If you’ve been down 18th Street in downtown Denver lately, you might have spotted an eye-catching billboard that seems to be inviting you to do something rather explicit to yourself. Look a little closer, though, and you’ll see that its message is a puzzle, a simple cipher that replaces letters with numbers and invites you to "Come Free Yourself."
The billboard is the latest advertising campaign for the Denver Escape Room, one of the early pioneers of the live-action games that have exploded nationwide, places where you must puzzle your way out of mazes and mysteries before the clock runs out. But are drivers and pedestrians making the connection?
“Overall, the response has been very positive,” says Denver Escape Room marketing manager Melissa Hirsch. “Most people get the puzzle and joke, though sometimes it takes a minute to figure it out. Our guests know a puzzle when they see one.”
The company has escape rooms in a half-dozen cities. According to Hirsch, one of the billboard companies that her outfit works with thought that the "Come F Yourself" concept was the most creative it had seen in a long time, while another had to check with local ordinances to ensure that the puzzle was fit for public display. Ultimately, Outfront Media’s Denver outdoor advertising branch put it up without comment.
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“We discussed the campaign at length to both keep it fun and make it clear that it’s a puzzle, and we’re thrilled it came to fruition,” says Hirsch. “It puts on display one of our favorite things about escape rooms: the fact that things are not always what they first appear to be. We hope this campaign will inspire people to try an escape room.”
There’s plenty to try, too. At its location at 11674 North Huron in Northglenn, the Denver Escape Room has several games running; each room has its own theme and storyline. Teams of two or more (at $25 per person) can enter a steampunk dystopia to try to save the underground city, a mystical bookshop to rescue a magical creature, a pirate ship to capture the hidden treasure, and more. Players work together to come up with an escape route before the hour is up.
“Ten different people can look at an escape room ten different ways,” says Sebastian Ponce, chief operations officer. “It never ceases to amaze me the creative and innovative ways people approach problem-solving.”
Solving the cheeky “Come F_ _ _ Yourself” billboard message is the kind of puzzle you'll need to grapple with in order to escape from a Denver Escape Room. “The message is that things are not always what they seem,” explains Ponce, echoing Hirsch's take. “The goal is to grab your attention, but also engage in critical thinking and willingness to see past the obvious. This is also very true of the escape-room experience.”