For work, we were looking for a team building activity. And what better than being trapped together in a room trying to escape? I have never been, and have always wanted to try an escape room event, but never had the group to do so. So this was my chance and I wanted my first to be special. But with all the different escape rooms out there, I had the difficult mission of sifting through them all to find the best one. It helped that I had guidelines to make my choice.
I had seen ads for “Smarty Pants” on my Facebook advertisement feed. And when I clicked to “learn more” I was impressed to see that they were on Canada’s small business investment show, “Dragon’s Den”.
What set them apart was that their themed event rooms came with rich backgrounds hosted by dedicated actors in costume. They focused on the “logic underlying where you are, how you got there and why you’re trying to escape” (as per their website).
They had five different themes rooms to choose from, and each varied in their degree of difficulty and fear factor. They were also one of the only places where their rooms were more about puzzles than the scare. There wasn’t anything abandoned, and what was haunted lacked actual ghosts. And that was exactly what we were looking for, nothing set in the dark, nothing that would be too scary. No zombies, apparitions, or anything killing anyone.
The rate is $25 per person, a few rooms had maximum capacities, but most were a minimum of two. You pay in full to make the reservation. I advise booking much ahead, as if a company decides to book their event on the day you want yours, they may take up the entire “Smarty Pantz” space. Each challenge is 45 minutes of play time, with 10 minutes additional for an introduction and an explanation.
Our destination was on a second floor building in Gastown. We were buzzed up with difficultly, failing to know the required password. (I must have missed something when I was reserving our slot). You sign waivers before you start, if you haven’t already done so electronically, online. It was the regular assumption of risks.
The clerk behind the counter explained a few of the ground rules to us. All their challenges would be brain over braun, and everything would be set at normal height. We were encouraged to explore your surroundings in detail, but informed that anything with red tape was not part of the puzzle, and need not be tampered with. Like the photo of the portrait hanging on the back wall should be left alone , and you shouldn’t crawl into the fireplace. We would get 45 minutes to solve our puzzle, but with no working clocks in the room, to count us down; and all phones locked up before we began.
We were then directed to their waiting area, to wait for our turn. The space was a gallery of curiosities. Salon hairdryers from the 60’s were used as seating chairs. A plastic torso decorated with scrabble tiles, claimed to be “looking for my lover” in the corner. Here, you were also able warm your brain up with some of challenges that they gathered to keep you occupied. Puzzle and game books, 3D maze spheres, and a giant Jenga set.
When time, a host in character greeted us and lead us to the room where our experience would be held. She gave us the rich background of our chosen room, before leaving us to it. Although if we were to struggle we could call her over a walkie and she would give us up to two hints. We could also walkie in for an update on how much time we had remaining. There were cameras recording in the corner, they allowed our host to assist us with the hints. They were also in place for emergency reasons. Though the door of our room wasn’t actually locked, so and we were able to “escape” as we pleased.
Our chosen room was “Morning Never Comes”, where you and your team mates are brought in to help with the paranormal investigation of an old, abandoned house. The objective is to solve the murder of the ghost that haunts the study, where you are trapped, and no one has yet to survive past midnight.
I won’t be recapping what we went through to “escape” our challenge, as to not ruin the surprise for those thinking to try this one for themselves. But I will say that we beat it with 10 minutes remaining, having used two hints. And this was the easiest of all the challenges, with the highest success rate. I just wanted an easy win to strength our team and confidence in one another. Looking back at it, I think we over thought and imagined things to be more complicated than they actually were. The clues were pretty obvious.
There were four other rooms we could have chosen, and they are as follows.
“Thirst for Murder” was a room where you are trapped in a nightmarish basement and about to fall victim to a killer’s psychotic and cannibalistic quest for the fountain of youth. The goal is to escape from your shackles and then the house.
“Dream’scape” has you trapped in a dream, surrounded by a bizarre and artistic alternate reality. You need to understand the clues before you, and solve its puzzles in order to wake up, or else be forever stuck in this twilight zone.
The “Doom Submarine” has you aboard the inaugural journey of a barely refurbished Soviet submarine. Though with a mechanical failure, the clock is ticking on your oxygen supply. You must solve puzzles and restart the air supply in order to survive.
“Spies & Lies” is set in 1946, the war has finally ended, but your mission has just begun to chase war criminals as they flee. You break into a crooked private eye’s office and discover the identity of a Nazi so that he can be brought to justice. Your goal is to get in, get the information you need, then slip out undetected.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
This made a great team building activity for us. But they will also be suitable as your next birthday party destination, or as a first date option. Imagine being able to see how your date handles a stressful situation, or see your friend’s willingness to get on their hands and knees to win. We saw our team working together to one general cause. We learned who amongst us would stand up and take a leadership role, how we could all share one flashlight in a dimly lit room, and who would be the one who panicked. I was the competitive one, not wanting to use any clues, in order to declare our win a flawless one. We had fun, but it didn’t last very long, the activity didn’t feel like 45 minutes. And when you get the high of succeeding, you want to go back and play another one, or them all. I definitely want to return to try my hand at the others. Shame the fee is by person and not per room.
100-289 Abbott Street, Vancouver BC, V6B 2K7