Here’s the thing about escape rooms: no matter how many of them you try, you’ll always feel the same sense of nervous intrigue when you visit a new one. Here at Time Out, we can’t get enough of being locked in a room and solving puzzles against the clock to escape – which is why we jumped for joy when we heard about the Mystery Rooms in Fitzroy.
Tucked away in leafy Napier Street, The Mystery Rooms occupies the site of a former wool factory. We’re greeted by Tom Hudson and his partner, Jodie, a couple who discovered escape rooms in Budapest (the city where the craze first took off in Europe) and were inspired to create their own. Clearly, adventure runs through their blood – in 2015, Tom built a boat and rowed with one friend from New York across the North Atlantic to the UK to raise money for a breast cancer charity.
Knowing this, it’s less surprising, but no less impressive, that Tom and Jodie have built the rooms themselves in consultation with a set designer. As an antidote to some of the city’s glitzier CBD operations, The Mystery Rooms is charmingly DIY and a little eccentric: a cosy lounge offers a space to relax before the action begins; the toilet is a Doctor Who ‘Poolice Box’; a small bar is stocked with wine for debriefing with friends after the escape.
There are four rooms here, the Footsteps of the Pharaohs, the Ned Kelly Experience, Secrets of Camelot and A Grimm Finale, which can only be played once you've completed the other three.
We choose the Footsteps of the Pharaohs – there’s something about ancient Egypt that lends itself perfectly to solving riddles. We enter the room, where we’re met by our guide, Cleopatra herself, who is trapped in a tomb. The door shuts, our bare feet sink slightly into the cool sand on the floor, and we take in our surroundings: hieroglyphics and symbols cover the walls, strange little bottles sit on a ledge, and a large box (could it be a sarcophagus?) is fastened with a padlock.
We won’t give anything else away, except to say that this is immersive escapism at its best. The choice to include an actor inside the space provides an elegant solution to giving hints – other escape rooms use walkie-talkies or, at worst, staff members who come into the room, breaking the magic. The puzzles themselves are creative and involve lots of teamwork, plus a bit of physical activity, and as we get closer to solving the final riddle and saving Cleopatra, the pace quickens and things heat up. It’s certainly not easy to escape, which makes our success all the sweeter. We're rewarded with the Book of the Dead.
The fourth room, A Grimm Finale, is the culmination of the previous three. You are only allowed to book the fourth room once you've completed the others, and it's in the briefing for this one that we learn what the purpose of those quests was. The Book of the Dead symbolises knowledge, King Arthur's sword symbolises strength, and Ned Kelly's scarf symbolises courage. Those three objects will help us defeat the evil Snow Queen, the ultimate boss in A Grimm Finale.
This is the hardest of the rooms, with lots of technology (videos, phones, doors that pop open, temperature-based puzzles) to make you feel like you're inside a fairytale. Hints come from the most fairytale of sources, and as the puzzles are real head scratchers, you can ask for as much help as you need. The Mystery Rooms advise bringing a warm top with you for this room, and while we won't ruin the surprise, we will say they don't call her the Snow Queen for nothing. You will need a lot of teamwork to defeat the evil Queen, with puzzles and their solutions on opposite ends of the room and a lot of communication needed to get things where they are meant to go.
If you're a super keen escape room aficionado, you can do all four rooms in one day, but it's much more advisable to take your time and do them one at a time. After all, you don't want to tire out your brains – the Snow Queen will take all your wits to defeat.