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'Escape' the office with a little escape-room team building

The staff of Lehigh Valley Business failed to escape the Captured LV Escape Room. (Photo courtesy of Capture LV Escape Room)
The staff of Lehigh Valley Business failed to escape the Captured LV Escape Room. (Photo courtesy of Capture LV Escape Room)

After a hard week's work, who wouldn't want to escape the office for a fun afternoon of recreation with co-workers?

That’s what the Lehigh Valley Business staff did Friday, and escaping the office was just the start of it.

When we arrived at our destination, Captured LV Escape Room in the Main Street Commons in Bethlehem, for a little team building, we found escape was going to be the theme of the rest of our day.

Sure, we were let out of the office early, but then we found the editorial team locked in a pirate’s chamber and the sales team in an alchemy lab. Our only hope was to use our collective wits to break free.

Escaping the two rooms proved to be even more fun than escaping the office, with co-workers still talking about the clues they figured out – and the ones that got away – when they returned to the office after a long weekend.

Escape rooms are a fairly new concept in entertainment that has been growing in popularity in large cities and has been in the Lehigh Valley since June.

The rooms are a big puzzle. With just the basics of an introduction, you’re led to a room (or rooms) and locked inside with 60 minutes to figure out the hidden clues to get out – or you’re “trapped.”

“Trapped” actually means that your guide re-enters the room, tells you that you’ve lost the challenge and leads you back to the lobby. But if you’re like our teams and convinced you just needed one more minute to solve the room, you might just fight the guide a little.

At the Bethlehem escape room venue, there is the smaller room, called the Pirate’s Chamber, geared for two to five contestants.

The second, larger room is called the Alchemy Lab and is for six to 10 players. Both are decorated to match the theme and are filled with themed clues that will lead participants to other clues that lead to other clues that eventually – if you’re good enough – lead to the way out.

Both of our groups failed. Badly.

But we had fun losing. While everyone else has their face buried in their phones chasing Pokemon, it was interesting to be part of what seemed like a real-life video game. Instead of clicking on objects, you were scurrying around a room, picking up the objects with your hand, examining them with your eyes and maybe even sticking them in another clue to see if it unlocks something.

There’s a lot of bending, crawling, kneeling and reaching to find all the clues, so it’s even a bit of a workout if you give it your all.

Or, you can sit and go through the written clues while everyone else flips the furniture. Both work.

Without giving anything away, many of the clues were plays on words or obtuse hints to look at certain objects in the room for more clues. Others were very clever physical cues where pieces came together to provide the answer – if and only if – you were looking at it the right way.

If you look hard enough, the clues are all there and, in retrospective, are a pretty complete guide to get you out of the room. The biggest challenge was, at times, figuring out what was a clue and what was just decoration or distraction.

I’ve been to many team-building exercises over the years. Some have been useful; some have been a complete and total waste of my time.

This one hit all of the marks under the useful column.

It had all of the elements of good team building. It got us out of our regular environment. We had to work to solve problems using a diverse set of skills, quick thinking and the ability to work together and independently.

To be successful – or nearly successful – you had to be able to work together as a team to brainstorm, solve and even, sometimes, reach. But you also had to know when to separate so more tasks could be done and you could move ahead faster. Those 60 minutes go by fast.

And the best part is, it was fun and you forgot that you were “getting something out of it.”

Sure, there were a few disagreements over direction and a certain ace reporter insisting repeatedly that the clue was the number three. It was nine. My bad.

But overall it was a great way to work together toward something besides getting the paper out in time.

Oh, and the best part about the team building aspect of the escape room experience – is that it’s not really intended as a team building activity – that’s just the side benefit.

While plenty of teams, organizations and businesses have held team building there, it’s really just for fun.

A big portion of the business is hosting parties or serving as a night out on the town for groups of friends.

And if the photos the venue posts on Facebook of its winners and losers are any indication, people were having fun.

So whether you’re with co-workers or co-conspirators, I give the experience a hearty “aaaaargh!” (That’s pirate for “A.”)

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