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Ingenuity, Teamwork Keys to Complex Missions at State College Escape Rooms

by on September 04, 2017 5:00 AM

With 10 minutes left on the timer and renaissance portraits gazing down on them, a group of co-workers tries to place miniature statues onto the correctly marked stands in order to open the door into the last room, where they will find the Mona Lisa, thereby completing their mission.

This is IQ Escape, a complex series of rooms where guests must use logic, problem-solving, and teamwork to fulfill their mission and survive. The rooms are an all-immersive experience, placing customers in an alternate reality for 60 minutes.

In one such mission, guests are hired by the grandson of Vincenzo Peruggia, an Italian thief made infamous for what is considered to be the greatest art theft of the 20th century: stealing the Mona Lisa. His grandson wants to steal back what he believes is rightly his, enlisting your help to do so. For the next hour guests must navigate four rooms, finding clues amongst the props to unlock padlocks and set off sensors, eventually leading to the last room housing the Mona Lisa.

An IQ game-master watches over the rooms, giving participants clues if they reach a standstill to make sure they’re having fun and progressing. The mission incorporates various technology, like black lights to spot hidden clues on the walls, light switches to turn off lasers, and sensors triggered by correctly angled paintings.

IQ Escape was the first of its kind in State College, joining a growing national trend. After it opened in March, two more escape rooms have followed: Escape Artist, which opened this June, and Escape Room Inc., which opened on Sept. 1.

Melissa Redman and Eric Lloyd, the co-owners of IQ Escape, became interested in the idea after Redman’s brother-in-law opened one of the first rooms in Pittsburgh. Lloyd saw an opportunity to offer his own take on the game, making it a more immersive experience.

“When escape rooms started, they were mostly generation one, which is lock and key combination puzzles,” says Redman. “Most escape rooms are one singular room, but with IQ Escape he took it to the next level and thought what is the future ofthese rooms rather than what’s happening right now, so he decided to create more of a mission-based escape room.”

Lloyd creates all of the technology in the game, which allows the customers to control their own mission rather than working on the same puzzles over and over for an hour. They’re able to incorporate different kinds of puzzles and various ways of thinking.

Lloyd also devises his own storylines for the games with Dennis Michaels, the project manager.

“They’ll get an idea from a movie, or a trailer, or just a video they’ve seen online and then for the next week all they’ll talk about is how to turn that storyline into a game,” says Redman.

Their third and latest room, Time Shift, was inspired by Stargate, with the time portal modeled identically after the one seen in the show. Participants are faced with the task of stopping a rogue agent from delivering futuristic weapons to General Lee. If you don’t succeed, the South wins the Civil War.

Stealing Mona, IQ’s inaugural game, is loosely based on the Da Vinci Code film, with its roots grounded in historical facts, as Vincenzo Peruggia actually did steal the Mona Lisa in 1911. Even if the games aren’t historical in nature, Lloyd is sure to make it as authentic as possible. In Contagion, participants must contain the pathogen responsible for bringing mankind to the brink of extinction.

“For Contagion we had one of Eric’s friends, who is a CDC scientist, come in to look at everything and make sure we were on the right track,” says Redman. “Eric is a stickler for authenticity.”

IQ Escape originated in Pittsburgh, eventually opening its State College location to capitalize on the college town’s dense population.

“You have 10,000 to 12,000 new students coming in each year, so you have tons of people coming in who have never done an escape room or have never done one of ours,” she says. “Eric is also an alumni of Penn State and it’s close to Pittsburgh so it made it easy for us to pick that second location.”

Escape Room Inc. similarly originated in Pittsburgh before opening in State College, with the owner, Joe Deasy, approximating that his rooms were some of the first to open in the country.

Deasy first became familiar with the concept after visiting family in Ireland and Hungary. It was in Hungary that he did his first escape room, immediately realizing how successful this business could be in America.

Deasy, who had owned small businesses in the past focusing on graphic design, DJ-ing, and business editing, saw this as an opportunity to utilize his wide array of skills.

When he first opened in 2014, his rooms were centered on simply getting out of the room, but as more escape rooms popped up he sought to differentiate his product from typical lock and key rooms, by incorporating some mission-based rooms and new technology.

“We were the first ones to build these generation-two rooms as we call them,” he says.

“What that means is the whole room is run by a computer and when you put certain objects down on certain places, it opens up other doors, turns things on, turns things off. It’s completely technology driven.”

Deasy frequently plays other escape rooms, even venturing to Canada to get more ideas and tweaking them to make them his own.

The first escape room to debut at its opening will be the Chancellor’s Office, loosely based on Penn State’s history, followed by the Diamond Heist, which requires players to steal diamonds and break out before getting caught.

Deasy tries to use a combination of history and inspiration from movies and TV shows to come up with his missions. His favorite mission he created, Tomb Explorer, involves tracing the footsteps of an archeologist, and escaping the tomb before it’s too late.

Brian Becker Jr. was drawn to open his escape room, Escape Artist, in State College for similar reasons as Deasy and Redman: a large student population interested in having fun.

Because of the recent influx, escape rooms must go beyond the basic lock and key nature of the originals. People want to be challenged to think in different ways, not figure out the same type of codes over and over again.

Becker’s rooms all are mission-based with participants able to choose between finding a stolen necklace in Captain Greenbeard, locating the whereabouts of six missing victims in Room of the Serial Killer, escaping an ancient chamber before it collapses in The Chamber of Imhotep, or using clues to solve an investigation after Sherlock goes missing in Finding Sherlock Holmes.

“Escape rooms are not about simply escaping anymore as about solving problems,” says Becker.

Though Becker opened in the summer, the popularity of his games has exceeded his expectations, drawing in more than 500 people in less than two months.

Becker has found a surprising amount of success from professional groups or employers using the rooms as an interview process.

“There’s no better way to get you to collaborate together than putting you in a room for 60 minutes and forcing interaction,” he says. “It shows who has what to contribute. Some people are logically inclined, some people are very good with association, and you find these elements in our games here.”

The basic designs for Becker’s escape rooms come from the Hungarian firm MazeBase. Hungary was actually one of the first places of origin for live escape rooms, as people

would set them up in garages. However, Becker hopes to soon debut some of his own rooms.

Before people started transforming garages into escape rooms for their friends to play, escape rooms were easily played virtually on computers and phones. The games’ transition to real-life versions reflects a growing desire for more human interaction, and why Redman believes the games have found so much success worldwide.

“Everybody nowadays is always on their phone or the computer and always working,” says Redman. “This gives them a way to disconnect. Who hasn’t been to a happy hour where everyone’s just on their phones or doing selfies? This is a whole hour of just leaving that behind and really interacting with each other. People are sick of the tech and the distractions and are really looking to connect with each other again.”

IQ Escape is located at 278 W. Hamilton Ave. in the Hamilton Square Shopping Center. Its third room, Time Shift, will open at the beginning of September. Book times through the location’s website, Tickets for Escape Artist, at 2290 E. College Ave., can be booked on its website, Escape Room Inc. ( opened on Sept. 1 at 210 E. Calder Way. 

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