The Penitentiary Was Truly a Punishment – Room: The Penitentiary – July 15, 2017 – FAILED!


Play if… you’ve always wondered what it’s like being behind bars.

Avoid if… you are claustrophobic or scared of the dark.



Address: 2406 18th Street NW, 2nd Floor, Washington, DC 20009 (click address for Google Map)

Contact and Website: 202 644 0825

The Room – The Penitentiary: RETIRED

Description (from the company website) (Note: this is the most recent and differs from the original storyline we were told): Saint Temple Prison is one of the most infamous military prisons in history. No one has ever escaped it. Until one night, all the prisoners vanished. They were never seen or heard of again. Rumors say the incident was related to a rampage killer named Richard Ramirez, aka “The Night Stalker”. Another prisoner found a weird-looking machine in the cell of “The Night Stalker” and disappeared the next day…

You wake up one day and find yourself locked in a cramped cell. You are cold and alone. Silence surrounds and holds you. Suddenly, you realize this is the mysterious cell in which “The Night Stalker” died. Your heart is pounding. No matter if this is a game, you know your only goal is to escape.

Difficulty (1-10): 5/5

Time Limit: 60 minutes

Cost: $28

Identifier: R1

Party Size: 2-12

Staging Area: The lobby is up a flight of stairs and has a small number of couches and tables. Also note that it’s above a restaurant, so be prepared for some…interesting…smells in the warmer weather.

Metro Access/Parking: Woodley Park / National Zoo and then walk .7 miles across the Calvert Street bridge into Adams Morgan. It’s Adams Morgan, so parking at night and on weekends can be really tricky. We suggest Uber or Lyft if that’s an option.


This is the video we took before we entered the room:


Description of the room: This is supposed to be a prison, and as such you start off in cells that are opposite each other. There are 3 rooms (to start), including the 2 cells.

Understanding of the Mission: You wake up in the cell of an infamous prisoner and all you know is that everyone who stays in this cell disappears. So, you need to get the hell outta there!

Did We Escape: No; read on to find out why.

Time Remaining: :-/

Our Suggested Party Size: Minimum 6-8

Did the room challenge the entire team? Yes

Members of our team (other than the ERG): Valerie, Heather, Mark, Shannon

Worth the time and money? No

Where to Eat/Drink Before/After:

Our Scoring:

Overall Expectation (Summary)
First things first. If you’ve never been to Omescape in Adams Morgan, read our review of the first room we did there (Room Omega).

Now that that’s out of the way, you’ll understand why I didn’t want to come back here. I wasn’t impressed with the first room, or the way the place was run, but I’ll be damned if I’m not going to make myself suffer and not review all the rooms at a place. But boy did I…

I will be completely honest here. I did not want to come back to this location after we did Room Omega, but I was willing to chalk that first experience up to an issue with that particular GM and give them another chance.

I will say that the descriptions of the two remaining rooms we needed to do here were interesting, but the descriptions on the website are slightly different from the poster that is at the location.

We did both of the remaining rooms essentially to knock Omescape DC off of our list of locations where we had rooms left to do, and to celebrate a friend’s 40th birthday.

It turns out that our initial experience with Omescape DC is what you can expect at this location, but the issues aren’t unfixable. Full explanation will be below.

Story (Rating)
You wake up locked in the cell that the Night Stalker had been in. I don’t recall there being a ‘how I got there’ moment at any point, but I believe we were put there for some committed crime. All you are told is that you need to escape or you’ll vanish (die?) like the previous cell’s inhabitants. 

Rating: 4/10

You awaken in a locked cell that had been previously inhabited by the Night Stalker, a serial killer who was found dead in the cell over a year ago. It turns out that anyone who enters the cell will die within 60 minutes.

Now, while this storyline has potential, there is nothing to the story as to HOW you ended up in the cell… just that you awaken here. Are you criminals who were captured, or guards who ended up accidentally locked in here? Also, how do you know that it’s the Night Stalker cell (without specifically being told)? It’s the holes in the story that made me rate this a bit lower.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the story is extremely important because it gives you context as to why you’re in the room. Don’t make me invent something because – chances are – it’s not the same story that my teammates may have conjured.

