Escape rooms, or puzzle rooms, are rising in popularity in the U.S. and if you've ever been to one, it's no surprise why.
If you've never heard of escape rooms, you're not alone. Owner Sherry Gershon said as many as 60 percent of her customers have never played an escape room before arriving at The Fifth Wall.
Escape Rooms are an interactive puzzle where players are 'locked" in a room for a certain amount of time and have to solve themed puzzles and codes in order to "escape." They are a very recent development in North America, with the first one opening in San Francisco in 2012. In order to understand how they work, Gershon suggested you think of it like a stage play.
"Take the concept of a play, add mysteries, puzzles, and the opportunity for the audience to actually participate directly with the props and stories; that's an escape room," Gershon said.
The Fifth Wall has two rooms open right now, with another two on the way. These rooms aren't your regular escape rooms either; the themes are uniquely Michigan and are as focused as much on the story as they are on the puzzles.
"Detroit's history is so rich with stories, it would be a crime not to tap into that history for escape room themes," said Gershon.
Their main room is called "The Houdini Trap," and is a test to your own abilities as an escape artist. Magician and escape artist Harry Houdini famously died in Detroit in 1926, and the room is designed to immerse players in that setting.
"The room is completely themed in the era. We used many elements of Art Deco design to ensure people feel like they are in 1920s Detroit," said Gershon.
Their second active room is a shorter challenge called "The Purple Gang" which has the player acting as a prohibition-era Detroit police officer, working to find clues into what the famous Detroit gang is planning next. Soon, The Fifth Wall will be replacing "The Purple Gang" with an all new room. This time, themed around Detroit's most famous missing person case – Jimmy Hoffa.
With their next big room, "Weirder Stuff," Gershon hopes to take the concept of an escape room somewhere new. The room will be themed around an urban legend from West Michigan, and set in 1986. What will make this room unique, is that the experience will have multiple endings based on the choices the players make in the game.
"We're looking at an industry that is still in its infancy. We surveyed the escape rooms offered in the area, and we felt there was a lot of room to do it differently," Gershon said.
The escape rooms are for all ages, though Gershon said that kids under 8 often had trouble understanding the puzzles and story, but that they are welcome to join along with the rest of their family.
"One should think of an escape room as any other amusement activity," Gershon said. "It's something to do with family, friends or co-workers. Tired of ax throwing? Try an escape room."
We’d like to thank Wallside Windows for their longtime sponsorship of Vote 4 the Best and their support of southeast Michigan’s local businesses. Wallside is a Taylor, MI-based family business that manufactures and installs custom replacement windows. Now in their third generation, they're celebrating the company's 75th anniversary.