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Stanford escape room with an outdoor twist

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“There’s not much going on, let’s do something for fun!” — such is the sense of adventure that sparked Stanford alums Alexander Carlisle, MBA ’21 and Lydia Hylton, MBA ’21 to create The Great Game, an outdoor escape room experience for students and visitors to explore the campus.

“We both love games,” said Carlisle, who enjoys solving The New York Times crossword puzzles. “Stanford has so many cool places. This could be the best way to experience the campus.”

Having taken many entrepreneurship classes at Stanford, Carlisle saw this opportunity as a way to test out the business idea and gauge people’s interest.

Packaged as an iOS app, The Great Game was launched in March this year and has been played by more than 200 students at Stanford. The game was sponsored by the Cardinal Nights from May 10 to 31 and will be incorporated as a bonding activity for the upcoming Stanford Cardinal Football team recruitment.

The game is meant to emulate an escape room experience. As you enter the game, the familiar Stanford campus turns into a giant labyrinth with famous world icons as its landmarks. “It’s a little bit like a scavenger hunt,” said Katie Antilla, a fourth-year PhD student in Chemical Engineering who joined me last week to give this game a try. With a few other Stanford graduate students, we managed to complete the game in a little over one hour. 

Stanford graduate students explored the campus using The Great Game (Photo: KRISTEL TJANDRA/ The Stanford Daily)

The interactive game is designed to be played with a team of three to six players. Within two hours, you and your teammates will solve various puzzles and navigate the maze to get from one point of the campus to another. Each puzzle is carefully curated to take players to the next location, which can be reached within a five- to 10-minute walk. 

“I thought that some of the puzzles were quite clever,” Antilla said, referring to some of the features in the app.

Not a single clue was the same throughout the game, which created a sense of anticipation. Some puzzles require physical coordination with teammates, while others resemble trivia questions. In one case, all of the players had to form a pyramid shape of an exact dimension, which would not be possible without everyone’s cooperation. The distance between each player was tracked by a GPS feature of the app, something that all of my teammates were very impressed with.

“My favorite part of the game was that I was able to spend time with friends in-person and catch up after being away for quite some time,” said Daniel Jun ’21, a recent graduate from the MS in Management Science and Engineering program who also played the game with me and Antilla. Jun, who spent most of last academic year off-campus, found that the game was a nice way to reconnect with friends whom he had only been able to meet online during the pandemic. 

One of the unique features of the app was its versatility. “The idea is to eventually make it playable anywhere,” Carlisle said. He also revealed the plan to expand this app to other campuses as part of their freshmen orientation programs. “Right now we are working on adding more puzzles. We also have a few meetings with other campuses lined up in the next few months,” he told The Daily. While he is not working on this project full time, Carlisle sees this game as a fun side project and a great learning experience. 

It doesn’t take much to play this game, but a little preparation would ensure you enjoy the full experience. Apart from a pair of comfortable shoes and some good company, you’ll also need an iPhone with a fully charged battery.

“I would definitely recommend it,” Antilla said, who has previously done a virtual escape room. “It is not as intense as the virtual [escape room] that I have done before.” While she wished that there were more puzzles to solve, Antilla liked the fact that it is outdoors.

That being said, the next time you are at Stanford with friends, why not try out this mind-stimulating game while enjoying the beautiful architecture of the campus.

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Kristel Tjandra is a biomedical scientist who is passionate about science communication and journalism. Contact her at thegrind 'at' stanforddaily.com.