By Margie M. Palmer
Puzzle room is one of Hillcrest’s best-kept secrets
An accountant, a college student and two journalists walk into an art gallery. Within moments, the door locks behind them. The group has been given a mission — find and locate an item that has been intricately hidden within its walls. They have 60 minutes to complete the mission and escape.
This isn’t the plot to a suspense film; it’s just another day at Escapism, a puzzle room in Hillcrest.
Owner Tangerine Skantz said she fell in love with puzzle rooms after playing several in Los Angeles.
“My friend had played a few games and they convinced me to try it. He said, ‘This is so you,’ so I said sure. I had no idea how right he was,” she said. “We went and played a couple and I after that, I couldn’t stop thinking of how to make my own.”
Skantz turned out to be uniquely qualified to design and build these types of games.
As a child, she grew up between the U.S. and South America; her parents had a strong affinity for volunteer work and as such, she found herself involved with, and eventually managing, a number of construction projects.
She’s also had a lifelong love affair with puzzles and brainteasers.
“At one point, I actually sat down to plan what [my puzzle room] would look like. I finally got brave enough; I had savings and I said, ‘I am going to do this.’ I looked and looked for a place, I signed a lease and that’s when I realized this was actually happening,” Skantz said.
Escapism currently consists of three rooms, The Attic, Gallery 3919 and The Alchemist’s Dungeon.
Those who play The Attic are told they are house sitting for a seemingly nice neighbor. The only request he has, Skantz said, is that you don’t enter the attic, but eventually, your curiosity gets the best of you. You enter the room and the door slams shut.
The only way to escape is to work through a series of puzzles and clues, and in doing that, you discover more about who your neighbor truly is.
The escape rate for The Attic, she said, is less than 15 percent.
Those who play Gallery 3919 are told that a secret spy organization has been watching them for over a year. They want to recruit you, but before they can do that, they need to send you on a test mission. That mission involves going into an art gallery and recouping an item that has been stolen from them.
The security systems will be down for an hour. You have 60 minutes to recover the item and escape.
The escape rate for this room is less than 30 percent.
The Alchemist’s Dungeon opened recently, not long after San Diego Uptown News visited Escapism.
According to the website, participants are locked in a medieval dungeon previously occupied by The Alchemist, who failed to execute his escape plan.
Playing a room is intense; the clues are intricate brain teasers that require a lot of out-of-the-box thinking. Each time a puzzle is solved, it provides you with clues as to how to solve the next. Those who can successfully follow the white rabbit win the game.
Those who aren’t successful generally don’t mind, because the gameplay itself is electrifying.
“The feedback we’ve been getting has been amazing. Even the people who go in skeptical, the overwhelming majority come out with a huge smile on their face,” she said. “I’ve had people who have come to play one room who have come back the next day to play the other one. It becomes an addiction.”
Ani Kennel is among those who have played Gallery 3919. She gives the room high marks.
“It was unexpectedly multifaceted and challenging with unique tests of teamwork and intellect,” Kennel said, adding that she intends to return to play The Attic in the near future.
Now that she has opened The Alchemist’s Dungeon, Skantz will be moving onto her next project, Escape the Brewery. She hopes to open it during the summer of 2018 at a location to be determined.
—Margie M. Palmer is a San Diego-based freelance writer who has been racking up bylines in a myriad of news publications for the past 10 years. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sara is the editor of San Diego Uptown News.