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Review: The Great Houdini Escape Room

5 Keys

RATING: 5 Keys         RESULT: Win          REMAINING: +20:21

Houdini gathered some of the early 20th century’s greatest minds to test their unique intellects. Now his challenge stands for you to conquer.


Legend has it that the great Harry Houdini built the world’s first “escape room” 100 years ago inside the Palace of Fine Arts, as a challenge to 8 brilliant innovators, to see if they could escape his contraption filled room within 80 minutes. These innovators — Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Henry Ford, Charlie Chaplin, John Philip Sousa, William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, Helen Keller, and Luther Burbank — all participated in the Panama-Pacific International Exposition of 1915 in San Francisco.

Palace Games took their location as a starting point for crafting the story of The Great Houdini Escape Room. Housed inside The Palace of Fine Arts, built during the 1915 Worlds Fair in San Francisco, the story blends fact and fiction to create a, “Could this maybe be true?” tale. The room begins with a thorough explanation of how the building came to be and the role each of the eight innovators played in shaping the world as it existed at that time. It’s a history lesson that serves to both setup the mindset to take while in the experience and bring a sense of perspective to the building guests are standing in.

Beyond the backstory, the room itself doesn’t have a narrative arc or a mission to accomplish, but the fields of study every innovator was involved in plays thematically into the puzzles and gameplay. This is the perfect way to make a “puzzle room” feel story driven. The notion that Houdini could have actually designed this space with these specific people in mind feels credible.


Rustic wood and antique looking furnishings make this space believable as one that’s sat preserved waiting just for us since 1915. Despite the modern technology underpinning many of the room’s puzzles, an average guest will just see Turn of The Century technology functioning as one would expect in a “just right” feeling manner.

Every innovator has a small section of space dedicated to pieces of memorabilia pertaining to their life. Every photograph, model, and invention seeps history into the room while also helping to reinforce ideas and thinking needed to solve the challenges at hand.


Houdini created two main puzzle tracks for players to follow. One linear and dealing with the “Classic Elements”, the other non-linear and innovator specific. Within each are challenges to fit a wide range of skill sets—just as one would expect since each challenge is meant to be solved by the different innovators.

At first the non-linear track seems a bit overwhelming since it’s comprised of eight separate threads. Thankfully this content is gated so attention is focused on only some of the puzzles at the beginning. Sometimes though this becomes a point of frustration when waiting for the last piece or two of a long puzzle. For our group, missing the last components was often from not finding a well hidden piece of discovery. Likely if we had a larger group this wouldn’t have been an issue, but as it was we were all very focused on working on puzzles on an individual basis that it was easy to miss items in the large space.

With the exception of a few standard locks, the majority of The Great Houdini Escape Room uses hidden technology and manual apparatuses to unlock rooms and activate various effects. It all feels seamless and fitting to the world.


The Great Houdini Escape Room is a unique blend of history, teamwork, and good old fashioned puzzles. Rarely do we encounter a game that feels like it would be better served by a larger team, but this one is an exception. The game’s design allows for many threads to be worked on simultaneously, and is a necessity to escape in time. With their large format buy-out pricing structure it also makes sense that the game works this way. Encouraging guests to bring more people with them really is in the player’s best interest.

Although there’s an 80 minute timer for the game, there’s usually enough of a gap between bookings that Palace Games will let players play through to complete most, if not all, of the experience.

Analytically minded players will be thrilled to see a detailed after-action report of their game that breaks down the times it took to complete every phase of the game, reach specific milestones, and how these times compare to other groups that have completed the room. It’s a rich data set that we’ve never seen a venue offer to players before.

If you like a little bit of history with your puzzling, The Great Houdini Escape Room is a magic act you don’t want to miss.

Venue Details

Venue:  Palace Games

Location: San Francisco, CA

Number of Games: 2


Duration: 80 minutes

Capacity: 12 people

Group Type: Private / You will not be paired with strangers.

Cost: $400 per team ($33.33 per person if you have a full group of 12)

EAR Disclaimer

We thank Palace Games for inviting us to review this game. Although complimentary admission was generously provided, that in no way impacts the opinion included within this review.

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