Following the success of overnight and sleepover events at bookstores around the globe, U.K. book retailer Waterstones is bringing back its own overnight program with a twist: booklovers will be locked inside a Waterstones store over night and must complete an increasingly complex sequence of interrelated, literature-themed puzzles to escape the bookstore before dawn.
Waterstones CEO James Daunt called the revived overnight, which is officially titled Escape the Bookshop, a return to the program's roots: the inspiration for the first sleepover in 2014 was the much-publicized instance of an American tourist who was locked inside a London Waterstones after the staff had left for the evening. The ensuing sleepover program proved popular, but Daunt always felt there was something lacking.
"Our customers had a lovely time, but without that edge of uncertainty--that thought of, Am I really trapped in here?--there was something missing from the experience," said Daunt. At the same time, Daunt noticed the growing popularity of escape room games and wondered if combining those sorts of puzzles with a night in a bookstore could be just what the program needed.
"Now, booklovers can still spend a night in their favorite bookshop," continued Daunt, "and that renewed sense of danger will guarantee that it's unforgettable."
Tickets for the Escape the Bookshop experience will go on sale this Monday, with two scenarios to choose from. One, based on a mixture of classic crime and spy fiction, is called "Bookseller Buyer Manager Spy" while the other, based on horror fiction, is called "A Nightmare on High Street." Due to the complexity of the puzzles, reservations are open only to groups of four to eight people; groups can choose a particular scenario or have Waterstones make the choice. On the night of the experience, Waterstones employees will pick up group members and transport them blindfolded to a Waterstones shop. The group will not be allowed to remove those blindfolds until the doors are locked.
At present, Escape the Bookshop will be offered only in London. Should the program prove successful, Waterstones will look into creating more scenarios and expanding to other cities. Daunt said that early test feedback regarding the experience has been "heartening," but not without a few "hiccups."
When asked what would happen to any groups that failed to complete the final puzzle before dawn, Daunt answered: "Oh, but that would be telling." --Alex Mutter