MIT Mystery Hunt 2015 Recap – Part 1

It’s been a week since the 2015 MIT Mystery Hunt ended, so now it’s recap time!

Wednesday

This year’s Hunt trip started on Wednesday for me. I had been wanting to play 5 Wits Adventures out in Foxboro since I heard about it a few years ago, but it’s far enough out from the Boston/Cambridge area that I’d have to get a rental car to make it out to play. Luckily, I’ve been working on developing a company (which doesn’t quite merit its own blog post yet) over the past year with a couple of puzzling friends and Mystery Hunt teammates, Summer and Phil, and the three of us visiting 5 Wits for research purposes seemed worthy of an early flight and a rental car this year.

Summer and I couldn’t get in from the West coast until evening, so we all planned on arriving in Boston on Wednesday and scheduled our 5 Wits trip for Thursday afternoon. We also roped Todd, Chris, and Matt into our plans and the six of us were reunited at a hotel by the airport by Wednesday evening. Originally we had also scheduled a room escape game for Wednesday night, but a heating problem at the facility meant we had to reschedule for Thursday. That left us with no plans for Wednesday, so we decided to make a night of it. Summer had found an intriguing bar and restaurant downtown near the room escape, so I drove us all over in the large minivan with only one close call with another vehicle and zero run-ins with pedestrians (despite their best efforts).

The food at the restaurant was pretty darned good, and the servers were extremely helpful, pointing us in the direction of a nearby karaoke place at Summer’s request. We had done karaoke on our Decathlon trip as well, but this turned out to be a very different experience. The place in California had been a total dive bar where singers went up one at a time and you had to wait a pretty long time before your song came up. The place we found in Boston was completely empty in the main stage area, but they had a number of private rooms available (with unlimited free Cool Ranch Doritos!), so we ended up in one of the rooms where we could peruse the digital song list, add applause sound effects, skip songs that turned out to be busts, and generally sing about 5x as many songs as normal. We had a blast singing goofy songs and enjoying the nonsensical background videos playing for most of the songs. They even had a bunch of k-pop songs, which made me resolve to learn how to read hangul before the next time I do karaoke!

Todd killing it Karaoke fun for all

We didn’t leave until the place closed at 2:15am! Luckily we didn’t need to be up very early the next day.

Thursday

Our 5 Wits tickets were for 1:15pm, so we planned to leave for Foxboro at 11:00 and grab lunch at Patriot Place at noon before our game. On the car ride over we played the guessing game Botticelli, which quickly passed the time. Our plans were going well until lunch took way too long to get ordered and it looked like we were definitely going to be late for 5 Wits. Thankfully, the 5 Wits staff were super accommodating, and kindly rescheduled us twice over the phone. It probably helped that it was a Thursday afternoon and everything seemed pretty dead around there, but we still appreciated that they were cool about it.

The 5 Wits facility was impressive, with facades to the left and right for each of their games, Espionage and 20,000 Leagues, a gift shop, and an event space on the upper level. They had a place for coats upstairs and kept my purse behind the front counter for safekeeping. When it was time for our game, a staff member gave a humorous MC-style announcement over the PA system calling us down to the lobby (despite the fact that we were the only customers in the place). That set a fun tone for the start of the game.

5 Wits from above

We played the 20,000 Leagues game first, which opened in a room mocked up to look like a Jules Verne museum (this is when we started working out that 20,000 Leagues was also the theme of the Mystery Hunt!). I won’t go into too much detail from this point on so as not to spoil anything, but the experience involved the host verbally prompting us to explore each room and solve a few interactive puzzles to unlock the next room. The rooms were decorated with extreme detail and felt highly immersive. The set dressing felt Disney quality, and the puzzles were fun and dynamic. There were more than a few moments where we were blown away by the special effects as well. On top of all that, our host was a hoot. We left the 20,000 Leagues experience completely impressed. Summer, Phil, and I were particularly relieved that our teammates had fun since we weren’t exactly sure what the experience would be like, and our friends had adjusted their travel schedules to join us.

