The New Escapism
Trapped inside a room with five total strangers—that’s
entertainment! By Deborah P. Carter
Ivolunteered to be locked in a room with five strangers. And why not? It seems everyone is doing it. Escape
rooms—timed puzzles that require wits
and teamwork to prevail—have emerged
all over New Jersey in recent years.
Checking it out seemed like a good
idea until our hosts at Escape AC—New
Jersey natives and business and romantic partners, Lisa Benninger and Steve
Peto—explained their own introduction
to the concept. On a trip to Bratislava,
Slovakia, they visited an escape room at
a former Gestapo outpost. Say what?
Still, I was game. After all, Escape
AC is in the Tropicana Hotel in Atlantic
City. At worst, I would blow through
;;; and an hour of my time—after
which I could safely ride the elevator to
the casino floor and have a drink.
I am typically skeptical of entertainment outside of the comfort zone
of theaters and restaurants. I don’t
gamble, hate video games, never go
to amusement parks and have little
patience for board games. I approached
my first escape-room experience
expecting it to fall somewhere between
mildly engaging and cringingly cheesy.
Escape AC has four Atlantic City-
themed rooms: the Poker Room, the
Boardwalk, the Casino Cage and
Backstage. The owners took great care
in creating attractive, clever spaces
with authentic Jersey ephemera like
Prohibition-era newspaper clippings
and Boardwalk signs. Each room can
accommodate up to ;; people. Feel free
to come with your own group.
My team, corralled in the attractive
waiting room, was antsy and eager as we
listened to the guidelines: Split up, but
work together; be mindful of the clock;
everything is potentially a clue; nothing
is what it seems.
We were assigned the Poker Room,
the most di;cult challenge. Our hosts
ushered us into a well-appointed
space with the clubby look of an old-fashioned gambling den. The door
closed ominously behind us. Multiple
locks—some with combinations, some
requiring keys—secured the exit. We
had ;; minutes to get out, using the
clues stashed within the room.
My teammates and I began scouring the room for clues. We made a plan:
Call out anything you see that might be
relevant, and keep moving.
At first, we went for the obvious. We
looked in boxes, opened books, felt along
the walls. We searched under tables,
scrutinized knickknacks, even crawled
on the floor. Some clues would help us
find the keys; others might suggest the
digits on the combination locks.
When I found the first key, we high
fived as if I’d scored a winning goal.
Still, we had a long way to go. The challenge was proving insanely hard. The
clock was ticking. It would take all of
our collective smarts to connect the
dots and make our escape.
At one point, we thought we had
cracked the code. But to our dismay,
there were more challenges in store.
And then the clock ran out.
Despite our failure, I left Escape AC
feeling engaged, stimulated and enter-
tained. Curiously, it struck me as an ex-
ercise in mindfulness. For one hour, six
strangers focused on a single task—al-
beit a meaningless one. We let go of our
worries and our cell phones (they are
banned). We collaborated, laughed and
cheered. We interacted face-to-face—a
rarity in these days of social media.
In a sense, we escaped.
Escape AC, Tropicana Hotel, ;;;;
Boardwalk, Atlantic City; ;;;-;;;-;;;;,
escapeac.com. Must be ;; or over.