HBO’s Escape Room Comes to Campus

Jonathan the Husky sits on a replica of the Iron Throne from the TV show Game of Thrones at the Ratcliffe Hicks Arena. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)
Jonathan the Husky sits on a replica of the Iron Throne from the TV show Game of Thrones at the Ratcliffe Hicks Arena. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

A production crew is in Storrs this week filming Home Box Office’s “Escape the Expected” gaming event, where teams of UConn students will work to solve puzzles so they can find their way out of rooms featured in three notable HBO programs.

About 100 students, made up of teams of five each who signed up in advance for the competition, are participating in the filming at Ratcliffe Hicks Arena on Thursday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Other students will be able to win prizes and have their picture taken while sitting on the Iron Throne that is featured in the HBO show “Game of Thrones.”

The escape rooms are re-creations of recurring locations in three popular HBO series: “Veep,” the political satire starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a fictional vice president of the United States; “Silicon Valley,” a comedy about a high tech start-up company; and “Game of Thrones,” the popular fantasy drama based on the novels of George R.R. Martin.

Jonathan XIV also took a turn on the Iron Throne. (Angelina Reyes/UConn Photo)
Jonathan XIV also took a turn to sit on the Iron Throne. (Angelina Reyes/UConn Photo)

The “escape room” event is part of a promotional effort for HBO Now, the cable giant’s streaming service for mobile and other electronic devices, developed by Mr. Youth, a marketing agency specializing in new, young consumers and social media. Escape room events are a growing trend among Millennials.

The rooms being re-created at Radcliffe Hicks Arena include the White House Briefing Room and Oval Office from “Veep,” the Incubator Room from “Silicon Valley” and the courtyard of Castle Black that leads to where the Iron Throne sits in “Game of Thrones.”

In the first two escape scenarios, the competitors must find the hidden codes required to open up the doors leading out of the rooms, facing challenges during the search. In the “Game of Thrones” room, the team will have to build a three-dimensional puzzle map from the show’s opening sequence, whose pieces are hidden under the snow. The teams have to first escape the Oval Office, followed by the Incubator Room, and then move to the courtyard and then open the door in order to finally reach their objective – a chance to sit on the Iron Throne. The teams have six minutes to solve each room’s puzzle.

Isabella Hyams, film director with Mr. Youth’s production company, says the creative team worked to develop puzzles that students could solve quickly.

“We tried to come up with puzzles that you could solve in six minutes, are fun, and were show-related,” she says. “We didn’t want it to be that you could solve the puzzle only if you watched the show. We wanted clues so if you watched the show, you would think it would be more fun.”

The marketing agency recruited two UConn “ambassadors,” Jordan Angel BUS ’18, a real estate and finance major, and Esha Reddy BUS ’17, a management major, to promote the “Escape the Expected” event in Storrs.  They said their goal was to gather a wide range of students with different backgrounds and majors to participate in the event.

“As a management major I focus a lot on communication,” Reddy says. “Social media is something you have to use. A lot happened over email. You have to be good about getting back to people. I’m in a business fraternity where we accept all majors. To be able to talk to my fraternity with friends from all different majors and backgrounds makes it easier to spread the word.”

Angel says class visits to various business organizations to learn networking and “people skills” in his major helped him to bring together a wide range of people.

“There’s opportunities to network on campus, in the dining halls, in between classes,” he says. “For me it’s the Student Union. A lot of kids hang out there and talk.”

Wednesday evening, as finishing touches were being put on the three escape rooms, the production crew enjoyed a visit from Jonathan the Husky, who toured the rooms. Jonathan posed for photos in each room. In the “Silicon Valley” room, the Husky mascot was surprised when he hit a key on one of the computers and the “Husky Fight Song” started playing, causing him to start cheering on his audience. Jonathan ended his tour of “Escape the Expected” participating in a group photo with the production crew.