Our Espionage game was next, and while it was still enjoyable, we all agreed it was a bit lacking compared to the 20,000 Leagues adventure. Although this game seemed to have a more compelling objective, the execution fell short for us. The interactive elements were also showing their age, with a few buggy switches and one puzzle element that was flat-out broken, leading to a strange pacing and plot issue. The puzzles themselves didn’t feel as bulletproof as the other room. Despite its flaws, Espionage still had some pretty jaw-dropping moments.

We left 5 Wits feeling glad we had made the trip out to play. One word of advice to anyone thinking about playing — consider buying out the tickets for your time slot. This game runs similarly to most room escape games, where each time slot runs 10 players through and your group may include strangers if you only buy a few tickets. We did a bit of research before playing and found that most negative reviews of the game were due to children running around, screaming, pressing all the buttons, and generally hijacking the experience for any adults in the group. After playing it ourselves, we agreed that it would have been a total bust if we’d had to play with anyone else, especially eager children. There were only 6 of us, and the puzzle/activity distribution felt perfect for us. The tickets are already cheap ($22.99 for a combo ticket that gets you both games), so even with a smaller group it doesn’t take much to buy out the slot. Even though our game was during non-peak hours, we were glad we didn’t take our chances.

Summer drove us back to Cambridge and dropped everyone else off at the Marriott, then the two of us continued on downtown to return the rental car. Summer got us a fancy Uber back to the hotel, which we both appreciated since it had started snowing and we were a good walk from the nearest subway station. We got back to the hotel just in time to join in on a game of Tiny Epic Kingdoms, where Summer and I teamed up and naturally crushed the competition, despite our exhaustion at that point.

Our room escape had been rescheduled for 9:00pm that night, so we opted to grab some Chipotle for dinner rather than risk another timing snafu with a slow sit-down restaurant. Due to the timing of things, we unfortunately had to miss our traditional team dinner at Legal Sea Foods all together. Todd taught us another hilarious guessing game he picked up from NPL Con that involved taking turns forming the words of a question. Todd knows all the best games for passing the time and making people laugh!

After dinner, we took the subway back downtown and walked to the address of Escape the Room Boston; an unassuming office building. The door was locked, and there was no obvious signage anywhere, so we stood around in the cold for a few moments trying to figure out what to do. Finally, someone interpreted the inconspicuous paper sign taped to the door, which read something like “ETR: Dial 100 on keypad.” Assuming ETR stood for Escape the Room, we rang up the number and were greeted by a staff member who buzzed us in. This incident was affectionately referred to as the “door puzzle” going forward, but I’m personally losing my patience for ambiguous signage for room escape games! I’d be more forgiving if any other aspect of the experience had that particular flavor of mystery, but everything is marketed in a very straightforward and accessible way, so why the confusing signage? Why not a nice-looking poster that might double as an advertisement and not make customers think they’re in the wrong place or think for even an instant that they’ve been scammed?

Anyway, everything went smoothly from that point forward. While waiting for our time slot, we happened to meet another group of Mystery Hunters who were playing the 9:15 game. I think a few of them played the Famine Game as well. We also anxiously awaited the arrival of our unknown teammates. Since we had only bought 6 tickets, 4 strangers would be joining us. I’ve had hit and miss experiences with stranger teammates, so I was a little nervous. Once they arrived, we only made a little bit of small talk before it was time for our game to start. When we got in the room, however, it became clear we had nothing to worry about. Our teammates were super sharp and total team players, and produced a lot of the a-has we needed in the room.

The game itself was pretty standard, with an office theme and the basic swath of lock boxes and puzzles that solve to combinations. There was one pretty neat interactive puzzle that I didn’t help solve, but that looked impressive. The staff didn’t enter the room, and hints were handled in a nice, non-intrusive way. Our team escaped in 36 minutes and 11 seconds, despite one small error in one of the puzzles, making it my fastest escape yet!

Escape the Room Boston
We escaped!

The room was pretty solid, but a little unremarkable. The host talked about how they’re hoping to develop some more immersive rooms in the future. Hopefully they’re still going strong a year from now and we can enjoy their new rooms before next year’s Mystery Hunt. Maybe we’ve got a new pre-Hunt tradition in the works!

After the game, we made our way back to the hotel and decided to call it a night so we could attempt to get a solid night of sleep before the Mystery Hunt started the next day.