to be honest, much as it upsets me to not complete a room, having a properly hard room there was good. The game certainly hasn’t put me off heading down to the Cube, I’m just not going to accelerate my plans.

Before you go…

We finished the last room as they were closing down the venue, so there wasn’t much time to chat with our team mates about the evening (especially since I needed to race off to catch the train). In fact, I’ve only really collected my thoughts properly while writing this post, and realised just how much fun it was.

I was seriously impressed with the standard of puzzles that they brought along. Indeed, I wonder whether someone playing a real escape room might be slightly disappointed by what they saw in a real room after playing these six. Yes, real rooms might have more impressive puzzles, but they wouldn’t be consistently as impressive.

All the rooms gave a good feel for what escaping is about, while managing to have relatively little overlap in terms of puzzle mechanics. The puzzles were challenging, but not impossible, and they’d not made any that were difficult to explain once you were out of the room.

It was great to see so many of the owners come down, with Sam and Hom from Enigma Escape, Nargiza and Dmitri from Enigma Quests, Alexander from Lock’d, Gwyn from City Dash and I’m pretty sure others that I didn’t recognise from Mystery Cube, Escape Rooms and clueQuest.

Escaping with people I didn’t know was interesting. I’m very, very glad I don’t do it normally. It’s not a case of me only want to escape with my “usual” team – I’m quite happy to escape with other friends – it’s just that I want to be able to tell somebody when they’re doing something stupid, and I’m not comfortable doing that with people who I don’t know. There were at least two occasions where someone could have scuppered our chances of escaping the rooms had other people not intervened. In the US it seems quite a normal way to play games, and I’d always wondered how it would play out. I am glad I did it though, because it was fun getting to know people while solving puzzles, even if it could drive you crazy at time..

Yep, Thinking Bob, Yelp and all the escape room companies (and City Dash!) did very well indeed. Can we do another please?!

Other reviews

Want a second opinion, then look no further:

  • The authoritative UK blog: Exit Games
  • Lots of Yelp reviews, which don’t appear to have any significant spoilers



  1. // Reply

    Greetings from Mystery Cube HQ!

    Great review of what was indeed a fantastic evening – and just as challenging for the escape room organisers as the participants! Well done to all involved, especially Phil and Rebecca from Thinking Bob

    I thought I’d just respond to your comments about the Mystery Cube Room. Sorry you didn’t escape! We were a last-minute substitute as another escape room dropped out leaving Thinking Bob in a bit of a pickle. As a result Team Mystery Cube (myself and MissTerry) effectively had only a few days to design our game and 48 hours to build our set up. We couldn’t even visit the venue in advance! So that is why we devised the Mystery Boxes, portable and self-contained – and we arrived clutching them (black paint barely dry!) at the venue at just after 6pm! So it was all very frantic.

    As for the game itself, we totally agree it was a very hands-on style with lots of padlocks and very complicated for the pressure situation that evening. The groups that did escape and those that got painfully close to doing so were the ones that thoroughly examined all the boxes and divided the boxes amongst them whilst communicating the whole time, with of course a sprinkling of good fortune! The best performance was from the team from Agent November who blitzed their way through the process and almost made it look comfortable!

    Of course it would have been ideal if our escape rate had been a touch higher! And had we had time to conduct test sessions with guinea pigs we would have been able to refine it somewhat. But the process of designing these things is far from simple – the actual Mystery Cube was a year in development***. C’est la vie! And ultimately everyone had to do all the challenges so it was an even playing field. I am really glad we were able to be there and be part of it and we ensured there wasn’t an empty space in the game zone!

    As for the Mystery Cube itself, it is indeed in South London, a short walk from South Wimbledon Tube. Less than half an hour from central London and (I would say this, being the Professor!) well worth a visit! I do hope you can get down to us some time.

    And what will await you? Well I cannot say much, as you will understand, but the Mystery Cube is certainly very hands-on. There are lots of mysteries to solve and Cubenauts are kept very busy throughout their Mission with a key requirement to work as individuals and as a team to be successful. But the escape-rate is a lot more healthy than it was for the Mystery Boxes! Interestingly, previous exit game experience doesn’t guarantee anything and we see a lot of rookies pull off great escapes!

    Experienced gamers and rookies alike have left some great and detailed reviews on our Tripadvisor page. I hope you can be persuaded to gather a group of your finest comrades together and accept the challenge!

    Best wishes,

    Professor QB

    *** Obviously we did not build the Mystery Cube – it landed without warning, we don’t know where it came from or why it is here!

    1. // Reply

      Thanks for reading, and for giving the context behind your mini-game – much appreciated. I’ve updated my review to direct people towards your comment.

      With a different team it would have been a different story – one thing I didn’t cover in my analysis of the rooms (and really should have since it’s so important!) was the communication aspect, and you’re right to flag that as the key element in your room. As a scratch team, that was never going to be our forte, and mini rooms, to some extent, let you get away without good comms so we’d got by.

      Expect a visit some time. You’re still very much on my list, and while my Northern roots will allow me to ignore you for a while, you’re by far the oldest London escape room that I’ve not visited, so I need to put that right soon!

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