WASHINGTON— The timer is running. These people have 60 minutes to escape from a room they paid to be locked inside of.
“It is a game with clues that are spread throughout the room. And there is no starting point. You start wherever you feel like. It is up to you to put the clues together in order to find the key to get out,” Smith says.
This room - one of two offered by Timothy Smith's Escape Lounge is designed to mimic the Oval Office in the White House. It features a presidential seal embossed rug, an iconic desk, presidents’ portraits and other props.
The fun part of Escape the Oval Office is that anything here could be a clue to solving the puzzle: This antique typewriter from the 1930s. Or this vintage turntable that plays records. Or this map of Washington, D.C. And then there are hidden messages that can only be seen under a black light.
Sometimes, the hot line rings.
“Would you guys like a clue?” the voice on the line asks.
The game master monitors the progress on a camera and calls to offer hints as needed.
Teams can be made up of co-workers, families, tourists, or a group of six friends and two strangers who just met before the game starts.
"We have never been on any of the Escape Rooms before. So it was a lot of fun. And I think that it was actually great that we didn't know each other because it really forces you to have to learn how to work with one another." says one of the participants, Kat Matus.
It is estimated that there are about 600 Escape Room adventures across the country. When Smith opened the Escape Lounge a year ago, there were two others in the Washington area. Now there are 12 and growing.
While each experience has different themes and settings, the formats are similar, and solving the puzzle requires social and physical engagement and quick, creative thinking.
"It was a little stressful. Some of the clues seemed really complex. But it was a lot of fun, and we had no idea what to expect. None of us have ever done it before," says Demetrios Psihopaidas.
With seven minutes left, the team finally found the key.
"I was a little worried that we were not going to find all the clues and we weren't going to get out in time," Psihopaidas admits, "So I was happy that we were finished. "
Smith says the escape success rate is between 30 and 40 percent.
"So it is pretty challenging. Escape the Oval Office is not an easy game. I think this game is popular because it gives an individual a chance to be a detective or to be a James Bond."
But, Smith says, like most team sports, this game is really all about being a good teammate and having a good time.