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[Offbeat]: The Mr.X Mystery House

Taking a tour of fully immersive puzzles and brain teasers at this "mystery house". Trust us, it makes perfect sense once you read it...
Last updated: 2015-11-09

"Offbeat" is a SmartShanghai column about stuff to look at or do in Shanghai that's interesting or weird (relatively, of course), that doesn't fit anywhere else. It appears weekly, monthly, or maybe even annually, when we're not busy working on other superfluous column ideas.

Deep in the heart of Bridge 8 II, Huangpu District's awkwardly named attempt at gentrification, we found this ominous flatiron-style building. The decor was enough to pique our interest. It's pretty much what my living room would have looked like if I had won the lottery at age 13 (I kinda worshiped Ozzy Osbourne back then).

Dig this coffin table, for instance...

Or this creepy faceless log...

Or this bitchin' still life with a skull in a top hat...

So what exactly happens at Mr. X? For lack of a better term, let's call it a puzzle house. It works like this: You and a group of friends are locked in a room together -- no smartphones, no cameras -- and your task is to get out. How? That's for you to figure out. Clues are strewn about the place. They can come in the form of billiard balls, building blocks, candlesticks, cryptic graffiti on the wall. Even the stuff you can see out the window on the street is fair game. It's all completely devoid of context or explanation. You have to use your powers of observation, pattern recognition and logic to find connections and correlations. At the risk of dating myself, it's a lot like Myst, that popular PC game from the mid-90s -- except, of course, it's all happening in real life. You have exactly one hour. Do everything right and the answers are revealed to you piecemeal until you eventually find the key to unlock the door to freedom. There's got to be some kind of spiritual metaphor in there somewhere...

There are five rooms to choose from, each one offering a different puzzle with its own unique theme. We tested our mental mettle on room number four, also known as (cue spooky theremin music) "The Pupil of the Eye." It's an occult-themed puzzle that incorporates zodiac motifs, pentagrams and some kind of mysterious language that looks like it was lifted from The Necronomicon. It also features a nifty dramatic interlude involving special effects and a bunch of clocks. We were unable to photograph this room. The best description I can give is that it looks like it's purpose-built for pagan rituals. As you progress through the puzzle you open various hatches in the floor and ceiling. It's the most difficult one in the building, apparently, and it certainly stumped us. Even after availing ourselves of the lifeline, a red card that you can wave in front of the security camera that signals for an employee to come into the room and help you out if you get stuck, we still couldn't figure it out.

There is also room number one, or the "The Final Judgement." That looks like this...

The centerpiece is a giant vault. Once you figure out how to unlock it, you enter a secret moving compartment that transports you to the other side of the wall. You end up here...

...where you'll find a coffin guarded by laser sensors. The old electric eye trick. Cross the beams and you set off an alarm. My guess is that you have to gather enough clues to figure out how to shut them off to get to the other side. All the while, gothy industrial electronica thumps and bumps at high volume.

Or there is room number two, "Angel Island," which the management tells me is inspired by the popular television series Prison Break. It looks more like one of those CIA black sites from the film Zero Dark Thirty, if you ask me.

As you can see, no detail is left out. They've even installed a latrine. Nice touch, right?

And yes, they tell me you might want to look for clues in there too.

We didn't get to photograph the remaining two rooms. But if you're curious, room number five is titled "Mysterious Night." Management didn't explain that one to us. There is also room number three, which has the unfortunate title of "Concentration Camp." They weren't exactly clear on what that one entails either. Given the vaguely familiar red, white and black flags that they hang up elsewhere in the building...

...I was afraid to ask. Suffice it to say, if they end up assigning you to "Concentration Camp," you'd best redouble your escape efforts.

So who goes to Mr. X? Management tells us that they're hitting the demographic sweet spot, the early 20s to mid 30s set. These are hip, upwardly mobile types who have presumably grown tired of sitting in tea houses playing that murder mystery card game that was so popular a few years back. As you can well imagine, a lot of companies come here for team-building exercises too. It's an ideal place for it.

Should you go? Yeah. There is without a doubt a serious cheese factor to all of it. But face it, you were probably going to numb your mind on house music and Absolut vodka this weekend anyway. Why not do something a little out of the ordinary, something that ultimately might even help to sharpen your intellect?

Prices are quite reasonable. During the week, admission is 100rmb per person between 10am and 6.30pm. During peak hours (6.45pm-12.45am) the bump the price up to 120. Then, from 1 to 3am they reduce the price back to 100. On the weekends it's 120rmb from 10am to 12.45am, and from 1-3am it goes back down to 100.

You can book an entire room for yourself and a large group of friends. The more brains you have at work, the more likely you are to solve the puzzle. If you can't muster enough people, they'll just put you in with a larger party.

This place is wildly popular with the locals, so reservations are essential. You can order tickets here. Unfortunately, the site is only available in Chinese. Fortunately, you are in China and are surrounded by Chinese people who can read Chinese. Avail yourself of one of them. Once you're there, your Chinese skills won't be necessary. The puzzles function on numbers and symbols rather than language. Moreover, many of the staff members speak decent English.

For a full listing of Mr. X, click here.