Time was running out.
I started to become acutely aware of the rising stress levels of the people in the room—strangers and friends.
Without discussing it, the group had split up into pairs, each working on a separate challenge and deep in discussion. As we rummaged through helmets, depicted codes and pondered our surroundings for hidden clues—under furniture, in books, in pictures, on maps—it occurred to me that we may not beat the ever-nearing deadline.
If we could not decipher the final code that needed to be entered into the laptop, the missile would fire, and we would all meet an untimely, tragic end. These were the thoughts that bombarded my mind in the final few minutes of my time in Outside the Box Escape Room in downtown Harrisburg.
Outside the Box is one of a handful of “escape rooms” in central PA, which feature fun, adrenaline-pumping games where small groups of people, locked in a room, work together under intense time pressure to solve a perplexing riddle—often with the fate of mankind at stake. Once the puzzle is solved, the locked door bursts open, allowing humanity’s saviors to return to their far more mundane lives as accountants or state workers or whatever.
Sets Us Apart
Our group, four friends, had reserved our spots on a whim. While waiting in the lobby, we met our two team members, Raul and Elaine Otano. It was their first time, as well.
Before entering the room, Outside the Box’s manager, Sean Michael Kelly, gave us a rundown of the do’s and don’ts, as well as a briefing on our mission. We were part of a covert operations team that had been dropped behind enemy lines, he said. We had to infiltrate the enemy’s command center and disrupt an impending act of mass destruction.
I was a little more prepared for what was coming than the rest of the group, as I had sat down to interview Kelly a few days before.
Besides handling Outside the Box’s day-to-day operations, Kelly pays close attention to how groups interact with the games. He tweaks steps to ensure the mission is challenging but not impossible. He also sends clues into rooms to nudge players when they seem stuck or go down a wrong path.
“I’ve always been trying to integrate games and education,” he said.
Many of the steps integrate technologies that make the experience relatable to an action film. Outside the Box’s owner, Benjamin Andreozzi, explained that this sets his escape room apart from others in the area. Additionally, it is more than double in size of the competition, he said.
“When we originally opened, we thought we’d be about the same size as some of our other competitors,” he said. “But because there is so much competition, we knew we had to do something different. So, we decided to basically triple—at least double—the size of the location so we can cater to large, corporate groups.”
And they have, with corporate groups quickly constituting a large portion of their business. The space even offers a meeting room so clients can hold a meeting on site. Outside the Box also puts time and investment into new, compelling rooms to keep people coming back.
In addition to the “Special Ops” escape room, Outside the Box currently offers two other rooms: “Outbreak,” where you have to stop a deadly virus from spreading, and “Wanted,” a Wild West-themed game.
“One of the things we take pride in is that there’s some pretty interesting electronical components and custom software—things that aren’t entry-level rooms,” Andreozzi said. “These are advanced, and there’s a degree of technology in them that sets us apart.”
To make the experience even more exhilarating, Outside the Box offers a racing challenge. Two groups can experience the exact same room—on different floors—to compete to see how quickly each group can decipher the clues and escape.
After escaping from the Special Ops room, I caught up with my once-strangers-now-teammates Raul and Elaine. They had come to Outside the Box to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary.
They identified the racing option as an experience they would come back for.
“We’re very competitive,” Raul said. “We’d love to get our families in here and compete.”
I asked Raul, who has a military background, and Elaine, who has law enforcement experience, if they felt that their action-packed credentials gave them a leg up in the escape.
“No!” Raul exclaimed.
“Absolutely not,” Elaine added and laughed.
The proximity to other social offerings in the city makes Outside the Box’s location on 2nd Street an ideal one, Andreozzi said. When considering where to open the business, he recognized the benefit of enhancing the downtown area with a unique entertainment experience.
“It was a balance between bringing something to the city that the city didn’t have and a supplement to the 9-to-5 job,” Andreozzi explained while expressing his passion and love for Harrisburg and what it has to offer.
Indeed, after our time in the escape room, my group ventured up the street to chat about our experience over a beverage. We discussed the rush and agreed that the “Special Ops” experience felt more authentic than any of us had anticipated. It was the perfect way to unwind and debrief after saving the world.
Outside the Box Escape Room is located at 717 N. 2nd St., Harrisburg. To make reservations and purchase tickets, visit www.OutsidetheBoxEscapeRoom.com or call 717-856-9076.
Author: Ashleigh Pollart