Dressed fancier than most any Portland crowd, the diners meander into a large conference room at the downtown Marriott, don nametags reading aliases like Desi Arnez, Charlie Brown, and Roxi Hart, and find places at their designated tables. Each seat bears instructions to trust no one.

Slightly confused and a little on edge, everyone looks around and timidly starts asking questions.

“So, tell me…where are you from? Oh, really…and…what do you do? Interesting…and…how long have you been doing that?”

The awkward small talk continues until the host enters the room, explaining the rules of the game with limitless excitement. Everyone with a nametag is a suspect, he says. Someone amongst us is a murderer.

And then! A man stumbles into the room holding his side. “I’ve been stabbed!” he says before collapsing on the floor.

Two detectives materialize with clues, which lead to interrogations. Please not me, please not me, please not me, I think, sending telepathic messages toward the detectives. The room is full of about 60 people, spread amongst five tables, and I definitely did not sign up to be put on the spot.

As the detectives drag diners up one by one, the chosen audience members respond so well I wonder if maybe they’re plants. I assume this to be true until my date is asked to stand at the front of the room. Wait…maybe he’s the murderer…

As the evening progresses, I become more and more skeptical of everyone around me. I look at Velma and Roxi, the elementary school teachers to my right. Teachers? Ha! A likely story. The silent man to my left whose wife clearly dragged him out here? Nice façade, sir, but I see through it! Then there’s Agent Smith who sits across from me but leaves the table every time a murder happens. Supposedly his wife should be here but his ring finger is bare. Hmmm…

The interrogations continue, and I create a mental list of suspects. Mustached Apache Snow, innocent Lucy Loveless, and sketchy Agent Smith are at the top.

I’m way more into this than I thought I would be.

After a couple hours of murders and questioning intermixed with sub-par dinner, it’s time for us to cast our votes for the guilty party. My guess is Lucy…she’s just too blonde and sweet. In the end, I’m right, and she’s cuffed and taken away. It turns out Agent Smith was another actor, but Apache Snow was just an awesome participant with a great alias.

While the Dinner Detective was corny and perhaps a little overly enthusiastic, it was a night void of boredom and monotony, and hands down home of the best people watching I have ever witnessed. (Worth it.)

For showtimes and ticket info, thedinnerdetective.com.

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