Posted November 8, 2016
By CLARISSA BUCH
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — “In the midst of an experiment, something went wrong. Now, you’re locked inside a dark laboratory. The outcome is up to you.”
Though this might sound like a scene from a new horror flick, it is not. It is actually what was said to me when I opted to participate in my first escape room experience at Think Escape in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., located a few streets away from the city’s bustling coastline.
The popular activity, which takes a team of five to 10 people and locks them inside a dark space, is the ultimate mind game. It forces players, like myself, to crack puzzles and find clues to help “escape the room” before an allotted amount of time runs out.
When I first stepped inside the dark room, I was nervous. I had heard about escape rooms, but never played one myself. Luckily, I was in the comfort of close friends. Like myself, they were about to play the game for the first time, too.
I was locked inside a room for about 60 minutes, tested with finding objects that were hidden around the space. Every object I found gave me a clue to the next one. Some were under a block in the floor and others were attached to a chair. I even found hidden words written on the walls, which required me to wear special goggles to see them.
Recalling everything I found, the game seems easy. But in the stress of playing, it was anything but that.
Greg Kormendi, owner of Think Escape Rooms, is one of the first to bring the dark-room adventure to South Florida. Born in Hungary, where escape games are widely popular, Kormendi and his father thought it was time to bring the game across the Atlantic.
“You see them a lot around Europe,” he said. “I didn’t know what the reaction would be here, but because I like to build different things, I thought I would try.”
Since bringing the game to South Florida, Kormendi says most of his players are out-of-towners. As both of his locations are located in tourist-heavy areas, such as Fort Lauderdale Beach and Lincoln Road, Kormendi’s escape rooms have become a go-to rainy day activity.
Though many of Kormendi’s storylines are eerie, he describes the activity as lighthearted. It’s meant to foster a team-building experience with groups of friends, family or both.
“The idea is you get into a room and you have to work together to successfully get out of it in less than 60 minutes,” he said. “It makes a team come together or fall apart. Either way, it puts them to the test.”
For me, that’s exactly what it did. My team didn’t win the game, but when it was over, we felt it brought us closer together in a meaningful way. We were unable to overcome all of the challenges and mind games thrown on us throughout the game. Though it was frustrating at times, we managed to listen and work together, which helped our game play and our overall relationships with each other.
During my game, I understood what Kormendi meant when he referred to a “paradigm shift.” At first, my team thought they had the game figured out. However, it didn’t take long to realize we actually didn’t have a clue. We then worked slowly and carefully to try to get as far as possible.
The game wasn’t seamless though. It tested my temper along with my teammates’. Outside of the room, we remain great friends. However, inside, it was clear that many of us held different opinions when it came to how to attack a certain challenge.
At Think Escape Rooms, all game stories are unique. Though some draw influence from mainstream movies, each one has a distinct narrative.
“I try to come up with a basic script and theme for a game,” Kormendi explained. “Then it’s about organization and letting my imagination run. Sometimes we think of things that can’t be possible, but then you envision it from a different angle to find a way to make it happen.”
But the key to every game, he says, is its need for a paradigm shift.
“People usually look at it so convinced that it’s one way,” he said. “But then that light bulb goes off. They realize it’s actually totally different than they thought, and that’s what expands their mind.”
Kormendi says that some first-timers are successful, but many are not. My group wasn’t successful, but we were still content. Personally, I feel like I learned a lot about my friends after experiencing a tough situation with them. It put our patience to the test, ultimately bringing us closer together.
“The point of the game isn’t to make it out in time,” he said. “The point is to go through it and experience it. Even if they don’t make the time limit, we let them stay in there to finish but help guide them through.”
According to escaperoomdirectory.com, escape game rooms have been around since the early 2000s, but recently made their way to the States. Now, there’s close to 1,400 escape rooms housed in 277 cities and 53 countries. As popularity continues to rise, Kormendi believes it’s just the beginning.
After experiencing one myself, I agree.
“It taps into a human curiosity that we all have,” he said. “It makes you see the world a little differently. You have your two hands, your mind, and the other people around you. Now, you have to make something happen. It brings people back to a fundamental human connection and snaps them out of our cyber world for an hour.”
If You Go
- 2635 E. Oakland Blvd.
- Fort Lauderdale, Fla. 33306
South Beach Room Escape
- 235 Lincoln Road #400
- Miami Beach, Fla. 33139