Utah Theater

What is Mystery Escape Room? And Why it’s such a big hit with families?

Downtown now has several “escape rooms”. Is this real fun or more like torture?


To prevent disappointment, my expectations were low. I had planned on 60 minutes of suffering to escape from a room I was not familiar with. I was prepared to accept whatever fate awaited me in order to provide my nephews with a unique real-world (non-video game) experience—something truly lacking in the lives of kids these days.

Upon entering Dr.Frankenstein’s Chamber, it was announced by our host, “Scabby,” that Igor was unavailable so he was “filling in.” “Great,” I thought. “We aren’t even going to get to see a guy play the part of the famous hunchback.”

Accompanying me to Mystery Escape Room were my nephews Nicholas, 16, John Paul, 12, and my friend Jacob and his twin boys, Jax and Jamie, who turned six-years-old that day.

Spoiler alert! The room will be retired by the time this story is published, making it impossible for anyone else to experience what I describe, so here goes. What transpired over the next 60 minutes was a journey into someone’s imagination—an experience that was well-designed and well-engineered, and to watch participants’ reactions to increasing levels of befuddlement over puzzles they were supposed to solve.

There were four puzzles to be solved before we could exit our room. “Cake,” I thought confidently, before leisurely going about solving my part of the puzzles. I needed to find clues inside the Frankenstein novel, but prior to that, I needed to discover (by way of using a compass with a dial pointing to letters), which pages offered individual words. This required a pencil and note-taking and using the compass to decode coordinates into letters that represented page numbers. No problemo. Or so I thought.

My arrogance in underestimating the complexity of problems has always been my downfall. We solved the four puzzles after 30 minutes. I thought we must be nearly done. The next chamber opened. It was a bedroom with a radio inside. We needed to find a series of numbers and put the radio on the correct station to listen to a message and watch a painting of Dr. Frankenstein age 100 years in 10 seconds. Eventually we solved the problem and a bedroom chamber opened to reveal where Igor had gone. He was dead: his remains a skeleton. “I guess I will need to fill in for Igor a lot longer than I had planned,” said Scabby, over the speaker.

After solving more puzzles, another chamber eventually opened. It was briefly and ominously lit by black-light. John Paul realized that the blank puzzle he was attempting to solve, now cloaked in black-light, offered a design by which he could relate the pieces to one another for assembly. But the black-light flickered out before he could finish. By then, Scabby was over the speaker system once again, offering us more clues. “You’d better hurry,” he barked, “sounding a bit irritated by our slow progression.

Only ten minutes remained and another chamber door opened. There was a bike rigged to an electric generator where a rider must pedal to generate enough electricity to maintain power to the black-light, which would allow the puzzle in the other room to be solved, but our progress was too slow.

For 30 minutes, Nicholas had been collecting strange letters, and he learned to decode those letters into numbers which opened a safe containing a key. The key could be used to activate the motor connected to a very cleverly designed platform suspended from the ceiling with wire rope. The motor was rigged using four pulleys. After putting the key into the lock and turning it, the platform lowered. Upon it lied none other than… (drum roll please)… the body of Frankenstein himself!

But Frankenstein’s limbs were all missing. With five minutes left we felt like a meltdown was imminent. We weren’t going to make it! The meltdown was especially pronounced when Jax and Jamie, the six-year-old twins, sensed our agitation over the puzzles still remaining unsolved, despite so much help from Scabby over the loudspeaker. “Is Frankenstein going to come and kill us?” Jax asked tremulously.

As the clock continued to tick, we found the monster’s leg and a hand. Still missing were his two arms. We felt doomed. The kids were in full panic mode and shedding real tears.
Scabby came out in plain clothes to defuse the situation and calm the panic-stricken boys. We had solved about 90% of the puzzles.

The time spent working in the rooms flew by. Nicholas and John Paul both said they enjoyed it very much. If the twins had not believed that Frankenstein was going to come and kill us, they would have had a great time, too. But as it was, they were tired and ready to go home.

Mystery Escape Room was started by Les Perdew and his son Jonathan. With the help of some clever designers and engineers, they have created a combination of live theater and audience participation, where the participants are playing and progressing through the acts of the show for their own entertainment. The themes of the rooms have great variation, from The Wild Bunch, Treasure Island and Space Void, to Magical Creatures and Alice in Wonderland.

This is anything but a spectator show. Unbeknownst to me, at Mystery Escape Room, the “actors” are the participants. The entertainment comes from the panic in seeing everyone struggle to use basic math, logic, clues, and help from the host to eventually, somehow get out.

Winning requires a team effort. We learned that less than 30% of participants successfully exited Dr. Frankenstein’s chambers. It’s deliberately not simple, straightforward or easy. But, it’s probably not suggested to bring young kids unless you bring them for the rooms designed specifically for small children.

This is an activity I highly recommend for families. Especially for those who have kids who love problem solving and videogames and may be interested in getting away from the TV for an evening.

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