Somebody in West Hartford is trying to steal Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.”
That’s the premise of the new escape room in town, which opened in July inside Blue Back Square’s new Skeleton Key. Skeleton Key is unique because it has an attached restaurant and bar, the Deadbolt, where visitors can cool their heels while waiting their turn for adventure.
Skeleton Key owner Ray Weaver, who also owns Muse Paint Bar, next door to Skeleton Key, plans more themed rooms at Skeleton Key soon. By Thanksgiving a second room — “Scarab,” set in an Egyptian tomb — will open. Several weeks after that, a third room is planned: “Virus,” set in a lab where a killer infection must be contained.
But let’s talk about “Starry Night” adventure.
What’s the challenge?
To solve clues in two separate rooms in order to steal Vincent van Gogh’s “Starry Night” from the Tate Modern museum. (No, it’s not the real “Starry Night.” That one’s in the Museum of Modern Art.)
How does it work?
A guide walks the visitors into the first room. Then the guide leaves and shuts the door, with no explanations. From then, puzzlers are on their own in a room decorated and painted to resemble an evening in London: a red phone booth, Big Ben, an old taxicab and the front entrance of the Tate Modern Museum. Your mission is to find all the clues in this room to get inside the Tate Modern.
Once you’ve gotten into the museum, you are halfway there.
Inside the Tate, there are many artworks. Clues are embedded in that room, too. Once you figure out how to steal “Starry Night,” the game is over.
“There are a lot of puzzles. You have to look at everything. Anything can be a clue,” says Kevin Frasier of Boston, who constructs the rooms.
Can the clues be uncovered in any order?
“There is an order you have to do things,” says Frasier. “We like to put an obvious clue in the beginning to nudge you along.”
How long do we have to escape?
When visitors enter the first room, a clock starts counting down from 60 minutes. You have that much time to get through both rooms. If it gets to zero and you’re still puzzling, the game is still over.
Can I go alone?
Groups of up to eight people can be booked as an escape unit. People can come with a group or sign up alone. But those who arrive alone may be teamed with strangers.
Kevin Frasier of Boston, who constructs the rooms, says sometimes this can be more enjoyable than with friends.
“You don’t know what they’re thinking and they don’t know what you’re thinking,” he says.
How much does it cost?
Do I have to buy food at Deadbolt?
No. Both the restaurant and the escape room can be enjoyed separately or together. But even those who don’t eat at the restaurant, or wait until the game is over, will enjoy the reception area, whose flocked black wallpaper has a skull pattern. There are many pieces of macabre and steampunky decor: a straitjacket, a crystal ball, a phrenology skull, masks, a taxidermied two-headed chick. “Pneuman,” a pneumatic tube, will take any question and deliver an answer, sort of like a Magic 8 Ball.
Can I just show up?
Reservations must be made at skeleton-key.com. Make sure when you book online that you don’t accidentally book at the other Skeleton Key in Lynnfield, Mass. (A third one will open soon in White Plains, N.Y.)
Where is Skeleton Key and when is it open?
It’s at 61 Raymond Road in West Hartford, across the street from Whole Foods. It is open weekdays starting at 5 p.m. and weekends starting at noon. The last game of the night begins at 9 p.m. skeleton-key.com/