One room, four people, twenty minutes to escape. “Escape the Ordinary” is a new room escape game by smart that requires a sharp mind, decent team work, and flashes of inspiration. For the kick-off of its tour through Europe, we got the chance to try out this tricky mystery.

Escape Game container
Think inside the box – and get the smart BRABUS fortwo Xclusive cabrio out.

Just 60 seconds left on the clock – sounds like the slogan of an action blockbuster. I can’t look away from the digital display. 59 seconds. Now 58. Countdowns make me nervous.

I deliberately drag my eyes away and insert the key in the lock to open the garage door. It seems to fit – but for some reason, nothing happens. There’s a slight noise somewhere, followed by renewed silence.

The countdown continues. 54 seconds. Tick, tick, tick. My team shoots me an expectant look. Is it getting hot in here? Maybe, there is something we overlooked. Did we make a fundamental error?

Let’s rewind 30 minutes. Alina, Imogen, Jan, and I get our last suggestions from Malte, who serves as today’s game master. “Search, collect, combine,” that’s the trio of terms we’re meant to keep in mind – according to him, it’s the mantra of our success. But will it help?

We’ve signed up for “Escape the Ordinary,” a room escape game by smart. Soon, we’ll get locked into a specially constructed room and our mission will be to escape this makeshift prison in a mere 20 minutes.

Our tools? Mainly logic and teamwork. “Make sure to shout out your findings whenever you discover something,” Malte adds before he locks the door behind us. I take a deep breath. Search, collect, combine. Let’s go!

Team member finds a key in a drawer during the room escape game
One clue leads to the next.

The room is framed by glossy black walls and the interior resembles a garage, replete with the obligatory screwdriver set on the wall, a spirit level, some gardening tools, a vintage racing bike, a longboard, and even a surfboard, dangling high above our heads. One of the walls is made of Perspex, allowing curious passers-by to stop and watch what we’re doing.

Inside the “garage,” the tension is tangible. In two of the corners, we spot stacks of three strange boxes with rounded inlets. And right at the center of it all, a premium line smart BRABUS Xclusive fortwo cabrio takes pride of place. A sound from one corner of the room signals the start of the game. And a monitor displays our remaining time: 19 minutes, 45 seconds.

Room escapes are quite a phenomenon. Evolving from a popular computer game concept into a real-life gaming situation, these mind-bending adventures soon spread to metropolises across the world. They’re not only a great and unusual birthday gift, but also extremely well-suited for innovative team-building measures.

The resulting group dynamics, amplified by the high-stress escape situation, can be very interesting – and revealing. In no time at all, you know whether that boisterous pen pusher can put aside his leadership ambitions and actually work with others. And vice versa: More often than not, it’s those quiet team members who turn out to be excellent problem solvers.

The team is looking at clues
Where will this puzzle lead us?
Team member is looking at smart models
Team member is looking for clues in the Escape Game container

In our case, the four of us don’t know each other, but need to work as a team, anyway. What are they like? Alina is fairly quiet. So, is she going to hold back during the game? Jan’s handshake is quite firm, suggesting dominance? And how do I appear to the others?

I take a quick glance around the garage, looking for any obvious hints, numbers, or objects suitable for combining – at least that’s what I remember from similar computer games. But it’s Imogen who finds the first few hints and guesses the first combos scattered around the room. The resulting code opens a lock containing another key. Where will this one fit?

The team is finding clues during the Escape Game
More clues are hidden in the car itself.

Room escapes can be quite daunting, especially for novices. The starting situation is incredibly confusing. Which of these objects are important, and which ones aren’t? Is the toolset on the wall merely for show or vital for solving the game? And: Once you’ve identified certain items, you still need to combine them in just the right way.

With most of these games, one riddle leads to the next, one key to the next lock, and lateral thinking is your best friend. Quite a few games are doomed by pointless vanity or time-related panic – experts guess that around 30 to 40 percent of all room escape games finish with the players still locked inside. Films and even many computer games make it look a lot easier. When we finally discover our coveted car key, after many puzzling detours, we still haven’t reached our goal – there are still more hints hidden in the car itself.

But I don’t want to reveal too much at this point – spoilers are the obvious enemy of escape games. Those brief 20 minutes definitely brought us a little closer together. One team, united by adverse circumstances, a relentless countdown – and plenty of shared fun and thrills.

Two players giving each other a high five
The door opens – a success for the whole team.

Which brings us back to those last 60 seconds. Here I am, at the garage door, key in hand, battling the countdown. 33 seconds. 32. Darn. I turn the key once again, mumble a quick prayer, and the door starts to creak. Light seeps in through the largening crack. The countdown stops at 0:28 seconds.

We have made it and proudly drive the smart BRABUS Xclusive fortwo cabrio via a ramp into the sunlight. I guess our finishing time would not give us the best chances to win a weekend with a smart BRABUS – the prize for the swiftest escape in each city and stopping point of the “Escape the Ordinary” tour. Still: You can profit from our learnings.

So, here’s my tip for anyone who is going to accept the challenge in Hamburg, Vienna, Valencia, or Rome: Never, ever forget our vital mantra: “search, collect, combine.”

Visit the smart “Escape the Ordinary” tour at one of these spots:

Hamburg, Germany: September 16 – 18, 2016, Spielbudenplatz

Vienna, Austria: October 14 – 16, 2016, MuseumsQuartier

Valencia, Spain: October 21 – 23, 2016, tba

Rome, Italy: November 18 – 20, 2016, tba