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An entry in Fortnightly Topic Challenge #50: Escape Rooms


I open my eyes to find myself lying in a bed in a white room. Sitting up is difficult, as a tangle of wires and tubes are attached to my arms and chest. I'm in hospital. But I have no idea why.

How did I get here? I cannot remember. Last thing I recall, Becky and I were having an evening out... We went to a restaurant for dinner, and then... The rest is a blur. Where is Becky?

I pull the wires off my skin and disconnect the drip feed. I notice I am wearing a hospital gown and a green wristband. There's a TV on the wall beside me, but I don’t understand the news bulletin that's airing – it appears to be corrupted or something:

News bulletin
Caption reads: BREAKING NEWS | ? | CDTMvHPFMMnCHGSeLgDSTeRrHiTeZBKDZBMASTOMN | WWZ NEWS

I don’t like this. I'm confused. I push my 'call' button and wait, but no nurse arrives. I get out of bed, pull back the curtain... and find the ward in total disarray. Medical supplies litter the floor, curtains are torn, beds overturned – and at the nursing station... oh, boy...

The nurse is dead, lying in a pool of blood. I throw up on the floor. I reach for the phone on her desk to call for help, but there’s no tone. The two desktop computer screens are cracked, but I can just make out some images on them:

Desktop monitors
Colour guide available here.

Gazing around the room, almost all the beds are empty but appear to have been recently slept in. There is one other patient lying still in Bed 5, a red band around their wrist. I check for a pulse, but find none. I am all alone, and I am scared. I make for the door but find it locked shut. There's a plan of the ward on the wall beside it:

Room layout
Colour guide available here.

Below that is a map of the hospital site:

Hospital map

Not much use to me if I can't get out of this ward. What is happening here? I need to understand. On a table in the centre of the room lie a series of scattered papers. Amongst these are recent observation charts for what I presume must be the 8 patients supposed to be on this ward, but none of the charts make any sense – just rows and rows of nonsensical letters where the nurses' logs should be:

Observation charts
Data available in CSV format below.

While reading, a noise in the room startles me. The patient in Bed 5 – who I swear was totally lifeless just now – is climbing awkwardly out of it. They turn in my direction and begin shuffling towards me, their limbs jerking violently, a strangled groan escaping their lips.

My heart is beating faster than ever before. I back away towards the wall and snatch up a nearby fire extinguisher – something heavy in case I need to defend myself. I have no escape plan beyond that. I’m starting to panic. I just know I need to get out of here and find Becky – she’d know what to do.

Patient 5 continues to advance, and I trip backwards over the nurse and crash down to the floor, dropping my weapon. This is all too much. Surely this is a bad dream? If only I could make sense of it... Cold hands grab at my arms, and I scream...

Solve the puzzle to explain the sequence of events that night and what happened next.


Observation chart data:

