I’m sitting on the floor of the most tech-filled hotel rooms I’ve come across, and I’m doing a jigsaw. But the tech at Bangkok’s Marriott Marquis Queen's Park isn’t about robot butlers, voice-controlled lighting or a television bigger than my house. If you were to step into my hotel room – or the Curiosity Room by Ted to give it its correct name – you’d barely notice it, and that’s precisely what makes this project so special.
The Curiosity Rooms, a collaboration between TED’s educational art TED-Ed and Marriott, can be found in three locations: the London Marriott Hotel County Hall, where the property’s Curiosity Room by Ted launched on 15 September and will be available until 2 January 2023, San Francisco’s Marriott Marquis hotel, where the room was unveiled in July and be bookable until 16 October, and Bangkok, where a room launched on 15 August and will be available until 15 November.
It’s hard to explain quite how brilliant they are without giving the game way. In a nutshell, guests must answer a series of questions and complete a number of challenges to finish the game and win a prize. If you love escape rooms, you’ll love the Curiosity Rooms. They’re fabulously hi-tech, albeit in a way which gave my grey matter a thoroughly unexpected workout, with the added bonus of fascinating insights into Thailand’s capital.
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Customisation is key. Not only in the sense that every hotel’s Curiosity Room provides fascinating insights into the city in question, but because of the optional hints. Guests must scan a QR code to access a website and kick-start the quiz and can then request hints if they draw a blank (as I did, repeatedly). If the first clue doesn’t cut it, guests can request additional ones (again, as I did, repeatedly) which become less subtle. Again, it’s hard to explain quite how brilliant the concept is without revealing spoilers, but the fiendishly tricky puzzles involve QR codes, concealed magnets, and hidden messages revealed with the help of bog-standard hotel appliances and mechanisms concealed within walls and everyday objects.
The puzzles require patience, problem-solving skills and critical thinking, and it’s worth noting they require a certain amount of time (one of the hotel’s managers told me that her colleague had taken around two hours to complete it, and I certainly took a little longer). The rooms have slick TED-themed décor, although the puzzles involve certain items which come as standard in hotel rooms – everyday items repurposed as clues and tools by the geniuses behind this project.
This multi-functionality was key to the designers’ plan, a crucial aspect of which was the use of technology to not only educate but entertain and inspire. “TED-Ed’s goal is not just to teach ideas, but to inspire people to want to learn, think and dig deeper into fascinating topics, and one of our most successful content strands is a riddle series that breaks the mould of traditional digital media and asks viewers to pause a video and try to figure out the answer,” says Alex Rosenthal, editorial director of TED-Ed Animations. “When we began working on The Curiosity Rooms, one of the first questions we asked ourselves was: how can we achieve a similar experience for hotel guests?”
Alex admits there were challenges, although not the ones people might imagine. “Again, without spoiling anything, there is some pretty ambitious interactive technology we’ve hidden in both walls and a specific design element of the room,” says Alex. “The challenge wasn’t necessarily the wiring or programming of the technology itself, but rather how to make the technology disappear through design. Guests are unknowingly surrounded by two large technical elements from the moment they enter the rooms. They’re hidden in plain sight and the assumption is that the elements are simply decorative. When the technology is activated, the reveal is that much more unexpected and surprising.”
For me, it’s this – the way everyday items have been repurposed as hi-tech components of the quiz – which wowed me the most, although it turns out Alex had the perfect partner when it came to this aspect. “Andrew Evans, my co-designer, is a bonafide magician who operates a secret magic theatre in San Francisco,” says Alex. “He brought his extensive knowledge of magic and illusion techniques directly into key moments of this experience to create this wonderful sense of curiosity and wonder.”
Despite my suspicion the question I’m about to ask Alex is akin to asking him to choose a favourite child, I can’t resist asking if he has a favourite element. “I’m going to be purposefully vague to avoid giving too much away, but there’s a moment in one of my favourite puzzles where everything suddenly (and unexpectedly) clicks into place,” he says. “In our earliest tests, this bit regularly elicited shouts of surprise and delight, followed by a frenzy of activity as guests figure out what they have to do next. It’s a great moment because it both subverts expectations and serves as a perfect confirmation that ‘yes, this slightly wild thing I’m doing is absolutely correct.’ “
I can confirm not only that I know which element he’s referring to, but that it’s every bit as brilliant as he claims. And I suspect that the Curiosity by TED hotel rooms might just be the start of something wonderful. Alex agrees. “We’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s possible and already have a robust list of ideas and elements of the hotel experience that we’d love to play around with and hide puzzles within,” he says. “I definitely feel emboldened by the responses we’ve had and we’re excited at the prospect of exploring this more.”
I for one can’t wait. Although there’s one undeniable downside: I suspect that my next hotel room might look rather plain.
Prices vary according to location, but the Curiosity Room at Bangkok’s Marriott Marquis Queen's Park can be booked as part of a two-night package which includes dinner at the hotel’s Goji restaurant and dessert at the hotel’s Siam Tea Room. From £382 per package.