Get a Clue

Always searching for more escape room inspiration, Katie was delighted when her mom sent her a dandy little escape challenge that fit right in the palm of her hand. Though it was small, but packed a mighty punch! Take it away, Katie!


The Cluebox “Escape Room in a Box” is produced by iDventure Machine Factory and retails for around $40 on Amazon. There are three different Clueboxes available for purchase: Captain Nemo’s Nautilus, Davy Jones Locker and Schrödinger’s Cat. The suggested age range is 14+ and the estimated playtime is 60 minutes.

I tackled Schrödinger’s Cat. The wood puzzle box is packaged in a sturdy cardboard box that is covered with images with a funky steampunk motif, including a very cool cat. Inside the packaging is an informational note (in multiple languages) briefly describing the quantum mechanics experiments conducted by Erwin Schrödinger in the 1930s. You are tasked with figuring out how to rescue his cat from inside the wood puzzle box.

The escape room itself is a robust wood box with various gears, interesting sliding tabs, and is covered in hieroglyphics that one would rightly assume will be used to solve the mystery. I took some time to carefully examine the box, looking at all the parts and pieces. It didn’t take long before I found a note on one of the tabs that read “Start,” and it had me follow a series of arrows around the sides of the box to the bottom. There, the arrows stopped near tabs that signaled the start of the room.

The informational note also clearly states that all elements of the box should open smoothly, so you don’t need to force anything and no guessing is required. There is a website link that offers hints if you get stuck and are unable to move on. I always try to solve escape rooms without hints, but I did have to get a bit of assistance with one part (more on that later).

No spoilers, I promise! I methodically worked my way through the puzzles. After about 30 minutes, I got stuck on a brainteaser that I believed involved the strange eye staring from one side of the box. I twisted, tapped, and moved everything around and could not figure out what was going on with the eye. After about 20 minutes without making any progress, I reluctantly visited the hint website to get a tiny bit of help. Turns out I was right about the eye, and after working through the final riddle, I was able to successfully release Schrödinger’s cat. My total time to solve: 72 minutes.

The iDventure’s Clueboxes are a fun addition to the realm of escape rooms. The wood box is beautifully manufactured and the puzzles are a mix of relatively easy to quite difficult. I agree with the suggested age range and feel an adult would need to assist younger children. It is definitely designed for single players, though it could be a fun party game. One aspect I really like is the box can be reset to its initial state after a person finishes the escape room, which allows for others to participate in a future challenge. The solution compartment is also big enough to hold a gift certificate or little note, so you can hide a small present inside as an added bonus for escaping the room.

Cluebox is perfect for an hour or two of individual challenging fun, and it gets my seal of escape room approval!

350 for 50

350 fo 50_2017Announcing the winners of our annual 350 for 50 writing contest!  This year, young writers were challenged to compose a short, 350-word story that included the sentence, “Each box had a story.” Winners from our four age categories enjoyed a $50 shopping spree on Amazon. Congratulations to all!

Illustrations by Aliisa Lee


THE STORY OF THE BOX
by Melody Yan, age 9, Hong Kong

The lights flickered in the tightly crammed cargo ship. I rocked back and forth, bumping into other boxes. If you haven’t already guessed, I’m a box. I won’t bother to tell you anymore. It’ll just raise more and more questions. Anyways, the ship stopped. Then a person came in. He picked up boxes and put them on a cart. We got pushed to a bigger box, and they started putting other boxes inside the big box.

“Hey kid, what’s your story?!” asked the big box I was in.

“Huh?” I asked, confused.

“Each box has a story,” said the big box. “I myself am made from many boxes, although it was quite painful,” he said, thoughtfully. Other boxes around also told their stories.

“Well kid, we’ve told you our stories, tell us yours,” said the big box, which was called Alfredo.

“I…I don’t really have a story,” I stammered.

“What?!” shouted Alfredo. “You think about that! Each box has a story!”

And then somebody opened the box and lifted me and a small box out. I was glad for that. Anyways, the person carried us to a hospital. The guy carrying us walked over to a lady sitting at a desk that read: Receptionist. He said, “Delivery!” The lady smiled and said, “Welcome! This way please!” She led him into a hallway with doors that had signs. He left us in one and after a while somebody came and took us to a room where there were two beds with girls on them. One of the girls said, “Hailey, you don’t have to do this.”

“Sarah, you know I would do anything for you. You’re my BFF,” said Hailey.

“Yeah, but a kidney transplant!” said Sarah.

“It’s okay. It’s okay,” comforted Hailey.

A man with a white coat came and said, “You girls have surgery now.” He opened up me and the small box and took out two identical, blue stuffed bunnies. All of a sudden, I knew what Alfredo meant. And I can tell you, everything was worth it for that smile.


TWISTED SCIENCE
by Sofia Lachmann, age 11, California

“G16! This is a G16 emergency!”

