What’d you do last weekend? Hit the beach? Hit the couch? Whatever you did, it probably looked a lot different than what Sam Tisdale was up to the weekend before we chatted with him.
“I spent twelve hours from Saturday to Monday sitting in my kitchen while a bunch of strangers were rummaging around my living room,” he said. And that wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.
Yeah, that’s right. Sam regularly, willingly lets strangers into his place so they can mess with his stuff. Why? Last year, Sam transformed most of his two-bedroom apartment into an escape room.
The concept of an escape room (sometimes called a “puzzle room”) is simple: Grab a group of friends, pay some money, and try to solve a bunch of puzzles before your time runs out in order to “escape” the room. As far as we can tell, there are at least twelve escape rooms in Seattle right now (plus several more in the surrounding areas).
We had heard Puzzle Break was the original room around here, so we reached out to Nate Martin, one of the company’s co-owners to get the deets. Nate told us that Puzzle Break’s Capitol Hill location was actually the first puzzle room in the whole country (Update: this is apparently a contested title), and it opened just four years ago, in August 2013.
According to Nate, other escape rooms started showing up around 2015. So Sam must have hit the scene pretty early when he tried his first escape room at a bachelor party last year.
“I was really enamored with the concept, but at the same time, I was disappointed with the execution,” Sam said. “I walked away that day thinking, ‘Wow, what a great idea,’ but ‘I can do something better than this’ …So I did.”
After that first room, Sam told us, he started building puzzles and transforming his apartment. It took about a month of work before his room, Bricklebrit Escapades’ “The Madness from the Sea,” was born.
We stopped by recently to give it a go, and Sam gave us a few examples of what makes his room different from most of what’s out there (we bet you can guess reason number one):
- ‘First of all, this is where I live.’ Most escape room debriefs probably don’t include tips like where puzzlers can find snacks in his kitchen and requests for teams not to look through the medicine cabinet when they use the restroom. Sam’s did.
- ‘My puzzle room is twice as long as a lot of my competitors.’ Usually, rooms take about an hour to “escape.” But Sam gives his puzzlers two hours so he can give them a “meatier” (his words) experience — take it from us, you will use every second of that time.
- ‘Most other puzzle rooms…won’t even let you bring your phone in. I encourage it.’ Some of Sam’s puzzles actually require that you get on the Internet. And in our experience, unless you’re some sort of super-genius, you will need it.
- ‘I have this focus on what I like to call ‘geek trivia.’’ The whole room is based on a storyline from the works of H.P. Lovecraft, and the puzzles are full of pop culture references from the 80s and 90s. Sam told us this bodes well for most of his target audience, which he describes as more of the “hard core” puzzlers. He recommends people get some escape room experience first before tackling his. However, our entire group was first-timers and, while we will all admit that it was super challenging, we did make it through all 13 puzzles just before our time was up.
Initially, Sam said he used the room as a fun thing for his close friends to do “instead of playing board games or going out to the bars.” He nearly closed down the room after the first couple months of running it. But he changed his mind after the presidential election in November 2016.
“I felt really helpless and wanted to do something to give back,” Sam said. So he ran “The Madness from the Sea” as a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood at the end the year. It raised $2,600.
After that, word of his room started to spread and Sam turned it into an official business in January. Now, he stays busy puzzling groups of friends — and groups of strangers — every weekend. And in June, “The Madness from the Sea” made a list of the top 10 escape rooms in the city, which Sam said “thrilled and shocked” him.
Time’s running out to puzzle your way through Sam’s apartment. His rent is going up, and he’ll be shutting down “The Madness from the Sea” in mid-September before he moves out.
Does he regret building and running the room, only to tear it down a year later? It sure doesn’t sound like it.
“I know it sounds sort of cliche, but it really wasn’t an ‘I chose to do this’ thing,” Sam said. “It chose me.”
Want to try an escape room?
You can sign up to try Sam’s room on his website. If you’d rather get some experience with a more “beginner friendly” room, Sam recommends trying out “The Vanishing Act” in Fremont and to check out this blog to satisfy your escape room curiosities. There’s also this list of the top 10 escape rooms in Seattle that gives a nice overview of good puzzling spots around the city.
If trying one of the city’s escape rooms sounds super fun, but you’re not sure who to puzzle with, email [email protected] and we’ll connect you with other readers who want in.