36 Inch Penguin: The Society | Review

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The Nayland Rock Hotel, once Margate’s most glamorous destination, visited by the rich and famous. A downstairs bar, The Crescent Suite, hosted regular meetings of a little known Society. When the Hotel closed for renovations in the 1980’s the Society and the bar’s Landlady vanished without a trace.

​The Crescent Suite never reopened.

​For years rumours have persisted of valuable items hidden away in the suite and then, with the death of an American man in 2021, clues came to light of those items whereabouts. The dead man’s children, The Twins, live in the US and can’t come to find them themselves, but…

​…with the help of a friendly security guard they can get you inside.

​Can you help ?

Date Played: 23 April 2022
Number of Players: 2
Time Taken: ~40 Minutes
Difficulty: Medium

 

We slid into Margate’s The Society on the back of a four escape room day.  We’d played Quick-E-Mart, Detention, Frankenscape and Spacescape at Ctrl Alt Delete back to back, with the time so tight between the end of Spacescape and the start time for The Society that we’d had to throw ourselves in a cab and make a desperate dash across Margate’s seafront.  We literally fell in through the door at the Nayland Rock Hotel, brains fried, energy depleted, a little dazed and confused.  Luckily the “friendly security guard” who met us took pity on us and let us grab a quick breather and chocolate snack. So we were soonfuelled up and ready to get back on the escape room treadmill.

Atmosphere

The pause also meant we had a bit of headspace to take in our surroundings.  And it’s definitely worth the pause to absorb it.  Because The Society takes place in a unique environ.  This isn’t an escape room carved out of an industrial space, a warehouse or railway arch, an empty office building or high street shop front.  This isn’t an escape room that’s repurposed a space that has no connection to its story.  This is a game that takes place in an actual abandoned, empty hotel.

Built in 1895 it was once a famous seafront holiday destination, where Charlie Chaplin vacationed and where Mick Jagger hosted his parents’ Golden Wedding anniversary party.  But now the hotel is a shadow of its former self.  When cheap overseas holidays lured us Brits away from our seaside towns, once fashionable resorts like Margate fell into a decline and hotels like the Nayland Rock struggled to survive. 

The doors closed in the 1980s and while a room or two is still rented out (I think), on the day we visited, most of it was empty apart from some of the larger rooms being used as prop storage for the shoot of Sam Mendes’ upcoming “Theatre of Light”.  There are apparently plans to renovate the whole hotel and try and return it to its former glory, but for now it’s a ghostly shell and the perfect space for a creepy (but not scary) ER.

Down into the Bar

And when 36 Inch Penguin’s publicity material say that you’ll be exploring a hotel bar that hasn’t been touched for nearly 40 years, they really mean it.  There’s a real visceral thrill in being given a couple of small torches (don’t worry more lighting comes on later) and pointed in the direction of some ropey looking stairs down to a dark and ominous basement bar.  Before you head off to investigate you first need to listen to a recording from ‘The Twins’ who’ve hired you to explore the hotel.  Now I’m not massively keen on ERs that lean heavily on narrative and expect you to wade through a lot of reading material.  I want to be playing puzzles, not reading essays.  But paying attention to the recording at this point is kind of important for everything that follows.  From then on in the narrative is delivered in fairly small doses, often in quite intriguing and unusual fashion, and which are easy to digest and don’t feel like roadblocks in the way of the puzzle flow.

Once you’re inside the bar, the unique location of a real hotel space really comes into its own.  Despite being a real, historical location, the escape room designers haven’t just stuck a load of padlocked boxes in the middle of the room to figure out.  This escape room directly engages with the space it is in.  The narrative is part of the fabric of the room itself and the actual fabric of the room is sometimes a literal part of the puzzle.  It feels really good to be able to get properly hands on with physical puzzles that are built into the historic rooms themselves.  One of them had me asking “the hotel owners really let the designer do that?”.  But they did.  And it’s great fun.