“What’s happening?” I yelled over the blaring loudspeaker as I ran. I was new to this company, and I still hadn’t been through all the training yet. What the heck does G16 mean?

“They’re bringing in a specimen that’s dangerous!” a man shouted.

I turned a corner and was left wandering empty halls alone. I wasn’t supposed to be here, but I was thrilled to be breaking the rules.

After a few minutes, I became uneasy. The hallways looked exactly the same: white walls, carpeted floors. There was no way I was going to be able to find my way back. Eventually though, I found a door labeled ‘DO NOT ENTER – RESTRICTED ACCESS ONLY’. I opened the door.

Inside was a balcony looking down to a huge lab. I peered over the ledge and almost fell off. This company wasn’t saving the lives of animals, they were experimenting on them! How could so many nice people be working for something so disgusting?

My thoughts were suddenly interrupted when another alarm blasted.

“777, there’s been a breach in the upper lab section. Report any suspects. 777.”

That was me, wasn’t it? I was the breach they were talking about. I heard voices and rushed, heavy footsteps coming and I ducked behind a crate, hoping they hadn’t seen me. 2 people walked passed, and I caught a bit of their conversation.

“…it was so sudden, I’m not sure if I locked the cage properly!”

When I was sure they were gone, I came out from hiding and ran to the stairs that led me to the labs down below.

The first of probably 8 or 9 glass boxes held a tiger with eagle wings. How did this mutant animal exist? Only when I got closer to the glass walls did I notice the labels. Each box had a story. A story about the animal inside. Medicines taken, surgeries performed. Scientists had made this poor creature.

I could feel my blood boiling under my skin, and I did something dangerous and impulsive.

I unlatched the lock.


THE PLAY
by Juha Lee, age 13, New Jersey

For months, Penny had excitedly awaited this day. Now, it was finally here. She stepped out of the car holding her mother’s hand. Walking toward the theater entrance, she giggled gleefully at the sight of the red carpet in the doorway. Penny strutted into the air-conditioned theater, pretending paparazzi and fans were cheering for her.

“Enough!” her mother snapped, dragging her by the elbow to the ticket window.

As her mother stood in line, Penny turned to people-watch. It was her favorite thing to do in public places; it was a fun way to pass time and it was relaxing, in a way. She smiled to herself as she imagined backstories for the strangers who passed by. This was another thing she liked to do in public places.

“Penny!” her mother hissed, gesturing for Penny to follow. “Come on! The play starts in 10 minutes!”

Eyes bright with anticipation, Penny babbled her excitement away as her mother led her down a hallway, around the corner, and into the auditorium. She was still rambling on when they sat down in their seats, asking her mother how she was staying so calm when all this was so exciting: oh, aren’t you excited, I am, this is my first play ever, oh I’m so thrilled.

“Hush now,” Penny’s mother said sternly, frowning at the way Penny was bouncing up and down in her seat. “And quit moving around so much, will you?”

Penny wasn’t the least bit dejected, and continued marveling at the huge, open space of the auditorium. Suddenly, the lights dimmed, and she let out a small squeak of surprise. Her mother shushed her again, but Penny was literally on the edge of her seat now, craning her neck to see the first actress walk onto the stage. As she opened her mouth to speak, Penny fell silent and leaned forward, eager to hear the first line: “Each box had a story.”


MAIDEN, MOTHER, CRONE
by Stuti Desai, age 15, New Jersey

The meadow was empty except for you and your painstakingly gathered boxes: one, from the waters of the Kraken; another, from the camps of the Mahabharata War; and a third, found under Salem. Each box had a story.

You, dress flowing, hands bloodied, legs aching. You were not strong that you could shove galaxies apart to find your boxes, nor were you magic that you could summon history’s darkest secrets with a few words. But you were determined, and that was enough. But you followed the Triple Goddess, and that was enough.

The Kraken box, you charmed your way into. You lied your way onto a ship, stole scuba gear, and lied your way home. You found the box of the disappeared girl, clean washed oak, meant for holding jewelry. Maiden, alone.

The box from the Mahabharata, you won from distraught mothers of sons who did the right thing and mothers of sons who did wrong, all the same in the end. You heard them and held them, and they led you to your box, locked up metal, lest any other get their hands on it. You ran your hands across the mandala and wished them peace. Mother, forgotten.

The Salem book, you fought for. Not that it was difficult. The women were brittle-boned, malnourished. If not fight, what else could women with nothing to lose do? You pried the box from their unrelenting hands. It was fraying, on the verge of broken. Crone, scorned.

You opened two boxes. First, the maiden, so she could be free. Then, the mother, so she could find home.

You hesitated before the crone, before the violence that follows a woman’s life. Should women be entitled to suffer in silence, saved from becoming a spectacle? Without the crone’s story, women would hold all they were inside until their daughters learned to hurt the same way.

