All of a sudden, a voice breaks in over the intercom, a man with the broad accent of a gold prospector from an old Hollywood film. You’ve been abducted by aliens, he says. And you’re going to need to solve some puzzles if you want to get home.
So begins Specimen, one of the immersive “missions” at Puzzah’s new location at FlatIron Crossing in Broomfield. Since opening its first location on Blake Street in 2014, Puzzah has established itself with its “puzzle rooms,” a variation on escape rooms that rely heavily on computer-controlled electro-mechanical puzzles custom-made in Denver. Now the company is hoping that its unique take on entertainment will find a fresh audience in the suburbs.
Visitors who have played an escape room before will immediately notice a few differences about Specimen. There are no drawers to search or secret journals to decipher. Instead, players match wits with a variety of electronic puzzles designed to test everything from their deductive reasoning to their pattern recognition. There’s no hidden key to discover, but team members might find themselves relaying instructions to each other across the room while one person tries to operate an alien device.
Puzzah is also notable for its user-friendliness: While most escape rooms wear their low success rates like a point of pride, this one wants you to succeed. The venue’s computer-controlled “adaptive clue system” adjusts the difficulty depending on how long players are taking. Slow groups get extra clues from the narrator; fast groups may get bonus puzzles.
“It’s kind of like playing a stage in Mario,” says Ryan Pachmayer, one of the partners behind Puzzah. “Beating the stage isn’t necessarily hard, but if you want to beat the stage with more than 10,000 coins, it’s going to be a lot harder. If you want to unlock one of those secret bonus levels, it’s going to be a lot more challenging.”
While Puzzah’s owners didn’t change their basic formula for the new location, they did make a few adjustments. Half of the games in the new venue will be shorter, thirty-minute experiences designed to appeal to time-crunched mall-goers who may stumble upon the store. Along with adult customers, they expect to see more families at FlatIron Crossing as well, and so they had to design their new games to be accessible to any kids who might have the misfortune of being kidnapped by extraterrestrials.
“We went through a lot of play-testing,” recalls Pachmayer. “We brought a bunch of [paper versions of the] puzzles out to the mall, and we would just stop people who were walking by and say, ‘Hey, do you and your kids want to try out this puzzle?’”
Puzzah’s new space has room for four game rooms, and the owners already have two more in the works, including a comic-book-inspired room that will cast players as superheroes. After the venue is full, Pachmayer says they plan to update it with a fresh game every few months so that repeat visitors always have a new experience to play.
“We’re trying to be seen by customers like a movie theater,” he says. “You see a movie, then you come back a couple months later and see another.”