Aaron Larimer wants to lock you in a room. If you're lucky, you'll make it out in time. Larimer explains how one of they city's newest attractions will put your wits to the test at Escape Chambers Des Moines. Michael Zamora/The Register


Imagine being locked in a room and told that you have an hour to solve a puzzle to find the key to freedom.

Now, imagine paying $25 to $30 a pop for the privilege.

Thousands of entertainment-hungry participants are doing just that — flocking to escape rooms in Iowa and nationally for a chance to beat the clock and the mystery.

The escape room industry has been on a stellar growth path since it popped up in the United States from Asia in about 2012. There now are more than 900 rooms for curious puzzle-solvers to visit, including in Des Moines.

“It’s something fun to do, something different to do,” said Aaron Coy, manager of Escape Chambers, an escape room near downtown Des Moines. “It gets their minds thinking a little different.”

As one of Coy’s customers once told the Register, "I can't believe I paid $30 to be frustrated for an hour, and I can't wait to do it again."

Now, another escape room venture will be coming to the city.

Nate Tvedt, 22, is mimicking an escape room his cousins created last year in Huntsville, Ala.

In partnership with his cousins, Tvedt and his crew are transforming the former Plato’s Closet near the SuperTarget in West Glen Town Center in West Des Moines into Des Moines Escape Games. Plato's Closet, a women's clothing resale shop, moved to another spot in West Glen.

The 3,800-square-foot space initially will offer two escape rooms when it opens in early January, with six more rooms added over time.

“Some will be more elaborate than others,” said Tvedt, who graduated last spring from William Penn University in Oskaloosa, his hometown.

He expects to draw families, parties, dates and others to the family-friendly business where the escape rooms challenge participants' problem-solving skills.

Rival Escape Chambers has seen such success with its brain-teaser business that owners have decided to expand from 10 rooms to 14 by the first of the year, Coy said.

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The business also is adding a bar and restaurant that is expected to open by February, he said.

"We'll offer flatbread pizzas and other things to eat before and after" the escape room experience, he said. Escape Chambers has a sister business, EC Laser Tag, in the same space.

Escape Chambers is based in Waukesha, Wis., and has escape facilities in Milwaukee, Las Vegas and Des Moines, with the Des Moines center the largest of the group.

“It’s not unusual to get 700 people on a Saturday afternoon and evening,” he said.

And at $30 per person, the sales add up.

Waukee resident Kim Brimeyer has been to Escape Chambers four times with groups ranging from eight to 12 people.

"It is a form of entertainment that is very different and unique from any other experience I have found available in the Des Moines area," she said.

Her success rate at solving the puzzles is 50 percent.

Coy said the company will spend an average of $35,000 to $40,000 developing a new room, which includes creating a story with intricate clues for participants to solve.

The company tries to change out the room themes and puzzles, because once a customer goes through a room, “they can’t do it again,” Coy said.

New sets are constructed in Waukesha and shipped to escape rooms, he said. He has taken his crew to escape rooms all over the world to keep ideas fresh.

Currently, Des Moines' theme rooms include:

  • The Recruit, in which participants play federal agents to solve a puzzle.
  • The Cellar, a scary encounter where clients are locked in a cellar with bodies strung from the ceiling.
  • And The Warlocked, a game in which a wizard is on the loose and participants are challenged to stop him.

"Some are scary, some are funny, some have a holiday theme," Coy said.

Customers are shown a short video setting up the scenario and debriefed afterward on the experience.

Tvedt said he expects to draw an array of participants, including company team-building groups, parties and small groups.

“One person could do it by themselves, but we allow up to seven people in a room,” he said.

Only about 30 percent of the people successfully complete the challenge and unlock the door, he said of the Huntsville location.

Also in Iowa

Other escape rooms in Iowa include:

  • Outfox Escape Room, Coralville

  • Bustout Live Escape Room Games, Bettendorf
  • Escape Cedar Valley, Cedar Falls
  • The Greatest Escape, Sioux City
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