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Franklin Institute brings escape artistry to new levels [photos]

The lower level of the Franklin Institute used to hold the Kid Science Center, a 4,000-square-foot space filled with hands-on games to teach basic science concepts. But, after more than 15 years, it became outdated.

It is better used as an “escape room” game, said Larry Dubinski, CEO of the Philadelphia institute.

“When we began to investigate what is going on in the escape room movement, we saw a great opportunity to bring the highest technology to it, utilize existing knowledge in technology and education, and bring it all together under a new escape room,” he said.

For the escape room experience, you’re put into a room with very little instruction on what to do. By exploring the clues left in the room, you and your team figure out the puzzle that will get you out. It is almost always played as a group, and it’s often used as a team-building exercise.

The Franklin Institute has created two escape rooms: “Island Escape” is a nautical-themed game in a single, large room filled with contraptions inspired by “Gilligan’s Island.”

The “Intergalactic Escape” room comprises several small rooms, each requiring the team to solve a complex puzzle to advance to the next room. That game features the institute’s prominent spokesman, Derrick Pitts, playing an astronaut caught in a wormhole. He pleads with the players via video to save him — quickly.

The game can be played by a group from six to 14 people. Large groups are encouraged to reserve a time in advance; walk-in players can be accommodated by including them into other groups.

Each game is manipulated in real time by a live Game Master monitoring the players behind the scenes. Regardless of the skill level of the players, the game should last an hour; the Game Master can make things more easy or difficult, depending on the pace of the players.

Game Master David Garson of Steel Owl Productions can offer tips through an intercom, or subtly suggest clues by playing music over the sound system. Energetic music can make players work faster; slower music can make them think harder.

The live Game Master with a computerized system of clues sets the Franklin’s escape rooms apart from most.

Game designer Elisabeth Garson of Steel Owl said the Franklin Institute is pushing the escape room concept into new places.

“Because they put more money into it than a typical escape room, we’re able to advance the technology and make the Game Master actually master the game,” she said.

The Franklin Institute opens “Island Escape” this week. “Intergalactic Escape” had a soft opening a few weeks ago — it’s been sold out ever since.

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