To be bound in a shackled straitjacket while suspended upside down in a tank of water. Or dropped to a murky river bottom in a crate laden with lead. Maybe sewn into the belly of a whale.

Harry Houdini’s life goals are the stuff of nightmares.

Few sane souls desire a date with Death. To go steady. To be so close as to hear him whisper sweet nothings before pulling back at the last moment as he reaches out for your final embrace. Yet many are still drawn to Danger (real or perceived) and his cousin Dilemma. We’re eager to put ourselves in situations where, by pluck and wit, we overcome the odds and emerge victorious. Mud runs offer an antidote for the claustrophobic cubicle; Game of Thrones is a ready salve for the doldrums.

The inventive staff of Houdini’s Room Escape in Montgomery offers adventurous spirits the opportunity to extricate themselves from pickles without being pickled—to solve a puzzle with the clock ticking and the pressure mounting. The owners, John and Peggy Kennedy, experienced their first escape room while vacationing in New York. John Kennedy loved participating in something where everyone was on a level playing field. It didn’t matter that his sons weren’t engineers like their dad; they had their own skill sets and ways of looking at the world that helped them solve the room—together. With John embarking on a new professional adventure, the family began building their own version in 2015.

“There was an early example when we first opened that helped me realize how powerful these moments are. A family with three generations was in a room together. The little kids were collecting all the items that were just hidden. The grandparents were solving the elements [that] take patience and were time consuming. The parents filled in the gaps and acted as the glue pulling everything together. They escaped with time to spare.”

The crew of writers, photographers, and editors from Polly—along with some enthusiastic family and friends—gathered on a balmy evening in July for the purpose of being puzzled. While milling about in the lobby, introductions were made, polite greetings exchanged. But once our guide brought us to our rooms, explained our tasks, and left us alone and initially clueless, we kicked into team mode—escape mode.

“Hey! I found something! Looks like a . . . I don’t know. What is this?”

“Ooooh! I know! Bring it over here. It should fit riiight here . . . Yes!”

As tumblers clicked and boxes yawned open, rewards were offered in the form of more clues. Strangers just moments before became Sherlocks and Watsons, tag-teaming with childlike enthusiasm. We mixed and mingled, laughed and wondered.

In the Game Room, where half of the group devoted our brain cells, Houdini challenged would-be apprentices. We’d earn a coveted spot on his crew only if we marshaled all the clues in an hour or less—clues that combined to create a code. We punched in the correct four numbers with only minutes to spare.

The team in the Lab scrambled to reverse lockdown procedures after a viral contamination. Their escape was not only personal but global as they held the cure for a worldwide zombie-inducing plague. Replete with beakers and gauges and scopes and all manner of laboratory language, the Lab took the scientists to the brink. Only thirty-some seconds was the razor-thin difference separating their victory from impending defeat.

With differing levels of difficulty and percentages of successful escapes, you can choose a room that offers a moderate, intermediate, or advanced challenge. If you and your cohorts are feeling especially confident, the Oval Office awaits. The level of difficulty? Expert. Cue tense music.

Complete with a replica of the Resolute desk which co-starred with Nicolas Cage in the sequel to National Treasure, the Oval Office is astoundingly authentic in appearance. Before your game even begins you’ll marvel at the crest on the carpet, the furniture and fireplace, and the photos on the molding-framed walls. It’s so well done you may not want to escape!

The Speakeasy and the Tower round out the opportunities for brain teasing and team building, with more rooms to come. With their attention to detail and their attentive staff, the Kennedys have created an experience centered on escape that will keep you coming back for more.

Though finding my way out of a whale’s stomach is not on my personal bucket list, returning to Houdini’s Room Escape with family and friends has earned a spot for sure.

 

To plan your own escape, visit www.houdinisroomescape.com or call (513) 549-5419. Houdini’s Room Escape is located at 9309 Montgomery Road in Cincinnati.

 

words DOUG GEYER | video MATTHEW O’PRY & SHANON RICE @ DOWN DOG MEDIA

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