Escape Rooms Test Teamwork

By: Sandy Churchill


When we hear of “breaking out” of old patterns to forge new habits, the saying might seem cliché, but our family experienced the scenario quite literally with an “escape room” challenge on vacation.

The setting: Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada—on a rainy day en route home from a family summer vacation to Prince Edward Island.

The characters: My husband, me, our two graduate-school daughters and 12 year-old son.

Opening scene: An “escape room” adventure place in downtown Saint John, New Brunswick, where tourists and/or locals shell out about $15-$20 a person to be locked in a room with a timed quest to “escape” with more brains than brawn. Blood pressure meds, anyone?

Lighting: Dim

Mood: Suspenseful! We didn’t know what to expect given we were just informed by our trusty guide that only 20% of participants complete the challenge at all—even with hints!


Enter the weary travelers—exhausted, apprehensive, but excited and ready to take on the challenge.

Action!  The one-hour time is set and a bold-faced clock taunted us with our track record of speedy (or lack of) progress as we scramble all over the room like lunatics—racing to unearth clues, find locked safes, decipher codes, and solve the complex maze of random facts, sayings, number puzzles, and challenges posed to confuse, help, and hinder, all at once.

Before long, my 22 year-old daughter and I were dusting off our multiple-variable algebra know-how to solve for x, y, and z; while my husband and 24 year-old tackled word tiles, and my son set out to decipher a domino puzzle.

Hearts raced as we progressed in word and number clues, succeeded in solving a musical quest, and mirrored a laser to open a secret room! Soon, test tubes, bone and organ models, pathology slides, and a paint-splattered lab coat steered us to a magnetized maze, scented specimens, and more alpha-numerics.

Tensions rose as our daughters shouted frustrated orders to the rest of us to proceed this way or that—and we rose above snarky responses to dig in and power through the challenge at hand.

Did we proceed calmly and patiently? No! There was no time for type B discourse and quiet sentiment. The gauntlet was thrown down and we were no slouches at team challenges, given our quirky obsession with strategic board games and over-the-top competitive family spirit!

Here’s what we learned: breaking into teams of two or three and “multi-tasking”—so mini-groups of us problem-solved at the same time—worked for us. One daughter and I worked on a number challenge while my husband and son tackled a spacial equation and my older daughter led the word quest for sequential clues.

Every member mattered. We each contributed something and the pairs were switching task to task. My husband and I unearthed medical clues while our daughters tackled a periodic table challenge and our son scrambled to release padlocks with newly-found keys.

Twice we resorted to hints when a member panicked—but progress ensued with abandon, and teamwork reigned. So do the Churchills work well under pressure? Yes! Commitment to do our best pushed us ahead and adrenaline soared as our twice-appearing guide chanted encouragement with “You guys are crushin’ it!”

Climax: The worthy 20%,make room for our crazy clan! We did it with just over two minutes to spare, and saved the world from biochemical annihilation!


Denouement: A “success photo” pose with funny signs and weary smiles—plus the triumphant “life lesson” spirit—that when push comes to shove, we can dig in, communicate, get it done, and rise to the challenge.

Now that’s vacation money well spent!

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