Mobsters were chasing us, and we had about an hour before the hitmen caught up; at which point–one imagines–they’d enact a fury upon us only seen in the most heinous of Hollywood recounts. Oh, and there was gold to be found; a pile of it just waiting to be uncovered. If we could just solve the deluge of mind-bending puzzles some obsessive riddler left in his wake to dishearten would-be treasure seekers like ourselves. The clock was ticking away minutes of my life, the pressure was an oversized bearskin on my back and I couldn’t find the freaking…

OK, so we weren’t really being chased by deadly assassins. But the clock was ticking as a group of friends and I took on the challenge of The Escape Game Jacksonville, a new addition to the St. Johns Town Center. I was unsure as to how this would all play out when we decided to play the game, but the one certainty is that it was fun as all get out! I never knew an hour could both go by so quickly and inch along slowly at the same time.

Let’s start from the top, though.

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Prior to the game starting, my group met in the lobby of the store front. I had asked a group of recently acquired friends to join me; I knew these people, but I didn’t really know them, and I thought it would be great to get better acquainted under the pressure of an escape room–if you’re unfamiliar with this term, A) These places are popping up all over the country and B) You should really get out more.

My crew was comprised of folks who work in a variety of fields, bringing a wide enough expertise to the game that I figured would work to our group’s advantage, since the point of the game is to escape the room by solving the puzzles and riddles. We learned that there were several rooms to choose from, with varying levels of difficulty. And being my ambitious self, I opted for the 8 out of 10 rated, Gold Rush room.

Now, I will not divulge a single clue here (NO SPOILERS!). Nor will I devilishly deliver smoke screens to throw off future participants. Let me just say that the game was challenging in every way I could imagine and delivered insight in ways I could have never conceived. You really get to know a group of people when there is a heap of gold to find and mobsters looking to throw you to the fish.

When the time to start the game arrived, the Escape Game team gave us brief instructions and wished us luck. I was initially worried that, as a person with mild claustrophobia, I would panic as soon as the door closed behind me. Not the case. The game designers planned for people like me, I learned (there’s an Exit button next to the door. Once I knew it was there, I didn’t think of it at all.) In any event, I had no time to think about it. The excitement of the game immediately washed over me.

“People should do something like this before they get married to see if they really like each other.”

Our group marched through the puzzles with focused concentration; some puzzles were easy and some of them I just thought, “well, this is where this ordeal ends.” What struck me most about the experience is just how evident and clear everyone’s personality came through. Under the constraints of time, there is no real filter and a person will mostly be themselves. The Escape Game will highlight one’s personality and ethical make up quite vividly, for those paying attention.

Time ticked away and we overcame deterrent after deterrent. I recall amid heightened focus one of our group members saying, “people should do something like this before they get married to see if they really like each other.” A collective chuckle resonated through the group for a second or two and then it was back to problem solving.

My obsessive nature about time manifested as drops of sweat down my forehead. We had arrived at single digits on the ever-present clock. I could feel my mouth drying and my heart pounding as my group of friends scampered laboriously around the room working on our escape. And then, as if in a flash, boom, there was the gold and the escape. We escaped!

The staff congratulated us and snapped pictures of us sporting ecstatic grins and glossed over eyes. The gold was fake, the gangsters were fake, but the adrenaline rush was real. I stepped back away from the group and looked over their face, all of them glowing with success, and it came as quickly as I had expected it – the voice resonating above the rest. “Oh man, we gotta do another room right now!”

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