Activities for your visit

Ocracoke Escape Room presents piratical puzzle

The Howard group is victorious conquering the Escape Room. Zoe Howard is third from left.

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By Zoe Howard

During the introduction to the Ocracoke Escape Room, I was presented with a conundrum: After searching through “William Howard’s house,” was our group going to save Ocracoke from piracy, or save the pirates?

My family all looked at me.

“I don’t want to sabotage my own family,” I said.

We had only one hour to decide.

Ocracoke Escape Room’s theme is an Ocracoke-centric, post-Blackbeard mystery.

This was my first time in an escape room, and while I was slightly familiar with virtual room-escape games, I wasn’t completely sure what a real escape room would be like but was looking forward to it all the same.

In an escape room, a team of players is “locked” in a room and must solve clues and work out puzzles to “escape” the room.  

Ocracoke’s addition to this craze is in the Coyote Music Den building in Community Square. Operated by Marcy Brenner and Ruth Jordan, the escape room opened in May. 

Escape rooms–combining elements of scavenger hunts, haunted houses and mazes–were born primarily out of video games from the 1990s and 2000s, but their origins can be traced even further to British game shows in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

One of these, The Crystal Maze, required a team of contestants to complete timed puzzles and solve clues in an elaborate closed set that looked very similar to present day escape rooms. A current iteration of The Crystal Maze is a real-life escape room in London.

Following these television shows came video games.

In 1993’s popular immersive PC game Myst, players solve puzzles to travel to other worlds. Myst was the beginning of a surge in room-escape video games that eventually morphed into escape rooms.

The first escape room opened in 2007 in Japan, and the popularity of escape rooms grew worldwide.

Escape Room Co-proprietor Ruth Jordan relates the mission to would-be escapees. Photo: C. Leinbach

The six players in our team spanned ages 10 to 82, and the Ocracoke Escape Room was sufficiently challenging for all involved.

We admittedly wasted the first half hour wandering about the room, slow to get started and asking each other what we should do.

By the second half of the hour, we were figuring out how each of our brains worked through the puzzles we were presented with, and our progress sped up. Some of us were better at figuring out number combinations while others were better at decoding written clues.

Coordination and cooperation also were the keys, and after we had finally gotten it together and received our three hints, and despite guessing on the last two clues, we managed to escape the room.

Our game master, Johnny Brodisch, who introduced the game and the rules while wearing a tricorn pirate hat, said later that he didn’t think we were going to make it out, but we made the Leaderboard with a time of 59 minutes and 45 seconds, just 15 seconds shy of losing the game.

We all had a wonderful time and wish we could do it again if it were possible.

And I don’t think I have to tell you our final choice; we named ourselves “Save the Howards.”

To play, reservations are required and the best way to do that is online at www.ocracokeescape.com.

Reservations are available for Saturdays and Sundays from 3 to 9 p.m., and Wednesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

This schedule will run through September and then by reservation for the rest of the year.

Zoe Howard. Photo: P. Vankevich

Zoe Howard graduated from Agnes Scott College in 2018 with degrees in English and history. She spent her second summer on Ocracoke working in her grandfather Philip Howard’s shop, The Village Craftsmen, and acting in her grandmother Julie Howard’s musical, A Tale of Blackbeard.  Her Ocracoke roots go back 10 generations; she is a direct descendant of William Howard, Blackbeard’s quartermaster.