Mission: Escape

There is a whole slew of escape the room type puzzle games available in the App Store and I’ve enjoyed playing them. Some of them are really obscure in their solutions, but others have cool twists that tickle my puzzle-brain.

The first one I played was simply called Can You Escape by Kaarel Kirsipuu. I was confused at first because I hadn’t ever played this type of game before. There are very few things you can click on and it isn’t always obvious that you need to move a potted plant to find a red three, which helps you open up a color-coded lock elsewhere in the room. But as I started exploring these games, I really got into them.

It turns out, I’m not the only one. Many of these types of games are now available. Some are from the same creator as the original I played. I really like the challenges that are in Escape From Work. Also, there is a big difference in the art style. Some of the environments are gorgeous, and I can’t help but wonder if people actually work in such rooms — and why they’d want to escape them.

These certainly fit my penchant for puzzles. In some, you may notice a set of colored vases on a shelf. The order they exist on that shelf helps you put a series of numbers in order, if you line them up based on their colors, and that gives you a lock combination for a drawer. Open the drawer, find a screwdriver, and use that to pull off a grating on the wall. Behind the grating, you find a metal bar with prongs on the end. Oh wait, that’s a drawer handle for that nightstand you couldn’t open! Go for it!

The only thing that would make these games better is to be able to play them in real life. Well, guess what? You can. There are places popping up with various rooms that have these kinds of challenges scattered throughout and your goal is to work with a group of friends, coworkers, or strangers to solve all the puzzles and escape the room within the hour.

Mission Escape Games in New York City is one such site. Located at 55 Chrystie Street in Manhattan’s Chinatown, this venue has four rooms available to play. We’ve done the Hydeout, which loosely follows the tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. We went to that one last year and it was just the two of us. We didn’t realize at the time that the room is meant for six players, so we were teamed up with four others. It was a ton of fun trying to figure out the mystery and keep track of elements of the story that were scattered throughout. And no, I’m not going to give away any spoilers for the puzzles, but it really made me feel like I was playing one of the iPad games.

This year, we opted to go through the horror-themed Darkest Hour room. And we went with people we know. It definitely improves the experience when you’re not wondering if other people in the group are planted to sabotage you, which we had wondered the first time. Nope, here we just all did our part and everyone pitched in and worked toward finding the solution. Aspects of it were a little gruesome if you let your mind believe the props were real, but it wasn’t something that gave me nightmares afterwards. We got stuck at one point and we asked for a hint from the Game Master, who was clearly possessed by the psychopath who had trapped us in the room in the first place. It was hard to hear him and that added to the creepiness of the experience, in a good way.

We are looking forward to our next excursion, which is already set for next week. We’ll have a new crew with us and so there will be a new dynamic to the experience. With any luck, we will be able to escape again!

There is one last room to try then, and it’s a sci-fi room. When I heard about it, I really wanted to go do that one–I’m personally not a horror fan–but knowing that the room is there is temptation enough to take a third trip back to Mission Escape Games and venture into outer space.

If you’re looking for a fun adventure that literally takes an hour and doesn’t break the bank in terms of cost, you should definitely give this a try. Go, explore, get into the moment, and see if you and your team can figure out the solutions on your own. You won’t regret it!

Of Friendship

The people in our lives affect us in so many ways. We have our families who have been with us since the beginning. We have our spouses whom we’ve chosen to start new families with. We have colleagues at work who add their own flavor to the mix. There are random others we mingle with at stores, on the road, and waiting on line at Dunkin Donuts. There are those we pay for services, such as plumbers or doctors. And then we have our friends.

Friendship is tremendously important to me and I don’t take it lightly. I have always been selective about the people I call friend. That means two things: one, I don’t have a huge list of close friends; two, the friends I have are awesome.

Laughter. A huge part of my friendships involve laughter. Getting together, we need to be able to find the funny things and laugh away. My sense of humor ranges from silly, juvenile puns to rather raunchy innuendos — or outuendoes (thanks Wicked, for that word). I don’t often laugh at other people’s misfortune, though, even if it’s of a person who wronged me. I’ll file those moments under Karma, but I don’t usually laugh at it. I’m fine with some self-effacing humor too, and I’ll engage in it at times just to make a joke. All in all, I want to enjoy the time together.

Stress. We all have difficult challenges in our lives, from injuries and illness, to situations out of our control, to people we can’t avoid who just drive us batty. Though laughter is vital for me in a friendship, I also need to be able to share the hard stuff too. And I do mean “share”. I don’t want it to be one-sided. I don’t want to just gripe about how negotiations are going or talk about the cats being ill. I also want to listen. I want to hear the challenges my friends face, whether they’re seeking advice or just recapping the story. I like hearing how they deal with their challenges because it also gives me a way to see things differently, and I grow from that.

Trust. This is really at the top of the list. I need to be able to trust the people I spend time with. No gossip-mongering, no innappropriate reveals of personal issues on social media. The friends I have excel in this. I can sometimes talk about some crazy stuff and my friends respect me as I do them, and it’s clearly obvious. We all know that the heavy things we say are said because we are there for each other and not meant for public consumption. And I do understand if friends consult each other about things. And best friends and significant others are going to share everything they know with each other. That’s fine with me. But knowing that I can be myself means the world.

