Hear that rumbling underfoot? It's not the rattling of trains on the metro, or thermal waters bubbling beneath the city streets. No, that's the sound of 80 locked cellar rooms - full of people trying to escape. But steady - it's no cause for alarm.
One of the most popular leisure activities for visitors to Budapest (and many a local) is a new form of interactive entertainment, known as puzzle games, pioneered right here in Budapest. The brainchild of a sociologist named Attila Gyurkovics, the premise is this. Groups of 2 to 5 people are literally locked in a room, told there is a bomb ticking in the room, which is set to an hour timer, and they have 60 minutes to work out how to escape. Clues are distributed throughout the room, and the challenge is to get out before the bomb goes off. Actually, not so much a bomb as sirens and flashing lights - but it does work to a dramatic effect.
Each game has a different theme, which can range from Soviet Cosmonauts to Medieval dungeons. It's fun, challenging and a terrific "team building" exercise, but unless you happen to be Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, we do suggest going in a group of 4 or 5. Working out the clues and combinations you need for escape is definitely not child's play, and is much less a test of brains than brawn. That said, there is some light exertion involved in playing the game, and aside from especially marked areas, players are actively encouraged to look in and under every stick of furniture, in every manilla folder and under every rug, for that's generally where at least the starter clues are concealed.
Gyurkovics launched the first puzzle games in Budapest around 3 years ago, under the Parapark banner at Gondozó kert, a ruined pub in the 8th district. Little can he have known what a sensation these games would prove, as puzzle or escape games are now one of Budapest's most popular activities. The success of Parapark has spawned a host of imitators, not only in Hungary, but as far afield as Barcelona. Some of course, are better than others. Of those we have tried in Budapest, Trap 'Team Race Against Puzzles' seems like it should last the distance. Even Attila Gyurkovics says they do a good job, and he is remarkably sanguine about the number of companies who have sprung up, believing the good ones will endure.
So, will you take the challenge? Here's where to get started...