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Tired of dinner and a movie? Try an escape room adventure.

Posted on 11 July 2017 by Calvin

Tired of your usual entertainment venues? Want to try something different than going to a movie or play, attending a concert, or visiting a bar or restaurant?

You might want to try your luck with a fairly recent phenomenon and spend an hour with friends in an escape room.

A group spends an hour in a locked room, solving puzzles to escape by the time that hour is up.

Jake Klompien and his friends, Kenny and Tessa Hubbell, have created PuzzleWorks, located at 550 Vandalia, Ste. 311, to entice you to solve your way out of their escape rooms.

“Kenny and Tessa proposed the idea, and I came on board,” Klompien said. “We started the company last summer and opened in March.”
Klompien said it all starts with designing a room, which has to have a theme. “A common theme is that you are trapped in a crazy person’s basement, but that was a little dark for us,” Klompien explained. “Other common themes are a detective’s office or a laboratory.”

Photo left: Jake Klompien sits at the entry to the bank vault in one of the escape rooms. Klompien likes to build, so he does all the construction and physical building for the various escape rooms. (Photo by Jan Willms)

PuzzleWorks has the Vault, a room with a built-in bank vault. Players must pull off a bank heist and then escape. The other current escape room is the Loose Sleuth, a detective’s office in which participants need to piece together the clues to figure out what happened there. A third room, the Hospital, is under construction.

Klompien said that based on the theme, they start working on the puzzles. With the vault, for example, some puzzles have to do with exchanging of money. And there are a lot of keys and locks within a bank, so those may be part of the puzzles for that room.

“There is a lot of trial and error,” Klompien continued. “For every idea that makes it into the room, there probably were a dozen puzzles that are either too difficult for us to build on our own or are just too hard to solve. Rather than making the room too difficult, we want people to have fun. So we want puzzles that make sense.”

He said the three divide the labor that goes into the business. Klompien likes to build, so he does all the construction and physical building for the escape rooms. “Kenny does all the electronics and wiring involved, and Tessa comes up with a lot of the puzzles,” he added. All of them also work additional jobs. Klompien is a freelance business writer for a company in Montana, Kenny works as a baggage handler for Delta and Tessa is a nurse practitioner. “Kenny also was at the University of Minnesota last summer studying mechanical engineering, but things got too busy here, and he had to postpone that for a while,” Klompien added.

Photo right: Tessa Hubbell monitors the screens showing the interior of the escape rooms. Tessa is the one who comes up with many of the puzzles that make the escape rooms a challenge. (Photo by Jan Willms)

He said people walk in with no more direction than to figure out a way to get out. “You find some numbers, find a lock and try the numbers. The puzzles progress. People go in with some cluelessness, but they usually pick up pretty quick, especially if they have done escape rooms before. They know everything is there for a reason.”

Participants sign up for an escape room on the company’s website, puzzlemn.com. There’s a drop-down calendar, and you pick which room you want and when you want to do it. You pay and come in, sign a waiver and get a brief introduction to the room. You have an hour to solve the puzzles to get out,” Klompien stated.

“Signing a waiver is a requirement for insurance purposes,” he noted. “Escape rooms are a new enough concept that the insurance industry has a hard time classifying us. At first, they wanted to put us in the same category as carnivals. But there is nothing physical in the room; it is all mental.”

He said they do ask people not to take photographs in the rooms, and visitors seem to understand that.

The usual number for a room can vary from four to ten. “We have had just two come, but it usually proves to be a little too much for them. We have tried groups of 11 or 12. In at least one of the rooms, there just isn’t enough space for that many. And there is also the element that there are too many cooks in the kitchen,” he joked.

He said the success rate for people solving the puzzles and escaping from the Vault is 30 percent, and a little under 50 percent for solving the Loose Sleuth. The business has also connected with Lake Monster Brewery next door to give puzzle participants a token they can use for a free brew. “They can celebrate their escape, or drown their sorrows if they weren’t able to solve the puzzle,” Klompien commented.

Klompien said what drew him to the business was the creativity in developing the rooms, as well as the mental challenges of it. “I don’t

particularly like sitting down and doing Sudoku or anything, but the creativity of this also drew me in,” he acknowledged. “People who seem to do the best are people who think a little bit in that way,” he said, referring to puzzle players. He also said younger people do well, based on all the video games they might play.

He said they might adjust the rooms a little bit for holidays like Halloween, but there is a limit to how much they can alter a room.

He said the escape rooms are popular in Asia and Europe, where they are more established. “It seems like it has only been the last five years or so the trend has come to North America,” he noted. “It has erupted in the last few years. When we were kicking this idea around, there were three in the area, with a fourth in production. Now there are at least a dozen locally.”

PuzzleWorks stands out from the others, according to Klompien, because they design and create their own rooms and build everything on the site. “We’re local and proud of it because within the industry there are some chains and props are purchased.”

“The business has continued to grow each month it has been open,” Klompien stated. “I have been surprised at the interest in the escape rooms. For a lot of people, it is still a novel idea. They have read about them, and this is their first time coming to one.”

But a lot of customers, he noted, have tried escape rooms before and want to keep trying them. “I think that speaks to a lasting trend,” he said.

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