Sandy Maguire Escapes the Room: Lost in Space

August 13, 2022
Confidence: possible

For my birthday, Erin and I headed to a local (literally across the street) escape-room in Vancouver called Exit Gastown, where we played Lost in Space with just the two of us.

Online the difficulty is three stars, but I swear in person it was labeled as four. It’s always hard to get a sense of the actual difficulty between companies, so we went in expecting to escape. We didn’t. By the end of our 45 minutes, we were on the last clue — figure out a lot of math for teleporter coordinates — but nowhere near solving it. Alas.

Erin and I are very new to the world of escape rooms. This was her second, and my fifth, and neither of us came away very impressed with the puzzles. The concept is pretty great, but the execution left a lot to be desired. Let me explain.

LOST IN SPACE. You’re on a space ship that has crash-landed. The lights are off, so you need to get the power back on, and then find the teleporter room and teleport home. Or something. The crash-landing stuff was (very) briefly mentioned in the beginning dialog, and the only other clue to it is a window painted onto the wall that looks cracked. OK fine, except that this is a critical clue in teleporting away; you need not only decipher the coordinate system, but you also need to remember where you are in the solar system. And if you don’t remember from the initial briefing, well, good luck!

A few other dings. I liked the idea that the lights are off, but you’re given only one flashlight, which means your group can’t parallelize any solving. You start the game with an “engineering” binder explaining all the subsystems, and roughly how to go about accomplishing them. One of the things to do is to get the ship’s power system on emergency batteries, and then eventually running again, but accomplishing neither of them turns the lights back on! They’re just off, for 45 minutes.

The better design here is that the lights come on to 10-20% brightness after you get onto emergency power, and then turn on in full when the generators are running again. It’s an interesting gimmick that you need to get the power back on, but it needs to be rewarded, rather than being an arbitrary key to ungate progress.

Half way through, you do get a second flashlight. But the batteries were (unintentionally) half-dead and died before the end of the game. I had to leave the room to get new ones, which ate a few minutes out of our failed escape.

Most egregious, however, was the binder’s engineering list of “spare parts.” There are three spare parts listed: a set of jumper cables, a spare battery, and a wiring diagram. We found the jumper cables first, and five minutes later found the spare battery. So we were primed to think about the spare parts as literal objects that could be picked up. But then the wiring diagram doesn’t fit the pattern. It’s drawn onto the wall behind the puzzle, and is presented as the wiring itself.

The puzzle is that you need to shine a light into four holes in the right order. We fucked around with it for a while, following the obvious route implied by the wiring on the wall. At each step, the thing beeps at you. But if you hold your light on a little too long (we’re talking half a second or so), it beeps again, and that is the system resetting itself. Our progress was hampered by this for probably ten minutes before we asked for a hint — we could neither find the wiring diagram, nor could we brute force the puzzle. But there was no wiring diagram, and our understanding of the thing was entirely correct, it’s just that the mechanism was incorrectly resetting our progress.

Very annoying.

I’ll also ding the room for having several unintentional typos in the manual; usually things like these are secret clues, or something to decipher. Nope, here they’re just someone not using spellcheck, which doesn’t inspire a great deal of confidence that the game designer is a person of care.

There were some things I liked about this room though; the system to get the power back on was interesting. You need to find some jumper cables, put them into the right place, and then identify that the battery is broken, and find a better one that won’t short out the circuit. I like puzzles that require disparate pieces to be solved, rather than being one-key-one-lock deals.

Despite my complaints, I liked that the lights were off at the beginning. It was thematically interesting, but overstayed its welcome.

Overall though, I wasn’t very impressed with Lost in Space. Progress was entirely linear, and at no point did were we required to use information we’d learned somewhere else. Puzzles like these are frustrating: if you get stuck on something, you’re just stuck with no recourse. Oh well. This one is a nice case study in how to not structure an escape room.

Two out of five stars.