Written by Emily Glaser
It’s a far cry from the bouncy rooms of youth—or is it? The Western North Carolina escape and puzzle room industry is keeping people boxed in—and deeply entertained.
There’s a brewery in the basement of the Battery Park Hotel. You won’t find its ales reviewed on beer blogs or its bottles on grocery shelves, but according to legend, WunderBrugghen’s Brewing Co. is the maker of the best beer in history.
Descend the bowed stairs at the front of the hotel, and you’ll be met not with the reclaimed doors and cast aluminum signs we’ve come to recognize as hallmarks of Asheville’s regional brew industry, but, instead, by a hulking metal door crowned with a creaking peephole through which porters review visitors and pester them for passwords. If you’d like to tour the brewery, you’ll pass first through the Roaring Twenties era speakeasy, then into a holding room where you’ll receive ghastly news: The recipe for WunderBrugghen’s signature beer has gone missing!
And this—not a taste of that renowned WunderBrugghen brew—is what you came for. Together with your team of sleuths, you’ll canvass the brewery for clues and try to piece together a series of pertinent puzzles to solve the mystery of the missing recipe. The clock is ticking, counting down the 60 minutes before disaster strikes, but your friendly guide is a quick call away should you need guidance. Even with her help, it’s unlikely you’ll succeed—only about 25% of participants do—but the titillating adrenaline rush and brain-wracking teamwork is enough to satiate your quest for fun.
Of course, this isn’t actually a brewery at all; it’s The Conundrum, one of Western North Carolina’s half dozen privately owned escape rooms. The Conundrum, along with their riddle-peddling compadres, represents the current-day culmination of decades, if not centuries, of experiential entertainment, spurred by the compulsory hankering of our kind to blur the boundaries between fact and fiction. It’s in these rooms that thrill-seekers find the kind of heart-thumping excitement we adults haven’t felt since the promise of a bouncy house or our first topsy-turvy turn on a rollercoaster. It’s all the more exciting for its immersiveness, especially at an enterprise like The Conundrum, where seasoned actors oversee the experience and proffer clues. For gamers and daredevils, team builders and tots, escape rooms offer intellectual stimulation, blood-pumping fun, and an escape from reality.
(top photo from The Conundrum, by Anthony Harden/Alt Media Pros)
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