Local Families Turn Trendy Escape-room Adventures into Time to Connect

Looking for a creative way to spend time with your kids and teens? How about an escape room adventure? Orono residents Wendy Huml and her son Charlie recently celebrated Charlie’s 18th birthday in the Diamond Dilemma Room of Missing Pieces in Edina. They both love adventures, and escape rooms, a popular new form of live entertainment, fit the bill perfectly.

Wendy and Charlie are no escape-room novices—they’ve visited 20 rooms in the past year. They stumbled on their first escape room by chance when they were searching online for new things to do in the Twin Cities, and they’ve been hooked ever since. Wendy’s older son Jack, who attends college in Virginia, sometimes joins his mom and brother in the experience.
For the uninitiated, escape rooms are live physical adventure games set in themed environments, like a medieval castle or an enchanted forest. Participants are “locked” in specially designed and decorated rooms and given a fixed amount of time, usually an hour, to unravel the mystery. Together, they solve puzzles and riddles that take them from clue to clue and lead them to the key allowing them to “escape.” (Prices are usually $25 to $35 per person.)

“Escape rooms are a completely immersive experience,” says Wendy Huml. “Rooms are entirely transformed for the games’ scenarios. The backdrop could be anything from a prison cell to a tiki hut in Key West to a museum with an art heist.” Some escape rooms feature more analytical clues, with lots of puzzles and codes to solve, and some have more physical, tactile clues, like crawling through tunnels or pulling on ropes. Most are a good mix of both.

The first escape rooms opened in the U.S. in 2012, and they’re becoming increasingly popular. Businesses use them for team-building activities and employee-appreciation events, groups book them for birthday celebrations or bachelor and bachelorette parties, and so on.

Players choose the theme of their adventure when they sign up. Escape room scenarios are usually designed for up to 10 or 12 guests. And based on the capacity of the individual room, participants might complete an adventure with some strangers, too. Huml enjoys meeting and working with escapees of a variety of ages. “It’s fun when there are players from different age groups. Adults and kids think differently, and it’s great to have that mix,” she says.

The Humls’ favorite rooms include Zero Hour in Plymouth and Missing Pieces in Edina. “Staff at Zero Hour are awesome, and the rooms are so authentic. So are the rooms at Missing Pieces. We love both of those places because they’re family run, and we love supporting small family-run businesses,” she says. Gold Rush at Mall of America’s Escape Rooms is another favorite.

The mother-son team shows no signs of slowing down their pursuit. Wendy and Charlie’s escape-room adventures have taken place mainly the Twin Cities, but they have also visited escape rooms in Florida and Washington, D.C. They hope to experience more in other parts of the country.

“They’re a great way to beat stress,” says Wendy. “When you’re in a room solving the mystery, the outside world is nonexistent, and everything else is completely shut out. It’s transformative.”