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Review: Houdini’s Hidden Workshop

RATING: 3 Keys          RESULT: Win          REMAINING: 7:04


Truly beautiful sets meet truly questionable puzzle flow in the basement of a haunted house in San Diego.



The premise here is that Houdini’s soul is trapped somewhere in his secret workshop, and you need to help release it from the great beyond.

The set up for the story is a pretty strong one – along with Houdini’s widow (a barely-actor who is in truth just your game master in a costume) you and your group gather around a table, join hands and hold a seance to get things rolling. Special effects and lighting bring Houdini’s spirit to life.


The scenic quality of the room is stunning – easily the most beautiful we’ve seen in a San Diego game.

The Great Room Escape clearly understands the importance of setting – as they go to great lengths to fill the rooms with props, antiques and stylings that evoke a period flavor appropriate to the world of Houdini.


We found there were some moments in this game that we were all standing around not sure what to do – and after as many games as we’ve played, I wouldn’t personally call that a compliment.

There should always be some direction, even if you aren’t sure what to do with it in that instant. We ultimately figured things out and eventually escaped with seven minutes left on the clock, but it was not completely without its frustration. There were definitely more than a few points where we felt the game lacked intuitive direction.

The puzzles do try – for the most part – to connect to the Houdini story – with magic props, secret levers and even a Ouija Board.


There was quite the awkward moment in our game where someone in the room apparently mistakenly opened a lock that we hadn’t found the code to yet, at which point the actor playing Houdini’s widow promptly broke character, forcibly took it away and re-locked it.

If you’re wondering how a lock could have been opened by accident – that’s a bit easy to explain in this case. Though I was not the one who opened it, I did witness personally on other locks that when they were reset, the staff was a tad bit lazy in doing so. Rather than turning all the values on the padlocks to “0” as any escape room should so you have no indication of what the code might be, they just moved them one or two spaces off of the actual correct combination. (For the sake of example, if the code is 1-2-3, the lock might have been found at 2-3-4.) The resulting accidental opening is more common then you may think when locks aren’t reset properly to defuse the potential to guess.

Another small point of contention I had with this experience – while I like the idea of having an actor (if used properly) – and I essentially did enjoy the opening and closing show moments with her, during the game play itself, the actor felt more like a stern schoolmarm – constantly scolding players to “not touch that” or “there’s nothing there” or “don’t open that.” Some of the biggest fun of escape rooms is the initial discovery phase, and that fun is dampened when you worry that you might get yelled at just for playing the game. Mind you to be clear – no one in our group of all adults – even the strangers we were paired with – were in any way rough with any of the props or set dressing, yet we were scolded repeatedly like we were a group of misbehaving teenagers.

That does connect to another solid and unfortunate observation we have for The Great Room Escape- if I’m going to be honest, the staff at their San Diego location frequently came off as condescending and a bit rude. To be clear I’m not just speaking of the “actor” who may try to justify that as being quote “in character,” but rather the front desk staff checking you in as well.

Points of contention not withstanding, The Great Room Escape definitely puts a lot of effort into their scenic, lighting and show for each game, which prompted us a return visit to see their other two rooms. Keep an eye out for those reviews in the near future, as we found one game to be much better and the other to be much worse.


Venue Details

Venue:  The Great Room Escape

Location: San Diego, California

Number of Games: 3


Duration: 60 minutes

Capacity: 10 people

Group Type: Public / You may be paired with strangers.

Cost: $34.95 per person

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