If you’ve ever dreamed of starring in a real-life heist film, Puzzah’s newest challenge is for you. The LoDo-based venue’s latest “puzzle room” — an hour-long interactive game that mashes up a live escape room with electromechanical puzzles — puts players in the shoes of a team of thieves tasked with retrieving an ancient Chinese coin, in a scenario straight out of Mission: Impossible or The Italian Job.
“It’s just such a classic fantasy, being a spy,” says Ryan Pachmeyer, one of the partners who runs Puzzah. “A lot of kids growing up want to be spies. It’s a way to let people experience that.”
The Steal is Puzzah’s first expansion since the venue launched its Blake Street location last October with a single puzzle room, Tick Tock. That first mission, which tasked players with defusing a mad composer’s bomb, has proven so popular that Puzzah is constructing a duplicate of it in one of its vacant rooms to accommodate demand.
“We’ve been steadily growing since we opened on Halloween,” says Pachmeyer. “We expect that with this room finally fully launching, it should grow even more.” Weekend nights are often booked solid; patrons who want a specific slot sometimes have to make reservations more than a week in advance.
Without spoiling its secrets, The Steal is more immersive than its predecessor in many ways. The puzzles, while outwardly simple, take a little more finesse, and force players to make sometimes unexpected connections in order to beat the time limit and claim the prize.
Like Tick Tock, The Steal was created entirely in-house, with co-owner Derek Anderson heading up the process. (Puzzah's third partner, Sarah Cai, handles the venue's marketing.) The initial stages went quickly; Anderson says it took about forty hours to get a design for the room down on paper.
Putting those designs into practice was much trickier. The team started building out the room in November, but quickly found itself bogged down in delays. An employee who was heavily involved in the hardware design had a family emergency and had to take several weeks off.
Testing uncovered more issues with The Steal’s systems. Shortly after receiving its first players, the room’s electronic puzzles suddenly began to stop working. The team's members quickly realized that the vinyl tile they had used was generating static electricity as players scuffed their rubber-soled shoes on the floor. “We went from a functioning room to frying all the circuit boards,” recalls Anderson. An anti-static coating for the floor solved the problem, but they had to close the room for several days while it cured.
The building’s fluctuating voltage posed another problem. “At nights and on weekends, it would work. We sent a lot of happy groups through. And we would try it during the daytime, and it wouldn’t work,” says Anderson. “And sure enough, when you think about what’s different between those times, it’s that you have different people in the building using power, and different people in the neighborhood using power.” It took the Puzzah partners several rounds of trial and error before they figured out how to clean up the voltage to a consistent level.
A third game room is in the works. While Anderson and Pachmeyer are keeping the details to themselves, they say that they’ve designed all the puzzles, but haven’t finished creating the larger narrative. For now, though, they’re enjoying seeing their latest creation in action.
“This is the exact thing that I would go and do,” says Anderson. “I would love if someone had done this before, but no one has. So we did it, and we’re just getting better at it.”
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