Puzzle rooms bring new meaning to escapism

In Chilliwack's Perplexed Puzzles escape rooms, teams have 45 minutes to find clues and solve puzzles to work their way out of the room.

Katie McArthur runs Perplexed Puzzles

Have you ever tried an escape room? It’s like playing your way through a real-life mystery video game – no screens required.

They’re showing up in cities all over the world, with plenty here in B.C.

Companies like Countdown, Exit Canada and SmartyPantz escape rooms have retail spaces in Vancouver, Richmond and Abbotsford. Each location has rooms of differing theme and difficulty to choose from.

But this is the first in Chilliwack.

Perplexed Puzzles is a pop-up escape room company, moving from one city to the next for a few months at a time. They started in Kamloops last summer.

“It was a roaring success,” co-founder of Perplexed Puzzles Katie McArthur explained. “Not every community can support an escape room on a daily basis, but they can support it on a fun basis.”

Katie started the business with her brother Robert Lidster. They brought competition, laughter and excitement to a great following in Kamloops until November. Then, they packed up their two modular rooms – Margaret’s Estate and Bob’s Bunker – and began the hunt for a new location.

“We have a family history in Chilliwack,” Katie pointed out of their chosen destination. “Our great grandparents met here.” She found a central location on Vedder Road that could accommodate her pop-up business, which attracts most customers in the evenings and weekends.

Perplexed Puzzles has a homegrown feel to it, and the hand-curated, family-based rooms offer what Katie referred to as a ‘boutique’ escape room experience.

In Margaret’s Estate, teams are invited to spend 45 minutes in the late Margaret’s parlour to find and keep her fortune.

Among the kitty-decorated room, they’ll have to find keys, combinations and riddles to decipher in order to find the hidden fortune she left behind.

Katie was inspired to create the room by her own Great Aunty Marj, who was in fact a wealthy widow who left her entire estate to her 11 cats.

In Bob’s Bunker, teams set out to find missing uncle Bob, only to discover they should never have done so, finding themselves trapped in a tricky situation.

Katie invited a team from The Progress to test their wits in Margaret’s Estate before their official public opening.

Once you find out a way to brighten up Margaret’s very dimly lit parlour, the added light illuminates the level of detail in the room, capturing the senses.

The thrift store furniture and estate sale furs combine to create a musky scent that sends you back in time.

Oldies music plays softly over the retro radio, muffled by the creaks of old wooden cabinets as team members scour each shelf for a clue.

Every delicate book you touch feels like its been read a thousand times. Everywhere you look the decor reminds you how much this woman must have loved her family of felines.

And with every riddle you solve and every code you crack, the taste of impending victory grows stronger.

If you haven’t tried an escape room before, here’s a warning: there’s a lot of trial and error. People will often give up too early on a puzzle that requires acute attention to detail, or – from personal experience – you can lose valuable time following a phoney lead.

Teamwork and open communication are key, as an out-of-the-box idea might be the right one.

Ultimately, escape rooms are a lot of fun. Once you finish one, you’ll be eager to take a stab at another.

Perplexed Puzzles offers a unique experience in the escape room industry, with an appeal all its own. In a word, it’s authentic.

In the way that the clues are hidden and the riddles are written, as well as every trinket and heirloom that lives in that detailed little room, it feels real. It’s believable that a tricky elderly woman might have put this together. Indeed, the level of complexity in some of the puzzles indicates that she must have been technically-inclined. But each puzzle comes together in a genuine, thoughtful way.

Margaret’s Estate is exciting and fast-paced without using the gore or fear tactics that others in the industry do, so it’s fun for anyone.

Katie recommends that a maximum of four participants work their way through a room at a time.

“When you have more people, it diminishes the experience,” Katie said. “And with our escape rooms, it’s not about putting through group after group, it’s about the experience.” They have  fun ways for large groups or parties to split up and challenge each other in the two rooms.

While the Perplexed Puzzles rooms are certainly challenging, the goal is not to have a mere one or two percent success rate, as some escape rooms advertise. If a team gets irrevocably stuck, Katie will offer a hint to get them on the right track – if they want it.

“We set up quicker than we had anticipated,” Katie said with excitement. “We’re all ready to go now.” The escape rooms are open in Chilliwack until September 15.

Perplexed Puzzles pop-up escape rooms are located at #303-7592 Vedder Road, in the Farm Girl Market building. The cost is $22 (incl. tax) per person.

The hours are Monday to Friday from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., and Saturday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Book your adventure by calling 1-888-501-6067.

Learn more at www.perplexedpuzzles.com and watch for ticket giveaways on their Facebook page.

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