What would MacGyver do to escape from The Nat?


Imagine this: A deadly viral outbreak threatens the world, and you have to stop it by finding a cure.

That’s the crisis facing up to six “citizen scientists” locked in a San Diego Natural History Museum room filled with botanic specimens, archives, biology field notes, rare books, a microscope and more.

Move over, “Night at the Museum.” The San Diego Natural History Museum, aka The Nat, may be the first major U.S. museum to officially join in the “escape room” craze. Participants, racing against a 60-minute clock, must work together to figure out mind-boggling puzzles, decipher clues and break codes to resolve the mystery, one step at a time.

The Nat is opening its “Escape The Nat” room on Tuesday in a formerly closed section on its lower level. The initial adventure is appropriately themed “Botanic Panic.”

The idea came from within after a museum benefactor created a venture fund to encourage entrepreneurial ideas from staff members. After visiting an escape room in Hillcrest with his family, Michael Wall, the museum’s vice president of science and conservation, thought a similar concept might work at The Nat.

His proposal was approved. He and Zack Stevens, a visitor services specialist who previously worked at an escape room, then spent more than a year developing a mystery scenario in keeping with the museum’s mission, creating the puzzles and clues and designing the setting.

“This will help diversify the audience we serve,” explains April Green, the museum’s spokeswoman. The Nat intends to promote its new attraction to CEOs and heads of organizations as a team-building staff exercise, as well as to groups of young adults. “Botanic Panic” can be experienced by as few as two people ($80) or as many as six ($180) each afternoon until 5 p.m., some mornings and Friday evenings until 8 p.m.

“It’s very challenging and fun,” says Green, whose team discovered the botanic specimen that could cure the virus in a trial run.

Read more from Diane Bell’s column here.