Escape games are becoming a pretty popular pastime, but it’s not all through word of mouth. As more and more escape rooms crop up around the country, they’re also becoming popular in media in entertainment. So this week, I want to talk about The Big Bang Theory.
Now, even though I’m a pretty nerdy person myself, I’ve never really gotten into The Big Bang Theory. But after the fourth team mentioned this specific episode to me at work, I figured it must be worth a watch. So I looked up a compilation of scenes from 8.16 – “The Intimacy Acceleration.”
I have no idea what happens in the rest of the episode. But for what it’s worth, I did think this was pretty funny. However, it’s funny to me because I know what an escape room really is. And this is not it.
Most of the time, teams bring this up at work for one of two reasons. They’re really two sides of the same coin. Some they think that they are not smart enough to complete the escape room because you need to be a genius. And some think that the escape room will be too easy for them because they have a PhD.
Neither of these things are true.
As I mentioned in this article, there are a lot of different skills that are useful in an escape room. You don’t need to be amazing at logic puzzles or be a math whiz in order to escape. In fact, sometimes it’s actually harder for really studious grad students to escape. That’s not a dig on education, either. It’s just about learning patterns.
Something that’s stressed a lot in math and sciences—and really in school in general—is that there’s one answer for everything. Students are taught to think in a certain way to understand questions, to follow exact directions, or to use a specific process to get to a specific answer. In a lot of ways, the education system doesn’t really cater to out of the box thinking. And out of the box thinking is one of the most important tools to use in an escape room.
Additionally, no self-respecting escape room is going to have puzzles that cater to only one kind of thinking. Sure, if you’re really good at logic puzzles it might help you with one step, but that won’t help at all with a step that requires a lot of communication and teamwork. You might be incredible at putting together a jigsaw puzzle, but when it comes to finding a specific detail in a painting, your eyes glaze over. So sometimes, a bunch of highly educated people who all specialize in the same thing can have some trouble.
Mostly, what really bugs me about this clip is Leonard’s line at the end: “We spent two hundred dollars on six minutes of fun?”
If you’ve ever played an escape room, you probably came in, spent an hour in the room, and then left. But the people who run escape rooms? Who design them? We watch the same game grow and develop over months and months. It takes months just to design a new game, to test the flow and gauge just how quickly the average person will be able to solve the puzzles inside. You see a lot of different kinds of thinking, different solutions to different problems. It’s one of the best parts of the job. The games change and grow, but after watching fifty games in a week, you start to understand what’s normal.
And I get it—the joke on The Big Bang Theory is that the characters aren’t “normal.” They’re too smart for “normal,” and way too good for a common game like this. But to me, the joke is six minutes.
If you want to gauge how accurate the show’s depiction of escape rooms is, then check the record board of any escape room. The fastest I’ve ever seen a team escape from one of our games is twenty-five minutes, no clues. That’s nearly half an hour, and it was an incredible thing to watch. It takes me more than six minutes to play the game, and I know where everything is!
Obviously, I’m not a huge fan of the way The Big Bang Theory portrays escape rooms—as corny little puzzle games that aren’t that fun if you’re smart. But at the same time, I can’t say that I’m disappointed in the episode. So many fans of the show have come in talking about these scenes. After they saw it on TV, they wanted to try it for themselves. And really, that’s one of my favorite parts of escape games—the chance to try new things, and live an adventure you’d never thought you’d have.