UCCS virtual escape room proves inventive, entertaining

Julia Jackson

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 In times like these, it can be difficult to get involved on campus, much less find fun, safe events to attend. Luckily, recreation is still out there, if you know how and where to look, but most importantly, keep an open mind. 

     My roommates and I signed up for the #SmartMovesUCCS virtual event, titled “Can You Escape the Main Hall Sanatorium?” hosted by the Office of the Dean of Students on Sept. 24. 

     Although we weren’t sure what we were getting ourselves into, it was ultimately a worthwhile use of our free time. 

     We signed onto Microsoft Teams and found the world tilting back and forth through the other meeting participant’s camera. Ariana Grande blasted in the background. It was disorienting at first, but after sorting out a few technical issues, our guides explained the rules, which were also posted in the chat for our convenience. 

     To complete the escape room, we learned we would direct our “camera-person” around, investigating items in the room, searching for clues. An attendant in the room would ring a bell to let us know when we were correct and then provide us with our next puzzle. Our other resources included a limited inventory box and three lifelines, which would function as tools and hints to get us a little closer to solving the puzzle if we got stuck. 

     While I was still wondering about the distracting music, my roommate figured out that Ariana Grande was actually the answer to one of our first clues. It was at that point that I realized the puzzles would truly challenge us to think outside the box and interact with every element of the room’s environment — even though we were experiencing it through a camera. 

Main Hall. Photo by Savannah Waggoner.
Courtesy of the UCCS website.

     To make things more exciting, we were also on a time limit. All participants would receive the prize of “a water bottle filled with goodies,” while the team with the best time would receive a water bottle in addition to a Dean of Students t-shirts and a $25 gift card. 

     The first room was set up with several tables that had books, baubles and spooky decorations scattered across them. We had to figure out some puzzles verbally, like the Ariana Grande one, while others were solved by finding certain hidden objects or written clues via our camera-person.  

     After we figured our way out of the first room via a key discovered under the recycling bin, the second half of the escape room took place next door. This part introduced a few more complicated elements to explore, including a cot bed, a blacklight, and many paintings and other objects lining the windowsills (one of which was a cursed Minion meme in a picture frame). 

     Everything went smoothly until towards the end, when we got stuck searching for a final object: a key, we guessed, based on the riddle we were given, but finding it was another matter. Our lifeline only confirmed our guess, giving no hints as to the location.  

     We made our poor guide upend half the room before we finally discovered the key, hidden behind a painting we were sure we’d checked before, and finished with about 10 minutes left on the clock once we verbally solved the final word problem. 

     Despite my initial skepticism, I realized I had gotten invested in the experience, and completing the escape room was a total rush of satisfaction. 

     Katie Morton, graduate assistant for the Office of the Dean of Students, explained the creative process that went into organizing this event. 

     “We chose props that paired well with the clues and that we had at our office (and homes),” she said. “Our coworkers had some truly wacky things lying around their homes!” 

     Throughout both rooms, certain posters especially stood out, providing statistics about drug and alcohol use and safe decision-making among UCCS students. 

     “Our yearly escape room is through our #SmartMoveUCCS campaign that promotes alcohol education and safety,” said Morton. “We hope to bring our UCCS students together to stay safe, be responsible, and watch out for each other.” 

     Morton and another student worker, Tapasya Patel, were given free rein by supervisor Ray Fisco. They began planning the event a month in advance, drawing inspiration from past in-person escape rooms on campus as well as studying how other organizations have set up virtual escape rooms. 

     “[Patel] was the creative guru of the group. She created all the fliers and advertisements for the event,” Morton said. “I created the riddles and really tried to stick to a sanatorium theme.” 

     This theme, for those unaware, relates to the fact that Main Hall was formerly known as the Cragmor Sanitarium, until its sale to the University of Colorado for the sum of $1. 

     The final puzzle of the escape room was a jumble of letters from the answers to each previous puzzle, which turned out to be an anagram for the word — you guessed it — “sanatorium.” 

     There were certainly challenges in both putting together and participating in such an interactive event remotely, but my roommates and I ended up having a lot of fun. Even through Teams, it felt like we bonded with our guides, whether it was cheering together whenever we found a #SmartMovesUCCS sign or keeping up morale when we were stumped. If I have the chance, I’d love to do it again. 

     Per Morton, there were eight openings available for groups of three to four students, and four groups participated. Another escape room may be in store for next spring, so keep an eye out. 

     Until then, Morton also provided information on several other upcoming events involving the Office of the Dean of Students: the Red Flag Campaign promoting relationship safety and boundaries from Oct. 1-31, Alcohol Awareness week from Oct. 19-23, the Student Life Volunteer event to organize food bags for Clyde’s Cupboard on Oct. 22, the Clyde’s Cupboard Annual Food Drive from Nov. 1-25, and the next Fresh Food Friday at Clyde’s Cupboard on Dec. 11.