Time is money, after all.
Brian led us into the next room. This was “the garage” where we’d be starting the escape room challenge. I paid silent homage to the garages that came before us—Jobs and Wozniak in Los Altos; Page and Brin in Menlo Park. And now: Legge and co. in North SoMa. Brian pointed out metal cubbies on the side where we could store our bags and coats. While we shoved puffy jackets into cubby walls, he explained that solving the puzzle in this room would lead us to a key that would unlock the door to our office.
“As soon as I leave, you’ll watch a short video message from your CEO,” he said, pointing up at the room’s corner monitor, which currently displayed a virgin Slack window. “Your one hour will start as soon as that message is over. I’ll be available via Slack on the ‘contractor-help’ channel if you have any questions or need any hints.” He abruptly turned and exited the room, closing the door gently behind him.
A balding white man in an untailored dark suit appeared on the screen. He, our fearless leader, spoke hesitantly, without making direct eye contact with the camera. He told us we needed to launch our start-up within the hour. “Good luck,” he said, and the video cut to black.
Almost instantly, Devin announced that he had found something in an empty red gas can in the corner. He dangled a string with numbered coins attached, while Michele unrolled a map of the United States. The state license plates hanging on the wall suddenly came into focus. After mapping out the coins from one coast to the other, we had the six-digit code to unlock the toolbox and retrieve the office key. Nine-hundred-thousand dollars to go.
We entered our office: five white desks, each with a monitor, a keyboard, and a color-coded label, button, and mini-locker. There was a white VR headset resting on a small table and a locked cabinet. The walls were bare except for a whiteboard and a few framed posters.
We split into smaller groups to explore. I walked over to the VR headset and put it on. In my viewport, I saw a minimalist recreation of the room’s five white desks. There’s nothing like a virtual reality to exactly mirror your actual reality. Meta. The desks began to flash in a constantly rotating pattern. I figured it had something to do with the color-coded buttons. Devin coordinated a few people to press the buttons at each desk station while I shouted color patterns. “Yellow, blue, blue, red, green, blue, yellow, yellow, red,” I screamed.
At first, nothing happened. I worried that my leadership had not been disruptive enough—or perhaps my team of button-pressers was not agile enough? Just then, we discovered that our efforts had unlocked the cabinet. We hauled out a bunch of t-shirts with mysterious letters on them, books with randomly high-lighted words, a giant monkey statue, and a little basketball. We each pivoted to a different small task, now in full-out sprint.
There were shouts of joy and dopamine surges every couple of minutes when something was solved. By the time we had solved all five job-related puzzles, we had fifteen minutes (or a quarter of a million dollars) to spare.
Brian entered the room to congratulate us and wrap-up our experience. “The guy who created this loved escape rooms, and he’s also the CEO of a start-up, so he’s familiar with this world,” he said, escorting us out in reverse, through the garage and back toward the front room.