A Turtle-Necked Sea-Turtle, a Sawfish, a Mulberry Street Unicorn, a Kangaroo Bird. These strange creatures stare down at me from their perfectly curated places on the living room wall. The Dr. Seuss Unorthodox Taxidermy collection fits in perfectly among eclectic smatterings of gorgeously framed pieces of Mark Ryden and large vintage posters from the Golden Age of Magic. But something else catches my eye: a framed case of 52 cards laid across a backing of red velvet.
These cards were part of a year-long Alternate Reality Game for The Dark Knight, designed to elicit excitement leading up to the 2008 film. Audiences were given the opportunity to directly involve themselves in the world of Gotham—an exercise in wish fulfillment that remains a seismic moment for the fans who participated. During this landmark experience, fans could join factions, go to real world locations to find phones hidden in birthday cakes, and even vote in online Gotham elections. With over 11 million unique participants in over 70 countries, this campaign expanded the possibility of using immersive entertainment for movie marketing. And part of its success can be attributed to Michael Borys.
But, who is Michael Borys? Well you could define him by his titles. He is the Vice President of Interaction & Game Design at 42 Entertainment, which is responsible for Year Zero (Nine Inch Nails’ foray into ARGs), Flynn Lives (a real-world Tron legacy scavenger hunt and adventure), and numerous other engaging experiences. He also led various projects within Disney while working with Disney Imagineering and their theme parks, as well as serving as Senior Game Designer for Warner Brothers. But when you sit down with Borys, you realize he is so much more than his resume; rather, he is one of the most passionate people you’ll ever meet, with an immense love for storytelling and games. He is eager to share what he loves, as he scurries around his studio revealing treasures from experiences he’s created in the past.
But moving away from this past, we look towards the future and Borys’ latest project: The 49 Boxes. Leading me into his workspace, he reveals his passion project, which has now grown to over one hundred boxes of different size, style, color, and personality. Each box provides its own challenge, its own story, its own magic—but all contribute to a larger narrative centered around the famed magician, Floyd G. Thayer. In this event, a room full of strangers will work together to solve a series of mysteries—but they will need to interact with other groups, and as they uncover the story, the true magic of the boxes will be revealed.
The focus here is not the puzzles—this isn’t an escape room and there is no time limit—but rather, on the narrative and artifacts you interact with. Many of the items that guests will use belonged to Thayer himself and were actually created in the early 1900’s. Borys explains, “I never wanted to hide these beautiful objects behind museum glass; I want people to be able to touch and appreciate them firsthand.” These museum pieces are all purposefully selected by Michael Borys and his creative partner Alex Lieu: from flea markets, donated by friends and fans alike, or purchased from magic collectors and historians. Each item either feels authentic—or is authentic—and comes together with the rest of the collection expertly to immerse audiences in this world. And it’s this attention to detail that really makes this experience shine.
Any more of a reveal would be a disservice to the actual experience. The 49 Boxes is not just an immersive evening, a magic show, an engaging game of puzzles and intrigue, but rather, it is a passion project from a man who has fallen in love with magic and the stories behind it.
Typically, within days of announcing upcoming shows, The 49 Boxes sells out. But there are still a few tickets left for Saturday, December 9th at The Houdini Estate in Los Angeles. I urge you to experience the magic of Michael Borys and his 49 boxes yourself. The show travels around the country so check out when and where it will be next at 49boxes.com.
Borys was also kind enough to give our community a special discount code for those wanting to experience The 49 Boxes. Using promo code “HAUNTING” at check out to get 15% off!
The 49 Boxes is not an experience that happens around you…
It happens because of you.