You may have heard of Escape the Room. In fact, you may have even participated in the team building exercise that finds a small group of people working together to solve puzzles and decipher clues to win their freedom from a locked room. Available for play in 18 cities across the country, the interactive experience was created by Victor Blake and launched in New York City in 2014.
Taking Escape the Room to a whole new level, Blake has created a large-scale version of the game specifically designed for automaker Ford that will find teams of four piling into a 2017 Ford Escape SUV and maneuvering through an indoor Ford Escape NYC course set up in midtown Manhattan at Moynihan Station June 24-26.
Blake, a puzzle master and math whiz who worked in finance before he created Escape the Room, was excited about the possibilities when Ford got in touch about working with him on a car-centric version of his famous challenge. "When else am I going to get to rent 35,000 square feet in New York City and drive a car around it?" he tells Co.Create.
Explaining Ford's interest in Blake's ability to engineer escape-themed challenges, Ford's in-house futurist Sheryl Connelly, who conducts trend studies for the company and made Fast Company's Most Creative People in Business list in 2013, says, "We have long been intrigued by the idea of escapism and how it relates to time and the modern-day stresses of time poverty and constantly being connected, and, of course, it was also a natural fit with the Ford Escape. We thought it was a nice way to bring in name play and the spirit of what escapism stands for and to manifest it into an experience people could really enjoy."
Previewing the experience, which was still under construction at the time of this interview, Blake says participants will use the Ford Escape's smart features—everything from the enhanced active park assist to the Sony premium audio system to the rear view camera—to unlock clues that will allow them to proceed through each of the five rooms that make up the challenge. (The vehicle is actually being driven, so at least one of the players has to be a licensed driver.)
Designed with millennial New Yorkers ages 22 to 32 in mind, Ford Escape NYC begins in a room made to look like a New York City apartment and takes players on a journey that includes a stop at a Bushwick art party. "The experience mirrors living in New York," Blake says of the narrative. "You come here after college, you're broke, you have roommates, you're living in a crappy apartment, then you have that first office job, and you're the low man on the totem pole, then you catch a break, and all of a sudden you move up."
And then maybe you're ready to buy a car.
"I'm sure you've seen the headlines that say, 'Millennials, They're Not Buying Cars," Connelly says. "We don't believe they necessarily hate cars, but we do recognize that they don't see a car as the ultimate status symbol. They see a car as a tool, an enabler. Actually, I think a toolbox on wheels is a better analogy for it."
That's why the Ford Escape NYC experience is all about demonstrating the practical features of the Ford Escape that hold appeal for urbanites as opposed to promoting horsepower or turning radius.
Blake predicts that only 20% of those who participate in Ford Escape NYC will figure everything out and complete the challenge, which is the average success rate for those who take part in Escape the Room. For those who do get all the way through, the reward will be in the satisfaction they get from using their wits and cooperating with others to achieve a common goal. "I was a little worried in the beginning that Ford would be like, 'You can't have people lose,' or 'You can't do this or that,' " Blake admits, "but they were like, 'Do whatever you want.' "
Connelly is confident that participants will enjoy taking part in the escapist exercise no matter how they fare. "This type of experience is so immersive that you almost forget about the outside world," she says. "I think that's the charm of it."
There is certainly a lot of interest in this creative take on the test drive. Ford reached out to customers and fans of the brand in the New York City area on June 14, inviting them to register for the event, and all the slots—approximately 1,000—were filled by the next day. That said, there will be a walk-in line at the venue each day, giving people the opportunity to take the place of no-shows.