There is nothing like being in a themed environment and getting totally lost in that world. However, as incredibly detailed as spaces like the queue for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey are, you are still surrounded by thousands of tourists. No matter what you do while waiting in line or on the attraction, the show will always be the same. You being there makes no difference on the outcome of the experience.
5 Wits Entertainment, based out of Massachusetts, is trail-blazing an entirely new category of themed entertainment by placing guests in a controlled environment that is truly immersive. Based on choices they make and their puzzle solving skills, there are different outcomes based on how well the group works together to achieve a common goal.
The 5 Wits name comes from Shakespearean times where, much like the five senses, your wits were considered to be: fantasy, imagination, estimation, common sense and memory. This name couldn’t be more perfect for the unique experiences they have designed. There is nothing like it anywhere else in the world and the creator of the company, in my mind, is a certified genius.
After graduating from MIT with a mechanical engineering degree, Matthew DuPlessie spent time in Central Florida as a project manager for some of the biggest theme parks and museums in town.
As part of a class project while earning his Master’s Degree in Business Administration from Harvard Business School, he created the idea for a stand-alone attraction named TOMB.
After presenting the concept to his professors, they were so blown away that they became initial investors in 5 Wits’ first attraction which opened in 2004.
TOMB had a successful run in downtown Boston from 2004 to 2010. Guests took on the role of archaeologists on a guided mission through an Egyptian tomb looking for a pharaoh’s burial chamber. Once inside the first chamber, the door slammed shut behind and the group of 15 people that became enveloped in pitch black darkness. The voice of the pharaoh echoed through the room and told them if they wanted to gain access into his chamber, they would have to prove their wits and solve several tests he had left for them as a team.
As the new archaeologists progress through each room, they would solve a series of puzzles where the group had to work together in order for them to be solved. Part of the 5 Wits genius is you are forced to bond together in order to excel and solve each puzzle. If everyone keeps to themselves, you are guaranteed to fail the mission. Guides help the group out as needed to get them thinking in the right direction if needed.
Puzzles are difficult enough for children and adults to find challenging. I can’t stress enough that this is far from a kid’s-only attraction. If the group is for a 10-year-old’s birthday party, the guide plays more of an active role. All adults? The guide is mostly there for comic relief.
If you managed to get all the way through TOMB and solved all the puzzles correctly, a symphony would play and hidden doors would crack open allowing you back into the outside world. If you failed or ran out of time, the lights would go black with foreboding music that symbolized your death inside the chamber. Make no mistake about it; this was an experience worth repeating over and over again. With each time through you learned new skills and roughly every year some of the puzzles would change just to keep visitors on their toes.
After a successful six-year-run, TOMB closed in 2010. Learning from guest feedback and looking to make improvements on their interactive adventure, their next project in Foxborough, Massachusetts proves to be even more immersive, smart and challenging.
This new location is currently operating at Patriot Place – a shopping, dining and entertainment center just a few steps away from the home stadium of the New England Patriots. 5 Wits created two unique interactive adventures for their new home.
My personal favorite is Espionage, where guests become spies looking for clues on their way to disable a bomb that could destroy the city. The 45-minute guided experience starts off in what looks to be a store that sells rugs and carpets. However, we soon find out that the shop is merely a front for an international spy operation. Even though it’s abandoned at the moment, the room is bugged and all 15 people in the group are given a de-bugger device that will deactivate the bugs when touched. We are then encouraged to scour the room – in desk drawers, under potted plants and even behind clocks on the wall.
Once the room has been de-bugged, you get a briefing for your mission via a “live” video feed from a secret spy organization. Turns out there is a mole in their organization that has been leaking intel to some bad guys and may have set up some booby traps to throw you off his or her trail. The rest of the mission is insanely fun from climbing through lasers trying not to trip a security system, to riding in a freight elevator that has a few electrical problems, to diffusing a ticking time bomb that’s about to blow. All in all, there are five different versions of how the adventure can end. The system tracks how well the group does and the show ends accordingly.
Espionage has a sister attraction in Foxboro: 20,000 Leagues. This adventure takes place aboard Captain Nemo’s submarine, The Nautilus. Guests solve puzzles revolving around nautical maps, machine rooms and features an encounter with a giant squid. During the Halloween season, 20,000 Leagues offers a lights out version where guests are given flashlights and several “spooky actors” gives the adventure a new twist.
In addition to Halloween, 5 Wits hosts several special events. In the spring the entire space is host to a Steampunk Gala. Guests are encouraged to dress up in their steampunk best for a special ticketed event that includes live music, food and art. Board games are also near and dear to the founders of 5 Wits, so in addition to the regular adventures, guests can participate in game night several times a month. And while I love children, my personal favorite event is adult’s only night – where participants must be 18+ in order to experience Espionage or 20,000 Leagues.
The future for 5 Wits is looking up – they are opening up four new shows in Syracuse, New York at a shopping center called Destiny USA. While TOMB and Espionage will be two of the featured experiences in their newest venture – the creators at 5 Wits tell me that they will be unique and different from their currently existing and previous endeavors.
One of the big changes is there will be no guides helping guests through each room. Often times the guests want the experience of going through without the help of a guide and to truly feel “trapped,” helping to become truly immersed in the world. These new shows will be 100% automated and this will also help drive the ticket prices down a little bit as well.
A yet-to-be-named third show will be set in a medieval castle and is completely new to the 5 Wits brand. They aren’t ready to talk about their fourth adventure, however, they did tell me that they are seriously considering having it be the one experience where you need to have completed one or more of the other three adventures in order to gain access to it. In other words? The fourth show will be the toughie.
This time in Syracuse, 5 Wits is building the experience with an eye toward the future. The idea is to construct four independently running adventures and then after a few years, open a similar set up in another city. This new city will then get one or two of the shows from Syracuse and then Syracuse would get one or two entirely new shows! A rotating set of experiences set in cities all over the United States is the ultimate goal of the company. So no matter what city you live in, every year or two, you get an entire new set of puzzles to conquer.
I would love to hear of what you think about this new concept and business model in themed entertainment. Do you think it’s too limited? Have you been to a 5 Wits attraction before? What was your experience and what kinds of interactive, puzzle solving adventures would you like to go on in the future?