Arts & Culture

The Great Escape

The escape room craze hits Baltimore.

All work and no play can make being an adult kind of dull, and that’s the idea behind escape rooms, the latest rage for grownup fun. The team-building activity is bigger than trust falls and icebreakers; instead, you get locked into a room with friends, family, co-workers, or complete strangers and work together to escape in an allotted amount of time.

Open since February in the heart of Mt. Vernon, Escape 45 is Baltimore City’s first escape room, the brainchild of Johns Hopkins University graduate Ashraf Afzal and University of Maryland, College Park, students Dylan Kapoor and Asad and Fahed Masood, who are also brothers. Here’s how it works: In one of three rooms—the Lighthouse, the Jewel Heist, or Sully’s Haunted Cabin—groups of two to eight participants must find clues, solve puzzles, and crack riddles to break free in 45 minutes or less.

But why would anyone volunteer to be locked in a room with someone, let alone their family or co-workers? “It’s a new activity and different way of interacting with each other,” Afzal says. Posits Asad, “What else do adults get to do, besides go out to restaurants and bars?” “And of course there’s the adrenaline rush when you actually get out,” adds Fahed, with a smile.

For these reasons, Escape 45 has grown quickly in popularity over the last nine months, garnering as many as 40 groups a day, including big corporations like Under Armour and M&T Bank. And it’s not alone: Since its launch, several other escape rooms have opened nearby, from Power Plant and Federal Hill to Towson and Timonium. The region’s first opened in Catonsville last fall.

Though the rooms range in difficulty, Escape 45’s founders agree that the key to escape is communication. “I’ve seen people who look like geniuses who can’t get out and it all boils down to one thing—how effectively they communicate,” says Asad. “It’s that whole ‘teamwork makes the dream work’ kind of thing.”

In the end, if a group runs out of time, Escape 45 enters the room and shows them what was missed. “They have all sorts of reactions,” says Afzal. “Some are happy, angry, shocked.” But if they succeed, there is a prize on the other side. “Pride,” quips Fahed. Adds Asad: “And we have a Hall of Fame on Facebook.”