MIA will soon become a giant puzzle room and everyone can play for free

Puzzle rooms are very popular and some staff at the University of Minnesota are helping the Minneapolis Institute of Arts take the game to a new level.

MINNEAPOLIS - If you enjoy social games and problem solving, chances are you've enjoyed a puzzle room or escape room, and now the Minneapolis Institute of Art is preparing to take the idea to an entirely new level thanks to some tech-savvy staff at the University of Minnesota.

"By using things like augmented reality and virtual reality you can make people actually feel like they're in a different space," said Samantha Porter, a Digital Preservation Specialist at the University of Minnesota.

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Porter usually used AR and VR to help archeology students digitally scan ancient artifacts for study and exploration, but now she's also applying it to her love of puzzle rooms.

"There's a series of clues you have to follow and riddles you have to solve and then you either escape the room or solve a mystery together," Porter said.

She's now joining forces with University of Minnesota Technology Architect, Colin McFadden, to transform the Minneapolis Institute of Art into a virtual puzzle room.

(Credit: KARE 11)

"It just sort of immediately clicked like, I want to do more puzzle rooms but puzzle rooms are kind of expensive, so maybe we could do a thing where we could use the museum," McFadden said, with a laugh.

The two presented their idea to the MIA and recently received a $50,000 3M Art and Technology award to help make it happen.

"MIA is definitely cheaper than an escape room," said Douglas Hegley, Chief Digital Officer at MIA. "This stood out because you could see that blending of two worlds that maybe people wouldn't have put together otherwise. I know I didn't. That's what makes it innovative."

And in this case, innovation will not require renovation.

"You walk into a room, there are no secret cabinets, but with AR, you hold up your phone and, oh my goodness, there is one," Hegley said.

Soon a free app called "Riddle MIA This" will allow every visitor to play the game as they explore.

"So we can be looking through our phone at a piece of work in a museum and then the phone can highlight parts of the work as we're looking at it," McFadden said.

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(Credit: KARE 11)

Not every piece of art will be part of the game, but the app will give you clues that point you in the right direction.

"I'm attempting to scan the work of art," Porter said, showing off the app. "It's going to reveal that you need to go to room G225 for your next set of clues."

And if you don't have a compatible device Hegley says the MIA will have some to check out so everyone can play.

The puzzle is set to debut in September, and it should have something fun for gamers and Rembrandt enthusiasts alike.

"We have x-rays of this painting, we have infrared photography, we have photogrammetry, we have pictures of the back of the painting," Hegley said. "But you can't access any of that right now, when we enable you to do that through an app, it starts to get really exciting."

It's also exciting for those working on it, though it's a bit overwhelming.

"We are really excited about the size of the museum but it's also very daunting," McFadden said.

"I want to create a game that I want to play and that friends would enjoy playing," Porter said.

Porter and McFadden decided not to pocket that $50,000 award. Instead, they're giving it all to a non-profit called GLITCH, which will help hire U of M students to help with the game development.