At 1746 Post Street in Japantown, above a tea shop and a store selling the gothic Lolita aesthetic, there is a room. Should you dare, you will enter it with your ten other teammates and be immediately locked in. The clock starts. Although the room looks normal, appointed as it is with IKEA furniture and even a rug, it is not. Your mission? Get out of the locked room in one hour. How? Find the clues scattered throughout the room. Figure out what is important and what is not. Use your wits. Work together. Solve puzzles and riddles. Who will make it out?

Real escape room games began in Japan and are quickly becoming popular in San Francisco. Some iterations are now popping up in Los Angeles and its environs. They beckon the nerdy, the fantasy-minded, the gamers, and those who wish for a moment to be Sherlock. Anyone who has ever wanted to live in a mystery novel? This game calls for you.

One of my best and most culturally savvy friends Steve was the first to draw my attention to this game about a year ago. It was shortly after our Spartan this past January, though, that we revisited more seriously the idea of rounding up our high school posse to form a team, along with spouses who wanted to play and Steve’s brother Jeff. Four of us and our families would drive up to the bay, meeting Jeff and his wife and Marguerite, all of whom already live in San Francisco. Drive for 16 hours in a weekend to play the game for an hour? Could we be any nerdier (or cooler)? It was a whirlwind weekend—epic—and one of the most memorable and best in my life. What a random thing to do: meet for lunch, play a mental game in the middle of the city, and disperse. But sometimes the most unusual decisions are the most significant, and as random as it seemed, playing this game together also made perfect sense.

It was a chance, also, to give Katie and Eric another dose of one of my favorite cities. I might raise chickens for eggs, make my own weekly bread, and have farm life fantasies, but I am also a passionate city girl at heart. I thrive on the bustle, the slipping in and out of anonymity, the fodder for the imagination, the juxtaposition of pristine with the run-down, the diversity of characters, and the history. San Francisco is one of my favorite cities in the world, and I never tire of her. I leave her feeling renewed and reconnected with myself.

When I was an undergrad at Stanford, the dorms with frosh in them would host a yearly autumn scavenger hunt around the city. We would have a small team and a long list of tasks to accomplish (as documented with pictures) or items to find. We had to dance in the Union Square parking garage. Buy something from an adult shop near North Beach. Get a picture with a street performer. Find the sea lions off Pier 39. And so on. Stanford wanted us to know our city, and we did. Whenever I am in San Francisco, I still remember places where my frosh friends and I were running around like crazy people working on our item list.

But this locked room escape game? Definitely one of my favorite memories in San Francisco, ever.

IMG_7237

We met at Marguerite’s home in San Francisco for lunch and a strategy confab. “Our little group has always been/And always will until the end…” From Mock Trial, to Academic Decathlon, to a locked room game that is a test of wits…I mean, right? In our 30s, we embrace who we are: cool nerds. Very, very cool ones.

20140301_124154_525

I love this picture of Eric at Marguerite’s. He is lost in his own thoughts, gazing out her window. Does he imagine himself living in this beautiful city? I think he does. He is quite vocal about how much he adores San Francisco. This picture captures such a moment. You can live anywhere, and be anyone, that you imagine, my Eric.

IMG_7268

Smiles during our planning session

IMG_7269

If this picture doesn’t evoke all of our Mock Trial days, what will? I love us. I love our little group until I die.

So then we went to 1746 Post. Bill dropped me off a little ways from the building, and I walked it just savoring my independence and the bustle of the city and the people all coming and going and that feeling in the city of being both limitless and small at the same time. We met up and waited for the hosts of the game to retrieve us from the floor below. I watched a long blonde waif with face and arms covered in delicate white powder working behind the gothic Lolita store, looking like a doll amid the babydoll dresses and stuffed animals. The hosts fetched us, and we were taken into an anteroom to deposit all of our belongings. We were given some basic rules and briefed on general procedures. Our nine person team met the two other players. Then we were taken into the room, given clipboards, pens, and paper…and were locked in. The clock began.

