My sisters and I get together every year for a weekend at the Jersey Shore, with their kids and spouses, and this year we decided to do something a little different. We signed up for one of those “escape rooms,” where they put a group of you into a room and you have to figure your way out using only your wits, your guile and the clues that are provided to you. I thought it might speed things up if we were able to figure our way out using only our wits, our guile and a Milwaukee Sawzall, but I went along for the ride.

We were all over it in the car on the way back from the restaurant, full of confidence and brio. We had a dynamic group: Dan is a math whiz, Erica has great organizational skills, Guthrie sees the big picture, Deb knows how to make connections, Anne is a communicator and Sky is good at management. Everyone brought something to the table. My expertise is that I know every episode of “Get Smart” backwards and forwards, which don’t be surprised if it comes in handy. With that kind of brainpower, we could break out of Leavenworth. Our enthusiasm was slightly tempered when all the car doors locked automatically and we had to ask Paul to let us out from the driver’s seat.

Once we were inside the room, the moderator explained that we were in Nazi Germany, and we had to figure out how to open the jail cell door where a bomb sat, ticking away. We had 30 minutes to access it and disarm it. Why couldn’t I have watched more “Hogan’s Heroes” instead of “Get Smart?” He left through the back access door and the game was on. Deb turned the access doorknob and it opened right up. “Let’s get the hell out of here,” she said, and started to make a break for it. We dragged her back inside and began to look for clues. There was not a moment to waste.

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I saw a burlap bag with words on it that said, “THIS IS NOT A CLUE!” Was that a clue? Somebody found a some fuses and a fuse box. We put them in and the cell door opened. Now we needed four numbers to punch into the control panel. Something started beeping—MORSE CODE! The legend gave us the answer in German and also a translation—a one and a nine. Was it one-nine or nine-one? Nine-one or one-nine? One-nine or nine-one? A message flashed on the video screen: “Jesus, it’s 1-9. I have another group coming in at 8:30, so let’s get moving on the bomb.”

I picked up an army helmet and looked inside: “SEVEN! Its says seven!” Well, it turns out that was just the hat size, but on the plus side it fit me perfectly, just in case we couldn’t defuse the bomb. “Why do we want to open that cell door in the first place? What if the bomb gets out?” Another number came from a map on the wall that we transferred to coordinates on a grid. 
We punched in the numbers and.... We did it! We disabled the bomb and saved the free world. I asked the group if they wouldn’t mind coming over to help me figure out how to work my new coffee maker. There are several clues buried in the instructions, but I’m having a hard time getting them out.

The experience brought to mind some ideas for other escape rooms. How about “Escape from the Bathroom,” where the clues are buried in a book that you NEVER finish? Or an escape room where you have to put together a shelving unit from IKEA in order to get out, for instance. What about an “Escape from the White House,” using clues that you’d have to be an idiot not to see before you went in? 

In the end, it was a group of people, using their own special skills, finding common ground, working together towards a shared goal. If you extrapolate that idea out to other walks of life, you can almost see the way forward. I’d like to think we can get there one day, but I’m going to keep that Milwaukee Sawzall handy just in case.

Please join Rick and the No Options band, Thursday evening, 07-05-18, 7-8:30 p.m. for the Katonah Concert in the Park at Katonah Memorial Park
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