It is’s not often that you see a twin XL mattress get lugged through iZone — but forwhen you’re junior Oren Schwartz, it is just part of the job.

“I have never had more eyes on me than dragging that mattress through iZone,” said Schwartz, who is part of iZone’s marketing team. He is no stranger to the spotlight — having been in multiple ROC Players shows, a part of the YellowJackets a cappella group on campus, and one of the founders of Pet Rock Sketch Comedy, which had its first show on Friday. Now, he has found comfort (and a lot of overtime) in working behind the scenes on the library’s first ever escape room, “Cabin Fever: Snowed In.”

Schwartz is a fervent fan of escape rooms. He boasts a current undefeated record in his own escape-rooming, and on the production side of things, his work with iZone isn’t his first rodeo either. In his first-year dorm, he created an escape room in a common room — and was then told to remove parts of the set dressing due to fire safety code. As a camp counselor at the Reform Jewish overnight camp URJ Camp Harlam in Kunkletown, PA, he set up an escape room in his campers’ cabin in the foothills of the Pocono Mountains. Now, as the team lead for “Snowed In,” all that experience is getting put to the est.

Schwartz presented the concept to iZone’s full team — currently, eight student staff members and director Yasmin Mattox — at their semesterly Pitch Day and was met with immediate excitement. Seniors Sanghamitra Subba, Katie Ho, and Rachel Kamata signed on to aid in the project, and since then, they’ve been meeting each Friday to do what iZone prides itself on most: ideating, brainstorming, and producing. 

A couple of Campus Times members went to experience the escape room for themselves first (Editor-in-Chief Alyssa Koh and Staff Writer Elena Bachmann) and then spoke to the team while they ran another team’s pass-through. 

The escape room itself was themed around needing to find coordinates within a cabin to give a search-and-rescue team your location. “We started with a theme brainstorm session,” said Ho. “Someone suggested a haunted library, but then Oren said ‘ghosts are cringe.’”

“I stand by that,” Schwartz said.

The puzzles utilized group collaboration and finding resources from different parts of the room to solve them. Thus, having a variety of thinkers in a team can lead to more efficient escapes, according to the team

“The fastest team we’ve had with no hints was a 41:09,” said Schwartz. “That was a mix of students, grad students, and a random Med Center employee who jumped in.”

The escape room is entirely built off the student team’s work — from the puzzles to the Amvets-sourced, budget-approved decorations and the staffing of the room itself. For those interested in signing up, all the open time slots for the escape room have been based on the four team members’ personal availability throughout the week. 

“The team is smaller than normal, since we’re working on hiring new full-time staff members,” said Kamata, who has worked for the marketing team since Fall 2020 — and whose extra Southside mattress is being used for the escape room. “The iZone student staff has really picked up the ball this semester.” 

However, this amount of student investment isn’t uncommon for the library. Most auxiliary iZone projects — such as the annual improvisational presentation-giving game Pitch Imperfect and last semester’s Springfest-Palooza — are entirely student-driven.

The finalization of the project came all within the week prior to the launch date, due to the fact that the room being used is normally a classroom space. Thus, the team had to create puzzles without being able to playtest in the actual room until much later. When they were finally able to set up the room, some puzzles needed to be changed last-minute to better suit the space. This led to a couple long nights that ended in the team getting kicked out of the library by Public Safety.

Due to the lack of staff members, one of iZone’s office spaces was converted into the “Snowed In” headquarters for the week. The room, which is separated from the rest of the library by a transparent glass door, is where those going through the escape room can drop their bags. 

On entry, you’re immediately surrounded by organized chaos — ripped open boxes of congratulatory stickers for players, a whiteboard with scribbled quotes from teams that have gone through the room, and trays full of homemade chocolate chip-oatmeal-walnut cookies (courtesy of Kamata). There, whoever’s staffing the escape room sits with a phone to track the team’s progress and a walkie-talkie to communicate with the team for hints. 

Sometimes, if a puzzle breaks, they have to scramble to fix it — or, in Ho’s case, create a new proxy puzzle in 10 minutes. “It’s a lot of hard work, so we’ll probably only be able to do this annually,” she said.

However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t interest for more escape room content beyond iZone’s annual foray. Every possible group slot was filled for this go-around, and the first signup happened to be Provost David Figlio (who unfortunately had to cancel 20 minutes prior to his own escaping). In addition, Ho mentioned that at an inter-library meeting, there had been talk of Advancement wanting an escape room for Meliora Weekend.

“I just really wanted to get paid to do an escape room,” said Schwartz. “… Internally, iZone’s always been thinking about these concepts — pitching, ideating — and now we get to make it fun.”

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