Support. We all need support in our lives too. Sometimes, days are really dark and we just need a friend to lift our spirits. Other times, we’ve accomplished something great and want to revel in it. I try to be there for my friends in both cases, just as they are there for me. We celebrate life together and we check in to see how things are going. We work as a team to make life the best we can for each other. Sometimes we’re caught up in our own stuff for a time and can’t reach out right away, but we both know that if we need it, the other will be there.

Understanding. Everyone has a bad day. Everyone cancels an appointment. Things come up. It is part of life. Sometimes it’s hard not to take a cancellation personally, but it’s important to remember that everyone has a lot going on and it’s not necessarily a personal thing. When I’ve bailed out on plans, I’m usually drained from a hectic week and just can’t get moving. It doesn’t mean I don’t want to see my friends, just that I’m not able to at that moment. Sometimes, I’ll say something I think is funny or witty and it will hit others entirely the wrong way. It takes understanding to look past the moment, to see the whole friendship, and realize that sometimes things just come out wrong. And this goes both ways too. 

Events. We celebrate the big things together. It may not always be on the official day, but we do make that effort to come together and revel in the glow. This could be celebrating a big personal milestone, like an engagement or wedding, a birthday, or even littler things, like finally reading all the Harry Potter books or getting that room painted. I believe in celebrating all kinds of things, and have even been told sometimes that it’s a little excessive. But the goal is to focus on the positive and to enjoy the things we do, and so we should always make that silly toast or give a high-five.

Hugs. I always call myself a hugger. When I greet my friends, I want to pull them physically close to my heart, because all the rest of the time, they’re already in my heart. In the early days of a friendship, not everyone knows what to do. I try not to make others uncomfortable. But I spent a good part of my life in isolation from others and, for me, it really means a lot to just give that hug. If it’s been a rough stretch, I may hang on for a second or two more. It just means I cherish who you are and your friendship, and I’m glad you’re there with me. And it also means so much to me when me friends step up, arms outstretched, seeking the same. It’s an added layer of connection with the people I care about.

Hanging Out. This can mean a few things. It almost always involves a meal. I love sitting at dinner with friends, with no other distractions, just catching up on the good and the rest. Laughing and joking, enjoying our trust and support of each other. But I also like to go do things: catching a movie or a play, going bowling or heading down to Great Adventure, sitting on the sofa with a video game, or indulging in Cards Against Humanity for some off-color silliness. And sometimes we just sit and talk too. I’d love to continue having more experiences with the people in my life, and though I may need a little cajoling for some of it, I know my friends would have my back in a new venture. So let’s do something new!

Singles and Couples. A number of our friends are part of a couple. It makes sense, as Kevin and I are a couple. Yet, often, one of us gets to know one person from a couple and it isn’t until the four of us get together that we see how that works out. In the majority of cases, if we’ve connected with one half, we’ve adored the second half too. Usually, it ends up that we hang out as couples. But that’s not required. If Kevin and Leanne want to go have a shopping day, by all means! Likewise, Lois and I may end up kayaking, or Jared and I may set up a game day. I like that we are all friends with each other and we connect across and between. And it’s always a good time.

Respect. At the heart of it all, I only stick around with people I respect and who respect me in return. There is something awesome about you that I like to be around. You’re funny, you’re dedicated, you’re caring, you’re witty, you’re compassionate, and so on. I honor you for who you are and you do the same for me. Sure, we can disagree on things, but we try to take that time to listen to each other’s side and to grow from our varied opinions and ideas. We may still not agree in the end, but that’s what makes things interesting and it shows the strength of our friendship.

Hope. And finally… Friends are the people in my life who instill me with hope. In a world of chaos, we need things to look forward to. My friends are all a guiding light for me. If we’re just getting to know each other and I’m looking to set up plans to hang out with you outside of wherever we met, that means I’ve seen a ray of hope in you. It means our interactions up to that point have inspired me. It means I want to know more and to continue to see the hope there is in this world for laughter, love, and happiness. 

Oh and yes, you’re getting a hug too.

Book 3 Update

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I’ve had a truly exciting couple of weeks. Since the release of Book 2: The Shattered Shards, I’ve been working through my editor’s comments and tonight I finished processing them all.

I don’t take the process lightly. In fact, I go through Rochelle’s edits at least three times. In one, I tackle the sentence-by-sentence corrections to clean up the readability and fix areas that are unclear. Another trip through, I correct larger plot points that are either missing or unclear. At times, this prompts me to rewrite paragraphs, scenes, or entire chapters. It can be daunting, but I enjoy the challenge of presenting the best work I can. I then work through an additional list of suggestions she makes in her external report, which often includes lists of overused words and phrases, as well as some whole-book issues to address.

With each step along the way, I feel the story getting tighter. Scenes I enjoyed before become scenes I love now. I am fortunate to have found a talented editor who keeps in mind the essence of my story while helping to make it stronger.

I’m not yet prepared to release book three, however. The edits are done and though I have had read-throughs from two beta-readers, there is one more reader to go. While she goes through the story, so will I, hunting down any errors left behind during editing, because it happens. Once I receive and process her feedback, book three will find its way out to the world.

And then I can turn to book 4.

Keep your eyes peeled for Red Jade: Book 3: The Assembly. It won’t be long now.