On a recent Thursday evening, in a small room tucked inside a building at Fifth and Bryant, a dozen people listened warily to the dire warnings of a man clad in an unbuttoned lab coat. Blood was spattered on the walls, alongside scrawlings of strange and arcane formulas. The man, his hair disheveled and glasses askew, paced back and forth, staring menacingly into the eyes of his crowd.
“The rules are simple,” he said. “Listen to them, and you might survive. Don’t, and well ...”
He smiled. The lights flicked off, and in the corner, a door flew open. The crowd hesitated, looked around nervously, then slowly shuffled in for an hour of being Trapped in a Room with a Zombie.
The lab coat-wearing man, who speaks in a vague Eastern European accent and goes by the nom de guerre Professor von Guttenberg, is not a real professor, nor is the blood on the wall actual blood. But once you're trapped in the room with no means of escape, the "zombie" might as well be the real thing. It's bound to the wall with a thick chain that, inconveniently, increases in length every five minutes.
Meanwhile, attendees must rely on teamwork and intellect to solve a series of riddles, puzzles, and clues scattered throughout the room within an hour. After that, the zombie is released, and well …
Ted Zoldan as Professor von Guttenberg.
“It acts as a constant distraction,” said Ted Zoldan, who plays the professor. “The zombie is constantly interrupting your thought processes, making sure you can’t go from point A to point B without it screaming at you and trying to eat your ankles. Your adrenaline is up and you can’t quite think clearly. It’s a lot more challenging than you would think, although it’s not impossible.”
"The Trapped in a Room concept originally began, sans zombie, as a video game in the early 2000s," explained Keith Rajala, who manages the game. “Around 2007 or 2008, they turned them into actual physical escape rooms in Japan, before making the jump across the Pacific.”
Marty Parker, Rajala’s business partner, introduced zombies as part of the room concept when it launched in Chicago in 2014. Since then, his company, Room Escape Adventures, has licensed the performance across the United States, as well as in Europe. Apart from its appeal as a unique Halloween-themed event, it has become a hit with corporations looking for new team-building activities.
“The adventure itself is a perfect analogue to what someone goes through in a corporate day,” Rajala said. “You’re sitting there trying to do your job, when all of a sudden, someone comes and asks if you can do something. You get diverted from your task, but you still have to go back and solve the same problem. That’s what the show is: a very similar, realistic recreation of a workday, with the exception of the important Excel spreadsheet that you have to do being a zombie.”
He hastened to add: “But it also works great on a Friday date night!”
Evidence of the show's popularity is plastered throughout the entrance room, where hundreds of name tags, many of them tongue-in-cheek, are stuck to the wall. Also evident, written up on a board, is the number of victims who have fallen to the zombie: at last count, about 55 teams had successfully completed the challenge, while around 230 had not.
“Only 29 percent of teams escape the room,” said Rajala. “For those that do, many of them will escape with less than five minutes left on the clock. It often takes that whole hour before they can find the key.”
Thursday night’s team proved to be yet another victim of the zombie’s appetite. Despite this, reactions were positive as the group walked out.
“I feel like those puzzles were well within our reach,” one participant remarked enthusiastically, “But we were too distracted by the zombie! And everything around us! All those clues! It’s like, dammit!”
Trapped in a Room with a Zombie is located at 660B Bryant St. Tickets are $28 and can be purchased at Room Escape Adventures' website. The game runs from now through November 30th, with time slots Wednesday-Friday at 6:30 and 8:30pm and Saturday-Sunday at 12:30, 2:30, 4:30, 6:30, and 8:30pm. Private games can also be arranged by appointment.
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