It was just the four of us in a small, dark room – my husband and me, and our friends Esti and Benjie. To proceed to the next room we had to feel for the ringing mobile phone and the flashlights that would help us locate and correctly match up at least half a dozen locks and keys leading to the main door lock.
This task took us about 15 minutes, a quarter of the total time designated for our escape-room adventure at Secret Room Jerusalem. Not surprisingly, the clock ran down before we found the hidden stash of cash in the third and final room. But we had a heck of a good time trying.
If you haven’t already heard of real-life room escape games, you will soon – no matter where you live. Escape rooms have been popping up all over the world, and Israel is no exception.
The concept, inspired by Agatha Christie mystery novels and the 1980s Quest computer game, started in Silicon Valley around 2006. The challenge: Your group (usually two to five people, ages 12 or 14 and up) must escape a room or series of rooms within 60 minutes by scouring the environment for clever clues to solve puzzles leading to the exit. A theme, like escaping a prison cell or hunting for a treasure, heightens the fun.
Currently about 15 escape rooms are operating in Israel, mostly in Tel Aviv (see list below). Nearly all of them offer a choice of English or Hebrew, and sometimes other languages. It can be a great activity for tourists at night or on a hot or rainy day, but you must register online in advance.
Olga Pasitselskaya from Secret Room Jerusalem tells ISRAEL21c that people are still just learning about the concept. When Secret Room opened last March following two months of design and construction by founders Vladimir Shevelevich and Konstantin Karelin, they offered a Groupon deal that started the ball rolling.
“People still ask us what they win at the end,” Pasitselskaya said with a laugh. Of course, there’s no actual prize aside from the satisfaction of successfully escaping, or the fun of trying. Many corporations use escape rooms as a team-building tool.
An Israeli touch
Some of the larger escape rooms – like EscapeIt Israel in Tel Aviv — allow two teams of up to five members each to play against one another in identical setups.
Ofer Samuel, co-owner and founder of EscapeIt, experienced his first escape room in Berlin last year. “My girlfriend suggested it; she’d done one with her family in London. And it was awesome,” he tells ISRAEL21c. “Then we did one in Amsterdam, and I decided I wanted to do something like this, on steroids. So I built EscapeIt Israel and opened last April.”
In EscapeIt’s Syrian Spy Room, players assume the role of Mossad agents who must neutralize an assassination threat following Israel’s downing of six Syrian MiG-21s. The plot is based on an actual event that took place in April 1967.
“I knew at least one of my rooms would be specifically Israeli,” says Samuel, previously a chef and marketer. “We have so many stories here, from biblical times on. I came up with the Syrian storyline in 12 minutes, based totally on history.”
Questomania is another escape room offering an Israeli twist, with its “Iron Dome” themed game coming soon. Jerusalem Puzzle Quest, established by former Passaic, New Jersey resident Jerry Glazer, offers groups of eight the option of a live actor playing the role of a biblical nazir — someone who has vowed not to drink wine or cut his hair — “who seeks to neutralize the participants” as they try to unlock a wine cabinet.
Samuel explains that while many of Israel’s escape rooms use imported Russian games and technology due to the popularity of escape rooms in Moscow, EscapeIt and a few others developed all their software and hardware in Israel.
“Every game we will have in the future will be made in Israel as well,” promises Samuel. “Our next branches in other cities will be phenomenal. I’m planning on doing it really, really big.”
Escape rooms in Israel (as of summer 2015)
Exit Game 5 Hatikshoret St. Themes: “Goblet of Magic,” “Total Recall” and (coming soon) “Time Machine”
Run Out, Shalom Center, second floor. Themes: “Alcatraz 1934” and (coming soon) “Frankenstein’s Monster”
Questline, 195 Bar Yehuda. Theme: “Psychiatry Ward” (Hebrew only)
Brainit, 9 Shimon Ben Shatah. Theme: “Boardwalk Empire”
Escape Room, 30 Gershon Shatz. Theme: “The Robbery of the Century”
EscapeIt, 16 Totzeret HaAretz. Theme: “Syrian Spy Room”
Exit Room, 25 Abulafiya, 83 Jabotinsky and 65 Allenby. Themes: “Maniac’s Shelter,” “Antidote Mission,” “Haunted House,” “Imaginarium”
Locked, 26 Tchernichovsky St. Themes: “The Secret Lab,” “The Crime”
Out of the Box, 203 Dizengoff St. Themes: “Wine cellar,” “Behind the Scenes”
Quest&Quest, 25 Menachem Begin Boulevard. Theme: “The Dark Side of Art”
Questomania, 100 HaHashmona’im. Themes: “Total Loss,” “Zombie Attack” and soon “Iron Dome”
Baron Code, 62 Hameysadim. Themes: “Baron’s Cache,” “Secrets of the Charter” (Hebrew only)