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Can you beat the clock?

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Christina Stock Photo Aubrey Hobart, Roswell Museum and Art Center curator of collections and exhibitions, is seen here in the new Riddle Room, showing how to put in the five-letter or -number codes on the tablet, which — if at least 12 puzzles are solved — releases the last clue to a mystery.

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

Roswell Museum and Art Center’s Riddle Room unique concept

By Christina Stock

Vision Editor

The Roswell Museum and Art Center’s (RMAC) Riddle Room is at first glance a typical gallery room. There are sculptures displayed under glass in the center and paintings hang on the wall. However, this room has many secrets.

Aubrey Hobart is RMAC’s curator of collections and exhibitions and the Riddle Room was her idea. “My brother and I always wanted to open an escape room,” she said. “He took me to one for my birthday five years ago, and we just fell in love with the concept. We tried multiple times to open one, but in California the real estate was just too expensive, and we didn’t have the finances. When I came to Roswell, I didn’t find the right space to do it in. So it’s been always sitting in the back of my mind. When we closed this summer for COVID, we tried to come up with new program ideas, all kinds of creative ways to raise money for the museum, so this escape room idea came back to me. A traditional escape room would not be safe right now, in fact, they are all closed by order of the governor, because you are touching things, manipulating things, boxes, locks and keys, and you’re crawling around on the floor. This, I figured, if we did a puzzle without touching anything, it’s going to be a lot safer.”

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According to Hobart, teams with of maximum five people can participate in the challenge of finding a secret hidden in the art of past Roswell Artist-in-Residence participants, but they better hurry, because Nancy Fleming, Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art’s director, is following the leads as well. Everything is explained by Hobart when the games begin in a short video. After the video, a clock counts down and the players have one hour to solve the puzzle.

The team does not have to move any objects — all they need is wit and imagination to solve the five-letter or -number clues and type it into a tablet.

The clues may be hidden in the paintings, in the text or hinting toward a different object that has the correct clue. Altogether, there are 17 puzzles, but only 12 are needed to release the last clue from the tablet that helps in solving the mystery.

“I put up labels next to each art work, the top part of the text is correct,” Hobart said. “The correct artist, title and material. Some of it is real art. And correct acquisition or object number. But everything below that, the descriptions are as accurate as I can make them, but often include clues as well.”

Asked how tough the challenges are from 1 to 10, 10 being the hardest, Hobart said, “It really varies. That’s why you need to get only 12 of the 17, if there are five that are just too hard, you can skip them. I would say it goes perhaps from a level 3 to a 10. Not to give away any of the clues, but some puzzles are straight forward, others are visual; then again there is one that is a small version of a crossword puzzle and some involve math. There are a couple of tricks in the room that may fool the eye, some things may even be ‘a little shady.’”

The most “boring” art piece may have hidden exciting clues. Other clues may lead you in circles, or rather wall to wall hunting the next puzzle piece.

“We’re giving people clipboards so they can take notes, and everyone has their individual sanitized clipboard — it gets sanitized for every group. If people want to spread out to work on separate puzzles, they can do that. It’s as safe as we can possibly make it. We clean the light switches and walkie talkie; there are hand sanitizers,” Hobart said. “There are also signs throughout the room to remind the players not to touch anything.”

The walkie talkie Hobart mentioned is to call the security, which is permitted to give up to three hints to help the team. Also, mobile phones are permitted for research purposes, but not to film or take photos.

Asked how the puzzles were created, Hobart said that it was a team effort. “All the puzzles in the room are by different members of staff, because we all think different. Some people may be on my wavelength and get my ideas, but they might not be on somebody else’s. And I didn’t want if somebody comes in who don’t think like I think, to just be frustrated, so we have seven people on staff who contributed. Anybody who didn’t create puzzles helped us in the testing and refining process, so it really has been a joint effort.”

Of course, there was a lot of trial and error as well. All the riddles were thoroughly tested on volunteers, which included Hobart’s brother and his friends. “That was my first pass. The second pass, we had Nancy (Fleming), Wendy (Cook) and Caroline (Brooks) from the staff and a couple of other people come and try it. We had the current artists from RAiR come and try it. Every time we found puzzles that weren’t working, that were too hard, ones that didn’t make any sense, we switched them out, added more clues, whatever it took,” she said and chuckled.

The first team that solved the puzzle was Wildbird Game — local game creator Matt Bromley, his wife and friends were part of the team and finished short of an hour, with 50 minutes and 49 seconds.

RMAC is open from 1 to 5 p.m., and three groups can play per day in the Riddle Room, so the staff has time to sanitize everything between each group.

Depending on how popular the Riddle Room becomes with the public, there may be future variations put in place. For now, the Riddle Room will be open until the end of the year as a fundraiser for the RMAC.

“I hope it’s a good fundraiser,” Hobart said. “Because, obviously, that’s an issue not only for us, but every museum. It’s predicted that a third of American museums are going to close because of COVID, which is insanity. So, we need any help we can get at this moment. I am really hoping that this takes off and will be a popular activity, just to get us a little bit of income to get us through to the next year. We are asking $5 per person, it’s less than the movies.”

For more information, visit roswell-nm.gov/1259/Roswell-Museum-Art-Center or call 575-624-6744.