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Harlem’s only escape room venue expands

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Harlem’s premier escape room locale Hoodwinked Escape opens two new rooms for adventure seekers this month. The additional rooms are now part of the businesses new thrills called “Spy Academy” and “The Experiment,” which challenges guests to become spies, solve puzzles, and discover new mysteries.

In the rooms, groups of two or more are placed in a room and have one objective — find their way out in an hour using the clues. The themes for the rooms took some time to come up with but was already in the works since Hoodwinked Escape opened, said the founder and creator Michele Ware.

“Towards the end of last year, I knew that within the first couple of months I wanted to open two new rooms,” said Ware. “It took two weeks — I got my team together and we sat around and talked about what we can do.”

She also brainstormed and surveyed about 100 customers to specialize a theme based on her findings.

“I sit in a quiet space and begin to visualize the look of a room and experience what people might feel,” she said. “Then I begin the process to see what is of interest to my clue finders and I narrowed it down to those two types of rooms.”

But one room in particular was especially enjoyable to create because it comes with unique tasks that require a lot of thinking and group work, said Ware.

“The concept of the spy academy was enticing and it was really a fun process,” she said.

Hoodwinked Escape opened in 2015 as Harlem’s first and only escape room venue. Escape rooms are physical adventure games where groups of people are locked in a room without phones and have to use their cognitive skills to solve a series of clues to find their way out.

The new rooms join mainstay rooms, “Spirit of Harlem” and “The Hangover II,” which transport adventurers explore into the Harlem Renaissance era to find treasure, and making their way out of a college dorm room replica.

So many of Ware’s customers return and want to challenge themselves to new missions, and that demand is why she emphasizes keeping her ideas fresh, she said.

“The industry itself evolves and I want to bring bigger excitement to my customers and to stay on top of where technology is going and what people are liking,” said Ware.

Ware says she enjoys seeing people hesitantly enter the rooms but leave feeling that they have achieved something when they reach the end. And the games are a fun opportunity to explore because they come with several benefits aside from thrill-seeking.

“It’s the excitement that people feel and experience, and the feeling of accomplishment when they come out,” said Ware. “There’s a sense of inspiration to come back and do another one, and just seeing the transformation that takes place in that room is super amazing to me.”

It is also a test on leadership and communication skills, and participating in an escape room experience with friends is the best way to try it, said Ware.

“People come here with their friends, family, and coworkers and they know it’s a bonding experience,” she said. “Under all of that fun is a lot of education and it’s kind of like an experimental learning process without realizing it — because you can’t use your phone and you have to use your mind which goes back to the basics of pure communication with people you may or may not know.”

Rooms are currently available to book for groups of about 32-38, and it serves as a great activity as an alternate to movies or arcades, according to Ware.

Hoodwinked Escape is located at 151 W. 116th St. between 7th and Lenox avenues in Harlem, www.hoodwinkedescape.com, (212) 662-2583]. $28.

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at asimon@cnglocal.com.

Updated 5:02 pm, March 21, 2017
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