Games masters Daniel Thomason and Aaron Hooper ditched their careers as economists at the Reserve Bank to open their first escape room – and boy is it exciting! The two self-proclaimed nerds had relatively little experience of escape rooms before launching Next Level, however, they’ve thrown all their passion into the project and the joy of puzzle solving shines through in their execution.
Thomason, our storyteller and host, meets us at the bottom of an office block near Rockpool Bar & Grill as ‘Daniel of the Night’s Watch’. His childlike joy gets us pumped for the first games room, a 15-minute entrée before the main course. Our team of four is handed an iPad. We’ve got 15 minutes to solve as many Game of Thrones themed challenges as we can – fiddling with strands of Targaryen hair, dragon eggs and one ugly White Walker. Like the reign of a Westeros king, it’s all over too quickly. We completed six challenges, coming out with a score of 564!
But we’re here for the good stuff. Ex Libris is a 75-minute escape room with a difference. It’s designed so that if/once your team has successfully escaped, there are more puzzles scattered around the literary fantasy room to entertain you until your time is well and truly up. Our focus is to power up the portal, find the golden pen and get the hell out of there.
It’s not a linear experience, and so solving a puzzle may require several parts that come together as you progress through the rooms. Our team of half-rookie, half-expert level escapees splits up and applies our individual skills to working out what we have at hand. There are familiar characters: Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes… Any missteps and we’re prompted by a humorous narrator who drops hints like “Hero Amy is getting warmer.”
Puzzles range from cryptic riddles to operating a large telescope – and all four team members are kept busy with props and pointers that lead us in-and-out of spaces, yelling numbers, words and colours in an attempt to unlock one of the many boxes we’ve found. Though the themes link to popular culture, everything you need is in the room – so don’t worry if you’re not a diehard Potter fan.
We knock heads together to figure out what Sherlock is trying to tell Watson, whether Esme rides a Nimbus 2001 and if those stickmen on the walls spell ‘password 1’. (They do not.) We ‘escape’ the room within 44 minutes – success! Our heart rates return to normal and spend the next half hour working out the remaining puzzles, just for funzies. Look out for information about their second room, which will be sci-fi themed, opening later this year.
Creativity of puzzles: ✮✮✮✮✮
Best quote: “Hero Stefan decided to take a closer look at the coloured sand...”
Our tip: If in doubt, work it out on a piece of paper.