INTERVIEW – Jim Thomsen of Escape the Place – ESCAPE ROOM

Jim tell us a little about yourself and Escape the Place

After being an executive/technical recruiter for the past 10 years, I joined my son (CJ) in the business (last June), as a principal in the business and the roles of VP, Facility Manager, and Chief Puzzle Engineer.

Why did you decide to get involved in the escape room industry?

I’ve been an avid puzzle person my whole life. Most of the gifts I get (at gift-getting time) are puzzles of one sort or another. I probably have 50+ in my collection. However, it was really CJ that got me into it. He’s a full-time pilot and Captain in the USAF who lives in Colorado Springs and works out of Pueblo, CO. He visited an escape room in Denver at the end of 2014 on a team building outing with 11 of his squad-mates, and came back stoked about opening up a facility. (I had never heard of the industry at that point.) We started making plans to open in Orange County first, but I was still working full-time at that point and it ended up making more sense for him to open up in The Springs. (The first one in that market I might add.) He opened with BlackSite and The Hangover, then added The Chamber last September.

Eventually, I retired from the recruiting gig and, as mentioned, ended up joining him in June 2015. We opened in mid-November in Mission Viejo with BlackSite, The Hangover, and The Chamber all fully functioning from day-1.

What makes your rooms unique?

With so many rooms around, I’m almost afraid to say that ours are unique. What I can tell you is that they are all designed and built in-house with great care taken with regard to how they look, feel, and operate. We are very conscientious about escape rates, and that everyone has a great time… regardless if they escape or not. We have located Escape The Place in a very upscale location and would like to think the overall look and feel of our facility is exceptional in this industry. We also take great care in making our guests feel welcome from the minute they walk through the door, while monitoring them in the rooms, and in our debrief with them afterwards.

What do you think is the most important part of an escape room design?

I believe it is important to have a good back story, but you definitely have to have good (challenging puzzles) for a room to work. A good mix of mechanical, mental, technical, and technological puzzles is important. There also has to be plenty for everyone to do… you can room a good escape room if you try and put too many people in it. You don’t have to spend a ton of money on decor, but a room definitely can’t look like it’s temporary, or that you decorated it with a couple hundred bucks. It should fit the backstory as well.

Please share with us a fun story that has happened with your company.

Lots of fun (funny) stories. Obviously, we hear everything that goes on in the rooms and it still surprises me when I iterate things like “red dots mean whatever they are on is irrelevant to your escape”, and customers will get into the room and immediately say something like: “did he say to ignore or pay attention to things with red dots”. Or they will get into the room and say: “Do you think he was telling us the truth in the briefing room.” 

Probably the funniest thing I’ve seen lately though is, we had a group of young teens in for a birthday party, 6 against 6 in The Chamber. We had talked about whether to put the keys in the light panel or not in the brief and everyone agreed to put them in. However, once keys were found, they were put into and taken out of the light panel (by both teams) so many times I lost count. I would guess they wasted at least 15 minutes in each room trying to fool the other on how much progress they had made in the room. Ultimately, they could have used the wasted time, since neither group escaped.

What advice do you have for players?

My primary advice for players is simply “respect the rooms”. We spend a lot of time briefing on the dos and don’ts of the room, which I believe cuts down on a lot of damage. However, I still see a small percent of players going in and brutalizing components in the room after being clearly told that the room is about using brains, not brawn. Some of the things in our rooms our hand built and can’t be easily replaced. If certain things get broken, it might mean a room could be down for days for repair, and not available for the next group that is booked. 

Other than that, I would say don’t underestimate yourself, or overestimate yourself for that matter. I’ve seen players who did not think they would contribute, be awesome. I’ve also seen some that think they’re going to do great, not do so well. I always remain players to think critically, creatively and to collaborate. To that I would add, if something isn’t working, put a fresh set of eyes, or hands on it. It could make a big difference it time spent on a certain puzzle and to your success in escaping a place.

 

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ESCAPE ROOM- House of Clues- California 

HOUSE OF CLUES ESCAPE ROOM

My husband and I drove up from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara to play their Pirate themed game. I called ahead several days earlier to make sure that the game was not the same as the pirate game at MagIQ in Los Angeles and was told by the person on the phone it was different and I would be impressed. Unfortunately I was not.

