Cryptic Experiences founder Phil strolled into Magdalene College, University of Cambridge, one fresh Autumnal morning with a collection of puzzles and riddles in his arms. He was here, with his portable escape room, to determine the cognitive capacity of a set of Cambridge dons. Could a Chaplin, two mathematicians, a historian, a neuroscientist, and an outreach worker, locked in a secure room, work together to solve 10 mind boggling puzzles in record breaking time to secure our release? Or would we be trapped together for brain aching eternity?

The cognitive adventure that we were about to embark on would require us to think laterally and creatively. We would have to engage disparate neural networks across the brain, inhibit assumptions and accept ambiguity in order to allow new ways of connecting information to occur. On top of this we would have to work collectively and listen to each other in order to take on board each other’s perspectives. Only in this way would we be able to make the most of our combined breadth of expertise and thinking styles. Would we be able to do it?

We were like a well-oiled machine, reading out the questions clearly, sharing information and collectively brainstorming. We also instinctively did a fair amount of direct eye-gazing whilst mulling over the puzzles, which has been shown to help synchronise brain waves, boosting individuals’ learning ability and helping them to see things at the same time in the same way, thereby potentially helping members to reach a consensus.

We zipped through the puzzles, and perhaps key to our success was that every person was listened to. This respect for each other’s suggestions and our individual confidence in feeling that we would be heard, proved absolutely necessary since each person provided at least one key integral idea that helped to solve a cryptic clue. OK, so in terms of time, we didn’t come out totally top of the game, but we weren’t far off.

So, was there anything, in hindsight, that we could have done to improve our performance and get the best time?

Phil, thought we were having too much fun, relishing the puzzles rather than thinking of them as competitive tests. Interestingly if you put people in a more competitive situation, pitted directly against another team, the release of a small amount of the stress chemical cortisol can occur. This improves cognitive function and could theoretically help reduce the escape time. However, rather than feeling the pressure, we all left the experience feeling pretty satisfied and content with our team effort.

So, the result of the experience? Well, the historian of the group is getting married next summer and although this romance is not a direct response to the Escape Room, he is now excitedly planning a Cryptic Experiences presence at the reception: testing the cognitive capacity of his wedding guests.

I found our academic Escape Room an invigorating experience and a refreshing change to working in isolation, as I usually do. It seemed to give my brain a good work out – as exhilarating as going for a run. It also helped to bond us, the experience bringing us together even after the event had finished. This is perhaps not surprising, since working collectively towards a common goal and having a shared experience has been demonstrated to boost group cohesion. Any group activities such as marathon running with strangers, community choir singing, or dance groups have been shown to help release endorphins and boost feelings of connectedness. I’d wager that the Escape Room experience has the same effect. So, all in all, a positive experience to be repeated and a definite hit for me!

Dr Hannah Critchlow, neuroscience broadcaster and writer of Joined-Up Thinking: The Science of Collective Intelligence and its Power to Change Our Lives.

For more information, you can contact us here:


Phone: 07826949619

Privacy Settings
We use cookies to enhance your experience while using our website. If you are using our Services via a browser you can restrict, block or remove cookies through your web browser settings. We also use content and scripts from third parties that may use tracking technologies. You can selectively provide your consent below to allow such third party embeds. For complete information about the cookies we use, data we collect and how we process them, please check our Privacy Policy
Consent to display content from - Youtube
Consent to display content from - Vimeo
Google Maps
Consent to display content from - Google
Consent to display content from - Spotify
Sound Cloud
Consent to display content from - Sound
Cart Overview