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Miami Beach company offers customers opportunity to break out of 'prison'

Inside an office building in Miami Beach, a man is handcuffed, locked in a room and given one hour to escape from it. The man is neither criminal nor victim. In fact, he paid to be here.

Since July, a company called Escape the Quest has been offering simulated adventures in which players have 60 minutes to solve a series of puzzles and other mental challenges. Prison Escape involves donning black-and-white prison garb and being escorted to one of two rooms, each about the size of a college dorm. The player is then left alone to distinguish clues from red herrings. It's a purely mental exercise, with none of the physical demands of a real prison escape. In other words, the game requires no scaling barbed wire or swimming through raw sewage on the way to freedom.

"There's no running or climbing," affirms Alex Barnes of Escape the Quest. "You have to problem-solve, communicate and use your brain."

It's pretty darned difficult. Only about 25 percent of participants figure out all the clues — which may include playing cards, books, locks, keys, a trunk and other items — and escape in time.

"If not, we just open the door and let them out," Barnes says.

In Apartment 101, the other challenge Escape the Quest currently offers, participants are given one hour to escape from a locked and (falsely) burning apartment. The company is planning to expand its roster of games to include Mental Hospital, Motel Miami and others.

Safety is not an issue. During a game of Prison Escape, employees in the next room monitor prisoners' progress through a surveillance camera. Each room is outfitted with a help button.

To play requires at least two people — one in each room — but teams of two in one room provide more opportunity for problem-solving and, because the clues aren't obvious, an extra set of eyes helps. On a recent Thursday, I got a little help when Barnes agreed to be the other prisoner, mentally nudging me toward items that were important. Otherwise, I'd still be in there.

Because each room can be occupied by only one party a time, Escape the Quest accepts reservations at EscapeTheQuest.com. It costs $60 to $80 per group, but Groupon and other sites are currently offering coupons. The venue is at 1234 Washington Ave. Call 786-218-8632.

Nsortal@SouthFlorida.com

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