By Chris Shaffer


MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Escape rooms are among the fastest-growing forms of entertainment.

Five years ago, there were only about 20 across the country. Today, there are more than 2,300 — including more than a dozen right here in Minnesota.

But which is the best? We put our best “sleuth meteorologist” Chris Shaffer on the case, and he followed the clues to Escape Challenge in Rochester.

Locked in an ominously-appointed room, littered with possible clues that might aid in your escape is a scenario that, until recently, was only found in the theatres.

Nathan Schroeder is the proprietor of Escape Challenge, and making you feel “in the moment” is one of the things they do very well.

“The idea of everything is to try and make you feel like you’re actually in this moment, and we do a lot to make you feel in the moment,” Nathan said. “Every room sets itself up as a scavenger hunt meets puzzles.”

And the goal is quite simple: In one hour, put your group’s puzzle and problem solving skills to work to follow the clues that lead to a way out, or succumb to whatever horrible fate awaits you!

“We don’t keep people in here overnight [laughs]!” he said.

Good to know, especially with my puzzle solving skills. In fact, Nathan and the rest of the folks at Escape Challenge would much rather see you and your group succeed, than fail.

(credit: CBS)

“We want every group to navigate toward the end,” he said. “If it requires they get 12 to 15 hints, we’ll give them to them.”

Cindy Schroeder, Nathan’s mother, acts as the concierge, helping match different group’s wants and skill levels to any of the four different scenarios.

“Mom is really good … with people, with just managing that experience, making sure that every person that walks through that door has just an amazing time,” Nathan said.

And she always tries to give a little bit of advice to help people along.

“Just keep talking to each other,” Cindy said.

Now it’s only natural to think that when you’re in a scary place that someone is watching you, and in Dr. Frank N. Stein’s study, you would be correct.

“We have a dedicated game manager for every room, so there’s somebody who’s responsible from beginning to end, from when you walk into the door til the time you leave, of what your experience is,” Nathan said.

“We will actually type up the next thing we want them to do,” Cindy said.

It all depends on your group’s puzzle and problem-solving skills.

“Every room is solvable with no hints, but it’s more fun to take a hint and move on than to spin your wheels,” he said.

And when you and your group emerge unscathed from the labyrinth of pitfalls and puzzles, you can pay Escape Challenge the ultimate compliment.

“There’s always the references to ‘Scooby Doo,’ or to other things that obviously makes us feel good about what we’re doing,” he said.

Nathan and his mother are developing new scenarios to replace the current ones as more groups experience them.

Chris Shaffer

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