POST: 'Paradiso: Chapter 1' - act first, figure it out
What's it about?
Paradiso: Chapter 1 is an immersive theatrical experience that puts you and a random selection of strangers to the test. Together, over the course of an hour, your group must either escape from a variety of rooms and situations, or fail trying. And the fun starts from the moment you've purchased your ticket.
What'd I experience?
Immediately after I secured my ticket to Paradiso: Chapter 1, I get a text from an unknown number that reads:
At the time, I think of it as merely a cutesy confirmation, but as promised, on the day of my Escape, I get another series of texts, all containing important information.
I chuckle when I open this one. Clearly there's more to this escape room than meets the eye.
The link leads me to a video of a silhouette of a man. The man warns me of an anonymous, evil corporation secretly running the world. And Virgil Corp? They're supposedly the recruiters looking to trap the good guys like me into contributing to the continued success of this massive, world-dominating corporation. DAMN.
This link takes me to a New York Times exclusive reporting on the termination of longterm behavioral research contractor, Dr. Milton Fargas, who headed the Behavior Research Lab at The Virgil Corporation for years, regularly conducting behavioral studies that involved "forcing subjects into extreme and often life threatening situations." Ya don't say...
This is by far the coolest message I've received from my anonymous texter. Just reading it makes me feel like a spy or some high-ranking government official.
I leave my office a little bit after 5:00pm and take the train downtown to Penn Station, where I walk a relatively short distance to 38 W 32nd Street.
Eventually, and with help from Google Maps, I spot where I'm supposed to go.
The place looks a bit sketchy, especially all hidden under a scaffolding, but I head straight into an elevator and to the 5th floor. I channel my inner badass as I inform the person at the door of the bar that I am a friend of Mr. Chen. He is unsurprised to see me, is expecting me, even, and leads me to a table to wait for Mr. Chen. Two ladies join me at my table not long afterwards. They are a mother and daughter named Joan and Lucia. I am happy to see them and not be alone.
I take the opportunity to use the bathroom, knowing that I might not have another chance to do so for a while. When I return, Joan and Lucia are in a conversation with a man I don't recognize. It's loud in the bar and hard to hear exactly what they're talking about, but the guy does introduce himself to me as Michael. I think he's coming with us on our Escape before he introduces us to his brother, Alex, who is sitting at the bar with a drink in hand. Alex, he says, is the one who is going to join us for our Escape. I get a strong urge that the both of them are actors, or in on something, but I do not call them out on it. One thing is certain: They know more than they're letting on. Josh is the last to arrive and just like that, our group is complete. These are the people I will be attempting my escape with.
My last messages from ANONYMOUS:
A man in a suit carrying a clipboard joins us and remains standing by our table while he instructs us to select a group leader. As the only one in my group who has escaped from an escape room before (in 49 minutes), I am unanimously elected as group leader and am overcome with a fierce determination to not let my teammates down. But before we set off, we are made to sign a contract basically promising not to sue if we get overwhelmed or injured during our Escape. I hesitate only momentarily before signing my name and including my age: 21. A glance at my other teammates' names and ages proves what I have already suspected: I am the youngest one here.
I follow the man with the clipboard, leading my teammates out into the corridor. We all enter the elevator, and he hands a few of us some cards.
Mine reads: 3. Find the book Exodus. It is important. Josh is handed a notebook and pen, and told to write down all the clues he can. We choose which belongings to store for the duration of our Escape, and I include my cell phone with my other things, deciding that having a phone on me would be cheating. However, I apparently am one of the only people in my group who thinks this way, as I notice many a phone lighting the way throughout our Escape.
Our first room has a desk and a computer, and looks like your average office waiting-room. A lady tells us that our Escape has officially begun, before launching into a set of instructions, but I'm only half listening because our time had started. Ignoring rude looks from the woman who is speaking, I set off scanning the room for clues, trying doors, looking under benches. I am the only one doing this, as I think most of my teammates are scared of overstepping boundaries and breaking the rules. It's hard to know what the appropriate etiquette is, but I am content with acting first, and figuring it out as I go along, seeing as we are pressed for time. The head start I gave us enables us to escape the first room without much trouble.
Our Escape leads us into multiple rooms in varying shapes and sizes, and involves puzzles, codes, ladders, human chess, keys hidden in books, murders, guns, bombs, and more. But my favorite addition is by far the inclusion of my friend and former classmate, Macy, in one of our rooms, handcuffed to the ceiling of a small room that is growing increasingly dark.
I already know of her involvement with Paradiso: Chapter 1, and in fact this is the main reason I wanted to participate in the experience, but I still did not expect to see her, somehow, and when I do, it makes me really happy. I didn't let Macy know she should expect me, and when she sees me, she doesn't break character or let her face betray the slightest hint of recognition, like the professional she is.
But even seeing my friend doesn't give me or the members of my group the ability to crack all of Paradiso: Chapter 1's complicated codes in a matter of minutes. And sadly, far too soon (or so it seems), a Virgil Corp representative comes into our room to inform us that we have not succeeded, and rubs salt in the wound by especially shaming me, as group leader, for failing. We are lead outside, and the whole experience almost feels like a bizarre dream. I cannot shake the disappointment at not accomplishing a task I had thought I was guaranteed to accomplish. The escape room had beaten me and had left me aching to try again in order to prove Virgil Corporation wrong.