Stopping that cycle of hurt was enough for you. In the spirit of the crone, you kneeled and opened the box. What did it matter to you if the world suffered? The crone suffered, and no one had listened.

The VIPS of RSVP

In the picturesque mountain town of Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, lies a gorgeous and amazing gem…Somersault, an independently-owned letterpress studio and card shop! From their vintage presses, to their gorgeous retail space, to their beautiful cards, Somersault is unique in every regard. I’ll pause here while you enjoy their amazing Instagram.

Owned and operated by Mitch Hanson and Amy Pienta (and adorably supervised by the Hammish, aka Hammie Noodle, seen below), what began as a side project in 2011 has bloomed into a multiple award-winning studio and retail venture.

How did this remarkable adventure start?

Believe it or not, our letterpress business began because we were planning on becoming farmers and cheese makers, LOL. We were spending our vacations on a friend’s farm learning about Icelandic sheep and how to make cheese, but everyone kept telling us we needed to do something else from the farm in the first few years of business to make money. In the meantime, we ran into an old acquaintance who was retiring their design + letterpress printing business. They did not want to sell to a commercial printer and hoped instead that someone would pick up where they were leaving off.

Naturally, we thought this would be a good fit for the farm venture. So we started learning about letterpress printing and running the business and instead ended up just finding our niche and falling in love.

What types of presses/equipment do you have?

10×15 Heidelberg Windmills from the 50s & 60’s, one with hot foil stamping & 1 Chandler & Price 12×18 handfed press from 1932. We also have a small 5×7 Kelsey Pilot press (used for fun), a 1970s Challenge cutter, a stitcher, drill press, and photo polymer plate maker.

Please tell us about your philosophy on paper, products, and process…

We are not a traditional letterpress printer in that we are using carved lino blocks or lead type. Before we started Somersault, we were already working in the commercial print and design world and very accustomed to working with all different types of papers and processes, so naturally that habit just stuck with us. We use our vintage presses in conjunction with modern day design programs.

When it comes to paper, we love to push the envelope and try new things. When it comes to our clients’ projects, we feel it’s important for them to have products that tell their story in their own way, so we constantly strive for uniqueness. Using unlimited colors and textures and options allows us the artistic freedom we look forward to, and allows our clients to stand out in a crowd.

Why did you decide to relocate from Las Vegas, NV to Jim Thorpe, PA?

A culmination of reasons, really – a little tired of the incessant heat, one of us wanting to be closer to family after being in the desert for 15 years, one of us wanting to explore the East Coast for the first time ever, and A LOT of needing to be around four seasons again. Traveling from Philly to Wilkes-Barre to see family, we always took a detour through Jim Thorpe and when thinking about places we’d like to live and have a retail space (we didn’t have retail in Las Vegas – just the studio), Jim Thorpe kept coming back to mind.

What’s one unexpected thing about working with vintage equipment?

Almost everyday we’re blown away by the engineering of these awesome presses and their versatility to print, foil, emboss, deboss and die cut on everything from super thin rice paper to triple thick cover stocks – even plexiglass and leather – over and over and over again. They are both heavy beasts with pressure and at the same time very delicate delivering precision with nothing but iron and steel… no circuit boards, or rebooting, or service calls needed… and if something isn’t printing correctly, it’s ALWAYS operator error.

You have an incredibly interesting and unique space. Please tell us about one of your favorite objects in your store or studio!

Our favorite object in our studio is our front counter – hand-built by the two of us – and seemingly the heart of the retail space. We wanted a unique way to highlight collected mementos and small pieces of our work in California type cases – yet never quite expected it to become such a communication tool. Friends and neighbors have brought items to be shared for the case, visitors have left foreign currency or little bits of their travels, and patrons are constantly fascinated by what they find there and feel compelled to share their own stories. Connecting with people across the counter in such a way has made the shop feel even more like home.

What’s one of the most challenging projects you’ve completed?

The most challenging in scope had to be the Bejeti Wallet media kit boxes. Working with an agency in Harrisburg, we developed and engineered a small multilayered box with a magnetic lid. The project involved producing die-cut insets and inserts that were hot stamped with holographic foil on a soft-touch black stock, embossing, hand assembly – all to showcase a piece of actual meteorite sitting prominently on a small magnetic stem. For our small studio, it was an intense amount of engineering and labor but it all paid off in the end – the project just won a national award for GDUSA’s Packaging Competition.

Please finish this sentence…if there’s one weird thing I’m obsessed with at work, it’s…

On a constant daily basis we are obsessed with the wonderfully weird phenomenon of watching an idea – literally conjured up out of nothing – transformed into this remarkable, tangible product. Watching this perfectly modern and beautiful piece come together on these old presses is like watching magic happen. We never get tired of it.


Many thanks to Mitch Hanson and Amy Pienta for allowing me to photograph their shop and studio!