Escape the room

As you enter the premises of ClueJob’s escape room in Limassol, you will kindly be asked to hand over any gadgets. Literally, nothing will assist you in escaping the room you will be locked in; aside your mind, the clues, direction of the game master and the helping hand of your teammates.
Adapted from computer games, real-life takagism, more commonly known as real-room escaping games, is gaining popularity in major cities in Japan where the concept originated, yet it is also gaining momentum in Europe, where gamers move from the mouse-to-screen gaming zone, and utilise their addiction to realistic situations.

Setting the trend on the island in January, the team behind ClueJob have taken on the challenge to place ‘gamers’ in impenetrable rooms and set them in alternating scenarios that will allow them to discover clues, decipher codes and unlock doors within a 60-minute curfew.

Admittedly, countries that have been investing time in creating these spaces have already moved on to creating such scenarios in outdoor events, something ClueJob is keen on adapting here, but at the moment, the two rooms available within the premises of a converted old house on the outskirts of Limassol is where the games begin. Namely, ClueJob currently offers the “Crazy Granny” room and the “Locked Lovers”, alternatively called “Locked Agents”.

“‘Locked Lovers’ focuses on couples (although for those who aren’t couples, the name of this room changed to ‘Locked Agents’),” reveals Philios Sazeides, one of ClueJob’s partners.

Here, the scenario implies that there is an illegal circuit that abducts people and sells their organs. “The detective team (gamers) purposely goes to this club (the room) to abduct the people in the circuit and has to escape with a hard drive that carries important data which eventually can build their case and enable them to denounce them to the police,” explains Sazeides.

On the other hand, the ‘Crazy Granny’ scenario asks gamers to decipher the story about a crazy granny who has decided to cease being a spy. As Sazeides describes, the people who initially employed her have placed a time bomb which has been replicated in the room and will, if not stopped, blow up within 60 minutes.

“The team has to retrieve a videotape which again has some important data and must also escape the room within an hour in order to allow bomb specialists to enter the room and diffuse the bomb,” said Sazeides.

Heavily dependant on good teamwork, Sazeides admits that although there is a 60% success rate of escaping the rooms which is considered to be a moderate level, the following weeks should see this being expanded on with an additional room with a 20-30% success rate.

“Simultaneously, we’re also doing something new which is for our two rooms to become interconnected in order for two groups of people to be able to play against each other.

“This will require a different, specific means of communication and people will have to really collaborate in order to play. The rooms will be divided with six people in one room and four in the other, 10 in total, with the aim for both groups to come out of the rooms together,” says Sazeides.

And although this concept may recall Christos Ferendino’s Fort Boyard challenges, Sazeides is quick to differentiate their origin.

“It does have some elements from that game, but that one also incorporated gaming whereas we wanted to focus more on interaction; ClueJob is not just about undoing a lock… it’s also a lot about interaction. For example, we want the idea of having to find a magnet which then has to be transported to another location in the room in order to be able to get another clue… we don’t solely want it to be about finding numbers and opening up a clue.

“It’s true that currently most escape rooms focus on giving you a puzzle, you solving it and then opening up something which will enable you to get out. But in order to make it more entertaining we want to not only have numbers and letters, but have interactions, have more to that,” adds Sazeides.

“People like seeing something create itself, for example pressing a button and having something move or happen. And when we say interaction we don’t just mean mind games but having your eyes see that something is moving, having sounds and other elements included in the room,” says Sazeides which consequently helps gamers get in the mood.

escape the room

Behind the door
As a rule, the scenarios can be played with a minimum of two people, with the big room requiring at least three players.

“An ideal number to have is five, not more, not less,” said Sazeides. “What we see happen when there are six people is chaos,” he chuckles, “I don’t think the sixth person helps, the sixth person always distracts the team for some reason.”

