In most escape rooms, a team must solve a series of puzzles against the clock to flee a simulated danger. You can be marooned in a spooky murder location done up in a séance or confined in an apocalyptic science lab with a horde of zombies. However, the imminent peril that lay before us was the inability to spell. “So, it’s C-U-R-I-O-U-S-I … wait, does ‘curiosity’ have a U?” A teammate exclaimed frantically, as the rest of us continued to tug at drawers and shout out our discoveries in the background. It was obvious that neither of these writers and content creators had had enough coffee that morning before hurtling into a frenzied game of detection and deduction.
In Bangkok, it is possible to get into a sticky situation that does not involve a mango. Marriott Marquis Queen’s Park is playing host to the Asian leg of The Curiosity Room, a live-action break-out experience devised in collaboration with TED-Ed, the award-winning educational arm of the NGO that popularised short talks by leading thinkers and doers. Vying for more than just your vacation dollars, this themed initiative by Marriott Hotels, which debuted in San Francisco two months ago, seeks to upend traditional lodgings by adding more value to your stay.
Beyond the doorway, the setting of our adventure is still recognisably a Marriott hotel room — equipped with two queen-size beds, a spacious bathroom and all the trimmings of a cosmopolitan accommodation. But the scene has been overhauled to introduce a touch of whimsy by adding a sprawling mural featuring an illustrated panorama of Bangkok behind the beds, a basket of wooden blocks waiting to be unscrambled and a circular red carpet that welcomes our entry into a world of thrill and trickery. A suspenseful, blocky “TED” sign anchors the wall, as if to presage the sophisticated puzzles ahead that require more than mere intellect to crack.
Learning is not a spectator sport, as evidenced by The Curiosity Room — which requires all hands on deck to decipher scattered Easter eggs or tackle a welter of logical problems that resemble mind-numbing maths homework. Unlike commercial entities that have sprung up in spaces otherwise not viable, such as a disused bar or an underground boiler room, TED’s iteration does not capitalise on jump scares and fear factor to lure guests — each checkpoint along the way harks back to its objective of educating, whether on elementary science or the city it is based in. Hints derived from motifs of local landmarks, such as the iconic Wat Arun temple or the rowdy weekend market Chatuchak known for its warren of shops, may encourage you to visit them in person.
To be fair, tackling The Curiosity Room is not fiendishly difficult as it is targeted at families with children who are at least seven, and you can complete it over the course of a two-day stay. At any time you seem stumped, take a dinner break at the hotel’s Japanese-Korean restaurant Akira Back or drink in the skyline of Sukhumvit at the stylish ABar on the rooftop, before racking your brain again. The luxury of flexibility makes the panic of the game less real and the pressure merely an illusion when you do not have to prod, nudge and grope your way to locate vexingly hidden clues. You will, however, spend a great deal of time spewing whatever inane ideas that rattle your mind: “Is it an anagram? An acrostic? Maybe, I will find a lead if this shower head is pried open!” (The answer is no, as you are not allowed to wrench anything apart or bust any doors down).
No matter how seasoned you are as an escape room player, TED has subverted archetypal puzzle tropes by injecting a fair bit of tech behind each clue that has been well disguised as a common hotel room staple. Lights may delineate or deceive; driving someone up the wall could be the lynchpin to discern order from the chaos; and the innocuous “Do Not Disturb” sign poses a possibility of being the bane or saviour of a sleepless night. The game designers have included clever mechanics with just enough theatrics to get participants pondering and behaving in unexpected ways, resulting in a completely automated space that immerses further.
Fortunately, every time you hit a wall (not literally, please), there is recourse. You will already have a print journal on-hand to input every answer you have unravelled, as they will guide you to the big reveal. But instead of buzzing a hotel staff for hints, you are given an online answer checker that will nudge you in the right direction without prematurely spoiling any secrets. Having said that, decrypting the questions without aid engendered a rush of accomplishment when a jigsaw piece finally fit into place, or when a knob, tauntingly stuck, suddenly yielded. The climatic end to our quest — after ferreting about with much exasperation but also exultation from acknowledging each other’s strengths and silliness — made our final escape even more rewarding.
You can experience the adrenaline at your own pace or set a timer like we did to see how you will fare — we reckon a veteran puzzler would take 30 minutes of play, and families, about 90 minutes. Although TED-Ed predominantly aims to celebrate the act of knowledge-sharing between teachers and students, we foresee its latest venture with Marriott Hotels to providing an arena for learning beyond the classroom, and even some friendly (or ruthless, depending on your partner’s personality) competition between players.
Typical escape rooms induce a pressure-cooking environment so you are never taken out of that world until you literally break free. However, The Curiosity Room allows you to plan a holiday around it especially when you are exploring a post-pandemic Bangkok while searching for sanuk, or a fun way of life as the locals call it. The daily grind of urban routine, buckling under gentrification at breakneck speed and snarling traffic, is wearing away the legendary Thai smile. But rest assured that the graciousness and eagerness to show off their city to out-of-towners still persist, especially over a pint of Singha beer.
The Curiosity Room by TED is also available at San Francisco Marriott Marquis, California and London Marriott Hotel County Hall from Sept 15. The Bangkok Marriott Marquis Queen’s Park edition runs until Nov 15, starting at THB16,100++ and inclusive of a two-night stay for up to four guests, one dinner at Goji Kitchen + Bar, and a treat from the Siam Tea Room’s bakery. Book via Marriott.com.
This article first appeared on Sept 5, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.