The Jigsaw Escape Room in Ottawa's Byward Market was my latest test of nerve!
Let's hear it for all the wimpy travelers! I'm an anti-adventurist, through and through. I'm not bold nor daring. I can't handle the wild side of life and things that are seemingly innocuous to the average traveler, say, like visiting a butcher shop or taking a fast boat ride, carry the same heart pounding intensity for me as, say, naked bungee jumping does for all the other travel writers. This is important background information for, as a true anti-adventurist, I would normally never find myself in such an unpredictable and devil-may-care situation as visiting an Escape Room, but I was under the influence. The influence of two nefarious friends that is, Sandy from Canadian Blog House and Ann from Kickass Living. With these devious women acting as a corrupting influence, I threw caution to the wind and entered an Escape Room for the first time.
For those unfamiliar, Escape Rooms have popped up all around the world and in some unexpected places. The premise is to turn unique, underused buildings into an intellectual (and sometimes physical) team building challenge, like a real live board game. Combining the cunning wits of your teammates, you strive to meet your objective before the clock runs out.
It sounds harmless enough, but for some reason I was convinced it was a scary experience - like you were locked in a dark dungeon and someone would chase you if you didn't escape in time. Or that people in scary costumes would jump out at me, like on the Dublin Ghost Bus. But at the Jigsaw Escape Room in Ottawa's Byward Market isn't prone to cheap scares.
Rather, each of the individual rooms is built around a theme. In our case, the Heist room (one of the least-escaped-from of all the rooms), established our team as part of an elite crime syndicate, intent on pulling off the ultimate diamond caper. We weren't escaping from anything, but rather solving a series of mysteries, riddles, obstacles, and problems as we hunted for the diamonds hidden in the room. No one was going to chase us or scare us except for the countdown clock! We had just 45 minutes to complete our quest - not much time when a huge haul of diamonds is on the line.
In other rooms, the scenarios range from being in a mythical kingdom and searching the castle for a weapon to being part of a CSI team, hunting for forensic clues. Some of the scenarios DO run a bit more intense - the Byward Market Butcher room, for instance - but you can select the room theme that appeals the most to you when you book. Fellow anti-adventurists, this is our kind of place!
For those concerned about how it feels to be locked in a small room without a clear path out, take heart. You aren't actually locked in. Health and safety regulations in Canada don't allow it. You can leave at any time and you can even head to the bathroom if you want! And I promise that, once the activity starts, you won't think about the door or your exit once- the only thing you'll care about is the clock. For someone who was very hesitant about Escape Rooms in general, it didn't take me but a minute to become intensely committed to beating the clock - er, make that finding the diamonds and completing our heist!
With no real instructions aside from receiving our scenario and final objective, the three of us were "locked" in the room to solve the mystery. A series of padlocks on a tall filing cabinet beckoned. I was absolutely certain there were important clues in there - but where was the combination? Soon, we were tearing about the room, searching for numbers and additional clues.
Escape Room activities are often cited as the ultimate team building exercise, as much of your success depends on having team members who seem things just a little bit differently from you and appreciating how beneficial different points of view can be. The entire process was a great combination of logic and precision, intuition and guess work, sleuthing and experimentation. We screamed like maniacs with excitement when a long awaited final element of a clue came into fruition (with dramatic results!) and we howled with laughter at some of our attempts to reveal "clues" that weren't really clues at all. It was challenging and stimulating and immersive - and it was also a ton of fun. And while I think it helps if you enjoy doing puzzles or playing board games, I believe anyone would love this activity. For every minute you spend pondering a problem, you spend two more searching for anomalies and clues. You don't have to be a master sleuth to pull off a heist. Sometimes it's just as valuable to have a patient person carefully observe the little details.
The rooms are designed to hold 6 or 7 people but I really loved our small group of three. We were scurrying around so much, it would be hard to imagine more people in the room. And we covered a ton of ground and made great progress. Smaller groups like ours also have the benefit of being able to ask for three official clues from the Jigsaw team, which was a life saver. A small radio in the room allowed us to easily communicate with them and they also set us up for success by outlining some ground rules. For example, you don't need to climb to find clues (I may have forgotten this as I scaled a desk) and that if something should move, it will.
We came close - so very, very close! - to completing our heist in the allotted time but the clock is a cruel mistress. However, we did enjoying being able to play for a few extra minutes, unofficially, to see how the rest of the scenario would have unfolded, even if it didn't really count. We had a lot of fun asking the staff to point out what clues we had missed and gloating as we learned about those clues that other frequently missed.
Jigsaw has a cool lounge and is licensed, so you can unwind with a drink and relive your exploits after you play. But we felt our heroic diamond heisting attempts deserved even more indulgence. A short walk took us to Oh So Good, Ottawa's best dessert shop (and site of my very first date with Ryan all those years ago). Their cake display is an absolute delight and huge slices of cheesecake make for the perfect end to a tremendously fun evening.
This may just be the anti-adventurist experience I feel the silliest about. How could I have been so nervous about something so fun? I've gone from being anti-adventurist to wanting to call the experience the "anti-escape room", meaning I never wanted to escape. I was having so much fun! I think this would be the perfect travel activity in any destination. It's so easy anyone can do it and it's so "hard" that anyone can really get into the challenge of it. And in Ottawa, the Byward Market is the ideal location. It's so close to the city's best sites and, of course, the best cakes too. This anti-adventurist moment was absolutely a resounding success.
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We were provided with free media admissions as part of our visit. All research, writing, and opinions are my own.