Editor's note: The Transcript's Mack Burke and Cody Giles attempted to escape from Houdini's Lounge. Despite their cunning and can-do spirit, they did not escape within the hour time limit though they will have you know they were "right there."
If you like to test your wits and problem solving skills, Escape This Norman is your proving ground.
The escape room business at 550 24th Ave. NW, Ste. C opened its doors last week and now invites friends and families to get "locked" into one of five themed rooms and find their way out by solving and puzzles and cracking codes.
The brainchild of husband and wife duo Jodie and Casey Pyle, Escape This Norman joins Cracked Norman, 541 S. University Blvd, as the second escape room operation in town, expanding on a trend that continues to enthrall experience seekers.
Jodie said the worldwide escape room concept took off about 15 to 20 years ago, making the leap from the virtual world to the physical one in 2007 in Japan.
“It sort of hit the coasts in the United States and it’s worked its way in since then, but there really aren’t many in the Midwest right now,” she said.
Jodie and Casey were exploring the idea of starting a business of their own and after researching escape rooms found the perfect model.
“We wanted a family business that was creative and would really encourage families and friends to be together," Jodie said.
She said the organic [element], being able to disconnect from screens and personal devices, was important. She said some kids have come in, reluctant to engage at first and buried in their phones, but something happens.
“They come in here and they just light up,” she said. “They laugh and they’re so excited and it’s really cool to see.”
“You can get your teenager to come in here with you and they’ll actually interact with you for an hour,” Casey said. “I think that’s a pretty big thing.”
Jodie, a former full-time mother whose kids are now in school, had the time and it didn’t hurt that Casey runs a construction business, Frame to Finish Construction, when it came time to craft the rooms.
“Every door kept opening and every scenario just led us to the next step,” Casey said.
Jodie said the community response has been positive, both since opening day last weekend and in the weeks before Escape This Norman opened its doors and invited the public to get locked behind one.
She said companies and local businesses have been eager to get their people in to enjoy a fun and outside-the-box team-building experience.
“There has been a lot of interest,” she said.
In just under a week since it opened, Casey said nearly 50 customers have come to try their hand at escaping.
“So far, upwards of 60 percent have completed the room,” he said. “However, I will say that our software allows us to interact with the people in the room and if we see that they’re really not getting to the next step we can send a message via the tablet and we’re able to assist them in the room.”
Casey said there has been some debate on how much they should help, but he said it comes down to ensuring that patrons have a positive experience.
“Our experience has been that when we complete a room we have a better time, he said. “We’ve had rooms we didn’t complete before … but it’s a different experience.”
Jodie said there have already been some magic moments, including a couple that escaped with 15 seconds left on the clock.
“They were so happy,” she said. “They were jumping up and down and throwing their arms up and hugging each other. It was great.”
Jodie said another family said they just wanted to stay all day long.
“You know you’re running it well if people say they just want to hang out all day," she said.
The couple said they took some cues from escape rooms they have visited themselves as enthusiasts, but crafted five unique rooms for their own operation, complete with original stories and immersive props.
Casey said it started with the concepts — Houdini’s Lounge, Insane Asylum, Alien Access, Bermuda Triangle and the Detective’s Office. Those guided the design and the puzzles. Jodie put her creative writing major to good use on the story elements and she said her experience as a mother gave her insight on what keeps kids and parents happy and engaged.
“The crazy cool thing about it is every escape room is different,” she said. “Every owner’s personality is different and it shows in their creations. There’s no one way of doing things. So, you get to design it how ever you want.”
To make sure the designs stay fresh, Jodie said they will probably make some changes throughout the year and make announcements when they do. Around Halloween, she said the rooms will probably take a scarier turn.
Escape This Norman also has a party room, complete with a pool table, foosball table and other games, that guests can rent out or enjoy while waiting for their escape room experience to begin. Escape This Norman also takes walk-ins.
• Hours: open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
• Booking: online — escapethisnorman.com. phone — (405) 310-5222 walk-in — 550 24th Ave. NW, Ste. C.
• Cost: $22 per person. If you have a group of six or more, the price is $20 per person. Birthday parties are $275 and include one-hour rental of the party room and up to 10 people can go through the rooms.