A couple of weeks ago, we wrote about an operation called Escape Fort Wayne, a dubious name for a business just upstairs from the convention and visitors bureau.
Regardless of what it sounds like, though, it represents one of the hottest business segments to be found around the country. It involves locking half a dozen or so people in a room and making them comb the room for clues that will let them unlock the doors and escape within 60 minutes.
It’s meant to be either a team-building exercise or just a fun night out for a group of friends or a family.
It wasn’t long before I got a call from someone else. Hey, we have an escape room, too. And so does someone else.
As I said, escape rooms are hot right now.
The whole concept started five or six years ago with video games in Asia. Using computer apps, people could try to escape from a locked room using the Internet.
Eventually, someone there decided it would be fun to have a real escape room, not just a virtual one. The idea exploded.
And then it hit Europe, where it really took off.
Budapest supposedly has about 1,000 escape rooms, said Corey Ford, president of Sport Wayne Inc. Some people there are opening escape rooms in their own apartments, he said.
Toronto reportedly has 35 now, and they are gaining in popularity in other cities in North America.
Sport Wayne has had an escape room, called the Fort Wayne Escape Room at 327 E. Wayne St., for a short time and had its grand opening last weekend.
Ford, who has been going to escape rooms around the country for a couple of years, helped design it.
Then there is Room to Escape, at 3734 Allen Ave., off Clinton Street, which opened in August, a few weeks before Escape Fort Wayne. It bills itself as a method of team-building among employees or a fun alternative to a party.
Room to Escape will give players hints on their TV screen when they ask for help.
The first three hints are free, and any additional hints come with a price – time.
"It’ pretty funny how it worked out," three operations going into business within days, or weeks, of each other, Ford said.
That does raise the question about whether escape rooms are doomed to be a fad and whether three opening up almost at the same time will strain all the operations.
Ford doesn’t think so. Competition is good, he says. It will bring prices down but also give people who have gone through escape rooms different places to go.
It’s sort of like golf. If you have a bad round, you might come back and try to beat the course. Later, you might try out other courses, just to find some variety.
"People get addicted," Ford said.
If they don’t escape the first time, they’ll come back and try to succeed.
Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, fax at 461-8893, or email at email@example.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.