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.
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