They say the true test of friendship is someone having your back in dark times, but Rick Woo, the affable co-founder of LOST, thinks it’s breaking out from an escape room.
Woo had his first try at an escape room in 2013 in Taiwan. “It was a haunted classroom, really just a very basic escape room without any proper storyline. We had to move around the space and find keys to unlock padlocks. The riddles were super easy, and we escaped in 20 minutes even though it was an hour’s game. It was boring because it was so focused on the scare factor instead of the puzzle-solving part.”
Although Woo was not impressed by the experience, it gave him the idea to create his own escape game and turn it into a business.
“As soon as I came back to Hong Kong, I started to research different types of escape rooms. Since I’m a history buff, I decided my escape rooms would be based on popular stories from the Bible, such as the Book of Exodus, and true historical events like the infamous 1962 Alcatraz prison break and other heist stories.”
He also put a spin on traditional escape rooms by roping in engineers, and designing his own gadgets and devices to add a wow factor.
“It’s not just the atmosphere,” he says. “I want players to leave the room thinking ‘This is amazing! Why haven’t I seen it elsewhere? How did they create the floating chair?’”
Such is the popularity of LOST that early this year, he opened LOST Junior for those between 6 and 14. Apart from having fewer puzzles to solve, these rooms have a Steam (science, technology, engineering, the arts and maths) element and players get a certificate when they complete the game. According to Woo, this not only hones their problem-solving skills, but also helps them to communicate better and work well in a team.
“Mobile phones are not allowed in the room and players have to rely on one another. In here, they will learn that age and grades don’t matter when you’re solving puzzles. It’s about working together as friends. There is no single hero.”
Woo says teamwork is key to a successful breakout, and because most rooms are designed to test different skill sets, a dream team consists of a mix of talkers, thinkers and doers. “Talkers are usually more dominant and good at engaging the group and getting team members to share their ideas,” he explains. “But they tend to talk over others and sometimes jump to conclusions easily. Some can also be aggressive and bossy, and don’t allow the other players to have a say.
“Thinkers, on the other hand, may be better at working out cryptic puzzles and riddles but usually spend too much time figuring things out or overthinking. At times like this, the doer comes in and makes a decision to get things going.”
As for the ideal number of players, Woo says there should be no more than eight at one time as it can get chaotic inside an escape room.
He shares some tips for a speedy escape. “Pay attention to what the game masters say when they are introducing the room, as they may sometimes hint at important clues, especially for games with alternate endings.” He adds that the different mini puzzles are sometimes connected. When it seems like the riddles are leading nowhere, link them back to the objective and even the theme of the room.
In addition, many players solve a puzzle only to fail at putting it into the correct lock.
“Don’t give up right away if you think you’ve cracked the code,” Woo says. “Instead, try again and make sure you’ve inserted it in the right lock or pressed the correct set of buttons.”
Also, players might not be able to use all the objects around them right away.
“It’s a good idea to get a team member to have a look around the room and keep track of the items for future use. Most importantly, enjoy the game with your friends instead of focusing on the outcome, and you’ll be sure to have a great time.”