MEXICO CITY — Locked inside an apartment in Mexico City’s trendy Colonia Roma neighborhood, four people frantically search for clues to defuse a bomb.
The group rushes to open doors, tears through books, peers underneath furniture and searches behind paintings for clues. They've got one hour to decode the hidden messages — or BOOM!!!
Well, not really BOOM!!!! More like boom. It's only a game — a sorta-but-not-really Sherlock Holmes-type mystery adventure that recently opened in Mexico City. The problem-solving experience is part of a growing global trend known as "enigma rooms," which were first made popular in Asia and have since spread through Europe and into the Americas, even finding their way into this week's episode of The Bachelorette.
The concept is simple but nerve-racking: you have 60 minutes to solve a puzzle and escape from a spooky room or BO…er, boom.
“Enigma Rooms throw people into a video game or movie scenario where they must work together to escape,” says co-founder Victor Suarez, whose startup was launched last month in the Mexican capital.
The concept is also gaining popularity in the United States, and was also featured on a recent episode of The Big Bang Theory.
Mexico's enigma rooms offer two types of scenarios: A "Cold War" room where participants play the role of a British spy attempting to stop a nuclear holocaust, and a "Jigsaw" room inspired by the popular horror movie franchise SAW.
"Even companies are bringing in their employees to promote team-building and bonding," Suarez told Fusion. "In each scenario, you can easily see who within the group has leadership skills and who can't perform under pressure."
Suarez says he also gets plenty of drunk and stoned people wandering in to play. But he doesn't advise getting wasted first. "It's not a good idea," he says, "Sometimes they can’t even get past the first clue and are stuck for some time. That's why I give them a walkie-talkie, and I start giving them little hints."
Suarez said he got the idea for Enigma Rooms when traveling through Eastern Europe. "Back then my friends wanted go out to the hottest clubs or hit up the beaches, but I wanted to explore the bizarre."
While in Europe, he got special permission to visit Chernobyl and explored "escape rooms" in Budapest. Those experiences went into his Mexican enigma room creation. "I came back to Mexico City, graduated college and it seemed like a great business idea," he said.
Suarez developed his escape rooms with co-founder Gonzalo Arozarena. The hardest part was convincing a landlord to rent him space.
"They thought I was crazy," he said. "I would tell them: 'I need a room to lock up a bunch of people and have them try to escape. They didn't get the concept; they thought I was trying to do something illegal."
"Enigma rooms provide a different experience," Suarez says. "When people are watching a movie they are like, 'That guy is an idiot; I would have done that better or differently'. This gives them the opportunity to try."
Photographs by Miguel Morteo
Miguel Morteo contributed to this report from Mexico City