Arts & Culture

Haffenreffer combines entertainment, education

Educational escape room allows students to explore, engage with museum’s collections

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 21, 2018

While the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology stands at the edge of the Main Green, it remains relatively unexplored by most students. But last weekend, the museum transformed into an escape room, attracting flocks of students from across campus.

“It was honestly a lot of fun,” said Clara Choate ’20, who participated in the escape room with a group of her friends. “I had never been in the Haffenreffer before and had no idea what was really even in there,” she continued, adding that the escape room provided her with the opportunity to visit the museum for the first time and discover what was inside.

“Escape the Haffenreffer” was built and created by Bryn Pernot GS. Last semester, Pernot took a class on informal education in the public humanities department and grew increasingly interested in the emerging practice of escape rooms in museums, she said. “I ended up writing my final paper (for the class) on escape rooms in museums, … and began thinking about what an escape room in a museum would look like.”

The framework of “Escape the Haffenreffer” is novel: it is the year 2118 and the participants are interns at the Haffenreffer, explained Emily Jackson, museum operations and communications coordinator. The director in the story has discovered a strange, mysterious box in storage with a note that only says that the box was from the year 2018. The participants are made to travel back in time to the previous century to discover how to unlock this mysterious box and figure out what is inside.

Ensuring that “Escape the Haffenreffer” achieved the right balance of entertainment and education was a key challenge, Pernot said. “The primary aim of a lot of escape rooms is just to be an entertainment space,” she explained, adding that museums face the unique challenge of making sure that fun does not come at the expense of education. In creating “Escape the Haffenreffer,” Pernot needed to make a conscious effort to integrate educational content into all the puzzles that she built, she added.

“It was a really cool idea to bring (an escape room) to Brown and make it part-educational,” said Parisa Thepmankorn ’20. The puzzles, which were adapted to the museum space, had “a good balance of being difficult, but also possible,” Thepmankorn added. “We finished with only a couple of minutes left on the clock, which is an ideal target for all escape rooms.”

While the quality of the riddles and puzzles in the escape room was impressive, the culmination of the participants’ experience was “less exciting than we had hoped,” Thepmankorn said. Unlike in traditional escape rooms, the participants in “Escape the Haffenreffer” do not actually escape a room, she explained. “You just unlock a box, which is a lot less climatic.”  Yet, the process leading up to this finale was exciting, she said, adding that “overall, it was a great experience.”