Hand Crafted and Theatrical

In terms of puzzles, there aren’t a vast number and my escape room enthusiast team of two moved through it fairly quickly, but there were several puzzles I had not seen in any other escape room I’ve played.  They were clearly lovingly handmade puzzles, both small and large.  At one point you get to see the mechanical back of the puzzle you’ve just solved and I was wowed by the craft behind it.  There is theatrical ingenuity on display here and when you look at the designers’ history as creators of immersive theatre that’s really no surprise.  The room definitely has ‘atmosphere’ and is probably the most genuinely immersive escape room experience I’ve had.  The theatricality means that there’s the right level of creepiness (at least for me) without being a full on scare or horror room.  All the creeps come from the shadowy spaces and your own (over-active) imagination.

The sound design is also a huge factor in this game, again thanks to the theatrical background of 36 Inch Penguin I suspect.  At one point I genuinely thought we were going to be finding actual live actors in the space because the sound design was so effective. And if you’re an 80s kid like me, you will love the music design too.  It’s hard to resist just enjoying the disco even when you’re supposed to be puzzle solving.

For me, this room had the almost perfect blend of narrative, searching, small hand held puzzle props and larger physical puzzles.  One part of the game involves a physical challenge (but not a difficult one) that only one member of the team can do as the other watches.  As the one doing the watching in my team it was hilarious.  I’ll say no more because it would be a spoiler but I was crying with laughter as my teammate valiantly carried on.

The Verdict

I was worried that playing The Society as the last game of five in a single day would mean that I was too tired or brain fried to enjoy it.  But it is such a great experience that I left totally buzzing.  For enthusiasts the complexity of the puzzles might not be too challenging (although a few did leave us head scratching for a while) but the atmosphere, the cleverness and creativity behind the puzzles and the physical interaction with a genuine space are massive plus points.  I’m a huge immersive theatre addict and could feel the strong immersive credentials of 36 Inch Penguin at play here.  The joy is as much in the atmosphere as the puzzling.  I really hope the designers are already working on their next immersive escape room experience because I will genuinely be the first in the queue.

As the Nayland Rock Hotel is scheduled to be refurbished at some point, there’s always a chance that The Society might have to move out and move on.  I suspect the gameplay will be just as excellent even in a new location, but you can’t replicate the environment that the game is currently in.  It is a character in its own right.  So get down to Margate without delay!

The Society is currently open for bookings between 22 July and 4 September 2022.  You can read more and book here

CTRL ALT ESC: Quick-E-Mart | Review

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CTRL ALT ESC: Quick-E-Mart | Review | Shop smart and shop fast because there’s plenty of points to be won. You and your team will solve puzzles and fill those trolleys, shopping has never been so much fun!  IT’S TIME TO GO WILD IN THE AISLES!

Date Played: 30th November 2021
Time Taken: 62mins 27secs
Number of Players: 4
Difficulty: Easy

If you are in the market for some completely over the top, retro adventures then look no further. This game is an absolute riot and, potentially the most fun I’ve ever had inside an escape room! Strap in folks, here comes the positivity…

This room is going straight in my basket!

The recently opened 2nd venue for CTRL ALT ESC in Margate, Kent was the scene of this outrageous adventure. Treated like absolute royalty, we took a seat in the large reception area (which includes some cool gadgets of its own!), and here our briefing began. Lets just say the “normal” room briefing wasn’t present here. Our host, dressed appropriately in a very fetching game show host attire, set the scene superbly; a thorough introduction of what to expect, in what can only be described as showbiz!

And, for added sparkle, as a team we were then presented with our very own brightly coloured aprons and escorted up to the room to begin our game show!

Attention to Detail? This Checks Out!

Our Game Show Host escorted us to the room. Well, I say room – opening the door, you would be forgiven for mistaking this for a local shop! Our host Geoff stayed in character whilst advising us about the room and what to expect. One thing is for sure, this is no normal escape room adventure!

