On a recent weekday, a father and daughter from Illinois walked into Trapped, a new business at 2717 Lyndale Ave. S.
“You’re going to be locked in and you have an hour to escape,” explained Jamie Fassett-Carman, a Whittier resident. “You figure out most of the storyline as you go along.”
The puzzle takes about an hour to solve — one team successfully finished with six seconds to spare. Fassett-Carman monitors groups via cameras and microphones, intervening when necessary.
“By giving hints I can usually get people pretty close,” he said.
Inside one room called The Apartment, visitors are greeted by an actress on a television screen. She starts giving instructions on how to solve the puzzle and exit the room, but her words are muffled by static and the screen quickly fades to black.
“Part of the fun in my mind is figuring out what’s important,” Fassett-Carman said. “In my favorite puzzles, you’re not given a lot of instruction.”
Fassett-Carman’s puzzles don’t require tearing apart the room to find a hidden key. Instead visitors explore the room and examine puzzle pieces in the trash, or discover what happens when they flip a switch.
Visitors have to sign a waiver, but the experience isn’t meant to be scary — unlike Minnetonka’s Room Escape Adventures, in which an actor/zombie on a chain is released another foot every five minutes.
A master props craftsman at the Guthrie Theater helped design the rooms at Trapped. The Library room appears straight out of a Sherlock Holmes story (Fassett-Carman is a big fan), featuring vintage furniture and an antique organ. People who peek behind the curtain are surprised to find a faux brick panel where the door of entry had been.
Fassett-Carman and his mother learned about the business concept about three years ago in a Star Tribune Travel section article that described escape rooms popular in Budapest. The rooms are also popular in Japan, based on games like Myst and The Room.
“They’re sprouting up everywhere now,” he said.
Fassett-Carman is a puzzle aficionado. He’s designed skyway scavenger hunts for his friends, challenging them to take pictures of oddities like dogs wearing clothing. Last fall, he helped create The Wedge Puzzle Hunt, in which 15 teams showed up for challenges at venues like The Tea Garden, Urban Tails and We Got Game.
“I made it too hard, no one solved it,” he said. “That happens.”
He also designed a scavenger hunt at Southwest High School — without asking permission — in which he set up clues the night before the last day of school.
“We weren’t sure whether people would get angry or not,” he said.
Anyone who solved the puzzle could print a button proclaiming their status as a scavenger hunt master — several teachers sported the button.
While Fassett-Carman isn’t new to puzzle challenges, he isn’t new to entrepreneurship either. He cofounded a youth ultimate frisbee camp and organized the state’s first middle school ultimate league.
Fassett-Carman anticipates marketing Trapped for corporate events. He’s working on a partnership with Heyday across the street to combine Trapped with cocktails and snacks.
For more information, visit trappedpuzzlerooms.com.
Crossword puzzle by Emily Rose Barter. This puzzle was initially created for The Wedge Puzzle Hunt in 2014 and later used to promote Trapped during Lyndale Open Streets.