Last night I found myself shackled to a wall in the cargo hold of a pirate ship.
My 3-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter were shackled next to me, along with my coworker, Katie, and her 11- and 13-year-old sons.
We had one hour to escape the belly of the boat — and steal our rivals’ treasure, to boot.
We were immersed in this challenge at Fresno Escape Room on Shaw near Minnewawa in Clovis. We were playing Crimson Storm, one of two options available at the new family entertainment business that opened Aug. 17.
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Our band of swashbucklers had to dust off parts of our brains that are rarely put to use in order to discover clues and keys, decipher cryptic messages and play with numbers to figure out the combinations to several locks.
When you’re in an escape room with a countdown clock ticking away the seconds on the wall, there is nothing more satisfying than the click of a lock opening to reveal your next puzzle.
“Crimson Storm has been our big hit so far,” said manager Gina Nixon. “Our Pipeworks game is for larger parties; it is an engineering theme where you can work together or competitively.”
About 100 people had come to play the game within the first two weeks of Fresno Escape Room’s opening. These interactive adventure game rooms have been popping up all over the country, with three already open in our area and a fourth preparing to open, said Fresno Escape Room owner Brian Lacertosa.
Lacertosa opened his first escape room in Denver in November 2014 and then partnered with friend Cody Gaines, a Bakersfield resident, to market the idea across the western states. The pair own six escape rooms in Colorado, Oregon, Arizona and California, with Fresno being the newest.
The area was appealing because of its large college base and need for more entertainment venues, Lacertosa said.
“Our target audience is everybody, but especially college age, millennials, young families; it’s a great date night kind of thing,” he said.
It’s also a good team-building exercise for companies, Nixon added.
“It makes you think outside of the box and think about clues and puzzles that you don’t normally do on a regular basis,” Nixon said. “It gets everybody involved because you have to communicate in order to progress.”
Lacertosa didn’t know what an escape room was before he let his college-age daughter plan a day during a trip to New York City.
“She did her homework … and chose Escape the Room NYC. There are so many things to see and do in New York, and she chose this, which was $30 a person for an hour,” he said, astonished. But he agreed to pay up and play the game as a family.
“We went on July 5 and I started working on my business concept on July 6,” Lacertosa said. “That’s how good it was.”
He was one of the first 50 business of this type to open in the United States, he said.
A creative director and scenic director design the games. Crimson Storm and Pipeworks are open now, and a third game is being developed, Lacertosa said. After a year of play, a game will be retired and a new one will take its place.
“If you do all my rooms, I don’t want you to stop playing, so I’ll send you some place,” he said. “Sending people to your competitor is odd in any other business, but this is a unique market.”
The games are recommended for ages 10 and up, but sometimes children are the most useful players on the team because they think differently from adults and, because of their stature, discover clues that others might miss. Players under the age of 6 can enter for free; all others are $25 each.
Participants book the room online and then show up 15 minutes early to sign a waiver and have the rules, scenario and hints explained to them.
Lacertosa told me in order to write this story, I had to experience the room for myself. And that’s how I found myself shackled to the wall.
The doors were closed, the timer on the TV screen started running and we were on our own.
Well, not quite. Employees watch each group using a surveillance camera and, when players come to a seemingly dead end, give a little nudge by typing a message on the screen.
“We want you to have highs and lows but we don’t want you to have mountains and valleys,” Lacertosa said.
Don’t worry about losing sleep at night if you don’t succeed in escaping the room. Our group was literally one letter away from completing the game when the time ran out, but employees take failing groups like ours through the rest of the clues to complete the game.
“The goal of the business is to provide a good time for people,” Lacertosa said. “I want you to succeed, I want you to get out. But if you don’t, that’s OK, you’re still going to have a good time.”
Fresno Escape Room
290 Shaw Ave STE A, Clovis