A cluster of chairs, tables, storage cabinets and assorted office ware lay grouped together in the center of the room, their starkness only illuminated by fluorescent lighting and freshly painted white walls. An unassuming setup, sure — but Liz Brase still manages to create an absolutely horrifying scene with just her words.
This is a serial killer’s home, and no one should think otherwise.
The longtime local haunt enthusiast and her two business partners, Chris Tidwell and Dennis Grow, are no strangers to the amusement park industry, regularly flexing their performance muscles at well-known area attractions like Hobb’s Grove for several spooky seasons now.
The idea of escape rooms eventually made its way onto their radars, and as the concept gained in popularity, so did Brase’s conviction that this was something they should pursue.
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“We could do it all year instead of just on Halloween,” she explained. “We could create this altered reality for people 3-6-5; this is amazing. We talked and talked and finally it got to the point of ‘We’re doing this. Who’s in?’ And this is where we ended up.”
The decision to open Mind Games Clovis was officially solidified in January, with the building’s lease in Clovis’ Village Square shopping center being signed by the three partners in May.
A series of setbacks has delayed their intentions to open in early July, but the passion and imagination behind Mind Games Clovis remains palpable as Brase walks through the escape room’s four, varied experiences: The Family Jewels, Skip Tracer, Wizard’s Keep and, probably most strongly rooted in their wheelhouse, Escape Your Nightmares.
A pair of nearly identical twin escape rooms are at the forefront of the building, functioning as both a game and as a beginner’s room for participants. Dubbed “The Family Jewels,” guests enter an older-styled living room that once belonged to your sweet, old aunt before she passed away. An attorney sent a letter requesting you to come and collect her things, but there’s a catch: there’s something of value in here and you’re not the only relative looking to find it.
Groups of six to eight people can split up and challenge each other, racing against the clock and the other team to locate the valuable goods through a series of clues before their competitors do.
The Family Jewels rooms include a little bit of everything, such as lock codes, hints, technology and a discovery process that acts as a nice introduction to escape room novices, as well as provides a unique experience for seasoned participants that doesn’t focus too much on one type of skill.
“Locks and codes are a natural fit for it, but we don’t want to rely heavily on that. We don’t think that 10 to 15 locks are really why you came,” Brase said. “You should have things that are unique and different and that tell a story.”
This take on escape room attractions is one that Brase believes sets Mind Games Clovis a part from regional competitors — it’s a natural extension of what they already love to do.
“I really think our history with haunting and scene setting and the whole trying to give the perspective that you are where we tell you, that will be the difference,” she said. “If I tell you you’re in a western, you’re going to feel like you’re in a western — you’re not going to see a flat panel on a wall. ... Our difference is just how we see things, and that real, immersive feeling.”
The additional three rooms range in presentation, technology and objective, allowing participants of all interests to find a room that meets their particular bag.
Skip Tracer is set in the 1940s, and features a missing detective that saw something he shouldn’t have — oh, and the police think you have something to do with it. Brase said her affection for antiques helped inspire the space, with sturdy pieces and dated furniture giving an authentic feel to the experience. It’s an operator that delivers the clues by rotary phone, not a high-tech monitor.
But in the Wizard’s Keep next door, technology plays a vital role in the medieval-set experience, with a magical mirror working to give participants hints and Arduino-controlled puzzles helping to set the pace of the escape room.
Arduino’s microcontroller technology can sense and control physical devices, allowing the objects to react to participants’ actions and respond in a way that will let them know they’ve successfully completed their task.
It’s important for Mind Games Clovis that the room supplies guests with everything they need to complete the task within the allotted 60 minutes, as well as incorporates clues and hints that will engage all types of logical thinking.
“Each person in the group has something to contribute, and the trick is giving that good variety of those things so everybody in the group can contribute,” Brase said. “You don’t want six people in a room where four of them are standing around, watching the other two go crazy. You have to assume six people are busily working on their stuff and try to make it last an hour.”
In fact, the business hopes to use the building’s additional space to identify peoples’ strengths and weaknesses as a fun, team-building exercise. Braise explained organizations and companies can bring in a group and see how individuals react to certain situations while the supervisors and managers watch their team work behind the scenes.
“If people have an idea of what they want to do, we’ll work with them,” she added. “They can have it catered, we’ll make it comfortable with couches and all kinds of things.”
Rounding the corner, the last stop is that same, mundane room that has a not so humdrum future. Brase doesn’t give exact details, but from the sinister smile that spreads across her face from the mere thought of what she and her partners have planned with the room is more than telling — this is definitely not your aunt’s living room.
Participants find themselves in a serial killer’s home, and they need to escape before he gets home. Mind Games Clovis will pull out all the stops with this experience, utilizing sound, touch and sight to up the fear factor and make the need to break out that much more urgent.
After the original July opening passed, Brase set her sights for Oct. 1 to showcase the Halloween-themed experience. The owners’ outside responsibilities and Hobb’s Grove duties have played a small part in the holdup, but Mind Games Clovis still hopes for an October opening.
The engaging escape rooms are designed to have appeal every day of the year, however, and Brase is excited to finally share what they’ve created with the public.
“People like puzzles. How many people play games on their phones? And we go to Disneyland. Yeah, we like the roller coasters, but we like the scenery, too — we like being somewhere else,” she said. “Here, you can go to the 1940s or you can go to the neighbor’s house and look inside. There you get to go to the wizard’s room, see his potions and what he has in there. It’s kind of like a little adventure. I want people to enjoy themselves.”
Mind Games Clovis
30 W. Shaw Ave., Suite 108, Clovis