Escape Room provides latest challenge in adventure entertainment

The hottest attraction in Hubbard County this summer is a dimly-lit, locked room at Evergreen Gifts and Fun Park north of Park Rapids on Highway 71. Called the Escape Room, or Evergreen Escape Challenge, groups of guests must solve their way out,...

Teammates from left are Sonny DuBart, Graham Hedstrom, Drew Hedstrom and Jackson DuBart. The teens are from Denver and Lincoln, Neb., and were most of the fun we had.

The hottest attraction in Hubbard County this summer is a dimly-lit, locked room at Evergreen Gifts and Fun Park north of Park Rapids on Highway 71.  Called the Escape Room, or Evergreen Escape Challenge, groups of guests must solve their way out, using clues in the room, ignoring red herrings and relying on their wits to crack the one-hour puzzle.  Evergreen owner Tom Atwood insisted I participate in the puzzle before writing about it, so I enlisted my trusty colleague Jean Ruzicka.

Together, we’ve embarked on more than one hare-brained adventure.  We went to Evergreen Wednesday afternoon ambivalent about the challenge and even more so after a twenty-minute wait.  Spoiler alert here:  We will not explain the game or show pictures just to prevent tainting the premise.  Evergreen personnel seemed apologetic that they’d paired us with four young men, three teens and an almost-teen.  We didn’t care. The more the merrier.  It was that and then some.  The young brothers and cousins we were matched with turned out to be the smartest, most intrepid partners we could have asked for. Jean and I might still be sitting in that locked room if not for them. They saved our bacon.  

The game is premised on a locked room 13 stories below Grand Central Station in New York City, where President Franklin D Roosevelt would enter and leave the city anonymously for security reasons and not to reveal the fact he was crippled by polio and didn’t want the American public to know about it.  The object of the game is to use the clues provided to escape via opening the locked door.  Enter Jackson, 16, and Sonny, 12, DuBart of Denver and Drew, 16, and Graham, 14, Hedstrom of Lincoln, Neb.  We couldn’t have asked for better companions.  The game takes you through a series of clues, locks, a secret chamber and other hurdles to solving the hour-long mystery. And it’s filled with red herrings, one I fell for that went nowhere.  Written clues are tucked into various objects in the room and sometimes you are clueless and have to rely on your own cunning.  And yes, Evergreen personnel and others can watch you through a hidden camera outside the room, provide a set of three hints to help you if you’re stuck, and release you when you’re done or the hour is up. We used up all of our hints.  So Jean’s and my fears of still being in that locked room were for naught.  

None of the guys had done this before and Jean and I certainly were novices, so we started the game on equal footing. Drew had been to the Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., so he had the mind of a caper cracker.  We ended up solving the puzzle with nine minutes left in the hour. The record is 11 minutes left, Atwood told us later.  We filled the 51 minutes with trials, errors and an oops when we mistakenly opened a locked window prematurely and got mildly scolded.  Our age range, two middle-aged women with four teens, was perfect. We matched cynicism with youthful exuberance to solve the obtuse and mind-boggling clues.  Our suggestion would be to embark on this challenge with an age range of people, even strangers. It promotes team building, communication skills, know-how, persistence and other human traits to solving a series of tasks. What was apparent to us older fogies wasn’t to the kids and vice versa.  Although up to 10 people can participate, six of us filled the room and seemed to be the best number.  

There are lots of red herrings so beware. Time is of the essence.  I kept revisiting my red herring, no doubt driving my compatriots nuts. I was sure a clue was there.  It wasn’t.  “You communicated well,” Atwood told us when the game was over.  And that seemed to be the key – dialogue. We talked out the clues, made suggestions and listened to each other even though Jean and I seemed to be a few steps behind throughout.  Maybe that was just my imagination.  But as we discussed the outcome the next morning, both of us reporters slept like rocks that night. Maybe it was as mentally grueling as we’d envisioned.  Atwood told us it took two months to set it all up. We believed it.  When we finished and were told which clues were valuable and which were rubbish, Jackson immediately started the Monday morning quarterbacking.  “If you would have worked that key faster,” he told one of us.  Recriminations aside, it’s a lot of fun and a great escape on a cool, cloudy afternoon. Evergreen can be reached at 732-9609.  And as for President Roosevelt, that’s for you to solve.            

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