This group was just one word away from solving the puzzle in time Tuesday during a fundraising event being put on by the MESA program at Mendocino College. – Justine Frederiksen–Ukiah Daily Journal

A few Mendocino College students found themselves in a tough spot Tuesday evening.

While looking for the office of one professor, they wandered into a very different office, one that belonged to a professor who loved puzzles.

“You are trapped, and you have a midterm soon,” the students were told. “You need to solve the puzzle on the table in 20 minutes, or you won’t make it to your test.”

Of course, that scenario was staged, all part of a fun event called “Escape From Mendocino College,” a fundraiser for the school’s Mathematics, Engineering and Science Achievement program.

Amanda Xu, the new director for the college’s MESA program, said she participated in an “Escape Room” in Reno and thought it would be the perfect thing to offer at the college.

So a few of her students set about designing such a room in the MESA building, after visiting another Escape Room offered in San Jose.

“It was really fun,” said sophomore Magali Reyes of the Alcatraz-themed puzzle she and her friends, including fellow sophomore Jackie Kang, had an hour to solve.

With neither the space nor the elaborate materials to work with themselves, Reyes, Kang and the others who prepared the room focused on more basic puzzles that test the participants’ critical thinking skills.

Once you step inside the semi-dark room, you have only a small flashlight and a walkie talkie. You can use the walkie talkie to ask for one hint, or to announce that you’ve solved the puzzle. (The walkie talkie also gives people an opportunity to escape if they must use the bathroom or are feeling panicky.)

The puzzle is a phrase with several words you need to uncover by deciphering the clues carefully laid out in the room.

“We did make a few adjustments early on to make it a bit easier,” said Xu, explaining that the group who successfully completes the puzzle in the fastest time will win a $50 Amazon gift card.

And the best time so far?

“About 13 seconds under 20 minutes,” said Reyes.

Xu said she definitely recommends people come in groups, not only because the cost of the game will then be spread over more people, but because “more brains can think of more things more quickly than just one brain.”

Each 20-minute game costs $20, and groups of five or less are welcome. If groups of more people “really like each other and don’t mind being squeezed together in a little room, that might work,” Reyes said.

Xu said the money will be used to fund scholarships, such as paying for students to attend a conservation conference this weekend in San Rafael.

“That conference costs $106 per person,” Xu said, and Reyes added that she never would have been able to afford a recent trip to UC Davis that she really enjoyed without scholarship help.

The Escape Room is open to anyone interested in trying it out, not just college students. It will be offered weeknights from 6 to 8 p.m. until the end of October. The last one will be Halloween night, Oct. 31.

For more information or to schedule a time, call 468-3023, or email Xu at

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