Step right into one of four escape rooms in the Midlands to experience the latest trend in a centuries’ long obsession with murder mystery and crime solving. Self-proclaimed Sherlock Holmes sophisticates and not-so-novice Nancy Drews are welcomed in by a game host, provided with a basic background and storyline of their game selection, and then set loose in a room full of riddles, rhymes, and revelry. In their early days, escape rooms relied heavily on old school locks and keys, handwritten ciphers, and the like. Over the years, they have become increasingly technologically savvy; modern rooms boast features like touch screen control panels, electronic keys, and extensive game software.
Unlike haunted houses, a popular fall pastime for scare seekers, escape rooms generally are not designed to sell a fear factor, although some serve up surprising twists and turns. Instead, they offer an immersive, engaging experience that appeals to anyone with a penchant for puzzles.
Tina Williams of Escapology co-owns the franchise with her husband, Kevin Williams. Since having opened in 2017, Tina and her staff have repeatedly seen firsthand how their games tempt even skeptical players to shed their reservations and join in on the fun. “I think a lot of people go into it thinking they’ll stand back and observe. But a lot of new people, once they watch for a minute, will jump right in. They’re not super confident going in, but then they’re right in there running the show!”
Oftentimes, even the adults in the room need a little nudge during the puzzle solving process, which is generally limited to one hour. Josh Brickey, co-owner of Escape Plan with his wife, Patty Brickey, explains that escape room staff are available throughout the process to provide helpful hints along the way so that players do not stay stumped for too long. After an introduction to the storyline and a few preliminary tips, players are off to the races … but not without a phone-a-friend option. “We tell them three clues, but we’ll give them more if they ask.”
At The Final Door in Cayce, these moments are often characterized by slightly spookier scenes than are found at other escape rooms in the area. Players can choose from “The Sacrifice,” a cult-themed game in which players attempt to escape from a dark holding cell; “Blackout,” which claims to be “not for the squeamish and easily scared;” “The Vampyr,” the venue’s most challenging — and perhaps blood-curdling — room; and “Down the Rabbit Hole,” an Alice in Wonderland inspired game that mellows out the selection at The Final Door.
Though game room themes come and go, the trend of immersive entertainment seems to be on the upswing. Fortunately, Columbia’s escape rooms offer an array of tall tales, clever themes, and slick tricks to keep corporate groups, families, and celebrants of just about anything coming through their doors.