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One of the latest crazes emerging in the Baltimore area is the escape room — the live, interactive game that requires a group of people to gather in a themed room with an intricate story line and break out by completing a series of puzzles and investigations in an allotted amount of time. Groups of families, friends and even co-workers hoping to team-build flock to these closed rooms. (Brittany Britto, Ulysses Muñoz / Baltimore Sun video)

One of the latest crazes emerging in the Baltimore area is the escape room — the live, interactive game that requires a group of people to gather in a themed room with an intricate story line and break out by completing a series of puzzles and investigations in an allotted amount of time. Groups of families, friends and even co-workers hoping to team-build flock to these closed rooms.

But why would any person want the illusion of being locked in a room under deadline, with a pressing theme like attempting to escape the hands of a serial killer or saving the world from a global disaster?

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A challenge, according to Peter Daly, general manager of the downtown escape room Baltimaze Escape. It’s too often that people get in the “humdrum business of everyday life” or are burdened with real-life challenges. The escape room is exactly what it sounds like — an escape that offers a challenge somewhat within their control, Daly says.

“There’s nothing quite like it,” Daly said.

Gilbert E. Franco, assistant professor of psychology at Beacon College in Leesburg, Fla., said escape rooms appeal to the “social creature” in us all, which makes online multiplayer games like World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy so popular today.

“It taps into our inner social instincts that create our identity,” Franco said in an email. Being part of a group that is working toward something can give us a sense of self-worth, as well as a sense of security, status or even power, he said.

Achieving a goal “in the act of overwhelming odds” together can be even more empowering, he said, and offers the time to argue, reconcile and bond.

“The learning, growth, self-worth, and bonds that you make can be fun and addicting,” he said.

I decided to head to Baltimaze on Light Street with four of my co-workers to test these theories, and I was excited about my team because, let’s face it, journalists are curious enough to seek out clues and pursue a promising lead, and already privy to working under the pressure of deadlines. And with an investigative reporter on my team, I was convinced we wouldn’t lose.

But we did.

After Daly delivered a spiel and a very creepy monologue riddled with clues, the five of us started off as one team, huddled over a set of clues for several minutes before deciding that there was far too much in the room and only an hour to uncover it all. There were clues that involved music, gravity, connecting circuits, and using word and number codes to unlock other clues. There was crawling on the floor on hands and knees, huddling in corners with locks, and spending far too much time with a hat.

It was challenging, but it was fun, especially since no sinister characters were really out to get us when time ran out, and because there wasn’t much weighing on our work — except our pride.

Despite having an unlimited number of clues according to our request from the game overseer, who was watching remotely from a camera, we only asked for three in the last 20 minutes of the game, because we wanted to solve it with our own brains.

We also were so confident and satisfied with our performance at one point that we thought we had solved it, only to find that there was an entire second room with more clues. We had taken up too much time in the first room.

I’m pretty sure Daly tried to make us feel better by saying we could have solved the remaining part of the room within five minutes, but we knew better. Our pride had gotten the best of us.

The game was difficult, but we enjoyed it. We came out feeling accomplished, dare I say closer, and already planning our next escape room adventure. (Next time, we’re bringing more journalists.)

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So, Daly and Franco were right. Being trapped in a room with puzzles, clues, a deadline and people I like is addicting, and there’s nothing like it.

Lucky for you, there are at least a dozen escape rooms scattered throughout the region, waiting for you to solve them. Click on the photos above to read about a few escape rooms to get you started.

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