- Associated Press - Sunday, September 27, 2015

CORALVILLE, Iowa (AP) - Many have tried, but no one has yet to escape from Carolyn Beyer’s room.

Since opening her unique business earlier this month, Beyer has locked several groups into the small study, where they’ve peered at a cryptic note left in the typewriter, rifled through a bookcase packed with clues and scratched their heads at the secrets found in an old desk.

It’s all part of a real-life adventure game, called an escape room, in which participants are given 60 minutes to solve a series of puzzles that unravels a greater mystery and, if they’re successful, unlocks the door.

Beyer’s escape room, dubbed Outfox, is located in an office building on the western edge of Coralville, the Iowa City Press-Citizen (https://icp-c.com/1ijdtjF ) reported. It’s the first of its kind in the Iowa City area, though Escape Chambers opened in Des Moines last year, and a growing number of puzzle-room attractions have sprung up around the U.S. in recent years.

In a mystery named “The Lost Will,” Outfox’s visitors are closed up inside a study they’re told belonged to a recently deceased relative — a lover of puzzles who has left a will naming them the beneficiaries of this considerable estate. The task is to find the will, hidden somewhere in the room, then escape, or else the late relative’s fourth wife inherits the fortune.

A single person could tackle the mystery, said Beyer, but the puzzles are designed for groups of two to eight. Teamwork and collaborative problem solving are what makes it fun, she said.

“Everybody has a different point of view and a different kind of intelligence, so everybody has something to offer,” Beyer said. “It makes a lot of fun when you’re with other people, and you get a greater appreciation of what they add to the group because they’re seeing things you don’t. And it’s affirming when you solve something.”

The room, as Beyer is quick to point out, is not actually locked, as per fire code. But participants are asked to suspend their disbelief — something Beyer says is easy to do when you’re immersed in the mystery.

Beyer, who works by day as an Iowa City lawyer with a focus on family law, first stepped into an escape room last year with her daughters while on vacation in Prague. In that room, she and her daughters were trapped in a jail cell, where for one aspect of the puzzle, they found and assembled a stick, magnet and string to fish the keys from outside their confinement

“We were absolutely charmed; we thought it was a blast,” Beyer said.

So she returned home and set to work opening her own room, pulling together a “think tank” of acquaintances, as she put it, to help her devise a challenging and rewarding set of original puzzles framed within a compelling story.

Janelle Jaskolka, a paralegal who works with Beyer, was among the people who helped her create the puzzles for the Coralville room, and in the process, visited other escape rooms in the region.

“Movies are passive, not everyone likes amusement parks and shopping is kind of cliche and boring,” Jaskolka said. “This is something different. You can only go bowling and play miniature golf so many times. Everyone wants to test how smart they are and see if they’re the cleverest person in the room. But the teamwork is also fun, and I’ve done it with my kids and husband.”

Beyer is hoping that Outfox becomes a destination for unique birthday or bachelorette parties, family outings and office team-building events. She has plans to add second room, which will have a laboratory theme and a mystery named “Jurassic Iowa,” down the road, depending on how popular the first room proves to be.

The cost is $30 per participant. All ages are welcome, but those under 12 must be accompanied by an adult.

As of this week, none of the initial groups that have tested their wits in the Coralville room — including groups from the University of Iowa’s School of business and groups of international students — have escaped before their 60-minute timer was up. But Beyer said a local Mensa group has scheduled an outing soon, so she’s not expecting the mystery to remain unsolved for long.

“You know, I think my challenge with Mensa is keeping them in there longer than 10 or 15 minutes,” she laughed.

___

Information from: Iowa City Press-Citizen, https://www.press-citizen.com/

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