role: Design Lead

ESCAPE THe Room Game


In a marriage of fact and fiction, players assume the role of master cryptologists to explore the underbelly of US history. Using state-of-the-art technology, players solve 166-year-old puzzles that reveal the truth behind the secret presidential assassination of Zachary Taylor. The game leverages Escape The Room game mechanics, but can be played in any location. This game has been produced in over 20 cities for groups ranging from 10 - 200 participants. 


Zachary Taylor was assassinated. The question is, who did it? Millard? Abolitionists? Anti-abolitionists? A spurned lover? On the day he died, his physician (James) wrote a letter to his wife (Elizabeth), revealing the truth. The truth was so shocking that the wife destroyed the letter, afraid it would create great political unrest, but not before encrypting the text in a series of puzzles that she hid around the family home in DC. The game's facilitator is the great great great great great great grandkid of James and Elizabeth.  The family home went into foreclosure last year, and when the game producer was cleaning it out, they found a key and a series of puzzles. They digitized and preserved everything they found at the house, but are seeking help in decrypting these puzzles and reassembling the letter. Which is why they invited the world’s top cryptologists (the players) to solve the mystery.


Zachary Taylor died suddenly during the first year of his presidential term. At the time, it was thought he died of gastroenteritis, contracted from strawberries and iced milk he enjoyed at a 4th of July event (DC waste management systems were less than ideal back in those days, so the water was most likely contaminated). Vice President Millard Fillmore assumed the presidency, and historians have posited that if Zachary Taylor had stayed in office, we might have avoided the Civil War. In the 70s and 80s, two academics began to question the cause of Taylor’s death. His symptoms were remarkably similar to one who has been poisoned by arsenic. So in 1991, with the permission of Taylor’s descendants, the body was exhumed and examined. The verdict: There was arsenic in his system. But was it enough to poison him? Experts didn’t believe so. But ultimately we don’t have enough proof either way.


Teams receive an encrypted letter with a combination of text and symbols. These symbols represent various puzzles. Players have 75 minutes to crack the puzzles, which, once solved, will reveal hidden messages. When the hidden messages are assembled in the proper order, the letter reveals Zachary Taylor’s killer. Teams are competing against each other to solve the mystery quickly, but if they sabotage other teams, they will be disqualified from the game and tried for treason. However teams can engage in head-to-head "brain duels" with other teams, and the winning team will earn crucial puzzle information from the losing team (delivered electronically through their phones). If teams are able to successfully assemble the letter, they will realize it was the physician who killed Zachary Taylor. But at the end of the game, it is revealed that this entire premise is a hoax! There was no assassination. The game producer is secretly a recruiter for the CIA’s tactical cryptology unit, and is looking for the best team to join their ranks.