In this brand new series on The Escape Roomer, I’m talking to a different escape room enthusiast each month and chatting all things puzzles, immersive, and of course, escaping! One of my favourite blogs to read belongs to Chris Fairfield, who writes about everything from Colourblind Friendly Game Design to really cool reviews of puzzle boxes. He’s also just a really nice person too!
Tell me about yourself!
Hi! I’m Chris Fairfield, hailing from Seattle, WA. I’m a Puzzle Game / Escape Room enthusiast, and review games over at my vanity site: https://chrisfairfield.com
The million dollar question – how many escape rooms have you done?
The short answer is: not nearly as many as I’d like! The longer answer is I’ve gone through 12 traditional escape rooms and 23 at-home puzzle game experiences. I moved to Seattle in 2017, so finding a new local playgroup has been a challenge that has kept me from doing more traditional rooms, but I’m hoping to increase the number when we finally get out of quarantine.
Which was your very first escape room?
I am so lucky in this regard! My first escape room was “Office Hours“, which I ran through on March 24th, 2016. The room was created by two friends of mine, Anne and Chris Lukeman; I had met them through the local filmmaker community and knew that they were both exceptionally creative and talented story-tellers, so I was really excited to see what they would be able to do in a space like this. Unsurprisingly, they knocked it out of the park! Their company, CU Adventures, has gone on to well-deserved acclaim and, after several iterations and refinement, “Office Hours” eventually became what is now known as “The Lost Temple”.
While it now, in hindsight, looks a little rickety in comparison to CU Adventure’s newest offerings (Gen 1 vs Gen 3), I was completely enchanted by the experience. The puzzles and presentation were really sharp, the space was used very well, and we were able to complete the objective and save the world! (You’re welcome world!) My favorite moment was finding a surprise basement in a spot where one wouldn’t expect a basement to be. This was extra delightful to me because I didn’t yet know that secret rooms were a common escape room trope, and, ever since I was a kid, I wanted to find a bookshelf with a hidden room behind it! Overall it was a ton of fun and I immediately knew that I wanted to go through many more escape rooms.
What are some of the most memorable experiences you’ve ever had in an escape room?
Oh man, so many! My favorites are where you do something in a game that feels like actual, factual magic. When you think to yourself, “There’s no possible way this could work” and then it does! There’s a sort of stagecraft to it, and I love that no matter how many rooms I do, how many games I play, I keep coming across puzzles and concepts that feel unexpectedly magical and novel.
It started with the secret basement reveal in “Office Hours”, I knew that there was a hidden door there from the beginning of the game. However, the game creators spent the rest of the room setting expectations in just that right way, that I was expecting the door to open into a closet or a small side room. Instead it opened to reveal stairs to a huge basement room, which swapped out the muted 1930’s palette of the rest of the room with these neon fluorescents. It truly felt like walking into another realm and left me with the biggest grin plastered on my face.
In another game, the room was setup as an apartment. In the kitchen, there was a sink with a garbage disposal—you might see where this is going—one of us needed to reach our hand into the garbage disposal and fish something out. There is some sort of preservation instinct that makes it hard for anyone to reach their hand into a garbage disposal, even knowing fully well that an escape room company isn’t going to risk the lawsuit of having it be live. Long story short, it took a full minute for my teammate to work up the nerve to stick her hand in there and announce that she’d found something. Which was the exact moment that the gamemaster remotely activated the very loud rumbler that they’d attached to the underside of the sink. I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone scream as loud as my teammate did as her hand shot out of the sink—with the hidden object in hand. We laughed so hard about it afterwards, it was a perfectly designed moment.
Desk, plant pot, picture frame – which do you look under first?
As the official “tall person” in my group (6’4”/1.93m), I feel like it’s my job to hit those picture frames first.
The last TV show you watched suddenly gets its own licensed escape room. Hooray, or oh no?
I’m currently watching the 4th Season of Infinity Train, so very much hooray! Infinity Train is an emotionally rich cartoon that explores many concepts around mental health, identity, and belonging; but the foundational conceit that it builds all of that complex narrative around is a train filled with train-cars that are essentially each their own themed escape room. An licensed Infinity Train escape room would be amazing.
Can you think of a song that would make the perfect soundtrack for how you tackle an escape room?
This was the hardest question! But, after much deliberation, I think I have found the perfect answer and it may surprise you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c18441Eh_WE
Once I start a puzzle game, it’s just stuck in my head until I solve them! Sometimes when I split a game over two days, the unsolved puzzles will even show up in my dreams at night!
When you’re not escaping from locked rooms, what do you like to do in your free time?
I love creative activities that emphasize narrative and storytelling, so naturally I’m a big fan of roleplaying games. I DM a weekly Dungeons and Dragons campaign and have a stack of indie RPGs that I’m looking forward to running when I can sit around a table with friends again. I’m a big fan of board games and video games. I also have a habit of starting projects, though I have a less-than-stellar completion record on them. 😬
In safer times, I also really enjoy road trips and nature, and am looking forward to being able to resume exploration of this wonderful little corner of the country I live in.
How would you explain escape rooms to people who have never played one before?
My pitch is always this: “Escape Rooms are the most fun way you can spend an hour of your life.” They will challenge, surprise, and delight you, and at their best you will feel like a superhero.
I would also let them know that most rooms don’t actually lock you in, that most places will have a room that’s designed to onboard new people into the hobby, and that they’re designed to be fun.
If I gave you a blank cheque to create a dream escape room, what would it be like?
This is totally childhood wish fulfillment, but I would make a licensed Star Trek: The Next Generation escape room. The story would be that aliens, let’s say the Ferengi, in a botched takeover attempt have given up and fled, sealing the doors and turning on the self-destruct mechanism as they left. You need to board the ship, make it to the bridge, and abort the self-destruct sequence. You “beam in” to the transporter room, and have to find a way to open the jefferies tube that leads into Engineering. Decoding the pulses of the warp core in Engineering will be essential for restoring power to the turbolift, which will then take you (via a hidden rotation mechanism) to the bridge. The bridge, which is a life size replica of the set, is the crown jewel of the experience, requiring you to use various stations to regain control of the Enterprise and deactivate the self-destruct sequence.
Players will also be given the choice of either tractor beam-ing the Ferengi vessel to capture it or to fire torpedoes and blow it up.
The consoles are all touch-screen interfaces, using the iconic LCARS style that was popularized in the series. Tricorders with hidden RFID readers allow you to “scan” and get accurate readouts of various objects in the game. Puzzles on the fly based on the number of players and the players’ progress. For example, each player will be required to man a station in the bridge to get past that puzzle.
Now that I’ve put this out into the world, I need this to happen!
Can you give me a short puzzle for me (and my readers) to solve?
Think you’ve solved it? Let me (Mairi) know and I’ll check if you’re right!
Thanks so much Chris for taking the time to answer all my bizarre questions, and keep up the awesome work with your writing!
Mairi is the editor-in-chief of The Escape Roomer and writes about news, and reviews covering London and UK south.