Photo by Chris Casella

Death Trap

I died in a room that was locked from the inside.

I suppose it was the noblest way I could have gone. After all, I sacrificed myself for the good of 11 strangers by jumping into the waving arms of a zombie.

He lunged at my legs and that was the end. I broke one of the rules.

The zombie, my death, and a locked door are all part of the premise for Trapped in a Room with a Zombie – an interactive theatrical event that’s part scavenger hunt, part team-building exercise, part riddle, and part horror attraction. Created locally by Marty Parker, and now expanded to 11 other major cities, eager thrill seekers can now be Trapped in D.C., L.A., and Chicago, as well as in a small room at the Columbus Idea Foundry.

The premise is simple: you and 11 others have an hour to solve puzzles, find a key to unlock the door, and escape the zombie before he eats you. The catch is that the zombie is chained to the wall and his leash gets one foot longer every five minutes, so the room gets smaller and concentrating on puzzles gets increasingly harder.

The rules are also simple: Don’t move the furniture, don’t stand on the furniture, don’t touch the zombie, don’t get touched by the zombie, and don’t give up.

You can see which rule I broke.

At first it seemed like it would be easy. My group of 11 strangers and I entered the room and started scouring for clues that didn’t seem to make any sense. We piled everything we found proudly on a table in the middle of the room, and presented every piece like we were displaying our elementary school science projects.

The clues all pointed toward finding a key that would open the door and lead us to freedom, but they were all complicated – not to mention that there were about half a dozen locks we had to open before we ever got to the key to unlock the door. A few of the clues were things my fellow group members figured out easily, but many took us almost the full hour to crack.

The story is that the zombie left himself these clues while he was dying. He was a doctor who stabbed himself with a needle and in case he should ever return to his normal figure, he wanted to have a chance to escape. In his final moments, he put the clues together and chained himself to the wall for everyone else’s safety.*

Beyond the intensity of a fully lit room containing a chain-rattling zombie, the complexity of the clues offered an adrenaline rush when solved. Each time we figured something out we would shout excitedly at one another – made even more memorable by the fact that I was the only one in the room not a member of the birthday party attending that afternoon.

Still, you stick together pretty quick; it was obvious that the zombie wasn’t messing around. The actor threw his body all over the room in an effort to snag us, and more than once, I got caught up watching his dedication as he flailed his body around like it was actually dead.

My undoing by the undead came when I got caught in an effort to snag a clue that was dangerously close to the zombie’s body. I tried to leap over it, but my lack of coordination and a useless ankle I sprained weeks ago tripped me perfectly into his grasp. I had been worried my ankle would hold the pack back anyway, so it really might have been for the best.

Ultimately, my group almost made it. We pretty much won. We should have won. We had the key in the door with one second left, but the hour-long timer hit zero and our time had come.

So I guess I’m not smarter than a zombie. I guess there were better ways to solve the puzzle than jumping right into the path of an undead doctor. I also have no regrets. We can’t all survive the zombie apocalypse.

*Personally, I think a nice note would have done it since zombies can’t read. Something simple like “Hey, by the way, you left the key on top of the door frame while you were still alive. Hope it’s not too bad being a zombie, will send for help. Xoxo.”

Trapped in a Room with a Zombie

is set up at the Columbus Idea Foundry (421 W State St.) in Franklinton, and has spots open every Wednesday through Sunday.