Whimsy, Play, & All Around Peculiarity
As soon as we walk through the front doors of the Ministry of Peculiarities, my group is greeted with a sense of whimsy, play, and, well, all around peculiarity. The lobby delights us with self-contained, one-off little interactions, including an introduction to the characters that will be running our experience. We break off to explore, opening drawers, expelling spirits with bellows, and sharing our dreams in a telephone booth. All the while, two investigators try to make sense of the chaos occurring in their lobby, contributing their fair share of confusion in their efforts.
Our improvisational fun continues as we are given our mission briefing and unique character descriptors, before being sent off into the manor. As we approach the exterior, the tone shifts towards a more serious investigation than our two zany detectives had provided, grounding us in a world of ghosts, family secrets, and betrayals. When we enter the house itself, the experience shifts from improvisational, immersive theatre into an escape room, though not one lacking in theatricality or surprises. Our journey through the rooms of the houses followed a clear narrative, with puzzles acting as our main form of interaction with the story. The physical space elevated my engagement in the narrative, both in its immersive production design and the overall layout of the room and the way traveling through spaces affected our narrative experience.
Additionally, the overall design of the puzzles was a blast. Several of the puzzles had unique forms of interaction specific to each character or the goals of our time in the mansion. Technical elements added a sense of mysticism and haunting to the story, though the puzzles themselves still kept us physically, actively engaged. By using various amounts of linearity or lack thereof at different moments, as well as playing with the different ways that we as players were grouped at different moments, the puzzles created a strong sense of unique interactions that were fun, individual interactions, and added to the feeling of following and playing through a larger story.
The story itself had plenty of twists and turns that felt more complex than a traditional escape room set-up. Beyond a simple “you are trapped, you must escape” two-beat structure, I felt we had a couple events occur during our time at the ministry, with a rather intricate story underlying the piece. I was grateful at the end when our hosts had multiple moments of having us piece together the story with them, to make sure everyone understood all the pieces, more or less.
I had few complaints about the room, and found the overall mix of escape room and theatre, and puzzles and narrative, to be playful, satisfying, and engaging. However, there were a couple moments during our experience I felt uncertain of how I was meant to interact. I’ll speak cryptically to try to avoid spoilers while allowing those who have played a glimpse of understanding. At one point, the way in which I had been interacting with my fellow players changed. Given my grouping, I was unsure exactly what had changed, but knew something had. By the end of the experience, it was clear that this related to the narrative. At the time, however, I wasn’t sure if this divergence would also relate to the puzzle-solving. So in the moment, it did lead to a couple of my poor friends getting more side-eye than perhaps they deserved.
On the whole, I found this experience to be a delightful mix of interactive theatre and escape room. The actors were fun to improvise with and willing to “yes and” until we had our fill, and the narrative of the room was a genuinely fascinating story to actively engage with via puzzles. If you have a group that loves experiences that engage both with narrative storytelling and puzzles, you’ll have a great time. I could see a group wanting only a puzzles perhaps feeling delayed by the narrative set-up, or someone wanting just theatre feeling like the puzzles were a chore. But for people looking for this unique blend of story and puzzle, this room is awesome. Six people felt ideal for narrative purposes, though puzzle masters would likely find success with a person or two fewer, and for social purposes bringing along a couple more friends wouldn’t hurt the fun.
-Sabrina Sonner, Literary Lead
Editor’s Note: This review was written in regards to our experience from September 2022, where myself, Last Call Board Members Ashley and Jacob, and our collaborators Haven, Riley, and Kale visited Hope End at The Ministry of Peculiarities. The escape room is still running, and more information including booking can be found on their website: https://www.theministryofpeculiarities.com/