The game itself was poorly designed. The room is quite large, which is nice. They made good use of the space with levels. However the puzzles themselves were poorly designed and the flow of the game was not well done. There is a good amount of searching/finding involved, which is really a matter of preference (and I prefer not to). There was a lack of creativity in the puzzles. There was a lot of creativity used at one point in the game, however it poses a major problem if the team moves ahead before they are actually ready because there is no logical work around to backtrack. The decor is pretty, until you get close enough to see that several props are flimsy Halloween decorations. I’m also still confused by the random TV in the room. There is one major prop that you are told not to touch, but it is so central to your eyeline when you enter the ship that it feels like the logical first thing to open…but don’t…there’s a sticker on it. Oh, and that apparently wasn’t reset properly for our game anyway.

All of this still equals about a C+ room until to factor in the “hint system”. I have never, in any of the 130+ escape rooms I’ve played, had a game master walk into the room unrequested and unannounced to simply ask how our team is doing. That’s why there are cameras and microphones in most games…then the game master can see and hear what’s going on. It took me out of the experience completely. What’s worse the game master came back into the game later and lingered in the room while it appeared as though he was in the middle of a phone conversation. We finished the game around the 45 minute mark (which is the full length of this particular game) and were rushed through signing releases and a quick photo in the lobby. We weren’t able to sign releases before the game because they weren’t ready for us when we arrived.

Overall, this was not an experience I would recommend to my friends…unless, like me, they’ve simply run out of escape rooms to play in the area and need a quick fix for their ER addiction and don’t really care what grade it is.

ESCAPE ROOM – Epic Escape Game: Blood Thirst – Arizona

Epic Escape Game: Blood Thirst
I was reading and daydreaming about vampires way before the Twilight series was created, so vampire themed escape rooms are always on my to do list. This one is a creative and fun take on the Dracula story. Your team is locked in a room and has 60 minutes to defeat Dracula. The puzzles throughout the room are fun, but defeating Dracula was by far my favorite part. Blood Thirst is incredibly innovative. Moments during the game can get intense and even a bit frightening depending on certain factors. There was one puzzle that was slightly outside of our team’s way of thinking, which leads me to note that you have hints available. If you are really stuck, you should use them. Although I have played several games alone, I highly recommend a team for Blood Thirst. Also invite your favorite vampire expert to join your team. It is certainly a challenging room with around a 20% escape rate. I recommend beginners play one of the other rooms at Epic prior to attacking Blood Thirst, but the first time players in our group had fun too.

 

 

ESCAPE ROOM – Epic Escape Game: Top Dog – Arizona


Epic Escape Game: Top Dog

I’ll admit I was skeptical at first, but when we rejoiced having rescued Sydney in time for her dog show in a group that consisted of random newbies and kids, I was completely sold on this incredibly well designed escape room.

Epic Escape Game’s Top Dog is by far a Top Game in my book. I’ll admit it, I usually dislike playing with random people. However, I wouldn’t trade my experience with our team of strangers. It ended up being one of my favorite experiences of my weekend in the Phoenix area (where I played 14 games in three days). I don’t have children, so getting to experience the Top Dog room with kids was unique. It’s been a while since I’ve played a room with anyone that was so amazed and excited by the adventure. I’m sure we would’ve had a blast without the kids, as well, but it was just such a cool experience. It was also fun to see their excitement when we beat the room’s record escape time.

The story is really cute. You are trying to find and save Sydney the show dog and get her to her show on time. There are no live animals in the game, only adorable stuffed ones. The design and decor is top notch. The theme is well integrated into the puzzles. The puzzles are a combination of clever and fun physical tasks as well as observation, searching, logic and teamwork. Top Dog really has something for everyone. This is not a room I would recommend trying solo. I would highly recommend it for both beginners and experts of all ages. It’s a lot of fun and the difficulty level is easy to moderate with around a 60% escape rate.

 

LIST OF INTERVIEWS

ESCAPE ROOM INTERVIEWS

The Virus – Bob Glouberman

Countdown Live Escape Games – Brian Corbitt

PanIQ Room – Celena Gates

Puzzle Workshop – Albertina Chu

Escape the Place – Jim Thomsen

Epic Escape Game –  Ron Subaba

Cross Roads Escape Games – Madison Rhoades

Mobile Room Escape – Jason Garvett

ER Rooms – Misha Suvorov 

Maze Rooms – Natalie Lapidus

Steal and Escape – Jason Richard

Escapedom – Raja Sahi & Zoltan Honti

ESCAPE ROOM – Escape Zone AZ – Arizona

ESCAPE ZONE AZ

  Escape Zone AZ located in Tempe (just outside of Phoenix) is a wonderful Escape Room company in a great location. I played The Inheritance and Jail Break. Both games are innovative and clever. It takes something special for a fairly low tech game to really impress me and this company did. I found the storytelling in The Inheritance superb. I love how the puzzles and even the hint system were completely integrated into the story. The jail did a wonderful job storytelling as well, but it’s hint system and use of space were most noteworthy.

