Karissa and Robbie Neal’s new escape room in Downtown Kelso was almost predestined, considering how much they love games.
“Games have always been a part of what we do,” said Karissa Neal, 25. “We’ve been youth pastors for nine years in Kalama, and ... how we’ve shared the Gospel is we bring kids in with games. How we stay connected with friends is game nights.”
The couple’s new venture, Puzzle Quest, will open Thursday and was inspired by a visit to a Seattle escape room. The Neals began building the puzzles in June, leased the Vine Street building in October and spent three months renovating the space.
An escape room is an adventure game in which players are trapped in a room and must solve a series of puzzles and riddles using clues, hints and strategy to complete the objectives at hand before they can leave.
Players are given a set time limit to unveil the secret plot hidden within the rooms.
Without giving too much away, Puzzle Quest’s theme focuses around an epidemic that turns people into zombies. Visitors are trapped in the scenario for 60 minutes while they try to complete puzzles to find the cure. Otherwise they become zombies themselves.
According to the Neals, remodeling the building, which included building new walls, cost less than $10,000. The duo recently stepped down as youth pastors at Riverview Community Church in Kalama to run Puzzle Quest.
Robbie Neal, 26, said they developed the escape room after visiting many other rooms and watching some online. As for the zombie theme, he said that was inspired by horror/action shows like “The Walking Dead” and “Z Nation.”
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“We’ve been kind of watching the trends, and it seems like … there’s kind of a craze right now for the zombie thing,” Robbie Neal noted.
However, the couple says that they’ll rotate out the scenario every four to six months, or whenever most people interested have already run through the room.
In terms of the puzzles’ difficulty, the Neals say their escape room is “adaptable to anybody,” due to the moderator present in the room with a group. The moderator can give out clues and assistance if a group requests it.
To encourage visitors to bring their full attention to the scenario (and discourage people from taking photos of the puzzles and putting them online), cellphones are taken from participants before they enter the room and put into lockers in the lobby.
Karissa Neal said they implemented the no-phones rule so visitors “...don’t end up sitting in the corner on their phone. They have to be a part of a team and work together with people they’re there with.”
Although visitors are “trapped” in the room for a full hour, Robbie Neal said that the doors aren’t technically locked, partly to make emergency evacuations easier, and partly for insurance reasons.
“We found out that to lock people in the room, you have to be insured as a prison, so we decided that we would not go that route,” he said, laughing.
Puzzle Quest won’t accept walk-in visitors: Anyone interested has to book their group up to three hours in advance at www.puzzlequestllc.com.