It turns out a lot of people like to be locked inside a room with their friends and rely on their wits to find a way out. In fact, many of them put their money down and spend their free time in jails, crypts and police stations … well, sort of.
Escape rooms are creatively designed live action puzzles, where players get an hour to follow clues and find their way out.
If most of your neighbors are still doing the usual “dinner and a movie,” when they go out, they now have a chance to get out of a rut and try something new. As of two months ago, residents on the east side of the SCV can experience the fun and stimulation of an escape room without leaving Canyon Country. All Locked Up just opened behind Denny’s on Soledad next to Betitos in the space where Flair Beauty School existed for decades.
Mike Motherspaw and his girlfriend Danielle Desch wanted to give people of all ages a new option for entertainment and they chose a business that’s close to home – in more ways than one. Both Canyon Country natives, it’s an area that hasn’t had one of these popular live gaming sites in the past. And they chose the business model they did because they’re huge personal fans of attempting all kinds of escape rooms. So far, they’ve been to 45 different sites.
“Wherever we go we end up doing escape rooms – Sacramento, San Francisco, San Diego – and we’ve done quite a few in Arizona,” Motherspaw said. “That’s what we do when we travel.”
But they’re not alone. The escape rooms at All Locked Up are already occupied at a pretty remarkable rate, a testament to the pastime’s popularity.
“We’ve met people who’ve done over 200 escape rooms,” Motherspaw said. “There are some real enthusiasts out there.”
If you haven’t been through one yourself, you may be wondering if visit after visit would get boring … but they’re all different. Motherspaw compares it to pizza, pointing out the obvious differences between what you get at a restaurant like Vincenzo’s vs. Costco. And that philosophy goes into designing their rooms at All Locked Up.
“It starts with a theme,” he explained. “One of our two rooms is a garage. Not a cave man’s garage – it’s grandpa’s garage … saws on the wall, it smells like oil, there’s still sawdust on the ground. It’s like an old garage.”
Then there’s the puzzle part of the business, which refers to the challenges participants face to “escape” the room.
“Once you get your theme you ask, ‘What do you find in a garage you could make a puzzle out of?’” Motherspaw said. “Some escape rooms are just keys and locks. Some are very simple. Sometimes we over-think puzzles … sit back and relax, don’t over-think it.”
His partner is the one who’s deep into thinking through and designing the puzzles, he said.
“My favorite aspect is when people go into our rooms and they say, ‘Wow – how do you pull this off?’” said Desch. “We love when people escape – their excitement and happiness when they get out, when they successfully do the room.”
In “The Garage,” which the couple considers a medium-to-hard range in difficulty, there’s about a 40 percent pass rate. That means that 60 percent of groups attempting to escape don’t get out within the hour allotted. But if that sounds too challenging or not challenging enough, All Locked Up has levels of difficulty you can choose from when you take on their other escape room, which is called “The Classroom.” Various paths are built into it, so it accommodates groups in a range of ages and stages.
“Every sound, everything you see, what things you see on the walls – the white boards, the clock above the white boards, like a movie, you forget that you’re in a retail location,” Motherspaw described. “Everything that comes into your brain when you think of a classroom has to be there.”
The Classroom is appropriate for all ages – 6 to 106, Motherspaw says – partly because you can choose the level of difficulty and also because they designed it to resonate with a family-centered community.
“All we care about is that they have a good time,” Desch said. “Even during the experience, we maybe give them an extra clue if they do a dance-off for instance … just as long as everyone who comes through has fun.”
Motherspaw is mostly responsible for the construction, which he said is minimal, involving just wood, dry wall and paint, for the most part. They plan to add “Aunt Debbie’s Apartment” next month and “The Morgue” close to Halloween. Their fifth room will be a rotational room, which means its theme will change regularly. “The Garage is going to stay,” Desch said. “It’s very customized.”
The business owners do their research out in the field. “Every time we leave an escape room we create a pro-con list,” Motherspaw said. “What did we like, what can we avoid, like if we’ve seen that puzzle too many times.”
The escape room themes he’s grown tired of, he said, are science labs and crime investigation rooms such as police stations. The most important aspect of the room design, he said, “is to be immersed in the experience. If you’re in The Garage there’s nothing that reminds you that you’re not in a true garage. Some people are all about the puzzles, but at the same time, it’s important to me that you walk into a room and it smells right, it feels right.”