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Escape rooms: An alternative thrill for Halloween

The nightmare scenario of being stuck behind locked doors proves a welcome activity for amateur sleuths and critical thinkers.

For those looking for the thrills of a Halloween haunted house without the terror it brings, escape rooms can be a scream free alternative.

“The mystique is not knowing what the escape room looks like. Suddenly, the door closes and you have no idea what will happen,” said Josh Knoust, Lansing’s Breakout escape room coordinator.

The history of escape rooms can be traced to the 2004 Japanese video game “Crimson Room,” developed by Toshimitsu Takagi. In 2007, Real Escape Games of Kyoto, Japan, recreated the video game’s concept into a live setting with participants using clues to escape from themed rooms.

Landing its first United States franchise in San Francisco in 2012, a new industry was born. The number of escape rooms in the U.S. has since ballooned to 2,000, as of this year “We are a Halloween destination. Our busiest time of the year is from now until New Years.”

Breakout Lansing has three rooms to choose from: “The Ringmaster’s Den,” “Zombie Roadhouse” and “Game of Espionage.” “The Ringmaster’s Den” and “Zombie Roadhouse” are prime attractions for Halloween, “the Game of Espionage” is a spy thriller type room.

To complete the sense of immersion, each room has a backstory.

“In the zombie room, your group is looting around an apocalyptic town. You stumble in Joe and Mary’s Bar and the door closes behind you. Magnetic locks engage and you have an hour and five minutes until the generator reopens and you guys connect,” Knoust said.

“The goal is to retrieve everything you need to survive within the bar once the zombies come in and the doors open. It isn’t as much of an escape but a prep to survive.”

There will be no zombie actors popping out like they do in a haunted house, Knoust added.

“The Ringmaster’s Den” is a creepy environment, because of the negative association of clowns and circuses, but it is the game most suited for kids, he said.

“The backstory is, you are wandering back behind a circus and found yourself in an area you weren’t supposed to be, which happened to be the ringmaster's personal quarters. The door closes behind you. There is no escape and now you must get out before the ringmaster gets in there.”

Not all groups make it out in time. “Our games tend to be tough and more difficult than other escape games. Most groups don’t get out in time.”

The odds are stacked against escape. “The Zombie Roadhouse” has a one-in-12 chance of escape, “the Ringmaster’s Den” a one-in-four and “Game of Espionage” a onein-six.

Though other escape rooms provide the first clue in a series, Breakout Lansing prefers to close the doors and let the group think it out.

This becomes challenging because in “the Zombie Roadhouse,” the room doesn’t even start with the lights on.

Staff will always walk attendees through the solution afterward if they want to hear it. It is very rare a group won’t solve a single clue, Knoust said.

But for some, escaping the room is beside the point of attending.

Knoust said two couples came in late a little drunk one night and wanted to play a room.

“I told them to play ‘the Ringmaster’s Den,’ because it was the easiest game to play,” Knoust said. “They spent the entire hour looking around the room and were just so excited about every little thing they were finding: Every key they found they hung up on a hook.”

The time rolled by, and not one piece of the puzzle to escape was solved.

“When the game was done I walked in and asked if they had a good time. They were like ‘Yes! You have to tell us to get out.’ I walked them through the entire game and they had no idea what was hiding in the room,” Knoust said. “You don’t have to solve anything to have an awesome time.”

At the other end of the spectrum, a repeat corporate group of attendees does very well in the rooms, Knoust said.

“They played some of our games and it comes down to finding things in the room and not overthinking it. They can execute a plan and move on to the next clue,” he said.

Breakout Lansing is the third installment of Warren, Michigan-based Breakout Escape Rooms. There are other locations in Warren, Ann Arbor, Royal Oak and Orlando, Florida.

“We love working for this company and have a lot of good experience with the staff," Knoust said.

"It is all pretty positive, considering we are in a basement dungeon.”

Breakout Escape Rooms

Sunday-Thursday, noon to 9 p.m. Friday & Saturday, noon to 11 p.m. 2722 E. Michigan Ave., Lansing www.roombreakout. com/lansing (586) 359-6944


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