With a storyline straight out of a low-budget movie, you and a few friends, family members or colleagues are locked in a room — and maybe even handcuffed and blindfolded.
Can you find clues, solve puzzles and work together well enough to figure out how to escape? And can you do it in 60 minutes, with a digital wall clock ticking down each second?
That's the premise behind The Breakout Games, a new entertainment business that opened last month in a rented industrial building at 306 North Ashland Ave. For $20 each, the company promises an hour of fun, team-building and mental challenge. (More information: Breakoutlexington.com.)
The company has rooms with two themes from which teams try to break out. One is called the Kidnapping, in which players, blindfolded and handcuffed to a bed frame, must figure out how to free themselves, turn on the lights and decipher a series of codes that will open the door.
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The other game is the Derby Heist, in which players try to figure out how to recover the Kentucky Derby trophy, rose blanket and $2 million purse from the home of a crooked veterinarian. A third room, called Casino Royale, will open soon.
Two groups of local entrepreneurs started the business after seeing similar attractions in other U.S. cities, Europe and Asia. When they discovered they were getting ready to open competing facilities, they pooled their resources.
"We decided it would be a fun business to try," said Jeremiah Sizemore, who with some of the partners also owns Orange Leaf yogurt stores in Lexington. "We've always been interested in bringing new things to Kentucky."
Last week, I stopped by to watch two teams play the Breakout Games.
"It was awesome!" said Matt Hogg, who knows a thing or two about role-playing. He spent several years as a costumed football and basketball mascot for the University of Kentucky and the Washington Wizards.
Hogg and four co-workers from Remix Education, a Lexington educational entertainment company he started, polished their teamwork by playing the Derby Heist. Perhaps because they were used to working together, they broke out with nine minutes to spare — one of the fastest times yet.
"I had done the kidnapping room before, and I loved the difference between the two," Jon Wicks said. "Just because you're good at one doesn't mean you're good at the other."
Curt Vernon's favorite part was "the moment when you figure something out and it clicks. It's cool because that happens over and over again."
Across the hall, a group of UK international students ran out of time before escaping from the kidnapping room, but they came close.
"It really makes you work as a team," said Viabhav Chitkara. "It tests how well you can work as a group with your friends."
Sizemore said the eight partners have about $50,000 invested in the business so far, and they plan to build more rooms in an adjacent space.
Last weekend, the facility hosted 15 groups, he said, and it has been slow but steady on weekdays. Most teams, of three-to-eight players, have been groups of friends, family members and co-workers using it as a team-building exercise.
"It's a good fit for different ages," Sizemore said. "We've had 12 and 13-year-olds in there and grandparents, too. Everybody in the group has something to contribute."
Sizemore said the games are safe. The rooms aren't really locked, and the handcuffs used in the kidnapping room are easily removed. Staff members watch each game via TV monitors in the control room, looking for any problems.
Teams can ask the control room staff for clues. But after three clues, each additional one costs the team a minute off its allotted hour.
Sizemore said the most successful teams have been those that are aggressive and trust one another to divide the clues and puzzles into small groups, rather than everyone try to work on everything.
The first two game scenarios were developed by two of the business partners, Audra Cryder and Aaron Martinez. Constantly tweaking those scenarios and developing new ones will be key to getting repeat business, Sizemore said.
"We hope it will turn into a successful business someday," Sizemore said. "But it's not there yet."