You are handcuffed and shut in a prison cell. Only a sink, a bench and iron bars make up the view. You’ve been told there are clues inside that will facilitate your breakout. But no one has ever gotten free of this place.
At least until an hour is up.
Welcome to Escape Room Kansas City, a new attraction unlike anything else in the area.
The multiplayer game invites teams to use logic, detective skills and pure ingenuity to free themselves from a handful of themed scenarios.
“Some people come in and don’t know anything except they’re getting locked in a room for an hour. They’re the ones who usually ask to do it again,” Jason Mendez says.
Mendez and co-owner Alex Doroskovs opened Escape Room on April 18. Thanks to an aggressive social media campaign and strong word-of-mouth, success proved immediate.
“We are here for everyone,” Mendez says. “We cater to corporations, husbands and wives, kids, grandparents. We’ve had people here on Tinder and Match.com dates. We had one guy who told us, ‘Maybe it’s not so good to contact a girl you just met and tell her you’re going to take her somewhere where you’ll be locked in a room!’”
Players are given an hour to win their escape. If time expires, they are still freed, although they exit as losers.
“There’s a lot of teamwork that’s involved. Everything is visual and logical. It’s putting things together that’s hard. Everything is right in front of your eyes, but connecting the dots is tough,” Doroskovs says.
Currently, there are three rooms: the Theory of Everything, Prison Break and Secret Agent.
“All three rooms are totally different from each other in the way of game-play, concept and look,” Doroskovs says.
The Theory of Everything deposits players in the office of a scientist who disappeared in the 1950s after formulating radical concepts involving dark matter. Hidden keys, puzzles and seemingly unrelated objects must be found or used to uncover a code that will open the door before an imaginary black hole swallows things up.
Prison Break is rather self-explanatory, with the twist being players are handcuffed at the start of the game. (“It’s very difficult,” Doroskovs says. “You may be in handcuffs for 20 minutes before you find the keys.”)
Secret Agent involves exploring the hideout of a James Bond-type operative tasked with observing a double agent who went rogue. Players must find the secret agent list and determine the identity of the traitor.
“I’m that guy who watches a movie and tries to work out the clues before the protagonist figures them out. I’m the guy who always thinks ‘What would I do?’ in that scenario, and this experience allowed me to taste some of that,” says Mike Anderson, who recently attempted the Theory room for the first time.
He missed solving the final escape code by less than a minute.
“Even after it was all over my adrenaline was still running high,” he says. “I spent the whole rest of the day thinking about the mistakes I made and how the outcome would have been completely different if I had just looked a little harder. I look forward to going back.”
Doroskovs came up with the idea for Escape Room while traveling with his wife in Europe.
“We went to a place in Paris called HintHunt,” he says. “It’s a bigger attraction than the Eiffel Tower, believe it or not. We played the game and walked out of there with goosebumps. The idea of the escape fascinated me.”
Doroskovs first sought to open one in his native Latvia but ran into competition. So he decided to establish one in Kansas City, where his wife, Olga, had resided while attending Park University. (It was she who knew KC native Mendez from a previous job and asked him to join in the venture.)
The couple designed the Theory of Everything and Prison Break mysteries themselves. They bought Secret Agent from a Hungarian company that designs these type of rooms.
So far, players have a 40 percent success rate escaping Theory. Slightly less so for Secret Agent. The official record time is 29 minutes.
As of this writing, no one has yet solved Prison Break, which opened on June 14.
“There were a couple times I thought I was smart and was 100 percent sure I had figured out the clue, only to find my idea didn’t work,” says Anderson, a television host from Lawrence. “Looking back on it now, I’m disgusted with myself for not getting the clues quicker.”
Disgust is just one of the reactions the staff members have seen as they observe the proceedings from video cameras placed in the rooms. Anger, rage, confusion and general egomania are others.
“It’s watching people not working in unison,” says Doroskovs, whose staff can provide a single clue every 15 minutes if players request it. “We’ve had six or seven people in groups who couldn’t get out, but we’ve had two people work together to get out. It’s funny, but there’s always that guy in the large group who finds a key and puts it in his pocket without telling anybody.”
Mendez adds, “You see ‘Lord of the Flies’ situations. They’ll be doing something goofy with the clues and screw up the whole game for everyone. They’re the ones who would definitely get booted off the island or sacrificed.”
Doroskovs and Mendez are going to see how these three challenges stand up to repeated play for another month before discussing changes to the game or adding new rooms. According to the owners, feedback about the experience is almost universally positive. Almost.
“We’ve only had one team who didn’t really like it,” Doroskovs says. “It was three girls who had too many cocktails. One of them was trying to sleep on the couch, and another was sitting on the floor reading a book. We encourage people to come sober.”
Jon Niccum is a filmmaker, freelance writer and author of “The Worst Gig: From Psycho Fans to Stage Riots, Famous Musicians Tell All.”
Escape Room Kansas City operates from 9 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. at 511 W. Fourth St. Prices start at $34 per person for a group of two and decrease as group size increases (up to eight people, which costs $22.50 per person). Special pricing available for larger groups. For reservations and info: EscapeRoomKC.com (816-656-5158).