Fans of The Crystal Maze and the Saw movies should hotstep to Hungary pronto… the Exit Games phenomenon has spread like wildfire throughout the capital, says Ben Rhodes, bringing claustrophobic kicks to Budapest.
“Try moving the chess pieces so the crow flies down with the key… Now use the magnetic flute to get the ball out of the sand jar… Quick, pull the horse’s eye out and stick it in the table-top maze!”
Not all of these surreal clues, given to us by our Hungarian guide, helped us to finally “escape the room”, but by trial and error we made it out with under a minute to spare, a genuine sense of relief washing over us. Despite the roleplay scenario, for a minute there I felt I knew what it was like to be Luke Skywalker running out of time in a waste disposal unit of the Death Star, or even worse Dr. Lawrence Gordon chained up in a psychopath’s bathroom with just a handsaw for company.
Escape rooms were originally invented in Budapest in 2011 and the phenomenon has ballooned in recent years with some sources claiming there are now over a hundred existing in the Hungarian capital, and more spreading across European cities like Berlin and Bucharest. Whilst the idea is simple (a group of you are locked in a room with just one hour to escape by working through a series of puzzles in a similar style to The Crystal Maze) the execution of the one we went to in the Jewish Quarter of Budapest made it an extremely tense and thrilling 60 minutes.
Fronted by a sinister horse-masked doctor, ExitPoint operates within the confines of Fogashaz, one of the best ruin pubs in town. After a brief explanation of the game (including that none of the puzzles require knowledge of either Hungarian or English) we were locked into the exit room. We knew that we were against the clock and should not waste any time, but it was difficult to not just stand back and admire the decor; the room had a shabby vintage feel to it, with quirky ornaments and statues giving it an Alice in Wonderland aura, augmented by an eerie soundtrack seeping through cracks in the wall. At first we thought we were going to be locked in this room for the whole hour, but we eventually found the rabbit hole through to our next set of challenges.
I won’t spoil the challenges here but there is a good mix of arithmetic, codes to decipher, manual dexterity and observation, as well as twists on traditional board games. We had a team of three in the room which was just about right so that you can all fully participate, although you can have between 1-6 players (you pay for the room, so the more you are, the less it costs). Only about 40% of people escape within the hour, so don’t feel too disappointed if you are left to rot in the room.
If you are in Budapest for more than a weekend there are a host of other escape games to try around town. And don’t be surprised if you see an exit room coming to your own city soon…
Ben travelled to the capital as a guest of the Hungarian Tourist Board, working in partnership with Budapest Underguide, where he also experienced the Budapest Essentials Festival, and enjoyed a taste of the high life at some of the city’s best rooftop bars. For our weekend guide to the city click here.