How I battled Revenge of the Sheep at clueQuest and won – words Chris Zacharia
I’m desperately trying to silence the alarm whose shrill ringing is warning me that in less than one minute, all of humanity will turn into sheep. Fifty-nine minutes of sixty have passed. My teammates, heads furrowed in concentration, – if they get it right, we’ll be spared the fate of becoming sheep.
We’re at clueQuest in King’s Cross, the most popular of London’s new wave of ‘live escape’ games. Imagine the cerebral challenge of videogame, combined with the immersive plot of theatre and the teamwork of paintballing, and you’ll get something like clueQuest.
Live Escape games are taking over London. Perhaps it’s because, in a digital age, we expect more interactivity from our entertainment, rather than just sitting back passively. Or maybe we’re all so convinced that the end of the world is coming, we’re itching to get started.
Combining dramatic storytelling with puzzle-solving, at their best Live Escape experiences are a thrilling blend of both. And with rave reviews, a diverse repertoire of individual rooms and a cult fanbase, clueQuest is very much Live Escape at its best.
There are three missions to choose from. Each of them present you and your team with a compelling plot and a host of devilishly clever puzzles. You’ve got an hour to complete your mission – and there’s a doomsday-esque clock ticking down to remind you.
‘Revenge of the Sheep’ is clueQuest’s latest – and most difficult – live escape room. “It’s our expert-level room” says Sophia, Gamesmaker at clueQuest. “But we don’t tell people that in case it scares them away.”
I’ve never tried a live escape room, but hearing that it’s expert-level has the opposite effect on me: keen to prove that I’m some sort of unacknowledged genius, I’m dying to get started. But how many people actually complete the mission successfully?
“It’s too new a room for a good sample, but so far it’s definitely got the lowest completion rate within the hour time limit” Sophia explains. Our early confidence is beginning to falter.
Revenge of The Sheep’s narrative offers full-on drama. Cunning supervillain Professor BlackSheep is unleashing a devastating new invention: the SheepMutator, which when activated will transform the human race into sheep. Mr. Q is the only one who knows how to stop BlackSheep – and he’s relying on you and your team to help him, so choose your buddies wisely.
Up to five people can be part of a single team, working together to solve the puzzles and complete the room. I chose my team with great discrimination – an engineer, an actuary, a Cambridge graduate, and an economist, with me providing the totally superfluous dash of arts-degree flair.
Given my background, I volunteer to be our team’s scribe, so I’m handed a clipboard to make notes on. And with Professor BlackSheep such a tease, there’s a lot to take notes on – he’s left plenty of cryptic clues behind. A walkie-talkie keeps you in touch with mission control, so that you’re on the right track.
As soon as you enter the room, you’re forced to start thinking. Having been locked in, and the only way that you’re getting out is by cracking each puzzle, one by one. It’s a strange, mesmerizing world, a kind of dystopian future London brought to life with intricate set-piece puzzles, cleverly linked together so that solving one puzzle leads you neatly to the next.
Everything you see could be significant. You’ve only have to work out what it might be. Look closely, and even the most innocuous items have a deeper significance. But it’s a race against time, so keep your wits about you.
The room comes to life as you piece the clues together. Solving the purpose of one object leads you to another, and so on until the chain reaction gradually leads to the transformation of the whole room. By the end, it looks completely different – what looked completely ordinary is revealed to be hiding something else entirely.
Teamwork is vital. With time so precious, you have to communicate constantly so that everyone’s aware of what’s been discovered, which theories are currently dominant, which task most needs to be solved. And when you work something out, you genuinely feel like a genius.
Rarely is a problem solved alone. Across the whole of Revenge of The Sheep, which threw about two dozen challenges at us, we always came to solutions as a team. Someone suggests something – maybe that key unlocks this part; maybe there’s a secret compartment under here – before the rest talk, debate and ponder together, gradually moving the team toward the right solution in a thrilling trial-and-error race against the clock. clueQuest doesn’t just demand that you work in a team – it makes you a better team.
All of us – from the Cambridge grad to the engineer – are surprised by how challenging we find it. Thankfully, if you’re struggling, a cryptic clue will appear on the timer screen. And there’s always a Gamesmaker at hand on the walkie-talkie, dispensing help and advice. “You might want to try that the other way round” Sophia buzzes through the walkie-talkie at one point, as we’re in the middle of trying to force a key in the wrong way.
With about ten minutes to go, we’re beginning to panic. We still haven’t stopped the clock. It’s hidden somewhere in the room, but we haven’t managed to solve the puzzles. Our voices become more urgent and tense, our movements hurried and jerky as we rush about the room, frantically trying to piece things together, and I’m standing over everyone’s shoulder searching for something intelligent to say.
In a frenzy of teamwork, we finally prompt the final part of the puzzle, like the final scene of a Bond film. I won’t spoil it for you, but the sheer theatre of it is dazzling. You’re so wrapped up in by the story, the convincing transformation of the room, that you end up being carried away by it all. Instructions are shouted, voices become strained, fingers quiver with tension.
We’re down to one minute, the timer now glowing red with urgency, each second that ticks down accompanied by a high-pitched note of warning. Just when I begin to scramble about for some kind of excuse – it was impossibly difficult, we were so close, I had a hangover that day –
We look around in surprise, the alarm silent and the timer frozen on 00.41. We’ve stopped the bomb with forty-one seconds to go. And we cheer like schoolchildren, hugging with relief: we’re not morons!
Sophia rescues us from the locked room, congratulating us. We bombard her with relief-fuelled questions. Did we spend too long in the first room? Isn’t that puzzle in the second room really clever? Which bit do other groups tend to find the most difficult?
After we’re given a clueQuest mug for successfully completing Revenge of The Sheep (“YOU are my best agent – but don’t tell the others”), we line up to take a team photo, which is then handed to us in a fridge magnet. Not only does clueQuest reward teamwork, they elevate the one-hour live escape into a proper day out.
As we leave, I ask Sophia one final question: who tends to do better at clueQuest, men or women?
“It depends” she laughs. “Men do better at the linear rooms, whereas women do better on the non-linear free-flow rooms. They’re better at multitasking”
And, recalling my mid-mission inability to complete a puzzle while checking it against a book, I can’t help but agree.
Totally engrossing, clueQuest is a genuinely challenging non-stop thrill-ride from start to finish. If this is the end of the world, count me in.
Go to the clueQuest website for more information