GRAYSLAKE – The room could almost be called cozy. Bookshelves line one wall, filled haphazardly with books, flickering (flameless) candles and antiques. An antique Underwood typewriter sits on a desk with a letter half-written still threaded around its roller. In the far corner, in the light of a three-tiered candelabra, one can see a squat, black table with a fragment of a map.
The remaining pieces of the map have been hidden throughout the room, and you have 60 minutes to find them and escape.
Inspired by the mysterious Winchester House, “The House that Spirits Built” is one of three escape rooms at the new Golden Escape Rooms in Grayslake.
“The House that Spirits Built,” along with “Middle School Madness” – a mini escape room designed for younger escapees – and all their puzzles and riddles were thought up, designed and built by Jennifer Kenzer and her four daughters. Golden Escape Rooms opened in January.
The Kenzer women are self-proclaimed escape room enthusiasts, having visited nearly 70 rooms locally. During their travels, the idea of creating their own escape rooms surfaced. Once the idea gained momentum, Kenzer said, her daughters ran with it and never really slowed down.
“We did everything 100% from scratch and I’m really proud of that,” Kenzer said. “There’s lots of people who sell their plans and they sell what they call turnkey escape rooms, where they basically put everything together for you and you just run it. But part of the fun for us was thinking of all the puzzles and thinking of the ideas and coming up with the stories and the themes and everything. We didn’t want to just run a business; we wanted to create it.”
A recent college graduate, Kenzer’s daughter, Samantha, runs the day-to-day operations with the help of her younger sisters and a handful of employees. Kenzer said that her daughters came up with most of the stories, themes and ideas for the rooms. Their Grayslake location has space for two more escape rooms that the family is in the process of planning out.
Golden Escape’s mini room is a 15-minute puzzle room designed for mini escape artists and their families. The puzzles and themes in this room will rotate every two months so families can come back and try their hand at new puzzles. As long as they are accompanied by an adult, Samantha said, any child is welcome to come try their hand at the rooms.
“That was our goal. We wanted everyone to enjoy escape rooms because we love escape rooms,” she said.
Escape rooms originated from a Japanese point-and-click video game called “Crimson Room,” which came out in 2004. Three years later, the Japanese company SCRAP created the world’s first immersive, live-action escape room, aptly called “Real Escape Game.” These rooms gained popularity in Asia before spreading to Europe and then, finally, to the U.S.
The first escape room in the U.S. opened in San Francisco, California, in 2012. Since then, the phenomenon has boomed across the country. In August, the country’s first escape room convention will take place in Boston. According to its website, RECON “is born out of a love for these games. It is about growing this industry. It is about realizing potential – of creators, of experiences, of storytelling.”
Creating the rooms and their puzzles has been a learning experience for the Kenzer family.
Kenzer also said her girls have taught her that anything truly is possible.
“They taught me how much they actually believe in me or they believe we can do anything we put our minds to,” she said. “It wasn’t even a question, really, for them. …They didn’t have that frame of mind where this was gonna be too hard and we can’t do it.”
If you go
What: Golden Escape Rooms
When: Open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday
Where: 15 Commerce Drive, Unit 111, Grayslake
Information: 847-604-0021, www.goldenescaperooms.com