I've experienced other incredible interactive-type adventures (for instance, 49 Boxes, Meow Wolf's House of Eternal Return, and the Jejune Institute along with its offshoot, the ongoing Elsewhere Philatelic Society), but I had never gone through an escape room proper before. I was definitely not disappointed.
Late Saturday afternoon, I arrived in Los Angeles to host a meetup I had planned for the readers of my inbox zine. A new Koreatown escape room called Stash House topped our agenda.
Per the instructions emailed to us at the time of booking, our party of seven arrived promptly at 6 PM to a storefront painted matte black. A green glass light clued us in that we were at the right door. I buzzed the video doorbell, the door cracked open, and the fun began.
For a little over an hour, we chaotically cracked codes and solved puzzles in small groups which then led us to more clues and surprises. Our host watched us through surveillance cams in the back room and, when we appeared to be getting stuck, offered us gentle clues through texts on a provided cell phone. For the finale, we all gathered to crack the last code together. Everyone seriously had a blast. Stash House has my highest recommendation.
The object of the Stash House escape room is to find the six little baggies of coke a drug dealer named Ray has hidden in his apartment and flush them down the toilet (shown above in the "Shitter" cam) before the cops arrive. If you succeed, you become part of Ray's "crew."
Honestly, I think it would be a crime to call Stash House simply an "escape room," as it's more than that. For one, you're not really trying to "escape" from anything. You're invited to become part of a drug dealer's world by immersing yourself in his. Also, like other immersive experiences, it weaves a well-crafted story around deeply-engaging play, which results in surprise and delight for its participants. There's no one easy way to describe it but we all left feeling we had been through the "gold standard" of escape room experiences. Of course, the ability to solve a bunch of inter-related puzzles quickly is how you ultimately succeed in the space and that's how it is like an escape room.
Its co-creator and our host Tommy Honton described it to us as a "real-life video game." Honton, who has escaped from nearly 200 rooms himself, also escaped from his soul-sucking corporate PR job and opened Stash House with his partners earlier this year. It is now his full-time job.
In a post-game discussion and recap, Tommy shared with us that he had been designing games since he was a child. After being wowed by a scavenger hunt he experienced as a young boy, he started planning elaborate adventures for neighborhood pals. It took many years, and losing that deeply-dissatisfying career in PR, to finally make the jump into interactive game design.
Tommy's been reading my zine for a few years now and when I wrote that I was planning a reader's meetup in LA, he wrote me privately to tell me that he was in the middle of creating Stash House. That was about a year ago. Through our conversations, the plan solidified, and he offered to host us when it was complete. In early January he pinged me again to share the good news, it was finally open for business.
Here are some Stash House pro tips/notes:
— All phones (and other personal property like jackets and purses) will be put in a plastic tub prior to game play. You don't need any of it to play. But don't worry, that bin will be easily accessible to you in the room.
— You will have an opportunity at the end to take a photo against a police "line-up" wall:
Ray's new crew: Heather, Susan, Sarafina, Haley, Brittany, and Brenton
— Nothing is going to jump out at you. It's a safe place to play, not scary.
— One beautiful thing is that it completely takes you out of your regular mind. All your everyday worries and concerns are put on the back burner while you try to figure out the puzzles. I'm in my head a lot worrying about this or that, so it was delightful to have "permission to play."
— The "coke" bags are water soluble, so don't worry about flushing them.
— Move quickly but focus on cracking one thing at a time. Don't let other puzzles distract you.
— Ask the story behind the tagging in the bathroom.
— Bring cool stickers to leave. There's a pretty good chance they'll end up being part of the room itself.
I also want to mention that Tommy is one of the creators of the upcoming Museum of Selfies opening April 1 in Glendale, California. I hope to host another meetup in April or May to check that out.