On this leg of our trip, we stayed in New Mexico and Arizona, and, after a very long nine hour drive from Phoenix, AZ, we arrived in Oceanside last night. (How do you spell exhausted?!)
Our first stop was in New Mexico, where we stayed at the Bernalillo KOA. It’s a nice park, but the best part was the secret path to the adjacent Kaktus Brewing Company, which had great green chile pepper pizza. We didn’t know it before we got there, but green chile peppers are kind of a big deal in New Mexico. They cultivate unique varieties and put them in a lot of different recipes. The pizza and the green chile pepper mac and cheese were excellent!
In addition to playing several escape rooms, we visited Meow Wolf: House of Eternal Return in Santa Fe. If you don’t know what it is, Meow Wolf is considered to be an “escape room adjacent” activity. House of Eternal Return is a huge immersive art exhibit that is based around the story of the missing Selig family, who have been swept into another dimension. You can choose to spend your visit trying to unravel the mystery of what happened to the family, or you can just explore. We did a bit of both. Unraveling the mystery requires A LOT of reading, (ain’t nobody got time for that) but we found a few combination locks, one on a safe and one slide lock tucked away on a wall that required some minor digging through the backstory to figure out the codes. There is also a room with light puzzles on the walls. If you solve all of them, a hidden printer will give you a surprise! Other than that bit of sleuthing, we explored and discovered. We went on a quest to find the so-called “smallest room” and were successful! Here is a hint if you decide to go on your own quest: there is a “secret” hidden on the tree with the chicken legs. We definitely recommend visiting!
From New Mexico, we went to Cottonwood, AZ, which is on the Verde River. Even in this small town we managed to find an escape room, but our main focus was on enjoying the unique desert and western-themed activities. We took a ride on the historic Verde Canyon Railroad, which follows the river for 20 miles through a beautiful canyon. It’s amazing that this green oasis exists in the middle of the desert! We also visited The Blazin’ M Ranch, which is a former working ranch turned miniature western town and dinner show. We went on a hayride, shot BB guns and even did a 10 minute escape room based on a bank heist! Tina also rode the mechanical bull, and is recovering from a slightly dislocated finger as a result. Luckily the bruising and swelling are starting to go away, but she says that she will leave the bull riding to the younger crowd from now on. If you follow our Facebook page, Mystery Soup Games, you can see the video evidence of her wild ride!
Despite Tina’s injury, we managed to play several escape rooms on this leg.
Bust Out Escape Room (Albuquerque, NM)
Area 53 - This was a fun, space/alien themed room. It was pretty straightforward. Nothing spectacular, but a solid room. Our game master was excellent. He also ran our second room
Escape Jumanji - This one was a blast. It was built around the Jumanji game from Indastroom. We really liked what they did with the set and gameplay. Highly Recommended (as long as they let you use your phone's flashlight - parts were hard to see).
New Mexico Escape Room (Albuquerque, NM)
Blackwell Manor - This was a creepy room that was just the right amount of creepiness for us. The puzzles were on the easier side for experienced players, but the game really was enjoyable and the set design was fantastic. Highly Recommended
Duel at Dusk - We hoped this was going to be more fun than it was. We've played a few western themed games and this was the weakest of them all. It wasn't bad per se, and the set design was pretty good, but overall the game was just meh.
Constant Evolution Escape Rooms (Cottonwood, AZ)
The J-Rome Mine - This was a venue in the small town of Cottonwood, so we weren't expecting a whole lot. The set design for this room was surprisingly good, though. It was a small two-room game, but it looked good. The puzzles were okay. We felt we were moving at a decent pace (none of the puzzles tripped us up too much), but we didn't finish. There was just too much to do for only 2 people.
The Collectors - This was a fun 80's themed escape room. We really enjoyed the nostalgia factor in this one-room game. If you didn't grow up in the 80's we aren't sure you'll enjoy this game, but we had fun. (What you talkin' bout, Willis?)
The Greatest Escape (Phoenix, AZ)
Isle of Wonder - This was a cute tiki-themed game.