Patient: HOWARD ENCORES,,,,,,,,
M,Y,S,E,T,I,C,X,N
R,M,I,K,R,L,G,O,Y
O,E,I,A,T,I,G,E,R
S,S,T,N,P,A,K,A,I
D,R,A,S,R,N,B,N,T
O,O,O,D,O,B,W,N,C
A,H,G,M,I,O,N,W,E
G,O,B,T,L,A,R,C,K
,,,,,,,,
Patient: KEVIN FLABS,,,,,,,,
#,#,#,I,L,A,#,D,#
E,N,#,A,L,A,#,S,C
#,B,A,#,#,#,O,R,O
S,I,R,#,L,#,#,#,#
#,R,D,A,N,#,R,A,#
C,A,#,#,R,#,O,#,A
U,#,#,R,I,#,#,#,#
#,G,I,#,#,I,#,#,R
,,,,,,,,
Patient: HORUS FORT,,,,,,,,
A,T,T,O,Y,A,I,N,I
G,R,I,V,R,E,P,E,N
L,I,C,A,R,U,D,E,R
D,N,U,H,E,V,I,F,M
U,I,D,O,S,R,U,O,H
L,A,S,R,E,V,I,N,U
R,A,C,S,O,E,T,T,O
Y,A,M,P,U,A,L,U,P
,,,,,,,,
Patient: BILL HERITAGE,,,,,,,,
I,I,V,C,O,O,R,D,D
M,M,Q,V,C,O,R,R,D
M,S,T,Q,O,H,R,D,A
S,T,P,P,H,U,B,A,A
S,T,P,P,U,J,B,B,A
K,K,L,L,G,W,W,X,X
F,F,E,L,G,J,W,N,X
K,E,L,L,G,W,N,X,Y
,,,,,,,,
Patient: ZEE MAVENS,,,,,,,,
L,E,T,H,G,I,L,Y,P
L,Y,G,T,T,E,A,O,E
O,N,R,I,N,G,V,U,E
W,E,E,L,R,E,E,R,L
I,F,M,O,A,F,Y,Y,S
G,E,R,N,S,L,E,H,T
N,A,A,U,D,I,A,L,E
D,E,R,O,Y,Y,V,I,O
,,,,,,,,
Patient: XAVIER SAGE,,,,,,,,
A,C,A,N,X,L,Q,Q,D
U,G,I,R,Z,R,Y,S,F
X,B,R,K,E,P,F,C,H
Z,H,T,S,W,X,J,G,X
A,M,A,T,E,S,G,J,C
I,O,G,V,S,W,S,N,O
E,E,R,X,D,B,D,N,T
I,K,V,Z,F,V,T,P,Z
,,,,,,,,
Patient: REBEKAH TRIUNE,,,,,,,,
C,R,K,N,N,F,T,D,C
A,A,A,T,O,P,E,Y,N
Y,E,I,H,T,R,H,I,E
N,V,V,E,E,L,T,B,K
O,L,N,W,N,A,E,E,R
I,E,G,L,E,O,A,L,S
U,O,I,R,G,C,R,A,E
H,O,O,U,R,M,U,N,D
,,,,,,,,
Patient: PETER WISEWOMEN,,,,,,,,
A,N,L,B,I,D,O,O,T
E,C,B,T,H,T,T,E,M
A,E,O,D,B,E,D,A,C
I,T,S,C,T,T,Y,N,O
U,M,C,E,O,E,E,B,U
S,C,T,T,D,G,D,A,R
B,V,E,E,W,A,E,D,B
B,I,K,C,A,C,G,C,I
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    $\begingroup$ Nice puzzle! It has been some time since we see this kind of puzzle since last time Alconja posted their puzzle, hasn't it? =) $\endgroup$
    – justhalf
    Feb 26 at 9:40
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This is pretty epic! $\endgroup$ Feb 27 at 12:02
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The eight patient names

each anagram to two parts: a hint to the type of puzzle to be solved, and a number. For instance, HOWARD ENCORES anagrams to WORD SEARCH: ONE.

1:

Patient: HOWARD ENCORES (WORD SEARCH ONE)

Hidden in the grid are the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac.
enter image description here
The remaining letters spell "MYSTIC MILO IS IN TOWN CAN WE GO BLACK.

2:

Patient: PETER WISEWOMEN (MINESWEEPER TWO)

Overlaying the circles from one of the monitors onto this grid, it covers only letters A,B,C,D,E. These can be interpreted as Minesweeper clues. Solving the puzzle:

enter image description here
The un-mined letters spell "NOT THE BIT YOU MUST READ". The shaded letters, bottom to top starting from the right column, spell "I MANAGED TO GET TWO TICKETS OLIVE".

3:

Patient: REBEKAH TRIUNE (NURIKABE THREE)

The furniture chart has 8 numbers on it; these are the clues for a Nurikabe puzzle.

enter image description here
The shaded cells, column-by-column, spell "YOU ARE LOOKING IN THE WRONG PLACE TRY BLANKS". The unshaded cells, also column-by-column, spell "CAN I HAVE A VOLUNTEER FROM THE AUDIENCE RED".

4:

Patient: HORUS FORT (SHORT FOUR)

Read the letters from right to left, bottom to top. This spells:
PULA, UP, MAYOTTE, OSCAR, UNIVERSAL, HOUR, SODIUM, FIVE HUNDRED, URACIL, NEPER, VIRGINIA, YOTTA.
Each of these has a canonical one or two letter abbreviation: P, U, YT, O, U, HR, NA, D, U, NP, VA, Y. Reversing each of these and concatenating them gives "PUT YOUR HAND UP NAVY".

