As the minutes ticked down, Courtney McCarty was determined that she and her three friends would solve the puzzle.
“I knew it was getting to be close to the time and I just didn’t want it to end early,” McCarty said. “I didn’t care if it took me an hour and a half. I would have held the door shut. ‘Let me figure it out.’”
That was how McCarty felt visiting an escape room in Las Vegas with her husband and two friends last summer.
An escape room is a game in which a group of people are locked in a room. They have to use elements in the room to solve a series of puzzles and escape within a set time limit or complete a mission.
That was Andrew McCarty’s first time and only time in an escape room and the second or third for his wife Courtney.
Saturday they are opening Trapped Downtown at 229 N. St. Joseph Ave. in Hastings, making it the first escape room business in the Tri-Cities.
The idea for an escape room in Hastings came only seven weeks ago after Courtney had visited another one in Omaha for her birthday.
It was while on the way home in the car that Courtney and Andrew started talking again about the idea of opening a small business in Hastings — something Andrew had talked about many times. This time, the idea was for an escape room and the idea stuck.
“I said it would be pretty easy to open one just in terms of not a big start-up cost, not a big inventory,” Courtney said. “It’s just the creativity to create the rooms and the cost to turn a space. That was Sunday, Feb. 12.”
“And today is March 31 and we’re opening tomorrow,” Andrew added.
Upon returning home to Hastings that Sunday night, the McCarty’s drove through downtown Hastings, saw a “For Rent” sign, called building owner Bob Foote and by Friday had rented the building.
Since that time, they have consulted friends who are attorneys, accountants and web designers to help get their business started. That was the difficult part.
The easy part was creating the stories for their two escape rooms: The office and the storage room. One idea came that first night as they drove home from Omaha.
“That night was when we put together the storage room space, what could we do for a room,” Andrew said. “We were up later than we would normally be. We wrote stuff down on a piece of paper about what it would look like. We did that all in the first day.”
The two rooms each have a scenario that is shared with guests before they are locked in the room with only 60 minutes to find their way out.
Guests have access to an FBI agent’s office in the first scenario. The agent has been working on a case of international espionage. The goal is to identify the suspects and their next target of attack before time runs out.
In the storage room scenario, the people have been abducted and have 60 minutes to find their way out of the storage room before the captor returns.
Andrew said they plan to change the rooms up in about three months and have a third room added in that time. The room themes and puzzles will change periodically.
The goal of an escape room is to make creative puzzles for people to solve in the 60-minute time. Andrew said it’s all about a balance between making the room a challenge without making it too hard or too easy.
“We don’t want people to get so frustrated you never want to do it again,” Andrew said. “We don’t want you to get out in 15 minutes. We’d rather have you in there for 55 and think the whole time. There’s a whole balance of how difficult you can make this.”
And escape rooms aren’t suppose to invoke fear into people. It’s not like something from a horror movie. Andrew and Courtney said it’s all about teamwork and problem solving.
Guests are truly locked into the rooms but there is a security camera in each room not only to allow staff to monitor what is going on in the room but to help the guests if they get stuck.
Each group is equipped with a walkie talkie so they can ask for a clue if they get stuck. The employee can then give the group a clue based on what clues they have found.
The rooms are designed to hold up to six people and while they cater to adults, children ages 8 and up can attend when accompanied by an adult.