Locked in a room with no obvious way out, you and your friends brainstorm for solutions as the clock ticks. That’s what visiting an “escape room” is like.
Jeannie Cockrell, owner of Bluff City Escape Rooms at 6759 Stage Road in Bartlett, gave some insights into this innovative and trendy form of immersive, interactive, family-oriented entertainment.
The name may be a little confusing for those unfamiliar with the concept. Cockrell had one customer stop by to ask if they sold tornado shelters. Her business offers something completely different.
An escape room is a themed room with a background story, where groups of people are locked inside and given tools and clues to solve riddles and puzzles in order to escape the room within a set time frame.
Customers are asked to refrain from using cell phones to Google answers. There is an intercom in the room to ask for clues to solve the puzzles, if needed, although most groups are keen on solving the puzzles on their own.
“We feel we are bringing in a different, innovative and new way for people to have fun while supporting a local business,” she said.
Cockrell and her business partner and brother Michael Hart developed the business idea after they enjoyed trying an escape room in Jackson, Tenn. They couldn’t stop talking about all the little things that happened in the room, how much fun it was, and what a fun job it would be to create something similar.
“We knew we had to bring this to Bartlett,” she said.
Open since March 24, the business has grown exponentially each week, mostly through word-of-mouth.
Currently, the bistro- and theater-themed rooms are drawing a wide range of groups. The rooms accommodate 8-10 people respectively, with a 45-minute time frame set to escape the room. The cost for the experience is $17 per person.
Cockrell said she and her brother hope to have a total of five different rooms set up by the end of June, just in time for summer.
She was a theater major, and her business partner-brother has a background in graphic design. They combined their creative talents to create something unique for Bartlett.
“Themes can be purchased and set up through franchises, but all of our themes and rooms are completely original,” Cockrell said. “We shop thrift and antique stores and repurpose items. You aren’t going to see these rooms anywhere else.”
She stressed that escape rooms can be fun for groups of all ages. Other common family-friendly activities such as bowling and putt-putt golf can have limitations for participants, but parents, grandparents and children all bring different strengths when solving puzzles together.
“We think this is a great avenue for groups, offering more than going out to dinner or sitting in a movie theater where there isn’t a lot of social interaction since people can’t talk to each other,” Cockrell said. “For a date night, friends, family or co-workers we offer something different.”
Millennials in particular (young people ages 18-33) enjoy this immersive entertainment, as well as the instant gratification of solving puzzles and escaping the room, she said.
The experience also can be addictive. One customer’s recent visit was a 10th escape room adventure.
A group of students from the University of Memphis has been the quickest so far to escape a room with the help of only one clue in 12 minutes, 18 seconds. Pressure builds as the clock is ticking, but she said people still feel they get their money’s worth when they are triumphant.
Christen Richardson and a group of her friends also had an adventure recently with Bluff City Escape Rooms.
“We really enjoyed it,” she said. “It was different, unique, and a great workout for the brain. It was huge fun, refreshing and great for young people here in Bartlett.”
She added, “We were pumped when we got out.” The group only had six minutes to spare on the clock. “It made you think. It was fun.”
Another recent customer was Lindsay Oakley, who was among a group of three couples, friends from her church.
“We were looking for something fun and creative to do,” she said. “It was a lot of fun. I have nothing to compare it to. It was cool and creative and I recommend it for something different.”
Her group escaped with 10 minutes, 45 seconds to spare.
“I would definitely do it again,” Richardson said. “Bluff City Escape Rooms was a much better value compared to others — entertaining and cool for a girls’ night out or family night.”
Bluff City Escape Rooms offers a 10 percent discount to active duty military personnel, firemen and policemen.
Written by Linda Cooper, special to the Express.