To say anything much more would be to put the integrity of the game in possible jeopardy. Out of 887 teams who played before us, only 14 had ever gotten out. We worked feverishly to be the 15th, but we were not. The clues themselves—once located—I did not personally find to be difficult, and I don’t think the rest of our team did, either, but I haven’t asked them yet. We were not playing against our intelligence, I didn’t feel; rather, we were playing against the clock. Whatever we encountered, we seemed to be able to solve. The sheer volume of items we had to find and decipher, though, proved to be the main challenge. The hosts who watched us play indicated that we cracked a major piece of the room’s major puzzle much earlier than most other teams ever do, and they were certain we would get out. But we got stuck on the penultimate clue for a bit. Interestingly, Steve, Dan, and I had begun to think of something that would have rendered that clue unnecessary. We each remembered a vital piece of information uncovered early on in the game, and we had begun working on…uh…a different way to represent that information (keeping this very vague here) that, had we been successful in our train of thought soon enough, would have revealed the key to the door. Had the three of us talked at that crucial moment, we might well have landed on the…uh…”representation” of that clue that we needed, because all three of us were mentally headed in the same direction but just had not gone far enough. Alas, we each worked independently on that hunch, unknowing that the other two were also attacking from that angle, and we did not talk it through together.

But maybe we cannot be blamed, because there was this REALLY CREEPY music playing the last ten minutes, ha ha!

Next time, team, next time.

IMG_7252

Almost. You bet your bottom I want to play another version of this again! There is a time travel themed room in San Francisco, and some versions in the Los Angeles area (a werewolf village theme).

Other highlights of our single day in San Francisco:

After an pre-dawn two mile warm-the-brain-up run in the morning, we headed down to the Ferry Building for an early breakfast. We purchased some pastries at Miette (Scharffen Berger cakelet, palmier, a cupcake with meringue and a candied peanut on top) and coffee from Blue Bottle Coffee. Oh my. Yum. I also selected a gruyere pretzel bun from Blue Bottle to share, and it was perfect. After breakfast we wandered the farmer’s market, took in the people, sampled wares, and looked longingly (okay, maybe it was just me for this one) at the many runners striding along Embarcadero. For next time, a bucket list update: wearing running clothes to the bay front and taking a run to Fisherman’s Wharf.

IMG_7253

Breakfast in the Ferry Building! The kiddos were so much in their element, truly. They love to travel and are experienced road trippers at this point, having been to the bay several times and across the United States and back. The car time is easy. We read, study, sing, play, nap, make up games, etc. They enjoy all the travel stops, the trucker stores, the roadside cafes. Their little brains thrive on the novelty and exploration. Katie lights up, and Eric asks his thoughtful questions about everything. I am so excited about our longer road trip this summer. I so enjoy them on trips like this, in ways that are different than the ways I enjoy them at home. I love to see them discovering themselves in these new places, I guess, and I am always eager to see what captures their attention. Katie loved our time in the Ferry Building and all along Pier 39. She is dying to go see Alcatraz next time, and would stop to read the big posters with quotes from the former prisoners on them. Eric is begging to cross the Golden Gate Bridge on our next visit. I told them that, each time we come, we want to add a layer of depth to their knowledge of the city. The first time they experienced San Francisco, we did all the “basics”: Union Square, cable car, Fisherman’s Wharf, Ghirardelli Square, Golden Gate Park/Japanese Tea Garden, Chinatown. Now we want them to start knowing different neighborhoods and the historical parts more intimately. I wish we had days here…

IMG_7185

Pier 39

1393694559590

It was a lightly drizzly morning along the pier

IMG_7254

It was important to me to show the kiddos the Presidio this time, and it worked out well that Eric has had it on his wish list to see the Golden Gate Bridge “up close” for quite some time. My Great-Uncle Ross worked at the Presidio, and he met my Great-Aunt Bella in San Francisco. My nana would go up to visit them, and so this particular piece of San Francisco has a family connection that we wanted to emphasize for our children, especially since Uncle Ross recently passed.

As it happened, we seemed to be in several neighborhoods this time, or close enough to them to see some important structures: Coit Tower, which used to send semaphore signals to ships in the bay; the Transamerica pyramid, which marks the financial district; the intersection of Haight-Ashbury; the Mission Dolores. All of these we hope to show them more in depth over the years. Bill took the kiddos down Lombard Street again and also to Koret (a children’s park) while I was playing the room game. Katie loves Lombard Street, and Koret is amazing. They had a great time.

After I finished the game, my family and I headed to Union Square just to soak up some city culture and urban vibes. We saw the bagpiper come out, the drummers. We at dinner at Lori’s Diner, a favorite from last year. I went hipster and ordered two huge pancakes and eggs for dinner and devoured every bite. We walked a bit in the city at night and then left semi-early to get the kiddos bathed and in bed so that we could get an early start home on Sunday.

What a whirlwind of a time. Completely memorable. So much fun!

Advertisements