Can the Escape Room Craze Reach Escape Velocity?
Mom-and-pops are struggling in a saturated industry
Breakout City is on edge. A serial kidnapper is terrorizing the town, snatching my neighbors from the airport, the park, and the mall. He’s taken four so far, and my partner and I are determined to prevent a fifth, so we track the sadistic bastard to a seedy roadside motel. But somehow he knew we were coming, and the next thing we know, we’re trapped in a windowless room with an hour to escape.
The madman likes to play games. He has placed clues that could help us escape inside locked drawers and scrawled on notepads; he even hid one on the label of an empty shampoo bottle. In his gravelly voice, he issues a warning through the walls and initiates a countdown. We’re less worried now about saving his victims than becoming them.
We pull back sheets, throw open cabinets, and yank magnetized posts off a bed frame. Five padlocks clearly need to be opened, but how? And what do those faded markings on the wall mean? Desperate, I crane my neck toward the ceiling and ask for a clue.
A few rooms away, an employee of Breakout Louisville is watching our every move. She suggests we look at the sides of those bedposts, where we find a number that unlocks our first drawer. The situation is tense, but it’s no more real than the hotel room itself, where the water faucets don’t work.
Breakout Louisville is one of the thousands of escape room complexes that have opened in the United States in the past few years. The interior offices of this former insurance agency have been converted into a haunted mansion, a train planted with explosives, and other creepy set pieces where young couples, puzzle addicts, and corporate cogs pay around $30 a head to break out of rooms they’ve volunteered to be been locked in. Along the way, they solve problems, decipher clues, and answer riddles, each getting them a little closer to emerging a winner. Losers are also allowed to leave the room, but without the sense of accomplishment.
“That [MarketWatch] article was kind of a disaster for escape rooms, because it framed up this whole industry as one giant…