Outings: Escape Room Arlington

Calling all adrenalin junkies. Are you smart enough to beat the clock?

The door creaks open as you enter the doctor’s dining room for a dinner party. Silver platters, elegant art and fancy china cabinets, seemingly perfectly placed, dot the room. Then, a television turns on above you. It explains that this will be a night you’ll never forget, for the main course isn’t fish, chicken or beef. The main course is… you! Unless, of course, you can escape the room in an hour or less.

Escape Room Arlington. Photo by Caroline Tucker.

Welcome to Escape Room Arlington. Located just off Columbia Pike next to William Jeffrey’s Tavern, this new interactive, immersive experience opened to the public on June 1. “We put you inside a room and you have 60 minutes to solve a series of puzzles, riddles and codes to find the exit to the room,” explains general manager Bobby Steele.

Though this particular escape room is the first of its kind in Arlington, it is part of a growing worldwide phenomenon. The first “escape room” opened its doors in Japan about a decade ago, evolving from puzzle-solving video games popularized in Asia. In 2012, the first one popped up in the United States, in San Francisco. While all escape rooms differ in theme and difficulty, the common thread is that participants have a set amount of time to solve an interactive puzzle, using only the clues hidden within the room to “escape.” Many are horror-themed; others are based on movies, historical events and even the Bible.

As of this spring, it’s believed there are more than 2,000 escape rooms in the U.S. alone. Locally, devotees can attempt an escape from rooms in Alexandria, Georgetown, Rockville and now, Arlington. The Columbia Pike facility is owned by Ravenchase Adventures, a company founded 15 years ago outside of Richmond, which initially specialized in day-long adventure races. Four years ago, owner Josh Czarda and his team began to develop their own escape rooms. Today they have three: in Richmond,  Herndon and the newest room on Columbia Pike.

The “Mind Trap” room. Photo by Matt Blitz.

Escape Room Arlington offers three different rooms to escape: “Glitch,” “Mind Trap” and “What’s in the Attic?”, with a fourth room to be unveiled in July. “We pride ourselves on [both] set design quality and the puzzles,” Steele says.  From room layouts to brain-teasing concepts and myriad props, everything at Ravenchase is thoughtfully created in-house. Each room can take months to conceive and cost upwards of “tens of thousands of dollars” to build out, he says.

“What’s in the Attic?” (Hint: Grandma is hiding a secret.) Photo credit Matt Blitz

In fact, Steele himself designed the newest, family-friendly “What’s in the Attic?” puzzle from start to finish. The biggest challenge, he says, is anticipating what others will think and do while interacting with a puzzle you’ve created. “You have to get into people’s brains.”  

In a society that’s increasingly glued to smartphones, real-world experiences are becoming more novel. Cracking a safe, discovering a hidden compartment or unlocking critical clues are all part of the journey. “It really is so much more impressive to see an actual, real passageway that just opened up for you,” says Steele. “It’s a real adventure you can have with your friends.”

Escape Room Arlington’s puzzle rooms can accommodate teams of up to eight.  Escapes last an hour and cost $28 per person. Interested parties should make a reservation online

Categories: Community