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OR360 Escape Room Fosters Teamwork and Fun

Employees (from left) Josh Page, Shaden Daas, Brittany Bancroft and Ray Robles race against the clock to solve a puzzle in the OR360 Escape Room.

"The virus has escaped," said a voice over the loudspeaker. "You have all been exposed."

Trapped in a laboratory, four employees begin to search drawers, medical equipment and vials. Large screens around the room display an ominous countdown: The team has less than 30 minutes to find a cure to save themselves—and the world.

This was the scene that unfolded during the first attempt to solve the new OR360 Escape Room, an interactive puzzle-solving experience located in the Cedars-Sinai OR360 facility on San Vicente Boulevard.

OR360, which serves as an innovative research space and simulation laboratory, converted two of its rooms to create the new experience: one for the escape room and one for the control room, in which participant progress is monitored on two television screens. The project is part of the OR360 research team's ongoing investigation into factors impacting team performance in healthcare, such as team composition, communication, leadership and emotional intelligence.

"I thought it was great!" said Brittany Bancroft, a program development coordinator and the only member of her team who had previously attempted one of the popular adventure games. "It was so well thought out."

Research interns and OR360 Escape Room creators (from left) Audrey Nguyen, Siddharth Karthikeyan, Anusha Koka and Vinisha Prajapati.

The escape room, now open to teams of three to eight participants, is an immersive laboratory environment. The special effects and props—many of which were donated by the Cedars-Sinai Medical Library—transport participants into another world once inside. To solve it and "escape," teams must piece together clues and solve all the puzzles found within the room.

But its creators say there is more to the OR360 Escape Room than pure escapism.

"We’ve realized through our research and our day-to-day experience how important teamwork and relationships are," said Bruce Gewertz, MD, chair of the Department of Surgery and executive director of OR360. "We’re always looking for innovative ways to teach that lesson to people, in ways that are not offensive or tedious—and this is a lot of fun."

Prior to entering the room, the team took part in a 15-minute briefing that demonstrated the teamwork skills required to escape. A debriefing afterward identified which of these skills the team performed well, as well as opportunities for improvement.

"Any person in any group can participate," said Tara Cohen, PhD, research scientist and assistant professor in the Department of Surgery. "Participants can take what they learned in the escape room and apply it to other real-life situations."

Cohen oversaw the creation of the room alongside colleague Sarah Francis, a project manager for Perioperative Services. Cohen explained the medical setting was only thematic, and that the room's creators—four summer research interns—designed the puzzles to be accessible to everyone.

"We were so glad to have the research interns," said Francis. "They were able to allocate and dedicate this time to building such an incredible experience. Now, we can share it with the institution."

The four research interns—Siddharth Karthikeyan, Anusha Koka, Audrey Nguyen and Vinisha Prajapati—undertook the project as part of the Cedars-Sinai Research Internship Program. The program aims to develop skills such as idea generation, critical thinking, problem-solving and teamwork.

Having no prior experience with escape rooms when they began, the research interns said they completed two local escape rooms as research.

"We tried to see the concepts that they were testing: How do they organize everything? How does it go from step to step?" said research intern Anusha Koka, a pre-medical student at Penn State University. "We made a flowchart of every single step you’d have to go through. From the briefing to putting on the costumes to the sound effects."

The resulting experience is unique—and challenging. For Brittany Bancroft and her OR360 teammates, the room proved a powerful adversary, a final rally in the last few seconds not enough to spare them from the virus.

For now, the room remains undefeated.

Employees interested in attempting the escape room can register teams of three to eight people by contacting OR360@cshs.org.