We are locked into a dead mad scientist's lab and tasked with finding an antidote to the disease that has apparently overtaken the world. All of us immediately crack up looking around at each other's dilated pupils and skin increasingly beading with...
All illustrations by Adam Waito.
With the recent trend of real-life escape rooms as weekend entertainment, my group of friends—composed of overgrown ravers—came to the conclusion that this is the prefect sort of adventure to experience while off their faces.
Before entering the escape room, they meticulously planned in advance which substances each would be responsible for using. One of my friends would do cocaine, another would roll on MDMA, yet another would trip on mushrooms, and a fourth would smoke as many bongs to his face (approximately five) as he could before leaving for our adventure. I would remain sober, so as to gauge everyone's performance on said substances and be able to recount the experience for everyone involved. Agent Coke agreed to bring a random dude who would be sober with me, but when they showed up, the plan was foiled: turns out she had given this guy lines for the first time in his life.
For those who aren't aware of what escape rooms are, these are IRL games done with groups of people—anywhere between two to 20 individuals depending on which one you go to—where you are locked inside of a room and told of a terrifying plot from which you must escape. You have a specified amount of time in which to do so, and the contents of the game usually consist of a series of riddles, puzzles, and a fuckload of locks. This type of scenario originates from Flash games popular on the internet in the early 2000s.
At a nearby bar, my friends go through the drill of what is about to go down as I chug a glass of lemonade sangria, my only defence against dealing with being around my drugged-up friends.
"Should I bring the blow with me? Should I do more? I already did a bunch!" Agent Coke asks the group, staring around intently. She disappears downstairs to the bar's basement.
Agent M is already coming up and decides at the last minute to pop another cap. Agent Shroom is already doing her signature tripping-balls cackle after eating two grams some time ago, describing objects on the table as looking "really cool" or "swirling around." Agent Weed has already eaten two dinners and is still hungry.
There's no going back now. We're there. We enter the makeshift lab-hospital room hybrid reminiscent of many bachelor apartments I've been in, complete with standard cheap hardwood flooring and plain white walls. There's a desk with an aging netbook placed on it, a metal lab table directly across from it scattered with props (most of which we are told not to touch), and a sink that isn't hooked up to plumbing. Behind a curtain splattered with red paint taking the form of various symbols is a cot so flimsy it wouldn't support a well-fed cat. There are scientifically themed posters covering most of the walls, and of course, there is a camera in one corner paired with a glowing red digital timer.
Following our facilitator's uninspired tale warning us that we were in the midst of a zombie-vampire invasion, we are locked into a dead mad scientist's lab and tasked with finding an antidote to the disease that has apparently overtaken the world. As she clicks on the timer and we watch the digits start to cascade below 45:00, all of us immediately crack up looking around at each other's dilated pupils and skin increasingly beading with sweat.
The timer next to a camera recording our every move is blinking red as each minute drops.
"Do you think they can hear us?" Agent Coke asks of the camera, her eyes darting around the room.
Though we were instructed to simply search the room to start, we begin completely ransacking it. Agent Coke puts on the dead scientist's lab coat and ID tag, proclaiming herself a doctor, encouraging Agent Shroom to don a white coat as well. Agent Shroom is wandering around the room with the innocent curiosity of a child, carefully picking up lab equipment and closely inspecting for the deeper meaning she is certain must be enclosed.
Agent M unlocks the first clue, a pill cabinet. When I ask him how, he only shrugs and smiles, then saunters off to take a seat in front of the ancient netbook on the desk and begins typing in random numbers. Agents Coke, Shroom, and I tear apart the cabinet.
Agent Shroom finds a blacklight and begins to crawl over every inch of the small bedroom-sized room giggling.
Agents Coke and Shroom have cleared just about everything off of the metal lab table onto the floor. After stripping the cot in the corner, Agent Shroom envelopes herself in the bloodied curtain separating the bed from the rest of room, dancing around slowly and cooing within it as if she is a caterpillar trying to metamorphize into a butterfly.
Agent Coke is onto something at this point. She found a mention of periodic elements on a letter at some point in between tearing apart the lab and is convinced that the numbers associated with these on the periodic table must be a password. Frantically attempting to make use of this knowledge, she nearly jumps up on top of the desk to see the periodic table posted above.
It turns out she is right—some combination of numbers related to the periodic table unlocks two boxes, which, of course, have more locked boxes inside.
She lets out an enormous sigh upon seeing more locked boxes inside. "What the fuck is this shit? That's so lame!" Agent Coke says, animatedly shrugging.
