Interview with a Puzzle Designer
The meeting place was a little odd. My first thought was that we would be meeting in a conference room, café, or perhaps one of the monuments he had famously used. So when I walked into a seedy bar I was a little taken aback. There he was, Joshua Czarda, the enigmatic owner of Ravenchase Adventures and infamous puzzle writer who had stumped all manner of players in increasingly cruel and bizarre ways. I had begun this project with the concept of getting inside of the legend’s head and seeing what made him tick. Now that I was here, I was more worried that he would try to make me pay his (evidently) substantial tab.
I realized that the pictures I had seen of him did not prepare me for the creature I would meet. The photos couldn’t express the impossible angle of his hunched back, convey the unkempt hair that walked a fine line between “200-dollar haircut” and “this man will definitely rob me if he gets the chance”, and certainly couldn’t capture the smell of bourbon that permeated the airspace around him.
Upon extending my hand in greeting, he only muttered back at me what sounded like “Odin Thunderballs, damn pleasure”. That was not this man’s name, but I didn’t feel comfortable pointing out his delusion upon having just met. He was surrounded by napkins with half-baked ideas scrawled onto them, with such cryptic notes as “Vigenere”, “Latin for The End”, and “Bees as punishment?” While his manic appearance had given me a cause for pause, it had only reignited my motivation to learn more about him.
My name is Robert Irons, and the following is an interview with a twisted man who lives only to perplex the player. It’s an art form that he is only too happy to share with the world, and we are always happy to take part in.
JC: (Yelling at no one in particular) Barkeep! Hit me again!
RI: So Mr. Czarda, I understand the original spark for the Ravenchase concept came when you decided to write an elaborate scavenger hunt for your brothers that took place throughout Warrenton, VA and eventually into the Shenandoah mountains during a time of family crisis. Have you ever been able to recapture the emotion from that first game in any of your later endeavors?
JC: (Staring off into the distance with an incredible intensity) Simpler times…
RI: That wasn’t… well… OK, so you’ve since taken that blueprint for adventure and spread it throughout the world via your company Ravenchase Adventures over the last decade and a half. You’ve worked with hundreds of high-profile clients such as the New Orleans Saints, the New York Yankees, Microsoft, Nike and Dreamworks to name a few. Are there any past clients that stand out to you over the others?
JC: (Without hesitation) Mathew Mcconaughey’s eyes made me rethink my entire life up until the moment I met him.
RI: Right… his eyes really are remarkable. So when the escape room craze began sweeping across the nation, Ravenchase was the first company to open an escape room in the Richmond area. I’m sure your years of writing adventures out in the world helped make the transition into creating Escape Room RVA a natural one, but did you experience any challenges writing puzzles for a wider audience?
JC: Everything breaks. Picture frames, mag locks, furniture, my heart… (he shudders upon saying the latter) EVERYTHING BREAKS!
(It’s at this point I realize something is seriously wrong with Mr. Czarda, at least even more wrong than I had originally thought.)
RI: Well that can certainly be a common issue at most escape rooms… heh. So now that Escape Room RVA has flourished and become the premiere escape room in the Richmond area, do you have plans for further expansion? I know you have already opened a second branch in Herndon, VA aptly named Escape Room Herndon.
JC: (finds the bottom of his glass of bourbon and slams it down on the table) Do you think you would be more motivated to solve the puzzles if you were under the threat of a swarm of bees?
RI: I…well…I suppose it would make me focus harder if I…
JC: (Pulls out his phone and begins typing a text message) Tina… buy… as many… bees… as… possible… ASAP… I’ve got… an idea…
RI: OK, well it seems like you are under quite a bit of stress right now so I’ll just keep it to one last question. You’ve recently announced your newest room at Escape Room RVA: The Lost Jewel of the James. Do you have any big surprises for your players with this pirate-themed adventure?
JC: (Shakes his head, blinking. His eyes open for a fleeting moment of clarity.) We have an incredible non-linear puzzle design for this particular room. While I can’t spoil any of the details, we’re going to have some beautiful props we will have the player use in unexpected and exciting ways. Any fan of pirate themed movies/literature such as Pirates of the Caribbean, the Goonies, and Treasure Island will have an awesome time living out the fantasy in Lost Jewel of the James. The escape exit will definitely surprise… (trails off)
RI: Are you alright Mr. Czarda?
JC: Are you the one delivering the bees?
RI: No sir, I think I should be going now.
My time with Czarda made me realize that while the puzzles he wrote had brought him great fulfillment and success, they were also his curse. This man had been broken by his own twisted codes and riddles, and there may not be a way to bring him back. Perhaps this was just the cost that one must pay for greatness in the realm of escape rooms, that toiling away creating sense out of the nonsensical wasn’t sustainable for a mind. Or perhaps Czarda was always just a kook. Whatever the case, the enigmatic Czarda and Escape Room RVA have left me with more questions than answers. Perhaps I’ll dig a little deeper...