- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 12, 2015

Nine strangers enter a room with no idea what their purpose is, nor how to exit after the door locks behind them. A countdown begins: They have 45 minutes to “solve” the room and find the key to unlock door before the clock ticks zero.

No, this isn’t the latest chapter in the “Saw” horror saga but what awaits visitors to the Escape Room Live DC in Northwest, an interactive brain teaser that offers a bit more cerebrum-challenging than might be typical for a Friday evening’s entertainment.

Owner Ginger Flesher-Sonnier, a retired math teacher, visited several interactive attractions in Europe and saw the potential of opening something similar in the nation’s capital.

The effort has paid off handsomely. In its first five months of operation, Escape Room Live D.C. has shot up to the top spot on TripAdvisor’s “Fun & Games” attraction in the District and ranks at No. 14 of 186 total things to do in town.

“Many local businesses, governmental agencies and schools have contacted us and booked out the current space for several hours because of how collaborative, fun and unique the space is,” said Ms. Flesher-Sonnier. “The steps of discovering, figuring out and then putting together the clues with other people is really fun and satisfying to people.”

Part of the Escape Room’s cunning mystery is that not everything in the room is a clue. One could spend a good 20 minutes needlessly examining some of the red herrings that are sprinkled throughout. Participants are told at the outset that if an object looks nailed to a wall, it probably is. A large wall poster of actor Bill Murray is thrown in with a sign saying, “Not a clue; it’s just cool.”

“The atmosphere and vibe of the location is crucial to transporting people so that they are now the protagonist in their own mystery/crime story,” Ms. Flesher-Sonnier said.

Indeed, it would be nigh on impossible for even Sherlock Holmes to solve the room in 45 minutes by himself. There are so many clues and riddles to master that a large group of people — each bringing a unique synapses to the table — is crucial to unlocking the mystery in the allotted time. The puzzle unleashes not only individual acumen but also collective intelligence and problem-solving.

In one debrief, staff member Olivia said she watched on a monitor as nine people alternately took charge in designating tasks and taking stock of data. The sheer amount of ciphers all but requires that there is no single executive in charge the entire time. In this way, the attraction can be said to have sociological and business applications: The room requires people to work together toward a common goal, be they strangers, friends, first dates or co-workers on a team-building exercise.

There is simply no time for ego trips.

Ms. Flesher-Sonnier said the British Embassy, colleges, local businesses and even wedding and bachelorette parties have rented out the space. “[It’s] an experience you can’t get elsewhere,” she said.

The Escape Room Live DC has become so popular that the business is expanding to a larger space across the Potomac on King Street in Old Town Alexandria.

“The one drawback of the Glover Park location is that there’s not enough room,” Ms. Flesher-Sonnier said. “So this new spot will have [more than] five rooms, 5,200 square feet and a huge atmospheric, fun vibe that will go well with the area. It will also allow us to be more creative with the rooms and host many more people at once for large tour groups, team-building, school classes and company outings.”

The expanded Virginia campus will open in the spring or early summer. In the meantime, discretion prohibits revealing any clues to help a would-be visitor. What this report will reveal is that our group solved the room in just about 40 minutes total. Olivia said the record is 22 minutes.

See if you can crack that one, Sherlock.

If You Go

WHAT: Escape Room Live DC

WHERE: 2300 Wisconsin Ave. NW, G-102, Washington, D.C., 20007

WHEN: Thursdays, 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Fridays, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays, noon to 10 p.m.

CONTACT: 800/616-4880, or visit EscapeRoomLive.com/

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