After entirely too much time and attempt after attempt, Agent Weed, though the most silent of the bunch, is finally being useful. He thinks a number sequence puzzle found within one of the unlocked boxes may contain the password for a document on the laptop's desktop.
Assisting Agent Weed, Agent M punches in phrase after phrase that he's come up with off the top of his head before entering the one that Agent Weed gives him. Once he gets access, he immediately starts playing minesweeper. Then solitaire, until he realizes he doesn't know how to. Then he finally gets around to opening the document we're supposed to get more clues from on the desktop.
Somehow getting into the text-only file of the document, he adds Word Art circa early Windows 98—that wonderfully orange italic option—that reads "Crashed the Whip."
At this point, he gives up and goes to lie on the cot, folding his arms and staring up placated at the ceiling.
Feeling disheartened, we ask for our first clue from the facilitators, which helps us with one of the puzzles, rendering us able to open a drawer containing a deck of cards. The random dude Agent Coke brought, who luckily is really good with math, immediately figures out the pattern and use of the deck of cards. Following this revelation, Agent M immediately grabs the deck and asks if anyone wants to play Go Fish. Pending silence, he outstretches once again on the cot, his arms folded behind his head.
We're all in agreement by this point: by far the worst part about this experience is the stifling heat we're in enclosed in that rivals even the most packed of raves we've attended. We start shedding layers; Agent M abandons his black-and-white Nikes in the middle of the floor. The girls previously wearing lab coats ditch them as well. We start fanning ourselves with photos of zombie specimens, and eventually resort to screaming into the box used to contact the coordinators begging for non-existent air conditioning.
Agent Coke is holding a key that appears to go to nothing, fantasizing about using it to do bumps. "Why the fuck didn't I bring my stuff in? I should have, but I just didn't want to get us kicked out and fuck it up!"
Agent Shroom opens the door to go out, peeking into the hallway and announcing, "GUYS, I GOT IT, WE CAN ESCAPE!" A resounding shriek from the rest of my group ensues, as we forget that the point of the game isn't to escape but to find the antidote, and we talk amongst ourselves trying to determine if the coordinator forgot to lock us in or if we were never truly locked in at all due to city fire codes.
We return to tearing the room apart.
Agent Shroom flips the cot, convinced that there are more clues under it or within it that we haven't found (not true). She then attempts to turn on a prop LG burner flip phone circa early-2000s in an attempt (I can only assume) to either find a non-existent clue, order more drugs, or speak to god.
We finally unlock the box with the antidote in it, thanks to Agent Weed and the random dude Agent Coke brought. The antidote looks like green slime à la Nickelodeon in a plastic test tube. Agent Shroom thoroughly inspects and shakes the tube, a smile stretching across her face, surely seeing dancing geometric patterns within that do not exist to the rest of us. Though we've found the antidote, we were told in our initial instructions that this is only enough to save us—we must find the recipe to ultimately win the game and rescue all of humanity.
With just a few minutes left, I mutter, "Humanity is fucked." We discuss who among us would be responsible for repopulating the world.
Most of us frantically put in random numbers on the remaining padlocks; a couple of my friends coming down on their drugs do not give a fuck at this point and are sitting on the cot muttering complaints under their breath.
The facilitator comes in moments after our timer hits zero, and congratulates us: "Wow, you guys were SO close!"
Those on coke promptly run out to the lockers containing our belongings eager to do more lines in the washroom.
After taking an Uber XL at peak surge pricing in the rain, we get to my friends' apartment; they immediately break monogamy with their respective substances. As we're about to exit the apartment to go out to a party for the rest of the night, Agent Shroom suddenly sits crosslegged on the bathroom floor with a look of utter confusion upon her face. We escort her to her bedroom; the only thing that can soothe her four grams deep on shrooms is music from Chrono Trigger.
Reflecting back, I'm somewhat impressed at how well my friends were able to do despite their level of inebriation. Agent Weed was surprisingly useful at times and essential to our partial success; Agent Coke was helpful before she started coming down, and I doubt we would have gotten as far as we did without the mathematically skilled cocaine virgin she brought along. Agent M, though the most entertaining, served limited utility. And as for Agent Shroom, I'm just proud of her for getting through the experience—tripping can be terrifying even when you're not locked in a room and told that zombie-vampires have taken over the world.
Admittedly, as well as some of my friends did, mind-altering substances probably aren't the best method of surviving an apocalypse. After a night of herding cats attempting to do math, I'm pretty sure this is my last escape room experience
But hey, if your idea of a good time is being trapped in a cramped space with your sweaty, fucked-up friends trying to undo luggage locks for 45 minutes and attempting to flee from an unconvincing horror story, then maybe escape rooms are for you.