"You enter the dungeon!" the disembodied voice bellowed. "You grab the torch!"
As the narration continued from the light-up machine, myself and a handful of SFR staffers whispered hurriedly about our next steps. Laid out on a grid before us was a changeable series of three-dimensional shapes emblazoned with items like a torch, a sword, a shield and a rope, among others. The goal was to fit the shapes into corresponding holes in the correct order within the grid to unlock another clue in our ongoing puzzle room. We'd entered the faux pizza parlor 25 minutes earlier, and having already solved a series of physical, mathematical and brain-bending puzzles together, we still had an entire other room to unlock—and solve—and a mere 35 minutes in which to complete the entire escape room. It was hard to believe that earlier that day we were all trying to weasel out of going.
We visited Puzzah! (500 Market St., 501-7228), the newest of Santa Fe's two escape rooms, this one located in the Railyard. Both Denver and Broomfield, Colorado, also have Puzzah! locations, and the company, which was founded in 2014, is based in Englewood, Colorado. Over the few months prior to our visit, co-founder Ryan Pachmayer had patiently tried to coax us out for a visit—we should have listened sooner.
"I was looking for something I could fully immerse myself into that was fun and rewarding," Pachmayer tells SFR. "People that come to visit us are looking for a fun and exciting time, so it's truly a pleasure to deal with almost everyone that walks through our doors. And then to see what we've created from the ground up be played by thousands of players is really neat, it makes it much easier to pour yourself into the next game build."
The escape room fervor has certainly subsided a little since the nationwide craze of just a few years back, but now that the hipsters have moved on to whatever it is they're doing, the rest of us can finally reserve a room and go to town with our smartest friends. And you'll need smart friends. There's always an extra twist or layer to the puzzle that doesn't present itself immediately, there's always something at play that seems not quite right.
The puzzle we experienced was one of three at Puzzah! and its newest, Knight Shade ($25 per player).
"It just came out this fall," Pachmayer says. "It is our first non-linear game, so it can accommodate more players—closer to eight or nine versus the typical six max on our other games."
Non-linear, Pachmayer explains, means there's no one correct way or order in which to solve the two rooms. From within a -pizza parlor, participants are tasked with decoding clues, solving puzzles and ultimately banishing a ghost who's also a knight for some reason. What that has to do with a pizza parlor I'll never know, but it honestly doesn't matter—it's goofy and it's fun and, perhaps most importantly, the puzzle evolves in realtime based on how teams complete it and in what amount of time. I won't spoil the solution for the shape-based puzzle, nor will I mention the others in the following room, that would be cheating, but suffice it to say it was a complete blast to work out solutions with my buds.
"We've really fine-tuned our -approach over the years and we really build -experiences more than anything else," Pachmayer notes. "In the early days, we saw that the competitive nature of some [rooms] was going to limit their audience and we saw through trial and error that players respond much better to an adventure experience versus a game show type challenge."
And there's the rub—the experience of it all. What businesses like Puzzah! and Escape Room Santa Fe (505 Cerrillos Road, 303-3876) offer is the kind of experience that bonds families (and co-worker families) and gets the ol' brain going. As fatigue and cabin fever set in this season, assembling a team for a series of puzzles not only staves off the wintertime sadsies, it's the sort of thing that creates memories. For days after our experience, we traded stories from our time with Knight Shade, and knowing that Puzzah! also has a secret agent-themed room and an alien mystery-themed room will surely mean our return.
"Everyone seems very happy that there is another entertainment/activity option in the area," Pachmayer says.