How many Gen Zs does it take to dial a rotary phone?

This was the question last weekend when my family and I had our first escape room experience.

We were back in Iowa visiting my parents and my sister’s family, and after exhausting the usual options (movies, shopping, eating, bowling), my niece suggested we attempt an escape room. I would be hard-pressed to think of something all of us ever agree upon, but everyone was game to try it.

There were six of us: my sister, brother-in-law, and I (all proud Gen Xers), my two nieces (age 12 and 15) and my son (age 17)–all Gen Zs.

We knew there would be a lot of strong opinions and divergent kinds of intelligence in play. No one in our family lacks a strong point of view and no one is remotely quiet ever.

Over dinner, we did a bit of pre-escape room strategizing. We had to split into groups of 3, and we didn’t know if we’d be collaborating or competing. We ultimately decided my sister would join my son and 15-year-old niece in their room, and I would join up with my brother-in-law and 12-year-old niece.

The theme of our room was “Parole Denied”. We worked in side-by-side prison cells to attempt escape.

To preserve the integrity of the escape room experience, I will only divulge that the first half hour involved much bumbling about, searching for clues, and yelling possible helpful information.

The only Gentelligence involved was when my 12-year-old niece was able to see some hidden numbers etched under some shelves that the rest of us were too tall to notice (not entirely sure this even technically counts as Gentelligence, but close enough…).

Success…or so we thought.

We broke out of our cells in 33 minutes. I was feeling quite cocky, as we only used a bit over half of our allotted time and hadn’t needed any hints. That confidence disappeared quickly when I realized we weren’t done–we had two more rooms to go!

We struggled in the second room, finally figuring out how to open the door with about 12 minutes to go.

The last room was a library of sorts, equipped with bookshelves, a chess board, maps, and…a rotary phone. To unlock an essential drawer, you had to decipher a code to figure out a phone number (using a periodic table on the wall).

My son and 12-year old niece had figured that out in mere minutes, and set to work dialing the number. I toiled away on the bookcase, searching for clues in between the volumes on the shelves.

Several minutes later, I heard the two of them still at work on the phone. My niece grabbed the receiver from my son, who hadn’t been able to get the number to unlock the drawer. She began to dial the numbers. I looked over and saw her…confused.

Gen Z vs. a Rotary Phone

It was then I realized it was a ROTARY phone. That’s when I started thinking, how many Gen Zs it takes to dial a rotary phone?

Well played, escape room! No one under 40 would likely be sure how to work one of those.

Picture of rotary phone. The kind of rotary phone Gen Z could not figure out.

Gentelligence to the rescue.

“Watch and learn, young people!” I exclaimed, sprinting across the room with real Gen X prowess.

They watched in true wonder (no, just kidding) as I showed them the real skill involved in rotary phoning. “See, you have to put your finger in the spot for the number you want to dial, and then pull the number up to the top…”. Except really they didn’t care because there is no other time or place when a 12 and 17-year-old need to know how to use a rotary phone in 2023 other than an eclectic escape room or perhaps a visit to an abandoned mansion with no cell service (also a great theme for an escape room).

But I felt like a real power player when that phone magically dialed and then unlocked the ever-important drawer.

“Gentelligence for the win!” I exclaimed, but no one was listening because it became clear we still had more clues to solve.

While I wish I could end this amazing tale with the story of our victory, we were sadly defeated in the final minute. We had a chess piece in the wrong spot and couldn’t get the last door unlocked.

But we were not foiled by a rotary phone. #GenXforever

I usually use the blog to cover those deep and important generational topics. But I just couldn’t resist this one. Gentelligence is everywhere if you look for it.