Local Spotlight is Third Person's feature on Toronto and all it has to offer. From events that make our city a creative hub, to places where great work is made and seen, to the people that make it all happen. We'll be telling the stories of what happens in our own backyard.
Down below the gilded halls of Casa Loma lurks a secret, a hidden tunnel to a speakeasy and an empire of bootlegging in 1920s Prohibition Toronto. Tasked by Bessi Perri and her crew, you and your team set to dismantling her husband's cryptic puzzles and clues to gain access and take over his ill-gotten gains. The police have been alerted though, and with only an hour on the clock, time is ticking.
On July 19th I attended my first escape room outing with editor-in-chief Colin Cummings, an escape room veteran! I wasn’t really sure what to expect, as the only escape rooms I had any experience with up until that point were the ones in the cult favourite handheld game series Zero Escape. I understood the basic concept of escape rooms (stringing together a series of solved puzzles in order to find a key/way out of a locked room), but what I didn’t get was how elaborate these games could be designed.
On talk show and YouTube specials escape rooms seem gimmicky, in-person, however, they’re a whole other story. The escape room series Colin and I attended was called “King of the Bootleggers” and took place in the tunnels beneath Casa Loma, dressed up as a 1920s speakeasy (including a parlour, brewery, library, and barroom). Secret City Adventures spiced things up with a colourful cast of characters including a scheming gangster wife, an undercover cop, and witty mobsters.
The dramatization added extra wrinkles to each interconnected puzzle and is unique to Secret City’s brand of escape room. For each puzzle, the attendant actor who would act as an almost reliable guide, dropping hints in the form of dialogue and sometimes leading you astray if you weren’t attentive to their delivery. Colin and I joined the library team of puzzle solvers and became involved in a clever session of decoding via light, books, stained glass windows, and postcards (I promise you this takes nothing away from the puzzle).
By the end of the overarching escape room narrative (about nabbing the paranoid Gangster Rocco Perri’s treasure before the cops arrive), there were enough surprises to keep us all racing to find the exit. Ultimately, we ran out of time, but somehow that didn’t matter. The whole experience was alike to interactive theatre, so just being a part of the cast as the intrepid yet unfortunately named “Polkaroos” was rewarding enough.
As Phoenix mentioned above, part of our editorial team took a fun outing to Casa Loma in Toronto to transport back to the 1920s, and attempt to wrest control of a bootlegging empire from a liquor baron and gangster. Having previously experienced Secret City Adventures’ “Where The Dark Things Dwell”, I knew I was in for an evening of puzzle-solving amongst an excellent cast of characters.
“King of the Bootleggers” did not disappoint and between Phoenix, myself, and some helpful teammates, we tackled the challenges before us with gusto. Our team was immediately separated into a few distinct groups, led by a single cast member, and secreted away to complete puzzles in different rooms before coming back together at the end to work on puzzles that spanned the whole “space”. Using a mix of the practical and the known, the puzzles found that perfect middle ground of being challenging but not frustratingly so. Secret City use a clever mix of familiar puzzle tropes, with thematic touches and practical effects, to guide the player and immerse them in the story they are weaving.
A complaint I did have with “Bootleggers” that I did not with “Where the Dark Things Dwell” is their use of integrating the player groups together. We found ourselves finishing our room early and were tasked with assisting other groups, however, it felt like “too many cooks in the kitchen” and crashing other groups’ finales within their rooms felt too busy, and introduced too much chaos. We ultimately ran out of time before finishing the last bit of the puzzles and I felt that was due to stepping on each other’s toes.
High production quality and fantastic actors that both guide and storytell, help make “King of the Bootleggers” and other Secret City ventures feel like stepping into a movie, a classic adventure story that ultimately balances and blends familiar themes and puzzles conventions.
Secret City Adventures are doing great things out at Casa Loma, and at Black Creek Pioneer Village as well! As mentioned by our former editor Logan, these "escape room" games are video games come to life, allowing us to interact and puzzle solve in a way that games will never let us do. The feeling of solving that puzzle that is directly in your hands, and scouring over a room to physically find clues is rewarding. Thanks again to Secret City for inviting us out, and we look forward to their future endeavours!
Monday – Friday
5:45PM / 7:45PM / 9:45PM
Saturday & Sunday
3:45PM / 5:45PM / 7:45PM / 9:45PM
$40.00 + HST / General
$46.00 + HST / Prime Time
Holiday ticket prices will vary
Complimentary passes were provided to Third Person by Secret City Adventures.