Above: Team Barton celebrates escaping Escape Vint Hill. Photo courtesy Keith Barton.
Escape to Vint Hill
By Mike Allen
Ever since the advent of escape rooms in the early 2000’s, game night has taken on a different and more active dimension. Inspired by “escape the room” style video games, virtual reality has become reality. Escape rooms require active participation, teamwork, clock management, good eyesight, and logic. They also provide a great opportunity for team-building among work and social groups, good-natured competition for friends and family, and a means to settle bitter feuds for political rivals and warring parties without the bloodshed…hypothetically.
Generally speaking, the premise is that by solving various puzzles, riddles and other clues within a set amount of time, players will uncover the means by which to escape a room. Typically, the room is set up to portray a theme which could be a kidnapping, murder mystery, haunted house, or, in the case of Escape Vint Hill, to defuse the Cuban Missile Crisis and save the world from nuclear war and eating borscht forever.
I’VE DONE SEVERAL ESCAPE ROOMS, AND THIS WAS BY FAR THE BEST. WE WERE GREETED AT THE START AND TAKEN TO THE PUB WHILE THE ROOM WAS PREPPED. THE ACTUAL ROOM WAS CHALLENGING AND FUN BUT NOT OVERLY COMPLICATED. AFTER IT WAS OVER, THERE WERE FRESHLY BAKED COOKIES WAITING FOR US. I’LL FOR SURE BE GOING BACK!
— KEITH BARTON, BRISTOW
Unlike Friday game night in the den, you will actually have to venture out to the Inn at Vint Hill to play. You will also need to make a reservation ahead of time. Similar to Friday game night at your house however, alcohol is served before and after, and you may also take your favorite brain power libation in the room with you. Just make sure your group is made up of people you like, because when it gets toward the end, and the doomsday clock is ticking with the fate of the world hanging on the precipice, you’ll need encouragement and teamwork, not snide remarks and snarky comments. It’s also a good idea to have at least one friend with good eyesight…the room is dimly lit. Bring cheaters if you need them!
Time to get started. In our team’s case we decided to time our arrival so that we’d get there early enough for two drinks, because everyone knows that if you drink wine, you’ll know things. So though our team, made up of Jennifer “the eyes” G. and myself, was smaller than usual, we thought maybe with the wine we’d even the odds.
Upon arrival at the antebellum Inn, we headed directly to the bar, where we found bartender Rob Davis ready and waiting to help us get our game on. Although he didn’t reveal much about what we would find in the escape room, he was happy to go over the drink menu. Unfortunately, after only a few paltry sips, owner Dawn Donaldson interrupted our pregame, last-minute cram session, so excited to tell us about the escape room that she couldn’t wait until our appointment time. Clearly we should have started cramming earlier.
In a short briefing, Dawn explained that the premise of the game is based on the historical significance of the Vint Hill Farm site, first as a deciphering facility in WWII, then a key anti-espionage station during the Cold War. As such, the theme for the escape centers on the Cuban Missile Crisis. However, it is not necessary to be a history buff or Bond aficionado. But then again, why wouldn’t you be? It is more important, however, to be methodical, logical and able to work well under pressure. Also make sure your glass is full…it will have to last an hour.
Next thing we knew, we were locked in a dimly-lit room furnished in standard government issue 1962 military office furniture. Neither of us ever having done this, we wasted several minutes figuring out what to do and how to proceed. If we’d known then what we know now, we would have realized how valuable those first few minutes were. Suffice to say…don’t waste time! Hopefully, if we find ourselves with the fate of the nation in our hands again one day, we will be better prepared to start immediately, as well as have more wine on hand. Otherwise, Americans will have to learn to say “pass the borscht.”
Once we figured out a starting point, we began combing different corners of the room looking for clues. We realized pretty quickly though, that if we were going to make it out alive – well, at least not-Russian – we needed each other. Though the setting is historical, the clues depend solely on logic. Much like Churchill said about the Russians – “It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key,” – the whole point is to find the keys!
As the hour counted down towards zero, we were really getting the hang of it and solving clues quickly. We had our roles down pat. Both of us are great with codes and languages. I was the analytical one. Jennifer was the eyes.
Using our best scavenger hunt skills, we tracked down missing ships from map overlays, intercepted and interpreted Russian and Morse code messages, and broke the codes to determine the combinations to get us into desk drawers, despite the lack of illumination and miniscule numbers on the combination locks.
In the end though, there just wasn’t enough time to save the world. We didn’t do a good job of time-management and we weren’t prepared for the number of puzzles we’d have to solve. By the last 15 minutes we were solving the puzzles rapidly, and had really gotten on a roll, but in the end, the doomsday clock won out. Nevertheless, we worked hard and steadily as a team and complemented each other’s strengths.
In fact, we were so busy trying to save the world, we never even finished our first round of drinks. So we were left with the double whammy of failing to save the free world from Russian and Cuban dictators and nuclear weapons, and being totally sober. We should’ve started drinking earlier. Maybe go with a Cuba Libre or straight vodka. Salud and Na Zdorovye!
About the Author: A resident of Northern Virginia, Mike Allen is a wine consultant, historian, amateur photographer, coach, and blogger. Most importantly, he is the father of Jake and Zack.