We Tried This: Breakout Waikīkī
7 things you should know about one of Honolulu’s escape rooms.
Editors’ note: The HONOLULU Magazine staff is always excited to try new things. With this web series, we bring you activities we tried for the first time—a new one every fourth Wednesday of the month.
Photos: Brittney Nitta-Lee
Imagine being stuck in a room and having to find clues and solve puzzles in order to unlock the door. It’s your team against the clock and the odds are stacked against you—can you get out in time?
This is the concept of an escape room, a trend on the Mainland that has recently made its way to Hawai‘i. One such company, Breakout Waikīkī, invited us to check it out, so we put together a team of six: myself, web producer Brittney Nitta-Lee, digital media manager Diane Lee, art director Stephen Guzman, associate art director Gary Saito, and marketing and special projects editor Bianca Sewake.
Breakout offers three different themed rooms, with a fourth scheduled to open in about a month. We chose The Hatch, which had only an 18-percent success rate when we signed up, compared to Room 13’s 28 percent and Mission Mānoa’s 21 percent.
In order to succeed, you have to work as a team to solve all the clues hidden in the room within one hour. Though we can’t spoil any of the tasks you’ll have to complete, we can tell you it’s all about critical thinking and problem solving, with the staff sending you occasional hints via a monitor (yes, they watch and listen to you struggle). Basically, it’s a live-action video game.
Awesome, right? Yes. Even if you don’t succeed (which we didn’t. But we were so close!).
One of many locks that you have to open.
1. WHO MIGHT BE INTERESTED?
According to Breakout manager MacGregor Greenlee, escape rooms are great for everyone from families (ages 14 and under with adult) to couples to colleagues. With rooms accommodating two to eight people (minimum four for The Hatch), Breakout is perfect for an out-of-the-box date night, party or team-building activity. Once you book a room it’s yours, so no outsiders can join—it’s just your group.
We recommend going with competitive people who think differently from each other. We went with a mix of artists and writers, which came in handy when those who were more visual or hands-on were able to solve codes that were totally lost on others.
2. WHEN TO GO
Reservations are required, but you have plenty of options—each room is available once every hour-and-a-half, with them all starting 15 minutes apart. The first slot is at 8 a.m. (Room 13), and the last is at 11:30 p.m. (The Hatch). Go when your mind is at its sharpest! For the most options, book at least a week in advance. See the schedule and sign up for your room here.
Make sure to arrive at least 15 to 20 minutes early to sign a waiver and go through all the rules with the staff. If you arrive late, you may have less than an hour to escape so the next appointment can start on time.
3. WHERE IS IT?
Even though the address is on Ka‘iulani Street, Breakout Waikīkī is accessible from Prince Edward Street.
4. HOW WE FELT (BEFORE)
Gary: When we first got there, I felt pretty calm. I tried not to think about anything so I wouldn’t make myself nervous, or have any expectations.
Brittney: I downloaded an escape-room app to practice, because I was so excited to do it. I’m also kind of competitive, so I was pretty determined to escape out of the room.
Stephen: Happy with anticipation, and rushing for parking!
Diane: I was really suspicious of the escape room. I mean, how hard could it be to solve puzzles with a big group? I read a couple of generic tips and tricks for conquering escape rooms the night before the event. Unfortunately, the stories didn’t divulge too much information about what kinds of puzzles you’d be solving. Would I need to use algebra skills? Would my useless-facts knowledge come in handy? I was anxious to find out what puzzles we’d be solving.
5. HOW WE FELT (AFTER)
The Hatch has many tasks that each team needs to complete to unlock more clues.
Brittney: The app didn’t help at all.
Diane: I was really surprised to discover the intensity of the puzzles. Eventually, everything connected and made sense. It felt like we were a real-life Sherlock Holmes team trying to solve a mystery.
Katrina: When it was down to the last minute and the clock started making noise for us to hurry up, I freaked out. I was going as fast as I could to finish the puzzle I was on, shouting codes with my heart beating super fast. It took me a while afterward to calm down from all the anxiety and adrenaline. But I had an awesome time.
Gary: Good. Had a lot of fun, too bad we didn’t make it out, though. I don’t feel like I was really stressed by this. Compared to closing an issue, this was nothing.
Bianca: I had a lot of fun being so stressed out. I was surprised at how well thought-out this was. I’m glad they don’t allow picture-taking in there and that I knew nothing about it for my first time, because not knowing what to expect allowed for this great feeling of discovery and joy whenever we figured out clues to complete puzzles.
6. WOULD WE GO AGAIN?
Stephen: Yes, a different room, though, since I already know what’s gonna happen in the first room.
Katrina: Absolutely. Now that I have a better understanding of how it all works (and because we were literally only a minute or two away from breaking out), I’m that much more motivated and confident. Plus, it was like being on a game show. Who didn’t dream of being on Legends of the Hidden Temple as a kid?
Gary: I would definitely go again and try the other rooms. I would only go to the same room with people who have already done it to try a speed run. I think what made this fun was finding the solutions together as a team.
Brittney: It was stressful, but I would go again because it was super fun. Even though we didn’t break out, it was exciting to unlock clues and use your brain to crack cryptic codes.
Left to right: Stephen Guzman, Gary Saito, Diane Lee, Katrina Valcourt, Bianca Sewake and Brittney Nitta-Lee.
It doesn’t really matter which room you pick—while The Hatch had an 18-percent success rate when we signed up last week, it was up to 21 percent when we tried it (no thanks to us).
Don’t worry about studying trivia. The puzzles are all about critical thinking, knowing where to look, problem solving and teamwork.
If you get stuck on something, move on and find something else. Chances are it’s part of a bigger puzzle and there will be another clue that will make it much clearer later on. Just don’t forget about it.
If you need to use the bathroom, take a phone call or leave for any reason, you’re not actually locked in—there’s a button by the door that will let you out, but keep in mind that the clock will not stop.
If you’re claustrophobic, be aware that the rooms average about 225 square feet, which can feel a little cramped if you have a large group.
In addition to the free hints on the monitor, you are allowed to ask for help three times. Make sure you communicate with your team about when you want to ask—don’t be proud! We asked for ours when there were 45, 30 and 15 minutes remaining, when there was at least one person not actively working on a clue. You can’t afford to waste time.
If you are still totally stuck, you can ask for more hints. Each additional hint will add three minutes to your final score—as long as you break out within 60 minutes.
No photos or cell phones. But, really, nothing on them would help you, unless someone who has gone through before is telling you all the answers. But that’s no fun.
The more people who go, the cheaper the rate is per person. For example, it’s $40 a person for two people, but it’s only $28 each if you have eight people on your team.