Overall, the puzzles in both games were incredibly creative. I found myself literally squealing with delight a few times when solving these unique puzzles that I hadn’t seen before. I mean, come on…they had multiple unique puzzles that I hadn’t seen before…that in itself is impressive. I enjoyed the use of both physical and mental tasks.

The space and decor  was impressive, as well. I would never had known the space used to be a yoga studio if they hadn’t told me. The professionally decorated rooms are completely immersive down to the angle of the ceiling in the attic. They are absolutely beautiful.

The owners are passionate about their games and very skilled at customer service. I was only able to fit The Inheritance in my schedule to play during a weekday and it just so happened I would be alone. The owner called me ahead of time and discussed options with me, when it turned out I was willing to play alone he allowed me to do so. I escaped just in the nick of time. My husband and I played Jail Break the following night and we weren’t so lucky. I was however able to see the entire game and the end is fun and not what I expected, very well done.

I highly recommend this company. I am looking forward to their upcoming game, Lunar Lab.

INTERVIEW – Albertina Chu of Puzzle Workshop – ESCAPE ROOM

Please introduce yourself 

Hi, I’m Albertina (Alby) Chu, and I’m a co-owner at Puzzle Workshop along with three other wonderful, enthusiastic partners. Given that my partners and I work part-time on the escape room, none of us have just a single job to play. My role ranges from designing and play testing puzzles, supervising room construction work, chatting with players after their experience, to cleaning the office bathroom after a busy day.

Why did you decide to get involved in the escape room industry?

After completing dozens of entertaining escape rooms in San Francisco, Las Vegas, and Europe, I was hooked on escape rooms, and fortunate enough to connect with three other partners who shared a passion for solving and making escape rooms and games.

What makes your room unique?

Two of our partners are professional video game designers with over two decades making some of the most popular games in the world, so we have a very strong emphasis on puzzle design. Every puzzle we create is integrated into the whole of the room, and no puzzle should feel out of place. We strive to create layered, intricate, yet satisfying puzzles whether this be your first escape room or 500th.

What do you think is the most important part of an escape room design? 

I think full immersion into the escape room experience is the most important part of the overall design of a room. Puzzles should feel connected to the theme, and the ambiance of the room should be directly tied to the story we are trying to tell. Given our location in an office park near John Wayne Airport, our goal is to create an environment so immersive that you forget you’re in an office building and have been transported to the study of an Illuminati member. The storytelling is critical to help you get acclimated to what otherwise feels like an artificial situation. Some of our favorite feedback involves people telling us that it feels like they have truly stepped into a new world when they enter our escape room.

Please share with us a fun story that has happened with your company.

One thing we love about our puzzles is the fact that anyone, truly anyone, can participate and have fun. We had back-to-back groups one day, with the first group being a bunch of escape room pros who had done probably more than 100 escape rooms combined in their lives. This was followed by a group of 14-year old kids who were doing their first ever escape room as part of a birthday party. Without getting too much into the specifics, there was a particular puzzle in our room that requires a bit of creative thinking. And these puzzle room pros struggled with it for awhile. Meanwhile, just an hour later, the 14-year old kids figured it out almost immediately! That right there made me realize that we had built a great puzzle for all ages.

What advice do you have for players?

Don’t be afraid to try lots of different approaches when solving puzzles! Depending on the puzzle, there may be some precautions to prevent you from brute-forcing a solution. If you find that you’re stuck, pull in a team member or two, explain to them your thinking, and ask them to come up with an alternate suggestion. There’s a reason why escape rooms are such popular team-building activities; they show how the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Anything else you’d like to share?

We’d love for you to come visit us (www.puzzleworkshop.com) in Orange County – we hope to continue making escape rooms for years to come and rely on escape room enthusiasts such as yourself to keep spreading the word about how awesome escape rooms are!

 

Read Puzzle Workshop Reveiw on www.LiveEscapeRoomReviews.com here