a peek inside the fishbowl

16 Jul, 2016

Weekend reading: July 16 edition

By andrea tomkins in Weekend reading

13 Jul, 2016

A peek inside Jigsaw Escape Rooms

By andrea tomkins in Ottawa

The Fishbowl goes to Jigsaw Escape Rooms

I was invited to try out the Jigsaw Escape Rooms here in Ottawa recently* and I was particularly excited about it, for a few reasons. (a) Mark has been a few times and has really enjoyed it (b) I thought it would be really fun to do with the girls. The idea is pretty cool. Essentially, your group is locked in a room and you need to solve a series of puzzles in order to find a key that will result in your release, oh, and there’s a clock counting down the whole time. So yes, I was happy to go. Not only have I been curious about escape rooms in general, but I knew the girls would enjoy it AND it fit into my quest to do more things together as a family.

Us girls drove downtown after work to meet Mark. We parked, and all made our way over to Jigsaw after a little stroll around the Market. Mark had been to Jigsaw before and knew exactly where he was going. I wasn’t able to visualize where it was at first (Clarence and what?), and even as we approached it wasn’t immediately clear. It is tucked away a bit. It’s in the Byward Market at 122 Clarence St #201, next to a vaping shop, and up a flight of stairs.

We arrived a little earlier than we were supposed to – thanks to hurried strolling and my over-eagerness – so we were ushered into a back games room while another group finished their round. I was glad for this consideration because running into another group in the waiting area could have given away some secrets. This is where we met up one of the owners, Matt Prendergast. I don’t know why, but I surprised to learn that Jigsaw is very much a family affair. In fact, his whole family is rather entrepreneurial. He co-owns Jigsaw with his brother, and his sister was behind the counter when we arrived. Their parents own a restaurant, the Caribbean Sizzler, downtown. (Which I will definitely be checking out later.)

Matt explained the rules and how it was going to work. Perhaps I was visibly nervous.

Each room – and there are three right now at Jigsaw – has a backstory. We were booked for The Study (there’s also The Cabin and The Heist). Our story was that we were crime scene investigators who had to document a killing that took place in the study of the owner of Cromwell toys, before the murderer returns.

Matt told us that we could ask for help twice during the 45 minutes. (Actually, we could have asked for more help but then the room wouldn’t be considered “solved” by our team.) There’s a walkie-talkie hanging from the door knob and a camera on us at all times, so we were never really out of touch.

I don’t want to give much away about the room or the puzzles, but I will say that the clues were very well thought out, and quite clever, and incorporated almost everything in the room in some way. They’re also non-linear, which means they could be solved in any order and at no point were any of us standing around with nothing to do.

At first, we barged in there not knowing where to look (or maybe that was just me), but clues slowly revealed themselves. Perhaps it was a result of the osmosis that happens after many hours watching and playing video games, but that is not a pre-requisite. One has to assume that if there’s a typewriter on a desk and there’s a letter stuck in it that one should probably read it.

I can’t speak to the other rooms, but this one was smaller in size than I had expected. For some reason, I was thinking it’d be something akin to a sophisticated Hollywood movie set (doh) but that’s neither here nor there.

The experience really was a great team-building exercise, perfect for a family with teens too. I can honestly say that everyone contributed and pulled their weight. This is where having multiple brains at work really helps. (I should point out that the rooms are intended for six participants and we were a party of four.)

It’s a great option for a group of friends, co-workers, or family members who are looking for something new to do in Ottawa, outside of hanging out at a bar or going to a movie/bowling alley/pool hall. It’s fun, it’s social, it’s definitely novel.

Now that we’ve done one room I think it’ll be easier to do another one because we know what to expect and what to look out for. I am kind of kicking myself for not solving a couple of puzzles, that in hindsight, now seem kind of obvious.

The difficulty of the puzzles is actually something that Matt and I chatted about beforehand. How does the owner of escape rooms create puzzles, and how does one decide how difficult they should be? If they’re too easy, the room isn’t fun. If they’re too hard, the room isn’t fun. They have to be just difficult enough to make the process challenging and satisfying, even if you weren’t able to make it out of the room alive. He told me that it’s trial and error, and that they’ve been tweaking the rooms since they opened.

In the end, we didn’t manage to escape the escape room, but we came very close to solving it and had a lot of fun along the way. The 45-minutes went by very quickly. Afterward we went for sushi and ice cream, and chat about our near escape for the rest of the evening. We went home with full bellies and another happy memory.

* Jigsaw Escape Rooms foot the bill for our visit but there was no promise of a review. My views are my own.

Tags: , ,

I have a new post over at MediaSmarts.ca about how we dealt with the onslaught of princess-branded gear in our household when our girls were younger. What got me thinking about it was #hotdogprincess. (Did you catch that? What a hoot.)

