Janek Jaszczyński, co-creator of Warsaw’s trendiest escape rooms, takes Culture.pl through the finer points of the escape game scene, and describes the legends that inspired his creations.
Culture.pl: What is an escape room?
An escape room, otherwise called an escape game or a real-life escape game is something that was brought to real life from video games. I’m not really an expert on the history of escape rooms, but I once read that the first ones were made in Asia back in the 90s. In the last ten years, their popularity soared across the globe. The idea is that you and one friend or more get locked inside a room that has a special theme. You’re given a set amount of time to get out by solving various puzzles. The only rule is that every room must provide all the information, clues and objects needed to find a way out.
What happens if you run out of time?
That really depends on the room. In some rooms you can buy extra time. In others, extra time is automatically given to you. We simply end the game, like many other room operators, which means that you didn’t make it and are free to leave. I’ve never heard of somebody being left in an escape room forever though!
What made you decide to work on escape games?
Pure coincidence. Recently the Mazovian Voivodeship Miniature Park Foundation was entrusted with the care of the historical building of the former Landau Bank in Warsaw. The foundation created a miniature park inside this building. Since the building is much bigger than the miniature display, people from the foundation started looking for ideas on how to fill the extra space. My partners and I are on friendly terms with the foundation, so they showed us around the building. When we first saw the basements we said “oh, this is a great place to make an escape room”. At first it was just one of those things people say. But eventually, I don’t remember exactly how and when, we got started. So Escape Room Bank, the escape game provider I co-created with my partners at the Landau Bank, is in fact a project of the Mazovian Voivodeship Miniature Park Foundation.
You currently have one operational room and are planning to open two other ones. The room that’s up and running, called Robbery of the Century, is based on real events. Could you tell us the story?
The building was fortunate enough to make it almost intact through WWII. This means there is an authentic gigantic vault in the basement. It’s almost entirely original. It’s part of the ‘Robbery of the Century’ experience, which starts off with us showing the vault and telling some historical facts about it. In 1920 some guys dug into the vault from Plac Bankowy, which is about 50 meters away from the Landau Bank, and stole loot worth 18 million marks, the equivalent of 6 million dollars nowadays. Before leaving, the robbers blocked the vault’s door. They did it so well that the bank employees and the police couldn’t open it for two weeks. The robbery ruined the reputation of Landau Bank, eventually bankrupting it. As to the robbers, they weren’t caught red-handed, but in the end they were apprehended by the police sometime after the theft. In the ‘Robbery of the Century’ escape room you can try to rob a bank yourself.
You’re about to open a Warsaw-themed escape room, what can you say about it without mentioning any spoilers?
Everything we do is in keeping with the Miniature Park Foundation’s objective, which is to show pre-war Warsaw. That’s why the Robbery of the Century room references the aforementioned historical events. The Mysteries of Warsaw room will take place in the study of a Warsaw historian. We call him the crazy historian. The idea for this room was partially inspired by some of our friends from the Miniature Park, who are absolutely crazy about the history of Warsaw. It is really incredible how many details they know. You can show them some old photo that depicts very little and after looking at it for a few seconds they go “oh yes, this is the intersection of this and that street, and the picture was taken in this year, because as you can see this milk shop was rebuilt in…” and they go on and on. So the room will basically try to honour their quirkiness. It will be full of various equipment, books and maps to give the feel of a deranged historian’s study, but people won’t need any particular historical knowledge to get out of it. The Mysteries of Warsaw room should be ready by mid-September.
You’re also planning to open an escape room named Prison. That sounds a bit scary…
It will be scary (laughs). And unpleasant. There are some others rooms with a similar theme in Warsaw, but ours will stand out because of our location. Rumour has it that during communist times some of the rooms in the basement of the bank were used to lock up prisoners. I don’t know if it’s true, but we’re sticking to this legend. The Prison escape room will be opened very soon, in the first days of September.
How long does an escape game take?
The Robbery of the Century game takes an hour, and the two other ones as well. We’ll know for sure how much time is needed for the two new games after we’re done testing them. The final tests should take place soon.
Do you provide services in English?
Yes, of course. We are fully prepared to entertain English speakers on our premises. The English version of our website will be ready in the near future. We already had two English-speaking groups and another one is coming today.
What kind of people come get locked up in your rooms?
All kinds of people visit us. Younger people, older people, mixed age groups, children with their parents, adults with their parents. Our game is very universal. If you want to have fun with some people you know ‒ sociability is a crucial component of this game ‒ come check us out. There are some age limitations for children, but if they’re with their parents we normally let them in after explaining the game to the adults.
How big is the escape room scene in Poland?
It’s very popular, even trending. There are over 300 rooms in Poland. In Warsaw alone there are 73 working rooms administered by 33 companies. My partners and I often visit escape rooms as clients and aficionados and I can tell you that there are many great rooms in Poland. You can rob a museum, you can go inside a pyramid, you can become a CIA agent, you can fly to the moon. Almost anything you could imagine is there. And most of it really is great entertainment.
Can I go now, or am I locked in?
Janek Jaszczyński was interviewed by Marek Kępa, August 2015