Solving Escape Manor’s new room could land you a job as a Canadian codebreaker

Steve Wilson
Steve Wilson, vice-president of marketing and co-owner of Escape Manor. Photo by Craig Lord

Participants in Escape Manor’s new cybersecurity-focused experience might walk off with more than just the self-satisfaction of cracking complex cryptography. The Ottawa-based company’s latest partnership with a federal intelligence agency could see the capital’s top codebreakers recruited for a role with the Communications Security Establishment.

Escape Manor unveiled plans for its new room, titled The Recruit, late last week. The escape room experience will see participants play as CSE freshmen going through orientation when disaster strikes. As per the standard escape room formula, the group will have to rely on quick thinking to solve the puzzles and save the day before it’s too late.

While most of Escape Manor’s rooms attempt to simulate the gravity of dangerous situations or high-pressure heists, there’s a distinct element of realism in The Recruit. CSE’s own technical experts provided input on the puzzles and codes for the room, and the videos and other imagery used in the game were all filmed at CSE’s Ottawa headquarters.

Merging the local company’s flair for drama with CSE’s expertise has made for a unique escape experience, says Steve Wilson, one of the founding partners of Escape Manor.

“They’re very analytical thinkers; we’re very dramatic and over the top. We had to marry those two mentalities to come up with a game that our clientele would play without CSE, but it had to represent CSE and get people involved in that world of intrigue,” he says.

The idea to collaborate on a cybersecurity and espionage-themed room came up last year when CSE’s marketing team was looking for new strategies to spread the word about the agency’s work in processing foreign signal intelligence and protecting Canadian computer networks. Public polling recently revealed to CSE that only three per cent of Canadians were familiar with the organization.

As an agency made up primarily of professional codebreakers, CSE already had a lot of escape room fans among its members. Evan Koronewski, a spokesperson for the organization, says the hope is that the escape room crowd would have significant overlap with prospective CSE candidates.

If a group successfully completes The Recruit, they’ll be given a chance at a bonus cryptographic puzzle. If a participant cracks that code, they’ll have the opportunity to voluntarily leave their name and email address with Escape Manor for forwarding to CSE, at which point a recruitment officer might reach out to talk about opportunities with the agency.

Koronewski notes that while many positions at CSE require a STEM background, the organization also hires people with administrative, linguistic, communications and media experience.

CSE’s partnership with Escape Manor mirrors a U.K. government strategy during the Second World War. As the story goes, candidates who took part in a 1942 challenge to beat a particularly tricky crossword in The Daily Telegraph were later drafted by the War Office to help break German codes.

Escape rooms as a modern parallel to wartime crosswords is a particularly delightful comparison to Wilson.

“The fact that you can come here and potentially get a job with CSE by playing an escape room, how cool is that?”

Bookings for The Recruit open on Aug. 22, with play starting next month.