PUZZLE MASTERS: Anne Hetherington and Matt Lowe are excited to open their new escape room attraction today. Photo Troy Baker D8707-07

EXTRAORDINARY People In Captivity, Whakatane’s first escape room attraction officially opens its doors today on The Strand.

EPIC Escape has been months in the making and co-owners Anne Hetherington and Matt Lowe were yesterday filled with anxious excitement as their hard work came to a conclusion.

The couple have a love for escape rooms and played their first a year ago. Since then they have played over 15 and were inspired to create their own in their hometown.

“We thought, Whakatane needs something like this,” said Ms Hetherington.

“We grew up here and we know it can often feel like there isn’t much to do. When we announced online that we were going to create escape rooms we got a huge reaction, it was just phenomenal.

“That’s how we knew we were onto the right track.”

CONUNDRUM: An example of a clue you might come across while in one of the EPIC Escape rooms.
Photo supplied

Escape rooms see teams of up to six people working together to solve a series of puzzles and conundrums, with the aim of being able to get out of a locked room in an hour or less.

EPIC Escape is opening with two rooms, Inventor’s Attic and Asylum.

Inventor’s Attic is suitable for first-time escape room customers or for families with children ages 10 and older.

In this room customers enter Ivan the inventor’s attic and must discover why the eccentric inventor went missing.

Asylum provides a more difficult challenge and is aimed at experienced escape room customers and is not recommended for children.

In this challenge, customers must escape the asylum before the doctor returns and makes them one of his experiments.

Each room has been designed to completely immerse customers in the storyline and, when entered, it is not immediately obvious what is a puzzle and what is a prop.

“We have been to escape rooms where you can just see locks on everything and it is immediately obvious what you need to solve, we didn’t want ours to be like that,” Mr Lowe said.

“The rooms are completely immersive, and you completely forget that you are stuck in there, although you are not actually locked in and can exit at any time.”

Each room was carefully crafted by Ms Hetherington and Mr Lowe for more than three months, their only frustration has not being able to test them themselves.

“We really enjoyed coming up with ridiculous puzzles and we would be like, ‘that’s amazing, how can we make that work?’,” Mr Lowe said.

“As we were building the rooms, we had to scrap a few puzzles and come up with new ideas as we found some things didn’t work.

“We were really crafting the experience and thinking about how the room would play out while people were in it. We wanted to incorporate technology and create unexpected reactions for people.

“The first group of testers probably wouldn’t even recognise the rooms now, we had groups go in and do things that were completely different to what we were expecting, and we had to keep making tweaks and changing puzzles to ensure a good game.”

EPIC Escape is suitable for birthdays, hen and bachelor nights, date nights, corporate functions and team-building activities.

In fact, the couple said watching the dynamic of people in the rooms, could provide useful information for managers on how their team interacts.

“Most successful teams have a really clear leader,” Mr Lowe said.

“Those with no clear leader, or people who don’t speak up, typically take much longer to complete the room.

“A manager could really see those in the team who have leadership potential and those who are happy to sit back.”

The most successful dynamic in the rooms so far has been a father and three children.

Ms Hetherington said the father would give the children instructions and they would “scatter”. He would then work out the puzzles while the children worked on obtaining the next bit of information.

The couple are hoping to add another two escape rooms before summer hits.

They already have a theme for one, which is a closely guarded secret, and are thinking about the theme for the next.

“Each room takes about two months to fully complete, so we are hoping to get a year or more of use out of each one before we change the theme,” Ms Hetherington said.

“When we stop getting bookings for a room that’s when we will know it is time to change it.”

If you are looking to test your intelligence, and maybe experience a reality check, bookings for Whakatane’s EPIC Escape can be made online at epicescape.co.nz.

charlotte.jones@thebeacon.co.nz