Wolverhampton is host to a new spooky escape room - and we check it out
With the burden of modern life weighing heavy for many people, a new phenomenon, the Escape Room, is proving the perfect retreat from reality...
Zoinks! In his leather top hat and long black cloak, the professor of Wolverhampton's brand new escape room wouldn't look out of place dashing down a corridor, chasing Scooby Doo and co.
But Professor Clockwork from Clockwork Escapes in Clarence Road, which is the latest entertainment addition to the city centre, is one of the goodies, despite the dark demeanor.
The Professor, aka Luke Edwards, launched the rooms at the end of September this year as the craze sweeps the UK.
Escape rooms are a craze that have hit the UK by storm after garnering huge popularity in the United States. Intrepid challengers get locked in a room where they must solve a series of puzzles and and crack locks to break free from the room and solve a mystery before time runs out.
Cities up and down the country including London, Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham all have wannabe Scooby gangs flocking to be the latest to break the codes and find out the truth in rooms of their own.
Now teams of pals can get investigative at the Wolverhampton venue, where there are currently two rooms. The first is The Alleyway, where there is one body, one killer, and one hour to solve the case. And the second is The Nolan exhibit, in which challengers have one hour to steal the Nolan Diamond, one of the most valuable in the world. We went into The Alleyway, a dingy back street where a psychotic killer has been adding to his kill count. The Professor could only keep the mysterious door to this place open so long, and without our help, the killer may go free forever.
We were greeted at the door by bellowing showman Professor Clockwork, who issued us with a list of murder suspects with character profiles. It was up to the mystery team to crack the codes and gather the clues to nail the murderer, while also getting out alive!
Fancying ourselves as the next Fred, Daphne, Velma and Shaggy, Wolverhampton's answer to Mystery Inc set about the challenge. Fortunately for me, I was in with two seasoned escape room professionals who had attempted five or six different rooms in various locations already.
As the door slammed shut behind us, and the room went dark with eerie music playing, my team were instantly scouring the walls for clues, picking up various objects and inspecting mysterious markings and posters on the wall.
A wire door with a Hazardous Area sign blocked off where we had to get into to unearth the clues we needed, but a handful of locks had to be cracked from clues in the first area.
We searched high and low for letters, numbers and objects that might give us an inkling to a lock-busting code. After using various tools and taking information from posters and scrawlings on the wall, we managed to bust the first round of locks and get into the second area in half and hour.
While hunting for the codes to escape, we also had to gather clues to track down the murderer.
The character profiles were detailed, specifying looks, marital status, and personality traits. It began to become clear who the killer was as the clock ticked down, but could we get out in time?
We solved riddles and extracted keys seemingly impossible to obtain from tight spots, but we weren't able to get out in time. However Professor Luke said we would still win if we named the correct suspect which, happily, we did. Success, toasted with victory cupcakes provided generously by the Professor. And they would have gotten away with it if it wasn't for us pesky (old) kids!
Professor Clockwork describes his rooms as a 'real teamwork adventure', and has exciting plans to open more rooms next year. The Professor was a teacher before giving up the day job to launch his venture.
The 31-year-old Mr Edwards, from Telford, said: "What happens to a lot of people who run these rooms is they do a load of them but once they've done 15 or more, they begin to understand how they work and think 'I could do that myself'. That's exactly what happened with me.
"I've done escape rooms all over the country. My first one was in Birmingham which was called Escape Live, and that was very good. I drove four hours for a one-hour escape room once. I've done a couple in Europe as well and I've got one lined up that I want to do in the US.
"We opened at the end of September but were not quite in full flow until October.
"Everybody has loved it so far, people have really enjoyed themselves. I've had a couple of dozen Trip Advisor reviews that have all been five stars so it's going really well. I would describe it as a real teamwork adventure. It took me a couple of months to build the room. It's difficult to describe without giving anything away."
A third room is set to be open in January, but plans for it remain under wraps. And a further two rooms could be opened next year, with the Professor hoping to launch one with a First World War theme.
He said: "Fortunately it is a massive space so there is scope to create new rooms. One will be open in the new year and I will build the others when I can."
The earliest known escape room was created in 2006, but they didn't become prominent in the US until after 2010. Soon after rooms popped up in Japan, Taiwan, Canada, Israel and mainland China as popularity soared. Permanent escape rooms in fixed locations were first opened in Asia and followed later in North America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and South America. In 2015, there were over 2,800 escape room venues worldwide.
Escape rooms have been described as a hit among highly stressed students and overworked young professionals, though sometimes the excitement becomes a bit much, and players get so invested that they tear down equipment or decorations inside their 'fake' prisons.
Corporate organisations have used escape rooms as team building exercises. A 2015 American Science Channel television game show Race to Escape is based on this theme.
Clockwork Escapes prices start at £15 per person in a group of six, with the price per person increasing the fewer the participants. Groups are between two and six.
To book, call Professor Clockwork on 07514 181361.