An escape room — the fun kind — that travels to your location.
That’s the gist behind Jared Thompson’s new Huntingburg business, Let’s Escape. The local entrepretainer has been thrilling crowds for about 11 years diving from 70-foot platforms at Holiday World and on cruise ships, but he’s always wanted to be his own boss. “Ever since I was a little kid, I knew I wanted to run the show myself,” Jared said. “I want to do it my way and call the shots.”
He latched onto the escape room idea a couple of years ago after reading an article about how the fun, group-based adventures were taking off overseas. “As soon as I finished the article, I knew I could do something similar,” he said.
For those unfamiliar, an escape room “traps” a group of people in a locked room while they attempt to solve puzzles, crack safes and decipher codes to eventually escape
He began drawing out his plan for an escape room but at the time was contracted to Royal Caribean cruise line as part of a high-diving act. “I went out to sea for seven or eight months,” he explained. “When I got back, my contract was renewed, so I went out again.”
Then he found out that the cruise line he was contracted with had another ship with an escape room aboard it. With some digging, he was able to find out how it was put together and began comparing it to his ideas. He built one on the ship he was on using whatever materials he could get ahold of. “Cardboard and paper mache,” he laughed. “Whatever and I put together a pretty good escape room. The people that tried it liked it a lot. I had a great experience.”
However, two or three years went by and when he got back in a position to begin examining the business opportunity in the United States, it had gone from a fad overseas to a super-popular entertainment option across the country.
“They’re everywhere,” he said. “I figured I had missed the movement advantage, but then I figured I could mix things up.”
He created an escape room that could be packed up into a couple of cases and brought anywhere; businesses, factories, campuses, stores, basically anything with a couple of walls. “I can pack the whole room up into my vehicle and take it anywhere, put it together and run it,” he explained.
To allow the players to be immersed in the experience, escape rooms are usually themed and have a general storyline. Players may be tracking down a spy with plans for a weapon of mass destruction or escaping a zombie apocalypse. Jared devised his own story and theme.
“I woke up early one morning with the idea,” he said. “Of course, then I had to stay up the rest of the night writing it down.”
In his scenario, the players aren’t trapped. They’re trying to catch a flight — talk about stressful. There are locked suitcases and missing keys as well as the impending departure of the flight all set in an airport. To further immerse the players, the ambient sound of an actual airport plays in the background. Jared even had a friend fill in as an announcer providing helpful, or stressful, amounts of information as the game progresses.
He finalized the room in January and began testing it on friends and family wherever he could run it, even in his kitchen which led to some interesting games in which players were looking in his oven for clues.
But, everyone loved it, and with a few tweaks, Jared felt he had a great game. Then a bit of serendipity struck. He took part in the “What’s My Line” improv show at The Gaslight. A few weeks later, he was back in The Gaslight, and a man recognized him from the improv show. “He said, ‘hey funny guy, you doin’ some more standup tonight,’” Jared explained.
He told the man he wasn’t performing that night. “He said he loved the last show and then happened to ask what I else I was doing,” Jared said. “I told him I had created a mobile escape room and I was looking for a place to set up shop to allow the general public to try it out.”
The man, Wes Fink, one of the new owners of the former WTH building at 511 E. Fourth Street, told Jared he had a building he could use. Next thing Jared knew he had the mobile escape room set up in a second-floor office on Fourth Street.
He plans to maintain the office and run the room for the general public while building up the corporate side of his business. Jared sees escape rooms as something any employer can bring into their business to build teams. As the games progress, the unique individual talents among the players become apparent and allow them to work together to solve complex but fun problems.
“I read an article about how 60 percent of the customer base for escape rooms is from companies sending in their employees for team-building exercises,” he explained.
The experience is attractive for that purpose. “It’s a chance to kinda have some fun, race against the clock and be a little bit competitive,” Jared explained. “All the things you want in a good team-building event.”
With his company though, rather than companies sending employees off-site, he will come to them and set up the room. According to his brochure, he can run about 120 employees through the scenario in a day.
“Employers can see how their teams work together and the groups have a great time,” Jared said.
Companies or folks looking for a fun local escape room can book Let’s Escape on Facebook or by calling 812-630-7058. The business is located across from Huntingburg City Hall at 511 4th Street #200.
Ever the entrepreneur, Jared already has plans for three new scenarios and is ready to build upon this original idea to bring new entertainment options to Dubois County.