Escape Room In A Box Turned Two Writers Into Pro Puzzlers

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Ariel Rubin and Juliana Patel had a lot in common even before they became professional puzzle makers. Both were writers, both were moms, both shared a love of board games and escape rooms. They also didn’t love traveling to some of those early escape rooms.

“Escape rooms used to just be in terrible, sketchy neighborhoods. Nobody knew if it was going to work yet,” Rubin told Player.One “I remember sitting in my car and calling my friends to come walk me to the front door of the escape room.”

Rubin and Patel figured there had to be a way to replicate the fun of an escape room, without the hassles. The two would meet on playdates (for their kids, or so they say) to talk about things they liked and didn’t like from different escape rooms they had tried.

“The very first thing we did, and I remember this so clearly, Juliana was pushing both her younger son and my older son on swings and I was standing next to her with a notebook, and we were writing down every puzzle we’ve liked from escape rooms,” Rubin said. “That was the first thing, was just writing down what we loved.”

To keep track of everything, Rubin and Patel started with a map. “We started drawing out the map because we wanted to make sure that for each answer, you had to have it correct,” Patel said.

“You could just fill it out with any answer and think that you were done, so we put in all the meta puzzles to make sure that you did have the correct answers to the other puzzles. We knew when we designed it from the beginning that there would be lots to do and lots of puzzles to make sure everyone had something to do.”

Patel and Rubin also made sure everyone playing had something to do. Just like they did to get ideas for fun puzzles, the two made a list of everything they didn’t like in escape rooms, to make sure a group would have fun.

“One is red herrings, we hate red herrings,” said Rubin. “Another is Bottlenecks. It just really sucks when everyone is working on something then suddenly you’re all just standing there watching one person do the only puzzle that there is to do. We tried to avoid that as much as possible.”

Once the team decided on a final product, the next hurdle was manufacturing the game. Unlike a traditional board game, Escape Room In A Box has a number of unique and elaborate physical components. This isn’t just a box of cards, after all. Even more challenging: the box has to be organized in such a specific way as to not ruin any puzzles hidden inside.

“We got rejected by multiple game manufacturing factories. They were all saying ‘this is way too complicated, you have too many source components, the assembly for it is just way too much and we’re not going to do this,’” Patel said. “So we actually found a company that primarily does toys instead of games.”

The real saving grace has been a partnership with Mattel. The first printing of Escape Room In A Box was done entirely on their own but once the big brand got on board, the manufacturing process became a breeze. “Being able to hand that over to Mattel is absolutely fantastic,” said Patel.

Our full review goes more in-depth with how Escape Room In A Box actually works, but one of the most common questions is about replayability. Because of the nature of some of the puzzles in The Werewolf Experiment, it may seem like this is a one-time-use experience. However, there are options to play again, even if you don’t want to wait a year to forget all the answers.

“People were asking about replayability early on, and we thought about it too because we’re both tabletop gamers. It’s not just that you can reset the puzzles and give your friends the box. There’s a host script that you can find online, and there are elements in the game you don’t put back in like the hints and the bonus puzzle,” Rubin explained. “The host script gives you a more physical bonus puzzle that you run. It also gives you things to say during the game, and you can decide whether to give your friends hints. You basically become the dungeon master for the game.”

Because of how the game is structured, players can also wait a bit, then try again. “With all the puzzles for everyone to do, there’s probably a good portion of the puzzles you never even saw in the first place,” said Patel. “After a year, you aren’t going to remember any of the answers anymore.”

The team even tested with groups who had solved the puzzle previously to see if there was still a challenge the second time around. “We were surprised. I played with a group that had already played and beat it a year before,” Rubin said. “They went in confident that they were going to breeze through it, but their time was actually longer than it was before.”

Now that the latest edition of Escape Room In A Box: The Werewolf Experiment has officially released, Rubin and Patel have their sights set on the next version of Escape Room In A Box, but that isn’t the only thing keeping the pair busy. Since the success of the initial Kickstarter, Rubin and Patel have started a business making customized puzzles for different people and events.

“We have another company called Wild Optimists that makes custom puzzles designs for a variety of clients,” Patel said. “We’ve done centerpiece puzzles at galas, treasure hunts through weddings and we just recently did a completely personalized escape room for a marriage proposal. It was all completely personal puzzles, personal props.”

Additionally, the two have been working on ideas for new games that are more traditional experiences than at-home escape rooms. With all these new avenues, life seems pretty hectic for Rubin and Patel, but the two seem happier as pro puzzlers than ever before.

“We’re both writers and we’re both moms. That takes up a lot of time. I’m not sure how we fit in puzzles,” Rubin said.

Patel was quick to respond, saying “To be fair, all the writing we do now is for puzzles.”

So what do you think? Are you interested in trying Escape Room In A Box with your group of friends? What do you hope the next escape room experience will be like from Patel and Rubin? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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