“Our definition for success is when we get to bring people closer together.”
-Ed Chao, Owner, Houston Escape Room
My mother came to visit us recently. “Have you ever heard of an Escape Room?” she asked. We told her a classmate of my husband Devon’s, Ed, owned and operated one in Downtown Houston. She became more excited, and said, “On Jackson Street? By Minute Maid Park? That’s the one I went to!”
An Executive Business Administrator, my mother, organized a team building experience for the execs at an energy company in Houston. She described the room, the experience, and how much fun it was. She beamed with pride when she told me that these high-level executives had to defer to her leadership because she was the best at figuring out the clues quickly.
I was in awe at how an hour in a room created space for a shift in the cultural dynamics of a group. Already curious about escape rooms and in full support of Ed—a man of great character, intelligence, and humility—I vowed that we would go.
And go we did.
My expectations for fun: high. My expectations for my contribution to the group: low.
Upon arriving at Houston Escape Room, I experienced the first of many surprises: our phones had to be locked in a safe. A slight tremor ran through my body. How am I supposed to live without my phone? What if my sitter calls with an emergency? What if things get awkward and I need to get lost in pointless scrolling to avoid the tension?
After praying that no emergencies or Beyoncé album releases would disrupt the next hour, I handed over the phone.
“What sets us apart from the other escape rooms is that we are trying to take into consideration the design for not just the escape room experience, but the pre- and post- escape room experience. As far as I know, of all the escape rooms I’ve ever been to, no one else has a briefing room—a separate room to get the team ready before they enter the room. We are growing to tell a backstory and a narrative of why you are here when you enter our facility.”
The second surprise: Our agent was friendly, knowledgeable, excited for us, and helped us break the tension and build camaraderie. We entered the briefing room and received instructions to name our team. We’d invited some friends along as a double-date. Instantly, our foursome began bonding with the perfect strangers who’d arrived moments after us. We named our team “Love Red R&B” because we all liked R&B music, approved of the color red, and our team of ten were all couples in various stages of a love story: dating and co-parenting, engaged, or married. We were already laughing before we started.
“I just love watching people connect and draw out of each other things that people wouldn’t be able to do by themselves. You learn a lot about who someone really is, another angle of who they are in an escape room. You see another side that you probably wouldn’t have, say in a work environment.”
Our agent explained The Scarlet Scam backstory and gave us our instructions. Then, our one-hour challenge to escape the room solving clues and puzzles as a team began. We scattered around the room, examining the furniture and repeating what we’d heard during the briefing. I told myself just to have fun and not to be ashamed or disappointed if I didn’t solve anything.
Then…I found a clue! I stood there, breathing, present, observing and exploring, and found a clue. I caught my husband’s eye with a huge grin. Then, I discovered another one. And another one. At one point, I giggled as I found myself pressed cheek to cheek with a lady I did not know, trying to solve a clue. We solved it too and ended up with each other’s makeup on from being so close. I had to tell myself a new story about my ability. I am NOT bad at solving riddles and clues. I’m quite good!
The friends we’d brought with us were stars. An artist and a business consultant, their gifts and personal inclinations were a tremendous asset in piecing together the clues and using the materials to solve the puzzles. I was made aware of their qualities in a new way.
While we did find several of the items and solved several of the riddles, sadly, we did not escape the room. We were disappointed for a second but still had a very good time. We took the time to individually thank each couple and wish them well on the rest of the night, and their journeys together.
The intimacy, vulnerability, openness, and fun that happened in that one hour may take weeks, months and even years to develop with new people. Sixty minutes was all we needed to escape reality, escape our fears of rejection and arrive at a new understanding of our gifts and ability to have fun.
Are you ready to have your relationship with yourself, with strangers and with your friends and family be deeply enriched in an hour? Go to Houston Escape Room!
Before you go, take a look at the Top 5 Ways to have a good escape room experience:
Forget about your life for an hour. Be present in the moment and each moment will reveal unexpected gifts.
Communication is essential! Ed says, “Make sure you communicate. If people do that, their chances of success are much higher.”
Be ready to laugh! Laughter opens up something deep in the spirit. Being able to laugh together with new people confirmed that we were safe and able to have fun together.
Encourage each other. Our team supported each other, especially when we hit dead ends or made mistakes. That encouragement fueled the next attempt to solve the clue correctly.
Take it seriously, but also have fun at the same time. Our collective intention to escape the room set a tone for us to work together, play together and celebrate together.
“People come in with fears…the room itself envelopes you, and enthralls you. You can’t help but be immersed and be transported elsewhere so that some of your fears and insecurities go away and the doubts and the pessimism is challenged. On a bigger level, I feel like we have the opportunity to teach people how to play again at a time when technology has driven people into more isolation and loneliness.” Ed Chao
Houston Escape Room is changing culture, one hour at a time. Book your room now, and expect your current reality to shift in a positive way!
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Danielle Fanfair is a writer, producer, and strategist. For more information about Danielle's writing, producing, and more, click this sentence!