A great escape in Burnsville

Kim and Kevin Frantz hold a tray of locks players are likely to encounter at Twin Cities Escape Rooms, their new business in Burnsville. (Photo by John Gessner)

trend arrives
south of the river

Escape rooms are said to be trending, and the trend has arrived south of the Minnesota River.

A Prior Lake couple, Kevin and Kim Frantz, opened Twin Cities Escape Rooms on Nov. 11 at 12245 Nicollet Ave. S. in Burnsville.

Derived from “escape the room” video games often played on phone apps, escape rooms are adventure games in which teams of amateur sleuths enter a “locked” room to find a mounting set of clues that solve a mystery or lead to a destination.

The Frantzes opened the business in rented office space with 1,700 square feet of game space across carefully appointed rooms separated by padlocks and electronic locks. The players’ job is to uncover the combinations.

Clues found within a room’s furnishings can be hard to wrap your head around at first, they said. But conquering one riddle is meant to leave you hungry for the next, and the teamwork can be contagious.

“The first two we played were as a family,” said Kim, a mother of two. “They’re 10 and 11, and they are as addicted to these as we are.”

Escape rooms started about 10 years ago in Asia and spread to Canada, Europe and the United States, Kim said. She said the U.S. rooms tend to be bigger than their predecessors to accommodate larger groups and are more theme-based.

“When you walk in, you feel like you’re in a movie set,” she said.

The games scratch an itch the video experience lacks, Kim said.

“There’s something psychological about opening a padlock that gives you a natural good feeling, a rush almost,” she said. “So it’s the answer to the video game in that you get to experience it in your real life, you don’t get the tech-neck looking at a screen, and you can experience it with anyone you bring to be part of your group.

“They’re great for date nights. They’re great for couples’ nights. They’re great for family events. They’re great for team-building.”

Twin Cities Escape Rooms is the latest entrant in a market that includes businesses in Minneapolis, Golden Valley and Edina, Kim said. She and her husband’s creation is not a franchise, and Kim is the chief game designer and room outfitter.

“I did attend the first-ever escape room conference that was in August in Chicago,” said Kim, a former TV news assignment manager who has a teaching degree and is a stay-home mom. “It was such a neat gathering of like-minded people. We’re gamers, we’re creative people, we’re people who just really want to develop something fun and unique for people to experience together.”

The business opened with one game called “Last Will and Testament.” The couple plan to have three more by spring.

“They’re developed up there,” said Kevin, a manufacturer’s representative, pointing to his wife’s head. “They need to get from there to a room.”

The games last an hour. The Frantzes charge a per-person fee to play. “Last Will and Testament” accommodates up to eight players. Groups that don’t book the maximum number of spots might be joined by other players.

“Last Will’s” premise is that Great Aunt Dotty, who had always promised you her inheritance, has in her final confused days left it to her cats instead. The executor of the estate is due in an hour. Can your team uncover the evidence that will keep the estate out of the hands of house pets?

The game opens in Dotty’s dining room, where a picture of her cats, a pair of knitting needles and other appointments may begin to offer clues. They may also be red herrings.

A game master is watching the players at all times through cameras in the room. If the group is clearly stumped, the master in the control room will type in a clue that appears on a video screen. The screen also counts off the time remaining.

“They’re not left alone,” Kim said. “They’re alone in the room for the sake of their game, but they’re not ignored by any means.”

It helps to bring a good attitude, she said.

“The closest comparison is probably going to a dress-up party or something where there’s some interaction or thought ahead of time,” she said. “Some people like that, some people say ‘It’s not my thing’ and they just don’t get as much out of it.”

More information is at www.twincitiesescaperooms.com.