5:

Patient: KEVIN FLABS (BLANKS FIVE)

You can fill in the blanks so that several countries are spelled out row-by-row: THAILAND, KENYA, LAOS, CUBA, COMOROS, IRELAND, JORDAN, IRAN, CAMEROON, AUSTRIA, GEORGIA, NIGER.
The letters you fill in spell a message: "THANK YOU COME AND JOIN ME ON STAGE ORANGE".

6:

Patient: XAVIER SAGE (AVERAGE SIX)

Here, we need to take the average of pairs of letters. Highlighting all the odd letters, we can see that each pair of rows has the same parity. So, we take the average of the first two rows: K is halfway between A and U, E is halfway between C and G, E is halfway between A and I...

The letters we get spell "KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE PENDULUM LIGHT YELLOW".

7:

Patient: ZEE MAVENS (MAZE SEVEN)

In the hospital map, each room starts with a unique letter from B through X. You can trace a path starting at the Access, visiting all of the rooms in alphabetical order, and ending at You Are Here. There is only one shortest path:

enter image description here
Overlaying the letter grid on the intersections of the maze, and tracing the path out, spells the message:
"YOUR EYELIDS ARE GETTING VERY HEAVY YOU ARE FEELING VERY SLEEPY LIGHT GREEN"

8:

Patient: BILL HERITAGE (BRAILLE EIGHT)

Each letter is "clumped together" in the grid: all the As are on the middle right, all the Bs next to them, both Cs near the top... these form Braille letters. The letters in order from A to Y spell "WHEN I CLICK MY FINGERS SIENNA".


Summary:

enter image description here

We can now see the story - you had gone to see a stage magician (Mystic Milo) with Becky, and got chosen as a volunteer from the audience. You walked onstage and Milo showed us an oddly distracting pendulum...

And finally:

The three underlined letters are K, E, Y. The colors, in order from 1 to 8, correspond to the letters O, T, TO, C, AY, B, IT, R. The news report, CDTMvHPFMMnCHGSeLgDSTeRrHiTeZBKDZBMASTOMN, has eight lowercase letters that anagram to vigenere. If we use the string OTTOCAYBITR to decode the news report as a Vigenere cipher, we get:

OKAYtHREETwOONEcLiCKAnDyOuReBACKINTHEROOM
"Okay, three, two, one, click! And you're back in the room."
Turns out you were under hypnosis the whole time, and there was never any danger! (Except for the mental health effects of being suddenly thrown into an actual horror movie scenario. I'm pretty sure hypnotists don't typically make their volunteers imagine something this traumatic. Mystic Milo may have a lawsuit coming his way at some point...)


Easter eggs / references:

The title, "28 Minutes Later", is a reference to the zombie film 28 Days Later. The news reporter, "WWZ News", is a reference to World War Z, another zombie film.

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    $\begingroup$ I have a question though, what does this answer have to do with the title? 28 minutes later to what? $\endgroup$ Feb 26 at 4:21
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    $\begingroup$ What a fantastic answer to wake up to :) You've assembled the events of the day perfectly. A few very minor details currently missing from your answer: 1) What are the lower case letters in the ciphertext for? 2a) The title is a context-appropriate movie reference... 2b) So is the name of the broadcaster on the news bulletin... (Also I hope you agree the bulletin's appearance is somewhat appropriate for the revealed theme, and the choice of letters to form the cipher key is also very fitting given the final message - but those are more just window dressing rather than anything Easter Eggy!) $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Feb 26 at 9:06
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    $\begingroup$ Also, just noticed your anagram for #4 is incorrect - you've used U twice instead of H... $\endgroup$
    – Stiv
    Feb 26 at 13:03
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    $\begingroup$ @Anonymus25-ReinstateMonica I mean, it's an obvious reference to a famous movie about zombies, not sure if there's more to it than that? $\endgroup$ Feb 26 at 16:23
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ The letters in the cipher key are the initial letters of the final message. $\endgroup$
    – user39583
    Feb 26 at 19:41

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