By Angus Yip (18A01A), Elizabeth Leong (18S06G), Zhu Xiuhua (18S06A)
Last Friday, Writer’s Guild held an escape room to mark the launch of the CCA’s latest anthology, The Centre Is Not The Centre. Members of Raffles Press participated in the escape room, perplexed and curious about this unorthodox setup for an anthology launch.
Written works are vastly different from problem-solving games – how was Writer’s Guild planning to integrate the two, and what was the purpose of doing so?
We held onto this question as we were led into the dark, unlit escape room. The game master played a video establishing a chilling premise for the game: Guild Chairperson Elizabeth Deng (17A01A) had been poisoned by Vice-chairperson “Min” (Wong Min Yi, 17S06A), who had grand plans to take over the CCA. Our task was to find the antidote in the room within half an hour to save her.
“Remember,” warned Guild Secretary Neo Wei Qing (17A01A) at the end of the video, “you must start from the centre”.
And so we did. In the centre of the room there was a table with a cryptic box. A circular piece of paper was taped to the inside of its lid, with letters lining its circumference and lines drawn from the middle of the circle. A protractor was provided, with an instruction to “USE THE RIGHT ANGLE”.
This confused us, as none of the random lines were 90 degrees from each other. There was also a quote from the anthology attached to the back of the box, a feature consistent across the different puzzles in the room that we had to decipher.
After much fruitless puzzling, the game master relented and offered us hints, urging us towards other areas of the room. On the teacher’s desk we found a copy of Guild’s anthology, with seemingly random portions of text highlighted.
There was also an origami flower on a bookshelf next to various glow-in-the-dark skeletons, which we unfolded to reveal some mysterious numbers. Affixed on the wall next to the bookshelf was an incomplete picture – we quickly found its other half folded in a small Bible, but it only gave the image of a squinting Fry from the show Futurama.
At the other side of the room, one of us had moved the sliding portion of the whiteboard to reveal a mirror affixed to the one beneath. We decided that Fry’s squinting was a clue directing us to look at the small mirror from his vantage point. Alas, this was not the case at all – we found nothing of importance!
Our game master, deciding to have mercy on us once again, pointed towards a calendar on the desk as well as a highlighted portion of the anthology’s text, which said “eight months in”. She also picked up a pen with invisible ink and thrust it into our hands. Unfortunately, as we were scrambling to use these new hints, time had run out.
Having failed to solve the puzzles in time, we reluctantly left the escape room, feeling rueful that our incompetence robbed Chairperson Elizabeth Deng of her last chance of survival. Indeed, as soon as we exited the room, we were greeted with a tragic sight – her “poisoned” self lying pitifully on the ground.
We were then given a walkthrough of the game, which turned out to be an intricate series of twelve puzzles, each inspired by a piece written by one of the twelve graduating members from Writer’s Guild. What amazed us the most was their ability to weave their anthology works cleverly into the series of puzzles.
For instance, “eight months in” was taken from a poem in the anthology (Conversation by Elizabeth Chin, 17S03M), indicating that we had to flip the calendar to eight months after the current date, the 21st of April, to December, in order to find the next hint.
Other than the clever use of the works from the anthology in the escape room, we were also impressed by the creativity of the other puzzles. Who knew there were words written on the calendar with invisible ink that would lead to a calculator with lipstick smudged on its buttons?
When we asked the game creators, we were told that quite a few other teams had come close to finishing the escape room, if not outright succeeding. We were left to brood over how far we had been from the finishing line.
Left: “Sephora Lipstick Sale” written in invisible ink on an unassuming calendar
Right: Calculator with lipstick smudged on its buttons
The various numbers that we were supposed to find over the course of the puzzles were the combination number of a locked laptop case, which contained the final clue on the whereabouts of the antidote. Needless to say, we were thoroughly surprised when it was revealed to us that the box we first picked up had been its hiding place all along.
The box had a false bottom.
Amusingly, this trick almost backfired because one group nearly pried open the box and “solved” the mystery, bypassing all the steps in between!
This seemed to be a subtle nod to the theme of the anthology and the theme – The Centre Is Not The Centre. The place we were told to start was actually the last puzzle we had to solve. This made Guild’s escape room even more perplexing than conventional escape rooms, which are typically linear.
Unsurprisingly, this whole event was rather difficult to plan. According to the (fortunately still alive in real life) Chairperson Elizabeth Deng, the escape room was designed as a way of exposing people to the anthology’s works in an appealing, interactive fashion, given the perceived inaccessibility of literary writing.
“Those doing logistics and design had a difficult time – communications were hard on its own. And we had dry runs to make sure the puzzle was foolproof,” she commented. “We hope that people have fun, and are exposed to the pieces in our anthology.”
When asked about the anthology itself, she said that the theme was conceptualised by Writer’s Guild over one and a half CCA sessions. The Centre Is Not The Centre is a reference to a paper by post-structuralist philosopher Jacques Derrida, though writers were free to interpret the theme however they wanted to.
Some wrote on loss, others on love, and others on what it means to have a “centre”. We all brought home copies of the anthology, which have since sold out despite going for $4. After learning more about the works through the escape room, we were certainly motivated to read them.
While we didn’t succeed in completing the escape room (and we congratulate those who did!), we still enjoyed the process of trying our hardest to solve puzzle after puzzle. Our previous concerns about this unconventional method of launching the anthology turned out to be completely unfounded.
Ultimately, Writer’s Guild successfully incorporated an element of fun into the launch of their anthology, while also helping readers better familiarise themselves with the works.
Fear not if you missed the Writer’s Guild anthology launch this year – you can always look forward to their next anthology written by the batch of 2018. In the meantime, you can also look out for Guild’s SingLit “Pick of the Month” book reviews, an upcoming collaboration with Raffles Press!
Writers Featured in the Anthology
- Aurora Chang (17A01E)
- Elizabeth Chin (17S03M)
- Elizabeth Deng (17A01A)
- Esther Tan (17A01E)
- Lee Wei Ting (17A01C)
- Lim Yi Hui (17A01D)
- Neo Wei Qing (17A01A)
- Noorun Nissa (17S03P)
- Nicole Doyle (17A01A)
- Timothy Fong (17A01A)
- Wong Min Yi (17S06A)
- Yan Jun Yi (17A01A)