No joke: People are actually paying to be locked in a room — for fun — equipped with nothing but a few hints and their guile to get themselves out. Since October 2014, four such puzzle palaces have opened in the D.C. area. “A lot of people are getting into the experience economy,” says Ginger Flesher-Sonnier, owner of D.C.’s first escape room. “It’s not about stuff anymore.” The following rooms are equipped with cameras and microphones, just in case you don’t make it out in the allotted time. But you’re smarter than that, right?

Escape Room Live DC

2300 Wisconsin Ave. NW, Suite G102; 1-800-616-4880, escaperoomlive.com
The deal: The first of its kind in D.C., this escape room is owned by Ginger Flesher-Sonnier, who was inspired after seeing similar concepts during travels through Europe. She opened an Alexandria outpost in July (details at right).
The room(s): There are three: a secret agent-themed room called Double Crossed (the easiest of the bunch); a room called I Was Framed that challenges you to prove someone’s innocence (slightly more difficult); and Back to the ’80s!, a just-debuted room that pumps retro tunes as you hunt down clues (the most challenging). It’s recommended you bring 5 to 8 guests.
Sample challenge: Arrange a set of VHS tapes in the correct order in the ‘80s room, and it will spell out something important.

814 King St Alexandria VA-large-003-21-Moriarty Room-1500x1000-72dpi (2) Escape Room Live in Alexandria

Escape Room Live Alexandria

814 King St., 2nd Floor, Alexandria; 1-800-616-4880, escaperoomlivealx.com
The deal: The second Escape Room Live locale is five times the size of the original, and the production value is slightly higher.
The room(s): In addition to two Sherlock Holmes-themed rooms, Escape Room Live Alexandria houses a wizard room (the most challenging puzzle of the franchise) in which you need to trace down a wizard gone AWOL using only his spell book. “Only about 30 percent of people make it out in time,” Flesher-Sonnier says. An Edgar Allan Poe room is scheduled to open in the spring.
Sample challenge: In the wizard room, you need to arrange test tubes filled with scented oils according to their scent. Arrive with clear sinuses!

Insomnia Escape Room

Photo by Duane Heaton Photo by Duane Heaton

2300 Wisconsin Ave. NW, Suite 200B; 202-600-0418, insomniaescape.com
The deal: Though this newcomer is located just upstairs from Escape Room Live, there’s no affiliation. (“It was easy to move in because the landlord was already familiar with the concept,” founder Alexandr Gerasimov says.)
The room(s): The spot, which opened in November, has one room: a speakeasy with a Mafia subplot. Two more are in the works, including a room that involves an Illuminati-like society. We didn’t make it out of the speakeasy in the allotted hour, but often you’re given more time. “It’s like going to the movies. I want everyone to see the movie to the end,” Gerasimov says.
Sample challenge: Make sure you strike those piano keys correctly.

IMG_7727 Omescape in Adams Morgan

Omescape

2406 18th St. NW; 202-600-0825, omescapedc.com.
The deal: The newest of the bunch, Omescape opened earlier this week in Adams Morgan. The global franchise was founded in Beijing in 2012, and there are now more than a dozen locations around the world.
The room(s): The D.C. location of Omescape has three rooms: a prison-themed challenge that locks up guests in a mock penitentiary; a time travel-themed room; and The Kingdom of Cats, wherein you’re held captive by an empire run by cats and you have to change the layout of the room to find a password that unlocks the door.
Sample challenge: Are you flexible enough to dodge laser beams?

Other things to try this weekend:

Face-to-face with ancient Greece: The National Gallery of Art’s ‘Power and Pathos’

‘Stage Kiss’ at Round House Theatre is a funny valentine of a play

Two new chicken dishes to try now