Unusual escape room traps you backstage at an Apple keynote


Apple escape room
This Apple Watch with dongle band was part of an Apple-themed escape room created by Chadwick Severn
Photo: Ben McCarthy

Tim Cook is 15 minutes from the start of his Apple keynote and you’ve been invited backstage because he trusts you and your friends can help the big event run without a hitch.

But then comes a crisis. Cook’s clicker is broken — and the new products Apple is set to debut are missing. It’s up to your group to quickly solve the mystery and find the devices on time.

This is not a bad dream, but an actual experience you can have during the Worldwide Developers Conference next month in San Jose, California. The nightmare scenario fuels a pop-up Apple escape room coming to AltConf 2019.

Running since 2011, AltConf is a free alternative conference for developers held during Apple’s pricey annual conference for coders. Each year, the fun, community-driven event serves up speakers, workshops and a chance to network for people attending (or priced out of) WWDC.

Backstage at the Keynote

New this year at AltConf is “Backstage at the Keynote.” That’s the theme of the escape room designed by Chadwick Severn, a puzzle buff and computer programmer from Ontario, Canada. Severn created similar escape rooms at three different Úll conferences in Ireland. (“Úll” is Irish for “House of Apple.”)

AltConf goers will need to visit the Backstage at the Keynote website to sign up for a time slot to play Severn’s fourth Apple-themed escape room. Tickets for the adventure game, which runs June 3 through 6, cost $5.

Severn says the usual escape room gives participants an hour to investigate clues that unlock the exit. The increasingly popular role-playing games typically produce high rates of failure. His, he says, prove equally challenging, with only one or two teams victorious.

An Apple escape room

Úll conference-goers try to solve the mystery of an Apple-themed escape room in 2017
Úll conference-goers try to solve the mystery of an Apple-themed escape room in 2017.
Photo: Ben McCarthy

In his escape rooms, Severn quickly presents teams with the storyline and leads them into the game space.

Success comes through active communication — and having at least one teammate who knows their Apple history, even the oddball stuff.

“Escape rooms are incredible fun,” Severn told Cult of Mac. “It’s a fantastic way for a bunch of friends to have an experience together. It’s interactive and cooperation, a lot of people yelling, ‘I’ve got this.’ I encourage people to go out for drinks afterward and talk about it.”

Severn’s escape rooms are pretty sophisticated, with elaborate, Apple-like gadgets to engage a hands-on experience. He built a “new” Mac Pro for one room, created a dongle band for an Apple Watch at another and built a network of Apple Pay terminals for one puzzle.

The gadgets will draw your attention and likely send you off course. Severn loves planting red herrings and little inside jokes.

Creating strange ‘Apple’ devices

Which Apple Pay terminal provides a green light to victory?
Which Apple Pay terminal provides a green light to victory?
Photo: Ben McCarthy

During an Úll conference, Severn created an “Apple Keyboard 3” with an unusual layout. Participants had to figure out how to type a message using the peripheral to receive a clue.

At another conference, attendees had to get inside a crate sealed with something called “Camera Lock.” Severn placed pictures of Apple executives around the room. Savvy players figured out that the photos might open the crate, much as Face ID unlocks the latest iPhones.

Also in the room was a black turtleneck and round glasses. The winning teams figured out that the crate unlocked when someone donned Steve Jobs’ trademark uniform and stood in front of the camera. Severn always hands out prizes for the winners. And he conducts a Q&A session afterward, giving losing teams a chance to understand why they failed.

Severn pitched the idea to AltConf organizers because he thinks the indie conference’s audience will love the game.

“I’m always game to do an escape room,” he said. “I’ve been to WWDC. The whole block is vibrating over new Apple stuff. This is the perfect mix.”