Great escapes: Family turns puzzling games into trendy business

From left, Larry White, Leslie Kell and Kathleen White show off one of the escape rooms they’ve set up at Epic Escape Game in Grand Junction. The room, one of the most popular among their customers, is decorated to look like a mountain cabin complete with a fireplace. Epic Escape Game offers three rooms full of clues, puzzles and locks that provide a challenging and entertaining experience. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)
From left, Larry White, Leslie Kell and Kathleen White show off one of the escape rooms they’ve set up at Epic Escape Game in Grand Junction. The room, one of the most popular among their customers, is decorated to look like a mountain cabin complete with a fireplace. Epic Escape Game offers three rooms full of clues, puzzles and locks that provide a challenging and entertaining experience. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Phil Castle, The Business Times

It’s an ominous scenario. Imagine you’re hunting in the mountains with a group of friends when you’re caught in a fierce storm. You come across an empty cabin and seek shelter. But once you’re all inside, the door slams shut and locks. You find a note on the fireplace mantle that reads: “Welcome to my cabin. You have a one-hour head start. Let the game begin.”

With that mysterious and foreboding message, the game really does begin. What ensues over the next 60 minutes is undoubtedly challenging and perhaps even a little stressful as participants search for clues, solve puzzles and unlock locks as they try to escape their predicament. But the experience also proves rewarding, entertaining and, in the end, entirely safe.

That’s the attraction at Epic Escape Game, a Grand Junction business that strives to live up to its name.

“Our goal is give them the best possible experience that can leave a lasting impression,” says Larry White, who owns the operation along with his wife, Kathleen. She puts it this way: “I think everybody who comes in has a good time.”

The couple and their daughter, Leslie Kell, opened the
Epic Escape Game late last year in a small building along Grand Avenue in downtown Grand Junction. The family has set up three escape rooms with different themes and hopes to soon open a fourth and even more elaborate room in the basement.

Their business capitalizes on the growing popularity of live escape games and joins the ranks of ventures that have sprouted around the world to provide them. The family was inspired to get into the business after experiencing an escape game for themselves in Denver. Larry recalls their shared idea afterward. “Man, we should have one of those things in Grand Junction.”

They subsequently talked to the owner and decided to open a franchise. Epic Escape Game now operates locations in not only Denver and Grand Junction, but also Englewood in Colorado as well as Cheyenne, Wyo. and Phoenix.

The Grand Junction location is the only operation of its kind between Breckenridge and Salt Lake City. That means the business draws from residents in a large geographic region as well as tourists traveling through the area, Larry says.

In escape games, participants have a set time to uncover clues, solve puzzles, crack codes and unlock locks that resolve the particular challenge involved, Larry says. The games include everything from numbers and math problems to letters and word puzzles. Some clues are needed to solve puzzles. But other clues constitute nothing more than red herrings intended to mislead players, he says.

Puzzle masters monitor games from a separate room using video cameras and microphones and are available to offer help, although on a limited basis.

While the basic concept remains the same, each escape room is different, Leslie says. Epic Escape Game offers a total of 20 escape rooms at its five locations. But no two rooms are alike, allowing enthusiasts to travel from location to location and experience them all.

Moreover, some escape rooms are tailored to fit with a certain location, she says — the mountain cabin in Grand Junction, for example.

Different escape rooms also pose different levels of difficulty, Larry says, with more elaborate puzzles. “It just adds a lot of excitement to the whole thing.”

In addition to the cabin, Epic Escape Game in Grand Junction offers a room where participants have an hour to find a manuscript hidden by a famous author who died. Yet another room is set in a condemned clock shop and involves a fantastical tale of the apprentice of Father Time and a magic hour glass. A fourth room under construction will resemble an abandoned mine.

Kathleen says live escape games are popular because they offer something people can to do together — families with grandparents, parents and children; groups gathering for a party or special event; or employees of a business participating in a team-building exercise.

While live escape games trace their origin to computer games, they offer a far more realistic and, therefore, engaging experience, Leslie says. “It’s all about making the game come alive.”

As time elapses, frustration and excitement build, Larry says. Them comes the satisfaction of either completing the challenge in time or, in failing, the resolve to attempt it again.

Epic Escape Game is located at 605 Grand Ave. in Grand Junction. For reservations or more information, call 985-4080 or log on to the Web site at www.EpicEscapeGame.com.