The website has been updated since we did the room to say that the prison never had any escapees. Now, all of a sudden, all the prisoners one day go missing (after a prisoner found a weird device in the room).

I mean, WT-ever-loving-F??! The original storyline we were told made much more sense in terms of it being kind of a paranormal experience (the ghost of the Night Stalker is killing everyone who remains in the cell more than 60 minutes).

Rating: 3/10

Mission (Rating)
Solve all the puzzles to get out of your cells. Then solve the puzzles to get out of the cell area. Solve more puzzles to escape the jail lobby. It’s a pretty simple mission: Get out to stay alive. (And you know what we say about rooms with only one objective…)

Rating: 5/10

Simple: solve all the puzzles, get out of your individual cells, into the main lobby and then out of the prison itself.

OOOHHHHH!!!! Escape from prison. Didn’t see that one coming. Why not add in “find out what happened to the Night Stalker AND escape the prison to break the curse?”

Rating: 5/10

Puzzle Diversity (Rating)
I’m going to say that the start of this room is completely linear (and I’m pointing this out because you are broken into 2 groups to start, each with their own puzzles to solve). You do have to work together to get each other out of your respective cells, but it starts off really slow/boring. Once you all get out of the cells, that’s when the “fun” starts. And I say “fun” because that’s the opposite of what I had. This room was probably one of the most frustrating rooms I’ve even experienced.

Puzzles ranged here from number puzzles and cryptograms to random trivia (seriously, if you’ve never read Harry Potter, good luck without asking for a clue). I think there was even a map involved (yes, yes there was). That was probably the best puzzle in the room. Man, I can’t even vent about this because I’d be giving too much away and 2/3s of this page would be hidden under the guise of a spoiler, so I’ll just shut-up and rate it.

Rating: 6/10

The one thing this room did have going for it was the diversity of the puzzles. There were a number of things to decode, other things to puzzle out, and others where you had to work together to move forward.

Rating: 7/10

Puzzle Complexity (Rating)
Harkening back to the last sentence of the above ranting of a lunatic, I can’t say that the bulk of the puzzles in this place were terribly difficult if they were properly laid out. And I say this because the puzzle that gets you into the main jail lobby (as I called it above) is literally a matter of right place and right time (or should that be the right height and the right angle…). On top of that, our GM was completely useless as a GM, but I’ll get into that momentarily.

Rating: 6/10

So, the puzzles here weren’t overly complex, but there was a good mix of easy and hard. I did like that you needed teamwork to solve some of them.

We got stalled a few times, but it wasn’t because the puzzles were overly complex but more because of the design of the room itself. See the next section for my rant… er, more information.

Rating: 7/10

Flow/Cohesiveness/Uniqueness (Rating)
I think this would have been more accurately labeled an insane asylum because I wanted to rip my hair out after. And we still had a second room to do after!

I honestly think the only thing that fit the guise of a penitentiary was the fact that there was a blueprint of the ‘facility’ laid out somewhere (this was part of a puzzle). That’s pretty much the only thing that really lent itself to the room. The remaining puzzles in the main jail lobby had practically NOTHING to do with the story or location. And again, WTF was a Harry Potter reference doing in there other than the fact that it was relating to the <POTENTIAL SPOILER> Prisoner of Azkaban <END POTENTIAL SPOILER>? And why were there lasers in the room???

The *only* thing I liked about the jail lobby was the fact that there were actually 2 ways to solve the puzzle to escape. Now I know why.

Rating: 3/10

I’ll start off with what was good. The room looked like a prison and the puzzles did relate to the theme and fit well. I liked how the locks worked and some of the puzzles to figure out.

