Real Escape, and What I Learned From It

Real Escape is a Japanese phenomenon, which is generally enough to get me in the door. Through my Japanese teacher I met one of the creators a few months back, and he described a real life puzzle game that sounded like a ton of fun. I was invited to go to their Doctor Mad event a couple weeks ago.

Going in, I had no idea to expect. I knew that there would be some sort of brain teaser and logic puzzle element to it, but that was all I knew. I want to give away as little as possible, so that you’ll get the most out of it if you go, but it’s essentially a real life computer game. There are no fancy graphics– you’re basically in a minimally decorated room with some stuff stuck to the walls, but the skills needed and the procedures of the game reminded me of and old-school adventure game like Monkey Island.

Suffice to say, I had a ton of fun. I’ve always wished that there were more non-drinking based social nighttime activities, and Real Escape definitely fits the bill. It’s very entertaining, if you go solo you’ll be put into a group that you’ll get to know a little bit, and it’s good for your brain.

It’s also hard. Very hard. I sort of think that I’m a genius of logic puzzles and the like, but my team failed (unless you count me cracking the lock that the answer was in before the game started). In fact, only one of the ten or so teams actually completed the puzzle. And while I’d like to blame my team for our failure, the most interesting part of the experience was being faced with my own deficiencies.

Even though the game was only an hour long, it was very intense and involved a lot of different aspects of problem solving. Some of them I did really well on, but I was really shocked at how poorly I performed in many other ways. I saw the game as a microcosm for life, and it really brought to my attention various areas where I could use some improvement.

The first mistake I made was to not get a clear picture of the task before starting. We knew that we had ten main puzzles to solve, so I immediately picked one and started working on it, encouraging others to do the same. Twenty minutes in I walked around the room looking for clues and realized that there was a second room that was part of the puzzle, and that we could only enter it once we had completed three particular puzzles. Within that room were clues to some of the other puzzles. If I had taken a moment to really understand what we were trying to do, rather than just start attacking, we could have worked far more efficiently.

In real life, I can see how I do this, too. When programming I just start working on part of the problem, and often don’t really fully consider the full picture. This works okay usually, but once in a while I find that I have to rewrite huge sections of code because I didn’t properly consider everything.

The next mistake I made was not triaging the work that needed to be done. Each of the ten puzzles gave us a letter, which would eventually spell out a word. We had all but one very difficult puzzle done, and could infer the letter that puzzle would give us. I’m embarassed to say that I didn’t even consider this and I spent twenty minutes solving that last puzzle, mainly because I was frustrated with the member of our team who was working on it and completely failing. We came pretty close to solving the whole puzzle, and I think that if I hadn’t wasted a third of my time on a superfluous puzzle, we may have actually done it.

This error reminds me of the 80/20 rule, which basically says that a small amount of the work you do is responsible for the bulk of the results. I can think of examples of this mistake in real life, too, where I’ve spent inordinate amounts of time on details that aren’t likely to matter too much, while avoiding core pieces of work that are much more important. Because this is a principle that I think about on a regular basis, I think I usually catch myself making this mistake, but since I made it last night, I’m going to be extra vigilant.

The last mistake I’ll mention, which surely isn’t the last mistake I actually made, was that on one puzzle I fixated on one possible (yet incorrect) solution, and was so errantly confident that I must be right, that I didn’t even consider some obvious alternatives, one of which ended up being correct. Others were also stuck on this puzzle, so the game director gave a hint which immediately revealed the answer. A bit of humility probably would have gotten me the answer earlier.

This failure manifests itself in real life, too. When programming, there have been times when I’ve pigheadedly kept trying to bludgeon some code into working, rather than taking a step back and finding an eaiser or more efficient way to do it.

Altogether, Real Escape was a great way to spend a couple hours, both in terms of entertainment and in terms of introspection and self development. They have another event coming up in August, and I’ll definitely be attending. This time I’m bringing my own team of champions and will hopefully improve my thought patterns in my life by then to the point that I won’t make the same mistakes again.

If you want to play the next game, keep an eye on RealEscapeGame.com. If you think you’re a puzzle champion and want to be on my team, PM me. I might have a couple spots.

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Photo is me trying to solve on of the puzzles.

I’m in Vegas playing poker for a couple days, and then flying to Alaska to rent a motorcycle and drive around for a few days.

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