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Stuck in the riddle: Escape Room challenges players to puzzle a way out

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Come here to get a clue.

An interactive puzzle game puts amateur sleuths to the test by locking them in a clue-filled room and making them race against the clock to solve their way out. The Real Escape Room, which opened recently in Williamsburg, combines the thrill of immersive theater with action-packed puzzle-solving to create a new form of entertainment for active Brooklynites. A manager of the mysterious spot says that a world-spanning culture of puzzle fanatics is behind the immersive gaming genre.

“It was a cultural zeitgeist that pushes us towards being excited about these types of interactive and immersive activities as part of adult entertainm­ent,” said Albert Kong. “These are things that people can do after work to socialize and hang out that are not necessarily the same old club or bar scene.”

Brooklyn puzzlers, in groups of up to 10 people, can choose between two chambers for their locked-door adventure — a “mystery room” modeled after a creepy, unkempt apartment that only unlocks when the last mysterious code has been cracked, and a “time travel lab” where players must solve a series of stumpers in order to activate a time machine. The penalty for failure — having your picture taken with an ignominious sign.

Kong and his cohorts in Japan launched the first Real Escape Room in 2007, modeling it on puzzle-based ’90s video games like Myst. But they upped the ante of the games by physically immersing players in the setting for a 60-minute sleuthing challenge.

“There’s an element of taking the magic of what happens in the video game and figuring out how to make it a real life experience,” said Kong, who planted the first stateside escape room in San Francisco in 2011 before opening the Brooklyn location earlier this summer.

Kong says puzzle games have already blown up overseas and are gaining popularity in the United States, driven by the same theater culture that draws adventure-seekers to interactive shows like the Macbeth-esque mega-hit “Sleep No More.”

“I think theater makers are looking to make a way the audience can step into a more interactive part of what they’re seeing,” said Kong. “And for us on the escape games, we’re looking for a way to make a more theatrical experience out of physical activity.”

Since the Real Escape Room in Brooklyn started locking gangs of mystery-solvers in its clue-riddled lair, only seven out of the 46 teams have successfully used their puzzle-solving prowess to unlock. But Kong says half the fun for adventurers is seeing how far they can get before they tap out — and putting themselves in a tough spot with no easy way out.

“We want to make it a challenging experience,” he said. “Because what you’re paying for is the opportunity to prove yourself throughout the experience.”

Real Escape Room Brooklyn (382 Union Ave. between Ainslie and Powers streets in Williamsburg, www.realescapegame.com/newyork). Fridays at 6:30 and 8:30 pm. Saturdays and Sundays at 1 pm, 3 pm, and 5 pm. $33 ($29 in advance).

Reach reporter Allegra Hobbs at ahobbs@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8312.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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