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False Idylls: Escape!

I was pretty sure escape rooms were a fad. Maybe they still are. I mean, tiki was a fad in the late 1960s and here I am, writing books about it in the year 2023. I’m pretty sure this just means I’m a nerd. Ergo, escape rooms should be my bread and butter. 

No, and there’s a couple of reasons why not. 1. It involved interacting with human people, which is always a dicey proposition. My favorite thing about most of my themed experiences is that I can be a part of them and also apart from them. I can hide in corners and sip tiki drinks. I can be an audience member at magic shows. I don’t have to be a part of things. I think this is another reason why I’ve avoided Renaissance faires for the most part. Well, that and earnest lute players. (Lutists? Loutists?)

2. Like all white men of a certain age, I get all my information from podcasts. I listened to this show once where a woman talked about her obsession with escape rooms. She went on and on about the “regular” ones where, like, normcore suburban families went to drink and giggle and solve super easy puzzles – which, she stressed, were fun, but which she was a little beyond. But then there were the super extreme ones, where people come to your house and kidnap you and put you in a dark room and are allowed to touch you (you have to sign extensive waivers) and it’s like Taken only you signed a form and paid money to not be saved by old Liam Neeson. It was all about wits and survival instincts, she told the podcast cohosts, who were aghast. They were not the only ones.

So, I both didn’t want to have this ridiculous touristy experience that was silly and no one was taking it seriously but I also didn’t want super serious edgy intensity where I would probably lose a finger and find out later in the fine print that that was part of the fun. Also, see above, re: other people. Who might want to talk to me?

But then my buddy Jeff and I were on another cruise ship because we’re Cruise Boys now, and they had an escape room experience. Jeff seemed really jazzed about the whole endeavor and I agreed to go, despite my reservations. Well, technically, we both had reservations. They don’t let you just walk up to those things.

False Idylls

A few truths I learned while waiting in line to get into the escape room: firstly, you know those suburban normcore people? They’re on every single mid-tier cruise ship, wearing their Gap shirts and Lucky jeans, and I know that because I am wearing the exact same thing. And among those suburban normcore people are suburban normcore dads, and they’ve left the kids with grandma and grandpa because this is a family vacation, but dad needs a little break and he’s three Bud Lights into Day Drinking Wednesday and he is chillll. There is not just one of these dads. There are like four. They have beards and they’re in tank tops. And you’d think they’d try to bring their whole straight cis alpha bs to the whole situation, but that’s all gloriously absent. Is it the intimidation of the puzzle? Is it the knowledge that they have to work with other people and can’t just spray musk over everything and dominate? Is it

Wait, now I’m thinking about the musk and the domination and I’ll be right back.  

Okay. Whew. Hey there.

The other important thing I discovered when they finally let our group in is that holy shit this is a Holodeck. Now, look. Do I have two Star Trek tattoos? Yes I do. Have I been watching Star Trek since I was conscious of thought? Again yes. And here we are on this glorious cruise ship, and suddenly we’re inside Mission Control at Cape Canaveral in the 1960s. The whole room is Mission Control, empty except for our group, ready for us to find clues and put together puzzles and stare at suburban dads with beards and solve riddles. This is a room that should not be on a 2023 cruise ship: the mid-century modern angles, the teal and cream coloring and wood paneling everywhere, the clunky computer setups and the period coats hanging on the coat rack nearby (one of which contained the final clue, by the way, which is why we only narrowly avoided absolutely disaster). It was like entering a Sherlock Holmes story when you were traveling through space on the Enterprise: incongruous and strange and awesome.

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False Idylls: Escape! 3

Okay, this thing was sufficiently nerdy. I was ready. Jeff was ready. Three Beer Charlie was ready. Let’s do th—

Hold up, there’s math? No one implied anything about math and I need everyone to understand that I was mistakenly put into AP algebra as a freshman in high school, and I failed that subject, so the next year I took remedial algebra, which was a prerequisite to take real algebra again, and then calculus happened and I was like, “look, I barely know how decimals work,” and that’s why I’m so bad with money. So we were entering this trust pact with these strangers on this Holodeck and I was coming into a tiger fight with a wet paper fan. Of course I was going to fail everyone and they would point at me, and my name would go out to all the escape rooms worldwide, telling them not to let me participate because I was going to drag the talent pool down to Mariana Trench levels.

But! A loophole for math idiots! Some of what needed doing was, like, finding stuff! I can do that, unless it’s my own wallet and I left it in my jacket pocket like I always do and then spend three hours searching my house for it. Look at this! I found a key in a drawer! And a playing card in a hat! A jewel in a taxidermized meercat! I am not bad at specific elements of this puzzle! And I’m working with other people and not freaking out! And we sent the rocket into orbit and everyone still liked me! Huzzah!

So our group left triumphant and the only problem now is that the synthetic high of success is so temporary. I want to chase these things now. On our very next cruise ship, Jeff and I again jumped into the escape room (this time in a steampunky astronomer’s lab), and it was just as fun. Still too much math. Now I crave more. I know there are some in my area. Maybe I’ll reverse my experience and do one on dry land where it looks like a ship! Oh, the nautical shenanigans I’ll have! Anything is possible!

You know, I can now almost understand that woman who wanted to be kidnapped into a scenario, sort of. As long as, you know, it’s Three Beer Charlie doing the kidnapping. You get me. He had a beard.

Written By

Kevin Quigley is a novelist, graphic designer, and podcaster living in Boston with his husband, Shawn. His first taste of themed entertainment was the Chuck E. Cheese’s in upstate New York he would drag his grandparents to every summer for his birthday. Since, he has immersed himself in environments as diverse as Disney parks, tiki bars, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show live, forever at the crux of kitsch, camp, and radical sincerity. He’s a fan of mid-century modern design, aloha shirts, and the homoerotic subtext of the music of Bruce Springsteen.

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