Published on February 21st, 2017 | by Dean Love2
City Mazes, Oxford – Pandora’s Escape
So we spent the last thirty minutes of Pandora’s Escape completely stumped, because not one of our five-strong team could distinguish the colours of three different circles in a blacklit room. Not the greatest ending to a game ever. But first to beginnings.
City Mazes Oxford is located on a leisure park outside the city, also hosting a cinema, bowling centre and some restaurants. And next to a local football ground (be aware that parking may be tight on match days). It’s a nice enough location, and there’s a sizeable waiting room and reception area, though it is a bit sparse (none of your usual puzzles/games, just flyers for the place you already are). The staff were great and were quick to get us started on the first of three games we were playing that day. There’s no real plot to this particular game, instead the selling point is that it’s a great visual and auditory experience. The briefing was straightforward but did one thing a little bit different: it’s made clear that every game there has two rooms, and you have to get from room one to room two, then from room two to the exit. Nothing in the first room is needed in the second. It’s an approach a few sites take as it lets them reset the first room while you’re in the second, allowing for a quicker turnaround, but it’s rarely explained quite so directly! Indeed, many sites like to keep even the presence of a second room secret.
And the two rooms that made up Pandora’s Escape were very different. It starts in a kitchen, with very pedestrian, run of the mill escape room puzzles. Nothing outstanding, either good or bad. But then you make it through to the second room and everything changes. Where the first room was quiet, this one is loud. Where the first was well-lit, this is dark and blacklit. Where the first was laid back, this is intense. The sheer visual impact is impressive, and it certainly changes up the game a bit. It’s almost a bit oppressive in the sheer intensity of it, not necessarily a bad thing, though we did find it wearying after a while, but that was partly down to being stuck for so long.
The puzzles in this room seemed a little less straightforward, and even a bit ambiguous in places. The nature of the environment meant things weren’t particularly clear and I think we fudged some of the solutions, but eventually we reached that puzzle.
It’s quite straightforward: four coloured dots link (via a puzzle) to four different digits. The same dots are in a different order next to a keypad. Enter the digits in that order and your done. Except to all of us, it looked like one black dot and three white dots. With the room being blacklit we just couldn’t tell the colours apart. That’s what blacklight is. But that’s fine right? One fixed digit, three that could be in any order, six possible codes. Just have to try them all. Well no, I lied slightly. Each dot actually linked to a pair of digits, and once you had figured out the ordering you were still meant to use trial and error to figure out which of 16 combinations of pairs was correct. So with the three ambiguous positions, that now made it 96 codes to try in total. And yes, that’s how we finally solved it (albeit after being given the position and number for one digit, narrowing it down to a mere 48 possibilities).
If that already sounds frustrating, bear in mind that it wasn’t until we got our second clue for this puzzle (given by buzzing and the host entering the room to help) that it was even made clear to us that the three white dots were different colours, and of course we were still trying to find a way to determine which of the number pairs to use on the assumption that the solution couldn’t possibly be trial and error. And once we got desperate to the point of wondering if there was trial and error required, we had assumed it involved the three white dots that were meant to be ambiguous, with the number pairs known, leading to a feasible 6 codes to try, rather than a less reasonable 16.
I’ve since thought of two ways to make that puzzle brilliant. The first is actually going back to the site’s own description of the game:
Take a look beyond the highly scrubbed surface and you might find an escape into an alternate world. Where music and lights are there to immerse you and make you unaware of the universe in which all possession once belonged. Suddenly, the assets which people may have longed for become redundant, and all you are left with are the senses you were born with.
So just have the dots painted with different textured paint, forcing players to touch them and use their other senses to determine which is which. Or have them as buttons that triggered noises in the environment and have players match up the sounds.
The other option would be to just include a regular torch somewhere in the entirely blacklit room. Which you could then shine on the dots to make the real colour clearer. I’d have probably laughed for a good five minutes at that.
Even without changing the puzzle though, it doesn’t need to be that frustrating if the game is run well. I can’t believe we’re the only team to ever have had this problem. That I just happened to be playing in a group of five people who were all a bit colour blind. So it’s weird that that wasn’t the first question we were asked when requesting a clue on that puzzle. And that once it was clear we couldn’t tell the colours apart, we weren’t just given the solution. None of us were going to develop better eyesight in the remaining twenty minutes of the game.
But maybe it was our fault. It wasn’t my usual team and we only had five X chromosomes between the five of us, and my regular teammates later pointed out that, scientifically, women are better at distinguishing colour than men, so yeah, if you do try this room, bring a woman with great eyes. Also a tip for life in general.
Result – we didn’t escape in time, but managed in about 65 minutes.
Date played: 29 October 2016
Team: Dean, Jim, Andy, Jamie, Sam
Summary: The idea behind this room, and the theme and dressing of at least the second part, was fantastic. But one puzzle that was literally unsolvable for us ruined it.