One issue that is a huge pet peeve of mine is a puzzle that you can’t solve by using something in the room (a prop, a clue, a code) and requires general or pop culture knowledge that people MAY NOT HAVE. We asked about one of these after we failed the room, and the GM said “oh, you just have to know that XXX was XXX, or you ask for a hint, which isn’t a problem because hints are unlimited.”

Well, I have a big fucking issue with that. The whole point of the game is to solve the room using the items in the room itself. Once you require knowledge of things outside the room, it removes you from the experience of the room itself.

Additionally, there was a point in the room where we were stalled. We had to ask for a hint, and the GM told us how to solve the puzzle (which was slightly annoying). However, we had 4 people working on it at one point and we still couldn’t solve it until our last team member came over, took one look and saw what we needed to do. Now, it wasn’t because the rest of us were stupid and couldn’t solve it, but simply because she was in the right place and at the right height to see what we needed to do.

I can understand making people look high and low for clues, but making them invisible unless you meet a certain height criteria is a bit annoying.

Finally, the room was completely linear, which I really hate (especially in a room rated for more than 4 people). So, there were a number of us standing around waiting for our turn to try and solve some of the puzzles once other members of our team got stuck.

Rating: 3/10

Fun/Amusement (Summary)
By the time we got out of the Penitentiary, I didn’t even want to do the next room. But, you know, I’m a trooper, so I did. (Besides, it was already paid for.) I went in trying to give Omescape the benefit of the doubt after having a negative experience of doing the first room, but I ended up getting pissed off with the design of the room and the inattentiveness of our GM.
Game Master (Summary)
Once again, Omescape utterly failed in this category. Our GM was working all 3 rooms at the same time, including cleaning/resetting. Multiple times we radioed in for a clue and had to radio in again (and again) wasting precious time. The longest we waited for a reply was 3-4 minutes, and the reply was “Can you repeat that?”. Seriously. Yes, I can, but do you hear the anger/disdain in my voice as I’m repeating it?

Additionally, one of the clues he gave us, (well, we just told him to give us the answer at that point), was for THE. WRONG. PUZZLE.

What soured our experience in doing the first room at this location (Room Omega) was our initial thought that the Game Master was new or didn’t care about her job.

Our GM here was a nice guy, but he was game mastering all three rooms at the same time, checking people in, answering phones and doing general admin stuff. He was split in too many directions to effectively manage the rooms themselves and provide for a good experience.

After we got stalled, we asked for a clue on the walkie talkie. It took him a full 4 minutes to respond to us because he was doing other things. By that point, we were all waiting around for some sort of hint to move forward. If you want to know that frustration level, take your timer out, set it to 4 minutes and just wait for that time to run out. Now, imagine how we felt knowing that the game clock was ticking down from 60 minutes.

I don’t know if it was a tech issue or the lapse of attention, but he kept asking us to repeat ourselves, which was frustrating. And to top it all off, when he did finally get back to us with a clue, it was to something that. WE. HAD. ALREADY. SOLVED! He forgot in the time we asked as to where we were in the experience, which is kind of like one of the primary jobs of the game master.

How Helpful Were Any Clues Given, if any (Summary)
The clues we received, once we got them, were generally helpful. Aside for that one that was for the wrong puzzle. Yeah, the hints were helpful, but they made me more annoyed once I found out that we couldn’t solve it based on the room itself (or me suddenly shrinking in height by about 6 inches)
Anger Level Score ERG (pronounced URG, as in “we should have known better”) Score
Writing this review makes me just want to forget the whole experience even happened.

Rating: ????? Fists – 5/5

I didn’t feel stupid. I felt annoyed and pissed off, so I’m going to steal Jason’s anger rating for this review.

Rating: ?????  Fists – 5/5


Final Thought: This room had potential, but the design needs to be tweaked to allow people to solve all the puzzles without having a specific physical trait, or knowledge of some pop culture icon. The other thing we would recommend is that Omescape DC dedicates one game master to each room (versus one person for all three) so that people get the attentiveness that they’re paying for when doing the room.

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