This month in An Interview with an Enthusiast, we’re talking to Keith Dozois. You may know him better as the mastermind behind USB Escape! Keith is a play-at-home puzzle master who has grown his escape business from the ground up during lockdown.
Tell us about yourself!
So first and foremost, my name’s Keith and I live just outside of Toronto, Ontario.
I am, amongst other things, a huge enthusiast of all things ‘puzzle’ and anything mind bending. Of course, that does not mean that I’m always that great at them. In fact I often find myself taking the most difficult puzzle route to get to an easy solution, but I just love discovering everything there is about a puzzle to find the best way to solve it!
I’m in the escape room community as a creator, but I’m still learning and growing constantly. I came in through the backdoor of the escape room industry where most people have played a huge amount of live games and in lockdown have started playing at home games. I did the exact opposite, I started playing at home games and fell further in love with escape rooms from there.
So which was your first ever live escape room?
My first ever escape room was kinda terrible. I went with a group of engineers and I don’t need to tell you I am not an engineer. I’m somewhat smart, but they were next level smart, so we finished the room in record time. I think I only contributed to one puzzle and my genius friends went around and aced the rest.
I forget the name of the room, but there was a guy who was going to come eat us if we didn’t escape the room. That said, the puzzles weren’t anything to do with that, it was a bit of a mish-mash.
It was terrible and… I loved it!
But your escape rooms experiences have improved from there, right?
So this is this is the part where you end the conversation- haha! I’ve only done four or five in person rooms before the lockdown…
So it’s really hard to say! I’ve only done a few Canadian experiences here and there but yes, they’re a step up from my first as they’ve had much more support and love in them.
I hear about other escapes from other enthusiasts all over the world and it just leaves me wanting! Wanting more escape rooms and more travel! Things are beginning to open up in Canada so I already have a few trips planned for when I’m able to travel safely, but for the time being I’m consuming all the play at home escape rooms that I can.
So how many play at home games have you got through this lockdown, and are there any stand-out favourites?
I’m getting close to around 100 – I play everything from the big boxed ones you’d find at your local shops, to indie ones purchased overseas where the shipping is as much as the game itself!
One of the most memorable games I’ve enjoyed in lockdown is Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective! It’s just like in the Sherlock Holmes movies where the dots start connecting in the air around you. I remember playing this one mission from the Jack the Ripper Box and everyone was chattering and suddenly it all goes silent for me. It was a real moment of:
“Wait, if this happened, then this happened, it must mean this!”
That was the first time I actually got positive points in the game! If you’ve played it you’ll know you typically get negative points. Everybody loses against Sherlock but the trick is to lose the least.
Speaking of Board Games, do you have any favourites?
Oh absolutely! Some of my favourite games include Stronghold (published by the same people who made Terraforming Mars), and New Bedford, another worker placement game. So I have quite a few board games… I know some people collect board games and have around three or four hundred but I’ve only got around one to two hundred.
Wow, and here’s us still playing Monopoly!
Actually if you like that you should check out the history of Monopoly, it’s an amazingly interesting deep dive! For example, did you know it was invented by a woman and at the time nobody took her seriously so instead it was accredited to a man. It wasn’t even meant to be a game, it was a satire on how Capitalism doesn’t work. So the fact Monopoly takes such a long time and ruins families – it was designed that way!
If I were to give you a blank cheque to create any escape room experience what would you create?
So no surprise at all, I would probably stick to the horror theme!
I would want a mansion out in the countryside. It would be an escape room with as much of a ‘hands-off’ feel as possible for a truly organic horror experience. That said, I would’t want it to be a haunted house either. With haunted houses the principle is to go through it and be scared, or not be scared. With escape rooms your goal is to discover the story within an hour.
So this would be an escape room way out in the countryside and you have a whole weekend to figure it out. Half Airbnb, half escape room where you might get a call at 2am on the Friday night, and perhaps somebody would serve you breakfast in the morning and there would be something to discover.
It’s all about surviving the weekend!
Sounds like it would be a great setting for a murder mystery! Players must avoid getting killed off…
Haha! You know what? If I get that blank cheque I’ll have you onboard. The murder mystery aspect sounds like it would be really easy to add.
I did a murder mystery one time, I was an ‘audience member’ and each character came round and would talk to you and let you in on little bits of gossip here and there. It was extremely fun! So I love the idea. Immersive theatre – especially horror themed – is brilliant. Despite the fact I’m a huge chicken of course. I can dish it out but I can’t take it.
That’s so funny you make terrifying games but don’t love horror yourself?
It falls into a similar category of not trusting a skinny chef, or bringing your car to a mechanic who cycles to work. I’m scared of everything, so I know better than the average person of what is scary and how to create fear. I try to immerse myself in a lot of horror content especially during the creative process. I live in a scary old house and get scared pretty easily, so it’s easy to start from there.
What’s your greatest fear?
Oh man! My greatest fear?
Honestly it’s not a very exciting answer but it’s reptiles!
I especially don’t like frogs. I don’t want to hold a frog, I don’t want to touch a frog.
So if you could be any animal, what would you be?
It’s a great question! Everybody typically goes for a lion or an eagle, but I think you don’t get to choose. I’d probably end up being something like a mole rat. Life just rolls the dice and whatever animal comes up I’ll deal with it. Just not a reptile.
Finally, A Puzzle to Solve!
At this point in these interviews we typically ask if the interviewee has a puzzle to share, but Keith has ALREADY created a brilliant puzzle for me to solve a few months back. So I’d like to share that, and how I solved it, below:
Mairi is the editor-in-chief and covers escape rooms/immersive theatre in London, play at home games, and video games.