Although the monitoring of results may be a revealing eye opener with regard to the success of scenarios and rooms, creating rooms in accordance to scenarios seems to be key to success.
The source of information the duo used in order to achieve the stories at hand primarily came from research abroad.

“My partner (Panayiotis Mavrokefalos) had gone to Thessaloniki in Greece to a massive escape room company which has 10 rooms in total, one of the biggest ones in Europe. There, he played the games, he saw plots and I went to London to another franchise where I played their games and made contact with an English guy there who coincidentally was in Cyprus…through sympathy and a small budget he came to our space in Limassol and gave us input about how we could create a good plot and also did an inspection of the space,” recalls Sazeides.

As Sazeides pinpointed, there are escape room specialists out there who assist the creation of scenarios and help in appropriating rooms. “The difficult part is finding a formula for people not to be able to come out of the rooms too easily, and for the percentage to be standardised.”
It’s because rooms remain ‘the same’ time after time that it is important for them to sustain enough suspense. “Our rooms don’t change each time, in order to create a room we needed about three months of testing and monitoring from the camera; it needs a lot of fine-tuning in order to reach that,” admits Sazeides.

Having said that, nothing stops them from expanding on the established rooms and adding more elements as they go along. Moving away from everyone focusing on escaping rooms would be one way to diversify the game. “We also want to focus on breaking in, which ultimately has more action involved, as opposed to breaking out of spaces. We would like groups to have to find a way to get into the house, find something and then come out again. As a kid, I much preferred the idea of breaking into a school.”

As Sazeides describes, the premises which house ClueJob is an old house which has been accommodated with vintage items and furniture from the 50s and 70s.

“There’s nothing new there, just the locks,” says Sazeides, as he explains the importance of creating the right atmosphere through the décor, the lighting, the music. “People literally escape from the real world for an hour, they enter a new world.”

And in this new world it seems that aside moving away from the varying screens we seem to be attached to, people have to communicate, people can’t just turn around and ‘Google it’, people have to bond in order to escape, and this seems to be the beauty of this game.

“I believe that in Cyprus, the entertainment element is missing,” admits Sazeides. “But I also believe that board games can come back… We’re not against the new trend of smartphones etc but we assert that interaction is also really important because here you see your friend in a different light, it’s a different mode and yes, you’re not playing on your own.”

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***Published in The Cyprus Weekly Newspaper, January 30, 2015

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About Melissa Hekkers

I am freelance journalist and author, who has frequently been featured in mainstream news outlets and other publications in Cyprus. Recently, I've been focusing on developing my writing, promoting my own books and teaching creative writing to children and adults. My most recent publication (2020) - Amir's Blue Elephant- pushes the boundaries of creative non-fiction, and recreates the moments that marked me the most, whilst volunteering in refugee camps in Lesvos, Greece, and during her ongoing involvement with the refugee community in Cyprus. In 2018 I published My Capre Greco Mandala which is the third in a series, an interactive colouring book about the biodiversity of the Cape Greco peninsula in Cyprus. My Akamas Mandala, the second in the series, is a colouring book inspired by the variety of endemic plants found on the Akamas Peninsula. In 2016, I published My Nicosia Mandala, the first of the above series, an innovative, interactive colouring book about the historic fortifications of the old town of Nicosia. I also focuses on silenced communities in Cyprus: I writes about migrants and refugees, both as a reporter and a features writer; I profile them and teach them creative writing skills. In 2007, soon after graduating with a Communications degree, I published my first children’s book in both English and Greek entitled Crocodile, which won the Cyprus State Illustration Award. In 2012, I launched my second children’s book Flying across Red Skies (in English and Greek), using an experimental approach to literature, for which I was nominated for the Cyprus State Literary award. My third, similarly well-received children’s book was Pupa (Greek and English), published in 2014. In between the last two books, I published my first free-verse poetry book entitled Come-forth. In 2019 she was contributing author to the anthology Nicosia Beyond Barriers: Voices from a Divided City, published by Saqi Books, London