Here’s the deal: You are a contestant on a new gameshow Quick E Mart. Clearly, this is absolutely nothing like Supermarket Sweep (honest lol!). You are presented with a shopping list and 90 minutes in which to collect all the items and get as much money as possible. So certainly not your normal escape room, that’s for sure, but by god was this where the fun ramped up even more!

Our host left the room, we grabbed the trolley and our retro adventure commenced!

Now, the first thing to mention here is the overwhelming brightness of the room. Everything is exactly how you would think it to be in a throwback like this. Lots of inflatables, big, bright, bold colours, the lot. Something else to note are some really clever extra attention to detail areas. Make sure to look at product names, subtle nods to members of the CTRL ALT ESC team, and plenty of tongue in cheek humour! I’d suggest that the first five minutes of the game was us running around and laughing at all the different things in the room!

There is certainly nothing linear about this room. Sure there are specific things you cant do unless you have carried out actions prior to that, however on the whole, as a team we just spread out and got cracking.

Don’t forget your Shopping List!

Yep, that might sound obvious, however with so much going on in the room, its so easy to get distracted and lose track of what you were trying to achieve. And that is exactly why this room is so much fun. A clever system will keep tabs of the items you have collected along the way; some items are readily available and require just tracking them down. Others are brilliantly secured using some very innovative methods.

Don’t think traditional escape room puzzles here. Cyphers and numerous padlocks need not apply! Sure there are occasional nods to commonly utilised puzzles, however what the designers have done brilliantly here is cleverly insert puzzles into the theme of a supermarket. Nicely hidden puzzles (which are actually in plain sight!), sit beautifully on theme and do not sit out of place at all. Something short of amazing when you think about how little is locked up in an actual supermarket!

Many of the puzzles in this game are short and snappy and that really adds to the way it flows. There are one or two longer or ongoing puzzles in this room and they provided a great distraction to appreciate potentially how far into the game we were (I’m trying desperately not to provide a spoiler here!).

Walkie Talkies? No Thanks!

The big question: How the hell do you provide a clue system for a game based in a supermarket?! All I can say is: Brilliantly!

There isn’t a walkie talkie in sight. Instead pay close attention to the briefing at the start of the game as there aren’t any ‘normal’ ways of getting hints and clues that’s for sure. More innovation from the designers here – as a team we all agreed that this was possibly our favourite hint system. Very simple in practice, beautiful in execution.

We played Quick E Mart as a team of four, three adults and my 10 year old son. Now, this may sound bias however he is absolutely outstanding in escape rooms. He’s played around 10-12 games with me and he never ceases to amaze me with how he picks stuff up – and this room was no exception. Agreed that this room is a simple affair and certainly not going to be one that taxes even first time gamers, but he said, hands down that this is his absolute favourite game he has played – and he is a harsh judge!

With that in mind, I would certainly recommend this game for friends and families with children of all ages. It really hits the nail on the head between what you would expect in an escape room and what a family attraction has. Similarly, experienced escape room players need to embrace a game like this, let their hair down and just have 90 minutes of fun and laughter!

A Suitably Fitting Finale

As a team we smashed through the game at a great pace; the money was stacking up brilliantly and the shopping list had been completed! But wait, we are on a game show – we get to play the bonus round! Now, as ever, no spoilers, however be prepared for a suitably different over the top finale to this game. It will help you build up your cash and you’ll have a brilliant laugh doing it too!

When all was said and done, this was certainly one of the most fun and innovate rooms I’ve ever played. From the over the top retro theming, the cleverly inserted puzzles, the cracking clue system and the all round fun and entertainment value, this is certainly not one to miss. Brilliantly hosted, all in character, superb setting, and something very different from what you’d expect to see in many escape rooms.

So remember, next time you are at the checkout and you hear the beep, think of the fun you could be having on Quick E Mart!

Without doubt, I happily award this room a very special, well deserved, FUN FACTOR BADGE!.. 🎉

If you want to go wild in the aisles, click the link to book at CTRL ALT ESC: https://ctrlaltesc.co.uk/index.php/en/games

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