We love the idea of “escape room” experiences (games during which a group of people try to get out of a single room by solving a series of puzzles) but finding one that’s really good for kids can be a bit tough. Mystery Room NYC, which happens to be co-founded by an NYC high school biology teacher, is the most kid-friendly 3-D puzzle experience we could find. We tested it out with our own set of junior detectives. Here’s our report!

Get out! (For fun.)
If you’re not familiar with the “escape room” phenomenon, it’s a craze sweeping the world (both digitally and in meet-space). You’re in a room. You’re locked in under some fictional narrative premise, and you need to get out in an hour or less — using your brain, your wits, your crazy-ass ideas.

There are a few in NYC, but as far as we know, Mystery Room NYC is the only one designed by a high school biology teacher — who brings his knowledge, and experience of teaching — to the task.

photo: Mystery Room NYC

Fan Turned Puzzlemaster
That teacher is Eric Siu, who got the idea of bringing an escape room experience to NYC after doing a few in other cities, such as Hong Kong. (At the time, New York was not home to one.)

That was three years ago, and now — when he’s not teaching in Flushing — Siu conjures and custom designs and creates all of the Mystery Room NYC experiences, which center around the case of missing scientist Dr. Edward Daniels.

photo: Mystery Room NYC

Four Rooms, Two Locations
Mystery Room NYC currently offers three escape room experiences, referred to as “Chapters” in two locations: Biotech Labs and Cafe Belim (in Midtown), its newest room, The Forgotten Library, in SoHo, and Escape the Bank Vault, which is debuting later this year in the downtown location.

While the experiences all relate to the narrative of the missing scientist Dr. Daniels, the storyline is non-linear, which means the rooms can be played in any order.

photo: Mystery Room NYC

The Experience — Challenging, with a Crucial Assist
When we asked which room was best for the junior set, we were directed to Chapter 4, The Forgotten Library. Our crew included three adults, and kids ages 5, 7 and 1/2, and 9. While everyone got involved and participated, overall, Mystery Room is probably best for kids on the older side, ages 8 and up.

As promised, we were lead into a large, library-like room, told to explore and look at everything closely, and locked in. Without much work, clues presented themselves quickly — the work, of course, was figuring out how they worked together. (If you ever played something like Myst or its many spinoffs, it’s like that.)

Some puzzles were on the simple side and intuitive, others, a lot harder. A major factor in keeping things moving (and enjoyable) is the help from a “Puzzle Master”, who monitors your group’s progress and offers helpful hints and tips via a large screen.

The puzzles themselves ranged from an actual puzzle (which the five-year-old with us assisted with), to decoding, to logic puzzles, as well as some good old fashioned looking under every surface for clues. Along the way, some very fun and cool surprises got everyone in the room very excited.

The Mystery Room NYC Difference
There area few factors that set Mystery Room NYC apart from other escape room experiences in the city. One is that Siu brings his teaching know-how to the design of the rooms, intentionally creating puzzles and experiences that provide multiple points of entry for players of differing aptitudes and abilities. That is, both beginner and younger players will find opportunities to engage with the material (see our five-year-old’s experience), as will more seasoned, older and sophisticated players.

Secondly, because Mystery Room NYC is an independent operation (some escape room experiences are an outpost of a larger franchise) it’s a guarantee that each Chapter is a unique experience. Additionally, no single puzzle is ever repeated across Mystery Room NYC’s entire portfolio.

Family Outing or Boffo Birthday
If you’re looking for a completely different family bonding experience, Mystery Room NYC would be a lot of fun, but we see it as a fantastic birthday party experience for a small group of sleuthy kids ages 7 and up who like a challenge (a few younger ones mixed in would be fine, too.) Rooms can accommodate up to 15, but in our opinion, any more than 10 would be chaos.

Mystery Room NYC
Tickets: $28/person
190 Mercer St.

365 7th Ave.
Online: mysteryroomnyc.com

Have you played an escape room with your kids? Tell us about your experience in the comments!

— Mimi O’Connor