What interested us about this place the most was that it was owned and run by a family of older school teachers. When COVID hit, they didn't like running classes on Zoom, so they got together, a few quit their jobs, and they started an escape room business. Neat story. Unfortunately, the lobby and hallway felt like someone's grandma was hired to do the interior decorating. It was a little strange and different in that way. But the game was fine. (You kids, get off my lawn!)
North Valley Escape Room (Phoenix, AZ)
Arizona Steampunk Railway - This game was interesting. The set is designed to make you feel like you're on an actual train. Both train cars shook the whole time and the scenery in the windows went rushing by. It was very cool in that respect. The game itself was okay. There was one puzzle of gears that came crashing down hitting Curt in the head and face. (He's okay. He sucked it up.) Also, there were a few puzzles that were not clear and ruined the flow, but we still enjoyed most of it. (All aboard!)
Escape the Room Phoenix (Phoenix, AZ)
Jurassic Escape - Ugh! The room/game, the game masters, and the place itself were a huge disappointment. This room had good reviews on Morty, which made us wonder if those that reviewed it played the same game as us. There were puzzles that didn't make sense, reset mistakes, items that were red herrings, and game masters that were inattentive and unapologetic. This was one of the worst escape room experiences we've had to date. In the bottom five for us.
Now let's get to the good stuff!!!
Paragon Escape Games (Mesa, AZ)
Return of the Pharaohs - This venue currently has just the one game, but they are building more. The set design was fantastic. When it comes to Egyptian-themed rooms, this is the best one we've played. The majority of the puzzles were really good, though one of them was not clear and we had to be directed by the game master as to what to look for. Curt enjoyed it more than Tina, but they both had a great time. This was the third room we played in Arizona where the floor was covered in sand. (I guess it's easy to find sand for your game when you're in the desert, but we don't particularly like having to empty our shoes at the end.) That aside, this room/game is Highly Recommended
The Immersive Machine (Phoenix, AZ)
Sal's Cybernetics - This was our FAVORITE game on this leg of our trip. It was so unique and the puzzles were a lot of fun. It had a cute hint system, as well. The set design was superb. There were a couple of tasks that Curt was not a fan of, but overall we both LOVED it from start to finish. We can't wait to return when they have their new game(s) built. This game is great for beginners and enthusiasts alike.
The Nemesis Club (Phoenix, AZ)
While Sal's Cybernetics was our favorite game, The Nemesis Club was our favorite overall experience. To start with, you have to enter an ice cream shop (that alone was enough for Tina to want to visit this venue) to get to the hidden entrance of The Nemesis Club.
Our game master was very friendly and helpful. The lobby area was so comfortable and elegant. Both games' set designs were some of the best we had ever seen. It helps that the owners have Disney Imagineering experience. Everything felt Disney quality, and that's probably the best compliment we could give. (Gimme that Pixie dust!)
Mogollon Monster: Scouting for Arizona's Bigfoot - The intro to this game was so well done that you felt as though you were in the presence of Bigfoot. We enjoyed the whole game and even had to do some silly stuff that made us laugh. The ending was a surprise. Highly Recommended!
Evil Robots - Holy Moly! The set design was high quality. It had a retro feel and fun story. There were a couple of tasks we weren't fond of and a puzzle we really got stuck on because we didn't read everything correctly, but that aside, this was a fantastic room/game.
Side Note: Tina says The Nemesis Club also wins the award for the best t-shirt designs. Also, their ice cream shop, The Soda Jerk, is AMAZING! Make sure you schedule in time for a treat before or after your game!
Tina is a former city and transportation planner turned escape room owner and Curt is a podcaster/blogger/content creator for the summer camp industry. Their worlds collided when they were handcuffed next to each other in a pirate themed escape room while attending an escape room enthusiast meet up event.
The policy of taking hints in an escape room is an extensive topic - a doctorate could be written about it. There is no player who has never used them. Until a few years ago, they were accompanied by sundry emotions. However, are they still relevant today? What has changed over the years in the approach to hints?
We’ve finished up our Orange County and Los Angeles leg of the trip and are currently in Menifee, California, which is in the beautiful Temecula Valley. While in Orange County and LA we did SO.MANY.ESCAPE.ROOMS! During the eight days we were there, we managed to play 27 games! Some we loved and some we didn’t.