Eltham’s entertainment scene just got a whole host more exciting for puzzlers who like cracking codes and working their way out of a sticky situation – while keeping a calm head. The new Eltham Escape Rooms are now open, offering three different challenges for problem-solvers to work their way out of. The Weekender speaks to Dean Day, owner of Eltham Escape Rooms, to find out more.

Holly O’Mahony: Firstly, for those who haven’t heard of the concept before, what is an escape room?

Dean Day: An escape room, also known as an ‘escape game’, is a physical adventure game in which players solve a series of puzzles and riddles using clues, hints and strategy to complete the objectives at hand. Players are given a set time limit to unveil the secret plot which is hidden within the rooms.

HOM: Do you remember the first escape room game you ever played?

DD: If I remember correctly, the first game I played was themed around a bomb. We had a lot of rooms to pass through and eventually use a remote control car to defuse the bomb for us. It was awesome – and we escaped with time to spare.

HOM: Wow. Any other particularly memorable escape rooms you’ve played along the way?

DD: I once played a horror-themed escape room in Benidorm, Spain whilst on holiday with family. What we didn’t realise was that the room had a surprise live actor. There was a mannequin zombie in one room and at one point, a puzzle involved getting something from its jacket. The mannequin had been switched for a real person without us realising and needless to say, I screamed like a girl.

HOM: So what led you to want to set up a set of escape rooms in Eltham?

DD: Eltham Escape Rooms is a family business run by myself, my father-in-law Robert Smith and a long term family friend Paul Gobbett. It was a joint decision to set the rooms up; we’ve played many escape room games around the world, we decided that we really, really wanted to make our own. We were also inspired by how friendly other owners in the industry are.

HOM: How did you go about finding the physical building to transform into your escape rooms?

DD: Finding a property that was big enough, in the right area, affordable and achievable was about a two month process!

HOM: Did you then design the rooms yourself?

DD: Everything that we’ve built was designed by our team from scratch – no instructions or pre-built items. It took us a good eight weeks of working all day, every day.

HOM: What can you tell us about the rooms themselves? How many challenges are there and how are the rooms themed?

DD: Only our first room, Temporal Tours, has opened so far. It’s a sci-fi based game where the challenge is to get off the ‘Chronos One’ ship before it explodes. It’s not an easy one – we’ve rated it a 4/5 for difficulty – but it’s lots of fun and there is lots inside the room for large groups to do.
We’re currently in the process of putting together a two-player VR Experience, Robotic Asylum that we aim to launch before Christmas. It’s a sort of Cluedo experience where players have to inspect a crime scene and work out all the evidence.
We also have a third escape room in the works, which is currently pencilled in as a WWII themed room based on real history and facts, where players uncover a spy ring within the British Intelligence. This challenge should be a little easier – we’re aiming to make it a 3/5 in difficulty.

HOM: What’s been the reaction to your new escape rooms? Have many people dropped in to have a go so far?

DD: Everyone who has played so far has loved the game – whether they manage to escape or not, they come out with a big smile on their face. I would say 50% of our teams fail – normally because of someone in their team hoarding a clue and not using it; we can’t fix that! Still, over 95% of teams have been making it to the last couple of puzzles, so they get a buzz out of the last-minute panic.

HOM: If 50% aren’t managing to escape in time, would you say some of your puzzles are too hard?

DD: There are two puzzles that we feel take teams too long to work out, so we’re in the process of reworking them – none of our puzzles require outside knowledge though, just for groups to stand back and work them out.

HOM: Do you feed in clues when teams get stuck? If so, how are you able to help them from outside the room?

DD: We watch the teams all the way through via the 10 cameras and 4 microphones set up in the room. Players are able to ask for clues using a radio and we don’t penalise groups for requesting clues. We also offer clues if we think a group is really struggling and falling behind. It’s actually great fun watching and listening to the random ideas and solutions players come up with.

We’re planning on moving this over to a more sci-fi based messenger system by Christmas though, where players will use a space pager to type a request for clues. We’ll then reply by text to the pager with the clues.

HOM: Finally, any advice for local residents who are thinking about booking a trip to the Eltham Escape Rooms?

DD: Make sure you bring your smartest friends and family – this 60-minute experience will really challenge your mental skills and observation. If you’re a fan of Crystal Maze or Fort Boyard, you’ll have a blast.
Eltham Escape Rooms, 3 St Mary’s Place, London SE9 1B. Monday – Friday from 2pm – 11pm, Saturday & Sunday from 9am – 11pm. Admission: £25pp.