Paperwork: Pay attention to all characters in ‘escape room’ mystery

Our train ride in Denver was kind of scary.

Maybe because of the murder. But that was no surprise.

Five of us signed up for the mystery ride on the Budapest Express. It was up to us to find a killer, with one hour to piece together clues.

The ticking clock was the scary part, turning our “escape room” into a panic room at times.

Here was our back story that you can find online (

“Onboard the famous trans-European Budapest Express, you are with Karine Peaufiner, a famous French detective from Paris. You are traveling to Budapest to meet with other detectives showcasing the latest developments in crime scene forensics. It is nighttime, and you are passing slowly through the heart of Europe during a heavy snowstorm. You are reviewing case notes in your cabin with Karine and your colleagues.

“Suddenly, there is a knock at the door. It is the train manager. He looks worried and asks you to come quickly to the first class dining coach. When you arrive, you see a man slumped over a restaurant table. He was Sir Clarence Hayden, and he has been murdered.”

We had five suspects, but the real characters turned out to be the five of us: me, my wife, a son and his fiancée, and a son who lives in Denver.

This was new for us. The “kids” had done this before.

I thought I had an edge. Being a writer, I’d see plot lines cleverly twist to reveal our killer.

Well, that theory crumbled. The plot was detailed in a rapid-fire video on the characters. It was hard to hear, let alone remember. What I heard was a clock ticking.

The characters seemed trivial. The real question was how and where to find clues.

My wife and I focused on a jigsaw puzzle while everyone else rummaged around our “cabin.”

My hunger for a plot turned into a numbers game – to open a variety of locked items. We needed combinations, and so the game was afoot.

I won’t reveal too much. It’s more fun to focus on the mood in the room.

My wife and I felt surrounded by chaos. I felt the time pressure. I thought the clock would win. But ... the others were opening locks and finding clues.

Everyone contributed, but the “kids” were in charge, more aggressive and pulling the threads together (thank you).

In the end, there is a lock to open that gives you a code to leave the room. You must know the killer to get that combo.

I had the final lock in hand as possible combos were shouted out. (There was a lot of shouting.)

Lock numbers aligned, left to right, and then it opens. I was fumbling to line up the numbers. My youngest son said something like, “Here, let me help.”

He nudged me gently aside and took over. He also was feeling the clock.

We escaped … with five minutes to spare. A team effort. I’d do it again, with the same team – including the nudger.

The escape room experience revolves around fascinating characters and a fun mystery.

But remember, the main characters are the ones in the room, wrestling for clues.

• Lonny Cain, retired managing editor of The Times in Ottawa, also was a reporter for The Herald-News in Joliet in the 1970s. His Paperwork email is, or mail The Times, 110 W. Jefferson St., Ottawa, IL 61350.