How you control the tidal wave of princess stuff in your family? Or is it just a princess free-for-all? I’d love to hear your two cents. And just so you know, I do have a favourite princess (or two). You can read my post right here.

09 Jul, 2016

Weekend reading: July 9 edition

By andrea tomkins in Weekend reading

How do you show someone you love them, honour them, respect them? You can definitely buy a gift, a bouquet of flowers, a box of chocolates, or send a card. Teachers get mugs, retirees get a cake, graduates get a laptop. These are great – and HELLO – who wouldn’t like cake! Certainly, gifts have their place, but telling someone you care might be the best gift there is.

Enter, scapes.

I was contacted by the folks from scapes* awhile back and I was intrigued. I’m always on the lookout for cool stuff I can use/recommend and I really liked this idea and wanted to share it here.

At its core, scapes is a web-based service that gives users a very easy way to create and collaborate on a word cloud. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, a word cloud is essentially an image composed of multiple words. The size of each word indicates its frequency or importance, and you can see, at a glance, what the most important words are.

Here’s an example of one that was created for a local school volunteer:

Scapes for a school volunteer

So in this case, you can see that more people chose the words “caring” and “awesome” and “helpful.” Which is what ultimately describes her best!

You can make a scape…

  • for a milestone birthday – or any birthday!
  • as a gift for a co-worker who is departing or retiring.
  • as a wedding, anniversary or engagement gift.
  • for graduation: elementary, high school, university.
  • to acknowledge a special volunteer, nurse, teacher, caregiver … someone who’s made an impact.
  • to a frequent traveller (name all the countries!), a chef (titles of her best recipes!), a gardener (his favourite flowers!)
  • for Father’s or Mother’s Day. Wouldn’t it be hilarious to get the kids to describe daddy in their own terms? Ha.
  • as a memorial or memento of a loved one who has passed.
  • … or just because.

Really, the possibilities are endless.

The process is very very simple. You open an account (it’s free!) and you start a project. Collaborators can be added at the click of a button (these are all the people who will be contributing to your masterpiece). Then you go to town! There is a list of suggested words you can use but the fun really begins when people add their own personal words and phrases (like “GRILLED CHEESE!!” in the example above)! The awesome part, really, is the ability to have multiple people (friends, family, loved ones, coworkers) contributing to the scape and sharing their unique perspective on the person that is being celebrated. As a bonus, it takes a bit of the pressure off the organizer when more people are involved in the creation.

When you’re done, you can download a high-resolution file of your scape to share or create something else from it: a print, t-shirts (this would be hilarious for a bachelor party!), cards, invitations… really, anything! Many of these kinds of items can be printed locally or with an online service such as Zazzle. I really recommend you check out the scapes Pinterest board for some very creative – and easy! – ideas.

I’m in the middle of creating a scape about someone but I’m not ready to reveal it yet. (I’ll post it once it’s complete so you can see who it was for and how it turned out!) I will say, it’s been surprisingly fun watching it evolve as I invite more people and see everyone adding their words and favourite memories. I can’t wait to share it!

Check out the website to start your own scape. It’s free! In the meantime, tell me, who would you make a scape for? I’d love to hear your ideas!


* I was compensated for this post but my opinions and experience with scapes is my own. Confession: I am secretly hoping someone makes one of these for me. :)


Have a great summer at Saunders Farm!

Mrs Tiggywinkle's - the best toy store in Ottawa

Joan of Arc Academy in Ottawa

terra20 Ottawa

Click me!


Stay in touch

Me and my pet projects

Ottawa Bucket list

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

  • andrea tomkins: I love it too! Thanks Becky! :)
  • Rebecca: I love Instagram!!! Your account is awesome ;)
  • andrea tomkins: Maybe the black groundhogs are slowly taking over Ottawa like the black squirrels did!
  • andrea tomkins: Good gourds! ;)
  • binki: Looks like gourds.
  • Sara: We have a family of groundhogs behind our house, about six of them and one is completely black. We're in the bayshore area, so there's two!
  • andrea tomkins: Frankly, it's impossible to point to a movie/doll/Princess Candyland and blame that for any outcome. There are so many other factors involved in raisi

The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our two daughters Emma (17) and Sarah (15). I am the managing editor of our community newspaper, the Kitchissippi Times, and a regular contributor to MediaSmarts.ca. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger, and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999... which makes me either a total dinosaur or a veteran, I'm not sure which! The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

If you'd like to contact me, please use this form. If you're so inclined, you can read more about me here. Thank you for visiting!


My right hand is actually a camera

Connect with me at these places too!

The #dailylunches project – 1000 lunches and counting

Every day I eat lunch and take a picture. Here's the latest:

Created with flickr badge.

Click the photo for details: what it is, where I ate it (if it's worth a mention!) and how to cook it (if there happens to be a recipe). You can also read more about this project right here.


On the nightstand

On this date in the archives

All hail the mighty Twitter