The Escape Room

“An Escape Room! That’s what we’ll do.” My relationship with my 16-year-old brother is shaped by a tradition we’ve cultivated over the years – homemade gifts. Whether it’s Christmas or Diwali, every year we work together to create special keepsakes or experiences for friends and family. Sometimes the process is more memorable than the result. For my mom’s birthday seven years ago, we worked for weeks to create a scrapbook, complete with handwritten messages and stickers. Christmas of 2014 we stayed up all night to construct handmade, personalized items for each member of our extended family, exploding bath bombs in the microwave in the process. Last Mother’s Day, we devised personalized scavenger hunts involving my mom’s and grandmothers’ favorite places in Houston. And this past June, for Father’s Day, we created an Escape Room.

“Let’s do it!” was my brother’s immediate response, so we eagerly began brainstorming. Should they be spies or superheroes? A Harry Potter theme or Star Wars? We settled on a Mission Impossible theme but quickly encountered a major problem. How exactly does one create an Escape Room? From a prior experience, we recalled the intricate steps involved in an Escape Room, with seemingly unrelated items coming together in mystifying ways. Somehow, messages in a journal were anagrammed and combined with numbers revealed by a black light to identify map coordinates, which revealed a hidden compartment in a book with a key. And this was just one of many paths.

After much deliberation, I realized creating an Escape Room required working backwards. It was not unlike the way I developed a timesheet program for a non-profit literacy foundation by starting with my end goal and fitting together sections to make it accessible to users. Nor was it unrelated to the way I incorporated various calculus formulas to determine the optimal takeoff for a back-handspring in a research paper. In fact, analyzing problems, asking questions, and finding solutions are skills I’ve been developing for years. The key is focusing on the big picture and breaking the process down into manageable chunks.

Emboldened by our new sense of direction, my brother and I created a map depicting each path. We decided on four main components to achieve escape: an address number and name, two sections of a vault number, and a key. When we ran out of ideas, we scoured the house for inspiration. My mom’s old record player and our little brother’s toy safe. A basket of Beanie Babies and broken Taekwondo boards from 2011. What appeared to be a hodgepodge of junk gathered in the guest bedroom of our home was the first step in achieving what previously seemed unattainable.

As final exams came and went, and summer volunteering and internships began, our progress slowed. Even with a solid plan and a good start, other priorities suddenly arose and prospects for completing the room weren’t looking good. Obviously, academics and extracurricular activities are important, and I devote hours a week to work and community service. However, those are not the only aspects of my life. I have always taken pride in my ability to make time for what matters to me – from family and friends to pursuing my education and working toward social justice – and I was determined to see this through to the end.

We included everything from a hint in the record player music to a clue sewn into a stuffed animal. An additional challenge was including tasks that would be intriguing for the various members involved, both our parents and grandparents. With a reversible Hindi code for my grandparents and a Harry Potter trivia quiz for my parents, our Escape Room was the product of every farfetched idea and hour of work of the past several weeks.

My family escaped with a minute to spare, while my brother and I experienced the joy of bringing homemade happiness to our loved ones’ lives.

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