Looking Glass Adventures (2944 Danforth Avenue, near Victoria Park Station) has been entertaining Torontonians with lovingly designed, exciting, and purposefully non-horrifying escape room experiences since 2015. Deliberately crafted as an alternative to the scary/gore-filled escape rooms of yesteryear, the stated goal of Looking Glass is to deliver “fun in a mysterious and exciting environment” that’s welcoming to “groups of all different compositions and backgrounds.”
The Toronto Guardian had the opportunity to check out their latest creation, the winkingly copyright-free “Walden’s Wizarding World” earlier this month. It was fun, challenging but not terribly so, and altogether magical.
Walden’s Wizarding World is a hairy experience, like someone threw all their best magic ideas into a pot… er, you get the picture.
The moment you first step into Walden’s, a “wizardry shop” (Looking Glass gets -1 point for not spelling it “shoppe”), you have an immediate feel for what to expect. There are brooms leaning against the corner, and you just know they aren’t for dusting. There are all sorts of closed cabinets with inviting labels like “Magical Creatures” and “Owl Post”. There are also, because of course there are, slips of paper with obscure clues, and a decent number of combination locks just begging to be opened.
The rooms at Looking Glass Adventures are less about escaping than they are about solving a mystery in the form of a series of puzzles. In Walden’s case, participants step into the roles of young wizards, surprised to find their beloved shop(pe) empty and beloved shopkeeper missing. Carefully placed clues point the way to finding out what happened, while also walking the players through a series of, in effect, magic training exercises. Walden’s immersiveness comes from the fact that each activity feels like it could reasonably be an actual test faced by a group of student wizards. Even the “hint phone”, connecting you to helpful Looking Glass employees, is a classic rotary telephone that fits seamlessly into the aesthetic. The presence of various bits of optional flavour – items that exist only for the sake of atmosphere or roleplaying, but which don’t contribute to the puzzles whatsoever – only add to the feeling of immersion.
Would-be escapees will be glad to hear that Looking Glass does not suffer from an overreliance on combination locks, button pads, or other crutches of lesser escape rooms. Whether it’s magnets, hidden circuitry, or just plain ole physical manipulation of objects, plenty of Walden’s puzzles are tactile, relying on neat gimmicks to make you feel like there’s magic in the air. The photos in this review hardly do it justice: trust me when I say there’s a lot more going on at Walden’s than what you can see in this spoiler-free review.
More so than other escape rooms, Walden’s is relaxing. The fictional stakes are low enough that it’s fun to fool around a bit without feeling like you’re going to be penalized. You’re even free, as one of our group decided to do, to turn on your phone flashlight and stick it up your sleeve, so it looks like your hand is glowing. Is this ridiculous and a waste of precious escape room time? Sure. But is it funny and thematic and does it add to the experience? Absolutely. (Also, it’s nice that Looking Glass doesn’t confiscate your phone like other escape rooms. We got some good albeit spoilery pics that we’ll cherish even if we’ve refrained from posting them here.) Walden’s is also easy enough that even with time wasters like photos and flashlights, we finished within the allotted hour. Which is important, because the finale is so epic and unexpected it instantly elevates everything that has come before.
To be clear, Looking Glass – or at least our wizarding experience of it – isn’t easy per se. But with a conscious choice to provide plain language clues, clearly delineate between puzzles (there’s no confusing X Object for belonging to Y Puzzle), and subtly push you in the right direction towards each successive puzzle, it’s an accessible and deeply rewarding experience. Plus, seriously, that finale is epic. Aparecium!
Final score: 9/10 Hippogriffs.
Visit the Looking Glass Adventures website and book tickets here.