American Escape Rooms opens near UCF

Photo by Shana Medel. American Escape Rooms opened its doors on Collegiate Way,  just one mile from the UCF main campus, on Friday, Sept. 23, 2016. The facility is home to four puzzle-based games. Within 60 minutes, participants must find clues in order to solve a mystery. 

As of Friday, UCF students on the hunt for a good riddle or puzzle only have to look one mile from campus to find American Escape Rooms: The Real American Escape Game.

General manager and co-founder Andy Ford said he has seen the puzzle-driven game foster teamwork, stimulate a competitive spirit and above all, encourage participants to enjoy themselves.

“People get to know more about who they are,” Ford said. “You’re putting them in a fun situation that’s also challenging and stressful.”

The concept behind these laborious puzzles is simple. Teams of two to six people collaborate to solve one of four mysteries: Zombie Apocalypse, Cold War Crisis, Mad Professor’s Asylum or Mind-Boggling. To successfully “escape” from a puzzle room, participants must find and solve clues within the span of 60 minutes.

Team members need not fret if they are stumped by a clue. That’s where the game masters come into play. These 14 employees, all of whom are UCF students, observe the participants from a computer screen and can assist them with up to five hints.

Game Master Niko Davis, 20, a self-described riddler, said he playfully guides people through the different puzzles. Based on his experience, the senior political science major said American Escape Rooms is bound to give Orlando residents a new pastime outside of the realm of theme parks.

“It’s a good opportunity, it’s affordable and it’s fun,” Davis said.

Although similar establishments are scattered throughout the nation, this particular escape room, as put by Ford, is unique in that it’s a branch of the original.

The surge in popularity of escape rooms, which originated in Hungary, prompted Ford and his team to open the first European-owned escape room in Central Florida.

“We’ve developed our games, which are all original, over three to five years,” Ford said. “The tips and tricks that you learn in each of the games are significantly different. That’s what makes it more challenging for us to develop them, but I think it makes for better user experience.”

After a year of planning and preparation, American Escape Rooms opened its doors to the Central Florida community with the help of Mark Hankno, a Hungarian game master and escape room trainer.

“It’s amazing to see how people react in what I call an abnormal situation,” said Hankno, who is temporarily living in Orlando to assist with the opening stages of the facility. “People really come out of their shells because they can be whoever they want to be in the theme of the room that we’re providing them.”

Escape rooms have been used for corporate team building by small and medium-sized businesses, birthday parties, family and friend outings, Greek life events and much more.

“You get immersed in the game,” Ford said. “Essentially, you’re the players in your own mini-theater. You feel like you’re really there and you should.”

American Escape Rooms is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week and is located on Collegiate Way Plaza, near the junction of University Boulevard and Alafaya Trail. Those who wish to test their problem-solving skills can reserve a time slot by visiting americanescaperooms.com. Tickets are $30 per person.