There’s no escaping it. Escape rooms are a hit in Racine.

Last year, the area welcomed three: Br8kout Escape Rooms (8700 Durand Ave. Suite 100), Escape for Drinks (1514 Junction Ave. in Uptown), and Seven Keys to Escape (606 College Ave.).

A growing niche in the entertainment business, the escape room format is simple: customers (usually groups of six to 12 people) are placed in a themed room. In order to leave that room, they must solve a puzzle or multiple puzzles in less than an hour.

Creating the perfect game

While the general concept is simple, operating an escape room as a business is not so simple, as these business owners learned during their first year.

“It does get a little stressful coming up with new ideas or piecing together aspects for a room,” said Rich Dial, owner of Escape for Drinks. “No one wants to win (the game) overly quick, or feel embarrassed for not getting far at all.”

There is a balance to creating the perfect game, added Paul Vance, owner of Br8kout Escape Rooms.

“It’s doing your homework,” Vance said. “It’s a lot of research, a lot of late nights doing beta tests to be certain the game plays and the timing works. And it’s seeing what other places are doing to make sure you’re giving people variety.”

Variety is vital to success, said Tim and Jamie Griffith, owner of Seven Keys to Escape.

“As escape rooms have become more popular, you can end up getting a lot of the same puzzles and games,” Tim Griffith said. “Our challenge is coming up with our own unique thing to make the room and the games different enough so if the customer goes to another escape room close by, they don’t feel like it’s something they’ve done before.”

Working together

With three escape rooms opening so close to one another in proximity and time, one might think the likelihood of repetition is fairly high. Not so, said these business owners. In fact, having so many escape rooms close to home not only keeps the community’s interest (and dollars) local, it pushes the business owners to work together to offer customers something unique.

“Seven Keys are friends of ours,” Vance said. “We play other escape rooms together, give each other feedback on our own, and think of new ideas.”

What’s new

What new ideas can Racine escape room enthusiasts expect in 2017? From new rooms to new formats, there’s something for everyone ... and everywhere.

Br8kout Escape Rooms (br8kout.com) is going mobile. Its third game, Hack the Planet, not only introduces a new 30-minute format, it’s portable, too.

“Hack the Planet introduces new technology and the ability to take it places,” said Vance.

Customers who stop by the Durand Avenue location will have the option to play the game in a new third room. However, it’s also designed so Br8kout Escape Rooms can take it on the road to area businesses and organizations interested in on-site team building exercises.

“It offers all the fun of the 60-minute games, but if we want to bring it to a business, it offers more flexibility and doesn’t take up a lot of time,” Vance said.

Br8kout Escape Room’s existing games, Houdini’s Challenge (its most popular) and Terrorist Warning will change over to new themes with new puzzles sometime between spring and summer.

Seven Keys to Escape (sevenkeystoescape.com) hasn’t announced the theme of its newest room, but puzzle-fanatics and self-proclaimed escape-artists can expect a second new puzzle in 2017.

“We are currently building a new one, and will switch that out probably come summer,” said Jamie Griffith. Like the other latest theme, Nora’s Nightmare, this new room will play for about nine months to a year.

One change the Griffiths are making in their games is a greater emphasis on hands-on puzzles. Customers will still have 60 minutes to unlock seven locks within the room, but the clues and puzzles they use to do that will challenge them in new ways.

“When we opened, we had very straightforward puzzles, like a sheet of paper with an algebra equation that, when solved, would give you the code,” Tim Griffith said. “Now, you might find a piece of something that you put together with something else you find to form the clue, something a little less obvious and hands-on.”

Escape for Drinks (escapefordrinks.com) celebrated its one-year anniversary March 19, and made its mark in the community by putting a spin on the traditional escape room format.

When it opened, Escape for Drinks, which shares space with “paint and sip” business Picasso Vino, carved a new niche in the escape room industry when it offered a place for customers to hang out and grab drinks after their escape. In 2017, the business will build on that idea even more.

“This will be an entirely new spin,” Dial said, whose latest idea features a combo deal. For one price, customers of the paint-and-sip class will start their evening in a new, third puzzle room. In order to enter their painting class they will need to solve the puzzle and “escape” the room.

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