Locked up in Amsterdam

In a city full of fantasies, an escape offers its own thrill


Photo: iStockphoto.
Photo: iStockphoto.

This is my first time in the city. Why would I want to be locked in a room instead of hitting the museums or grabbing a beer by the famed canals? But the indefatigable Julia, a local guide I’ve bumped into in the hotel lobby, is convinced that not giving it a try might seem heretical. After all, Escape Rooms is a flourishing entertainment concept in Amsterdam—a puzzlers’ paradise to getting out of a locked room. I think of the days when the vintage TV show, Crystal Maze, was the highlight of the week and am convinced. “Most games need at least two people,” Julia bags herself a guiding-and-sleuthing gig with me for the next day.

After firming up our plan to meet at Logic Locks on Ferdinand Huyckstraat the next morning, I’m ready to hit the warren of narrow streets in the city’s most tourist-treaded area, De Wallen. I start at the oldest building, Oude Kerk (Old Church), and stroll past dinky gabled buildings—most of them are smoke-filled coffee shops or pubs. I’m in the heart of Amsterdam’s red-light district, where pretty bridges over glistening canals soften the wry, rough edginess of brothels. Audio guides in museums, a walking tour and the aftertaste of strong Dutch beer fill up the day. I flop into bed at night.

It’s mission mystery at 11am the next day with an animated Julia, who is excited to offer a fresh spin on Amsterdam. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be sitting in the lobby of an Escape Room. Coby, our friendly host, who is dressed in a long-tailed coat and hat, dramatically transports us back more than a century. The vibe is ominous and the décor of the cosy reception area, classic. We are introduced to the image of a charming, though fictional, explorer, Elizabeth van Leeuwenhart, who disappeared in 1922, leaving behind a valuable necklace known as Lionheart; she is the anchor of the mystery. We have been chosen this morning to step inside her study chamber and “cut through a jumble of cues, to unravel the mystery of the missing necklace”. Coby’s instructions taper off into a sinister laugh as he shuts the door behind him for the next 63 minutes. I’m sweating, and it’s not just because of the stifling low-ceilinged room. Mysteries are not my strong suit. We gaze around at dusty paintings, weathered curios and encased bric-à-brac. Amateur investigators, we dive right into the obvious places and then forage through unexpected ones. I channel my dormant couch-solving days of Crystal Maze and arrive at an embarrassing revelation. Escape Rooms might be an immersive experience for many, but for the cryptically challenged it can be a nightmare.

All the cheerfulness melts from Julia’s demeanour; she reprimands me, telling me to use my brain more effectively. Finally, we crack the first clue. Coby slips a handy tip under the door, without disturbing us. The sudden slide of the paper makes me shriek. I assume that it’s not the first time this has happened to him. My nerves are so high-strung that I feel I’ll implode.

Exasperated, Julia hopes that the first clue will get the wheels churning, but my mind wanders off to admire how well the game has been put together. An excellent combination of logic problems, clues and frights. She cracks the second clue as well.

I had been reading about Escape Rooms at breakfast. The concept is only a decade old, with Japan and Singapore first making an entry in the physical realm from an online version in 2007. Then cities in Australia and Europe got hooked. By 2015, there were close to 3,000 Escape Rooms in the world.

A disembodied voice reminds us that we have only 3 minutes left. Julia shoots a frustrated look at me. I have been as bright as a potato. Coby gives us an encouraging “never mind, next time” pat on the shoulder as we walk out, heads drooping.

“So close!” The words explode out of Julia. The only thing that can douse the anger is a cold mug of beer. When she cools down, we laugh at how nerve-wracking it can get. I promise her that the next time she recruits me as a spy, I will not disappoint.

The exasperation of defeat lives on for a year, till I find out that Mumbai has a new address in town for thrill-seekers. I’ve booked my tickets already.

Plot an escape

■Logic Locks, Ferdinand Huyckstraat 64, 1061 HW Amsterdam; 10am-11.45pm; starting from €19.50 (around Rs1,400) per person for group games; book online. The game is best played with more than two people. Visit Logiclocks.com.

■The Amazing Escape, Basement, Trade House, Kamala City, Senapati Bapat Marg, Lower Parel, Mumbai; 11.30am-9pm; starting at Rs900 per person for group games. Visit Theamazingescape.in.

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