There’s a new game in town.
Adventure seekers and puzzle enthusiasts can see if they are up to the challenge while learning about public art in South Philadelphia.
The “South Philly Mural Escape” is a new group adventure that’s described as part escape room and part self-guided mural tour. It’s a great new summer activity that combines street smarts with art in a city known as the mural capital of the world.
“I thought we needed a mural-themed escape room,” said creator Eric Dale. “I just decided to create one without any walls.”
This clever gimmick is the latest of Dale’s creations. He goes by the name Eric the Puzzler and he creates and designs puzzle activities that help people explore the world around them. In addition to hosting his own events and adventures, Dale has previously created experiences for the Philadelphia International Airport, South Street Headhouse District and Delaware River Waterfront Corporation. This one takes place in the South Philly’s Passyunk Square neighborhood, highlighting seven murals in that area.
So far, it’s a hit among participants.
“I actually haven’t stopped talking about it,” said Caitlin Baker, of Cherry Hill, who recently took on the challenge alongside three friends. “Eric has put so much thought and intention into every detail and the experience was incredible.”
Although Baker is from New Jersey, she was teamed up with a local in Julia Miller, who lives in South Philly. The two girls learned about South Philly art together.
“I live in South Philly, and I was genuinely so surprised about how many things I didn’t really know about,” said Miller.
Here’s how it works: Groups of three to five participants find and collect physical components hidden in the built environment and use them to solve unique, location-based puzzles. Over the course of about 1½ miles, participants visit a series of murals, and each one plays a role in unlocking more puzzles and clues.
At each mural, groups watch a video recorded by the artist and get clues to a passcode that unlocks it. In doing so, participants learn about the artwork they find from the artists who created it. A range of artists are featured, from veteran muralists like Shira Walinsky, who’s been painting with Mural Arts Philadelphia since 2000, to up-and-coming muralists like Ash Ryan, who’s best known for her 2021 mural of Lil Nas X in Philadelphia’s Gayborhood.
“It’s a great treasure hunt of murals,” said Walinksy, who attended an artist preview of the experience. “Engaging with public art is a way to understand the city around you.”
South Philly Mural Escape can be booked online at www.ericthepuzzler.com for $125/group.
“This is fantastic,” said Mural Arts Philadelphia Executive Director Jane Golden. “It’s such an interesting way of developing a closer relationship to the art by hearing from the artists.”
And it’s challenging.
“I incorporated some really fun ‘wow!’ moments,” said Dale. “Some of the puzzles and some of the murals are unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.”
And sometimes an obvious clue isn’t actually a clue at all.
Chris Trigaux, of Graduate Hospital, and three friends encountered a carton of a dozen eggs on top of a mosaic by Isaiah Zagar while looking for their next clue.
“We spent a good 45 seconds trying to decide if these were part of the experience,” said Trigaux. “They were definitely just street eggs, but we had a great time overall.”