Culture May 20th, 2016

Seeking Adventure: Zappos' Take On A Live Escape Game

One of our most beloved employees, Chris Peake, has been kidnapped! And it looks like Zappos Cofounder Fred Mossler and COO Arun Rajan are the culprits. Chris is behind a locked door and only six of us can rescue him.

What do we do? How do we save him? How do we escape the room?

Those were the questions I asked myself as I participated in Zappos’ live escape game. Before you panic, take a sigh of relief because Fred and Arun are not kidnappers and Chris is safe and sound. So safe that Chris even expressed his excitement about the live game. “What a great opportunity for teams to figure out an amazing challenge and have fun doing it,” he said. “It’s the ultimate Zappos teambuilding.”

The History of Escape Rooms

A live escape game is an interactive exercise where groups of people are trapped in a room and must use the elements around them to find clues, solve puzzles and escape within a defined timeframe. It’s the greatest opportunity to bring out your inner stealthy self. You know, the side you only bring out when you’re spying on your ex on Facebook.

The concept of escape games was developed from online point-and-click adventure games that were popular in the ‘80s. Critical thinking games, however, didn’t begin to gain traction until the 2000s. It wasn’t until 2008 when SCRAP Entertainment, Inc. developed the first well-documented live escape game in Japan.

Since then, live escapes games have become a phenomenon. According to MarketWatch, nearly 2,800 of them are registered worldwide with Escape Game Directory. So, you never know — one just might be in your area.

Doing it the Zappos Way

Without question, the best escape game is the Zappos Escape Room. It’s wacky, it’s weird and it forces participants to think beyond the shipping box.

Created by our Service Meets Core Values Team, the live game encouraged employees to seek risks and accept mistakes. Two concepts that embody our fourth Core Value: “Be Adventurous, Creative and Open-Minded.”

Darrin Caldwell, one of the game’s creators said, “Because Core Value #4 is about taking risks and being OK with failure, we believed that the escape room would give people ample opportunities to fail and learn from those failures.”

This belief is essential to Zappos because it moves us forward. It allows us to be bold and daring with business decisions and encourages us to broaden our potential. If mistakes are made along the way, we'll learn from them and move on.

A Journey Through the Escape Room

Puzzles may be my Kryptonite, but I couldn’t resist participating in this fun-filled activity. So, I got into detective mode, put on my thinking cap and walked into the live escape room ready and willing to accept failure.

Placed in an enclosed room with five other Zapponians, we were told that Chris was on the other side of the door and that we only had 25 minutes to rescue him. Once the key was found, we were to slip it under the door for the getaway.

Our surroundings included walls covered in sticky notes, a poster of a rotary phone and four tables. Each table had an item: a combination lockbox, a sushi restaurant menu, a locked briefcase and three Zappos boxes.

Before the clock started ticking, we contemplated the two hints that we were given:

  1. The answer is in letters, not the numbers.
  2. If you find a failure sticker, wear it.

At first, we didn’t think the hints were helpful. The failure stickers, which were stickers that said, “Congratulations, you have failed,” were everywhere: on the floor, on the walls and on the tables. Second, there weren’t any numbers around.

My first instinct was to rip open the Zappos boxes. Because only good things come out of the white boxes, right? Like Nike sneakers and Alex And Ani bracelets. But, alas, the only things inside were more failure stickers.

Five minutes in and we finally had an idea on how to solve the puzzle — with the address of the sushi menu. We used the four-digit building number to open the lockbox. Inside the lockbox was a key, which we used to open the briefcase.

Inside the briefcase were more failure stickers, but there was also a manila envelope that contained a message in Morse code, a schedule with a sushi luncheon highlighted and a tiny slip of paper that said, “blank is the key.”

After figuring out the hidden message with an answer key and ultimately coming up with a phone number from the schedule, we were able to unscramble the text with the rotary phone poster, and fill in the blank — “failure is the key.” With that, we slipped the tiny paper under the door and had escaped Chris from the room. If only we paid more attention to those failure stickers.

A Lesson in Risks

Looking back, I conquered my puzzle weakness and I learned to approach challenges with an open mind. The Zappos Escape Room showed the importance of seeking adventure and having fun exploring new possibilities. It was a reminder that it’s OK to make mistakes.

Darrin said, “At the end of the day, we'd like people to ultimately be more connected to Core Value #4.” I’m happy to say that their mission was accomplished.