You are silently led into a dark room. A monitor near the ceiling shows a timer quickly counting down from 60 minutes. Frantically, you begin ransacking the room for any clues to find the key — the key that will open the door that was just locked behind you. After what feels like only minutes, you look up to see the monitor telling you that you now have only 30 minutes to escape. No, you are not trapped inside the class that never ends, but rather in a maze created by SIUE alumnus Kyle West.
West turned his love of puzzles into a career, setting up adventures that would make even James Bond break a sweat. His escape room certainly gives its patrons something refreshing to do — a chance to confront and escape from the Beast.
According to West, college students in particular may appreciate a night out trying to escape the mundane.
“I did the exact same thing as a student at SIUE; I did the exact same thing every weekend,” West said. “Having different experiences, doing something like this — that’s what our generation is all about. We live for experiences, and this is such a great experience.”
An escape room features a series of puzzles that require group effort, communication, intelligence and maybe a little bit of luck. After being locked in a room, participants must use elements in the room in order to find clues and engineer an escape before the time limit is up.
West said his business will be open year round, but it is no coincidence that he has opened near Halloween.
“This one definitely has a little bit of a Halloween theme to it,” West said. However, he stressed that the Beast Escape Room is not scary. “It is a fun alternative to a scary, haunted house.”
The establishment features two rooms. A group of up to eight people is separated into the two rooms. One room is for the “trapped” group. In the other room, is the group trying to free them. Between the two rooms is a locked door. The goal is to first open the door adjoining the rooms, and then open the door to the outside. A small cubbyhole connecting the two rooms helps teams pass clues to one another once unlocked. For this particular task, groups are given one hour. West designed the rooms with cameras and monitors so he can watch participants and help them from time to time.
Once the clock starts, the trapped group finds themselves in a dark room that appears to be a holding cell. There is a television and bed, along with a locked drawer and safe. The other room is lit with a computer and many locked drawers and cabinets. Once the game begins, groups are forced to scour the room in order to find any possible clues to help them escape all while communicating with the other group.
The clock creates a sense of urgency for participants to explore, decode and engineer the challenges throughout their rooms. The groups must also be very thorough. Many tasks cannot be completed until all parts of the puzzle have been found and put into place. If the groups cannot escape after the hour, they have the option for West to walk them through the rest of their escape or they walk away in defeat.
“The experience will keep guests thinking about what they could have done differently for days after the challenge,” West said.
If the group is able to escape before the hour is up, a photograph of the escapees will be posted at the establishment, and they’ll be able to walk out with a sense of pride, knowing they achieved something very few were able to do.
The setting of the current rooms comes the movie “Planet of the Apes,” in which animals have evolved and taken over the human population. The new rulers have captured almost all humans in the world, and have begun running tests on the captured humans until a band of free humans come to the rescue.
West is currently working on another set of rooms he hopes to open in the near future. The new room will be larger, supporting groups of up to twelve people. If completed in time, the Beast Escape Room will feature a Christmas-themed escape room for the upcoming holiday season.
West said he got the idea to create his own escape rooms when he and visiting family members went to one in St. Louis.
“On the way home, I was already planning my own puzzles,” West said.
He quickly turned his dream into a reality. West, who makes his own puzzles, said he finds making the puzzles to be just as fun and challenging as trying to escape them.
According to West, at the start of 2010, there were no permanent escape rooms. Today there are over 3,000 escape rooms around the world. It is a growing business that is great for teenagers and adults. Many families shy away from escape rooms, however, for the assumption that they are similar to haunted houses.
West said this is the main problem holding back the escape room business.
“The number one thing that keeps people out of our business is they don’t know what it is. It is a huge hurdle to overcome,” West said.
The Beast Escape Room is located in Glen Carbon, only 10 minutes from campus. Bookings for can be made online at beastescaperoom.com. The cost of the room is $25 per guest, but coupons are available on facebook.com/beastescaperoom.