Once the door closed, participants had 25 minutes before flood waters swept them away.
At least, that was the scenario three Harvard College first-year students walked into on Monday when they entered the sustainability-themed escape room created by the Office for Sustainability’s Undergraduate Resource Efficiency Program.
The room ran April 22‒24 in recognition of Earth Day and as a part of the Office of Sustainability’s month-long events celebrating Harvard’s commitment to sustainability and a healthier planet. It presented participants with puzzles they had to solve to stop sea level rise from submerging parts of Cambridge and devastating Harvard’s campus.
“We thought this would be a really cool way to get people to directly engage with some of those [environmental and sustainability] issues,” said Rosie Wigglesworth ’19, one of the students who organized the room.
Their thinking was spot-on. The room attracted more than 100 Harvard community members, mostly undergraduates, and ran about 14 times a day over a three-day span in the Smith Campus Center. It was a fun, interactive way to test their puzzle-solving skills while learning simple steps they can take to mitigate climate change.
In recent years, escape rooms have become increasingly popular outings for groups of friends. There are now more than 2,000 in the U.S., and a psychological horror film called “Escape Room” was released this year.
In the game, participants are “trapped” inside a room from which they can “escape” only by completing a series of challenges. The rooms tend to follow one of two approaches, or a mix of both. Some have participants solve riddles and puzzles to earn their freedom; others are more physically demanding, making participants navigate a sort of obstacle course.
Harvard’s escape room focused on the mind. It presented participants with a series of puzzles embedded with sustainability lessons on topics such as recycling, waste management, fridge defrosting, and phantom energy waste.
“Because the mission of [the Resource Efficiency Program] is to encourage sustainable lifestyle shifts,” said Meaghan Townsend ’21, another member of the sustainability office’s program, “all the tasks are centered around changes that students could make, specifically in a dorm-room-type set-up on campus.”
In the room, there were mini-refrigerators, wooden furniture, books, surge protectors, and, of course, a snarky roommate — played by Beverly Ge ’20 — who every once in a while said something helpful.