“What in the world is an escape room?”

I asked that question several times throughout the years and never got a clear answer.

In 2015, while interning at a radio station in Manhattan, I was hearing about escape rooms on a daily basis. I never had time to go and I never bothered to look further into it. Then, when I moved to New York permanently in 2016, my sister would regularly mention how much she wanted to try one out. I was too caught up in the city grind and never dug deeper. But this year, to my surprise, I received a message inviting me to finally experience the elusive attraction. Recently, during one unusually warm winter night, I hopped on the 3 train and trucked it to uptown Manhattan to discover what all the fuss is about.

The best way to grasp what an escape room is about is to go to one, but if I were to try and describe the experience, I would compare it to the popular Saw movie franchise—the thrill and excitement of trying to free yourself from a strange, and sometimes quirky, puzzle filled room — minus the terrible macabre deaths (thank God). They make you think way beyond the ordinary, and Hoodwinked Escape, a black-owned escape room in the heart of Harlem, delivers excitement beyond your most logical expectations.

Photo: Hoodwinked EscapePhoto: Hoodwinked Escape

After experiencing an escape room for herself, Hoodwinked Escape owner, Michele Ware, was driven to leave her 25-year career in finance, and jump into the physical adventure game's booming business. “I was exposed to the concept of escape rooms in 2014, after taking the accounting department staff I managed out for a team building exercise. The concept was profound to me as it created lots of emotions, and brought out the best in my staff, as we got to know each other outside of the office. I immediately thought, "that’s it." This is the business concept that allowed me to take a leap of faith, and utilize all the management and leadership skills I developed over the years, into a business that transforms lives,” said Ware.

Photo: Regina FlemingPhoto: Regina Fleming

Hoodwinked Escape gives you four unique, mind-boggling rooms to try and crack. I tackled the “Spy Academy” room alongside Blavity's managing editor, Brandon. We were accompanied by three other diverse strangers. The five of us were locked in a random classroom and given 60 minutes to attempt to find a way out. Without spoiling the undertaking for you, we five strangers oddly grew connected through the process of rescuing one of the members from (fake) peril, breaking combination locks, deciphering odd messages and firing laser guns at hidden targets. Unfortunately for us, time ran out and we didn’t complete our mission successfully, but the fun we had couldn’t be denied.

After our mission, we were given an exclusive tour of the remaining three rooms. There was “Hangover II," a college (HBCU, if you like) dorm complete with suggestions of higher education mischief, “The Experiment Room," a dark laboratory that’ll easily send a chill up your spine and “Spirit of Harlem," an ode to the golden days of the cherished neighborhood Hoodwinked Escape resides in.

Photo: Hoodwinked Escape

When asked about future plans for Hoodwinked Escape, Ware, like a true puzzle architect, was intriguingly tight-lipped. “I have a few amazing opportunities in the works, however, what I can share is that I’m looking at bringing the concept to new markets, and will continue to entice my clue finders with new rooms that are even more immersive, high-tech and full sensory.”

With that said, I’m looking forward to returning soon…and next time, actually escaping.