If you have ever felt locked in a situation where all you wanted to do was escape by any means necessary, it was probably not by choice. Strangely enough, a new form of entertainment has arrived in Asheville where small groups of people pay to be locked in a room filled with puzzles and clues that may facilitate their release within an hour. Two local escape rooms offer different adventures in intense, timed fun.
Great Escape Asheville
Tara Leammookda was visiting New Orleans last summer when some friends told her about the escape room experience. After receiving cryptic email instructions, her group agreed to be locked into a space for 60 minutes. She describes the feeling as “creepy, strange and intriguing.”
Although Leammookda’s group did not discover or solve all the hidden mysteries before the clock ran out, it gave her the idea to create her own escape room. Great Escape Asheville was born.
Located off Woodfin Place, adjacent to Charlotte Street, Great Escape Asheville makes the most of an aging office building that was once home to Mission Hospital’s patients (and morgue) from 1885 to 1947. There, Leammookda greets groups of up to six players on weekend nights and escorts them in a rickety gated elevator to the third floor. There, they walk past modern office spaces used by various health and business professionals during the week.
Leammoookda aims for the escape room’s backstory to match the somewhat spooky building that houses the event. She tells guests a tale about how convict Will Harris broke free of a Charlotte chain gang in 1906 and embarked on a killing spree on his way back to Asheville to reunite with his lost love, Molly. “Ten people and one dog met with their untimely fate that evening,” Leammookda says. “I challenge the participants to get out of the room to warn Molly before Will arrives.”
Once guests arrive at the room and are told the story, the door is locked. Those inside have an hour to find, solve and implement clues and puzzles associated with Will Harris’ story before the door is unlocked and the game is over. Participants hope to solve the mystery before time runs out. Some try to beat the time set by groups during previous visits.
Leammookda says everything in the room has the potential to help with decoding at least part of the chain gang story. “It’s very interesting to observe the different problem-solving techniques,” she says. During the game, Leammookda observes the groups by remote HD camera in the next room. “I’m always exhilarated when they figure out the puzzle or riddle,” she says.
In the first month of business, 13 teams entered Great Escape Asheville’s room, and one solved its enigmas within 31 minutes. Two teams, however, failed to make an escape before the time expired.
If being locked inside a former hospital seems too eerie (or maybe not eerie enough), A-Escape offers an alternative. The New Leicester Highway-based business was created by Kyle Tharrington and Ashley Fox after they visited a popular escape room in Seoul, South Korea.
A-Escape is located inside a nondescript building behind a gas station and between two fast-food restaurants. Guests open a red door to enter a room staged to look like the interior of a cabin in the woods, complete with a unique story and puzzling ambiguities. For newcomers, Tharrington points out that participants are meant to interact with the props in the room
Within the first three weeks of opening, 17 groups tried to solve the conundrum of A-Escape’s enclosed space, but none were successful. At least one team, though, was just seconds away from escaping before its hour was up.
Despite the similarities, the two businesses don’t fear competition.
“I knew it would be a hit in Asheville because people are drawn to the unknown,” Leammookda says. “Locals and tourists love it here because we’re different and quirky. It was the perfect opportunity for such a unique entertainment venture.”
A-Escape is planning a second room with a Christmas theme for the holidays, “so we have both sides of the spectrum, light and dark,” Tharrington says. “I don’t want to give too much away, but let’s just say that Santa will be needing help this year.”