Can you escape?

Photo by Kevin King

How well do you perform under pressure? A new real-life adventure game in Beaumont will answer that question by testing your ability to solve puzzles, find clues, and escape the apartment of a serial killer within an hour’s time.

The Experience, a new, fun teambuilding exercise brought to you by the masterminds of horror at The Haunted Hotel, is not a haunted attraction but it is fun as hell.

You’re locked in a room with around 11 other people and must use words, numbers and pictures scrawled on the walls, as well as uncovered in objects, to find clues to piece together combinations and find keys to exit the game.

A disembodied voice announces there are 60 minutes remaining to escape and it’s time to get to work. Soon you find out who performs under pressure. The smartest people in the group don’t necessarily perform the best because they tend to overthink things, and workplace leaders might not be the best person to listen to when you are locked inside. Teamwork is essential.

Escape rooms like The Experience are sweeping the nation and have been popular in Asia for quite some time.

The concept, based on 1980s point-and-click escape room computer games, was born in Japan, spread throughout Asia, and arrived in the U.S. in 2012. There are around 2,500 escape rooms in the world, and more than 25 in Texas alone, said Barry Blaisdell, who manages and designed The Experience. Eric Metts, who owns The Experience as well as The Haunted Hotel, said after relocating from Nederland and buying the old Serafino/F&M building at 447 Orleans, which shares a wall with the original Haunted Hotel location, he felt like he needed to utilize the building for something more than just a haunted attraction around Halloween.

“We are here all year, so we decided why not capitalize on it,” Metts said.

Businesses like ExxonMobil and Jacobs Engineering Group are sending employees to take part in the activity to improve workplace teambuilding and communication skills.

“I learned that we sometimes have problems communicating with each other and tend to overanalyze things,” said Julie Chrisholm, electrical and instrumentation designer for Jacobs Engineering. “Communication (in the escape room) could have been better. When codes were being yelled out, I didn’t always know which to scratch off.”

Chrisholm described The Experience as both fun and stressful.

“But it was a fun stress,” she clarified.

As far as what lessons she learned from the experience and what she planned to implement in the office, Chrishom said, “Ask for help and trust my teammates more. Communicate, communicate, communicate.”

Michael Stone, senior process manager for ExxonMobil, added, “It is so satisfying when you get a key that finally opens a door, but then you think to yourself, ‘Now what?’”

The Experience is not just for ExxonMobil and Jacobs engineers, who by the way didn’t do too well in the escape room, according to Blaisdell. It is for people of all ages.

“I want my grandkids to do it,” Chrisholm said. “They’d love it.”

The Experience could be the answer for young people who may want to take a break from cell phones and social media and have a three-dimensional, tactile experience.

In fact, a group of teenagers holds the best time for escaping the room, Metts said.

“You’re having to put the cell phones up for at least an hour and get after it,” he said.

“It forces people to communicate with one another face-to-face without distractions,” Blaisdell said, who added that group members might be in a group with complete strangers if they don’t have enough people to fill a group. “What’s weird is we are seeing that strangers work better with one another than people who know each other because people from different walks of life bring in different parts of the puzzle. They have a better success rate.”

Bracelets can be found throughout the three rooms and can be “cashed in” for clues from The Experience staff. Upon entry, the group will be told the back-story and will immediately notice a “prisoner” handcuffed to a bed — he’s actually an actor intended to give the group a helping hand escaping. If the group figures out how to free the prisoner, he will then become part of the group and a valuable asset.

Once escaping the serial killer’s bedroom, where the prisoner is located, the group will enter the living room and then the kitchen. After unlocking all three rooms, the group must then find keys for four locks to escape the game. And it’s not easy — take it from us.

Our experience in The Experience

Two editors from The Examiner teamed up with a Lamar Institute of Technology paramedical student and tried the challenge firsthand. While we failed, we fared much better than the ExxonMobil and Jacobs Engineering team and were down to one key to escape the room — proving that while we might not be as intelligent as a group of engineers, overanalyzing the game will get you nowhere fast and eat up all your time.

We spaced our bracelet clues out throughout the allotted hour, trying not to use them unless we found ourselves completely stumped. And while it was challenging, we made it a priority to free the prisoner to gain the extra help, but like Blaisdell pointed out, missing the most obvious clue will doom you. That’s what happened to us.

“It is difficult, but it’s not too difficult. People make it difficult,” said Blaisdell, the creative mind behind The Experience.

Plans for expansion

In addition to the current escape room game, The Experience will be adding another game that will involve solving a murder. This murder mystery game will be set in a ’50s style diner, and the game is expected to launch sometime in April.

Give it a try

Tickets for The Experience escape room are $35 per person and are by reservation only. You can reserve your spot in a group by visiting www.thehauntedhoteltx.com/experience.

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