ITHACA, NY – It’s a small room but it’s packed with a lot of mysteries to solve and puzzles to decipher.

There are secret, invisible messages that can only be seen by blacklight that give clues to open a combination lock which only unveils yet another cryptic clue. Tarot cards, clippings from the Daily Prophet and a shelf full of alchemical ingredients hide yet more clues for the discerning eye and clever mind.

This is the Sorcerer’s Study, the debut challenge for Ithaca’s first “escape room,” which saw its first intrepid apprentices entering to try and solve the puzzles and recover the Dark Sorceror’s wand before he can use it to destroy all good magic forever. Escape Rooms, which challenge small teams to solve devious puzzles within a time limit, have been growing in popularity and have now found their way here with Escape Ithaca.

The Ithaca Voice tagged along with a group who dared to take on the challenge and sadly, we were not up to the task. Adding insult to injury, the “Headmaster” (co-owner Ray Weaver) informed us that a group of 12-year old had come just before us and conquered the challenge. (Though he later told me that only about 10 percent of the groups actually solve the entire puzzle.)

[su_spoiler title=”Light spoilers about the experience here — don’t click if you want to go in totally blind!” icon=”chevron-circle”]

After giving us an envelope with our instructions, the headmaster retired to his study and we were put on a 30-minute timer.

There’s a lot to take in when once you’ve donned your wizard robe and entered the room. Several players were given small blacklight flashlights that would be instrumental in solving many of the puzzles.

In one corner, a series of clues related to tarot cards. Nearby, a set of cubbies — like what you might see in an old hotel to store keys — with tarot cards strewn seemingly randomly through them. How do they connect?

In another corner, a desk with several pages from the Daily Prophet. There were hole-punched strips that seemed that they might reveal the numbers or letters to open a combination lock… but where should the strips be placed?

Along a side wall, a large cabinet full of alchemy supplies. Each row contained multiple flasks of powder and several direction-words related to a direction-based padlock in the center. It’s clear that the words hold the solution, but how to determine which order?

After solving one of the puzzles and finding a key, there was another surprise that I won’t spoil further other than to say, it’s exactly the kind of thing that you want when searching through a secretive sorcerer’s study.

 

[/su_spoiler]

New challenges to come

After the event, we spoke with Weaver about Escape Ithaca and what’s next for Ithaca’s first escape room.

For those who crave a challenge, the first news he shared is good news: this iteration of the Sorcerer’s Study was a teaser of sorts — soon the room will be expanded into an hour-long experience, where it’s currently built to be solved in 30 minutes. That means more puzzles and more layers upon the existing puzzles. For example, a puzzle that currently takes two clues to solve might take four in the next version.

“We thought this was something that Ithaca needs.” said Weaver. “We’ve got the college crowds, we’ve got families with young children who would be interested in doing something like this, that challenges them not physically but mentally. That’s a difference we have here, is it’s more about thinking and less about physical prowess.”

Of course, an escape room isn’t something you can necessarily repeat endlessly, so Escape Ithaca has to keep it fresh. Weaver says they plan to bring a new challenge every six to eight weeks, with themes such as a bank or casino vault, to a haunted nursery to an “Island of Misfit Toys” theme for the holidays.

Despite the deviousness of their puzzle room, neither Weaver — who works as Assistant Director of Student Activities for TC3 — nor his business partner were puzzle-gurus at heart.

“We basically set up the room first, and we walk through and try and think about what makes sense here, if we were experiencing this room, where we would want to look for items or expect to see items. Basically, brainstorming all-night sessions just sitting in the room trying to decide what would look good.”

Escape Ithaca is open Thursday through Sunday, and sessions can be booked online at their website.

(Photos by Michael Smith / The Ithaca Voice)

Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.