For some of us, haunted houses are hell on earth. We don’t like to be scared. The only way we could get to sleep that time we saw Scream in the theater our junior year of high school was to tune in to a Christian radio station and keep the lights on all night. Don’t judge. We can’t help it if we were born with sensitive souls. And for those of us who just aren’t cut out for horror, gore, or loud noises and sudden surprises, we may have found an alternative to the usual October fright fests. They’re called escape rooms.
Participants at these escape rooms—which sometimes go by the fraidy-cat-friendly name “puzzle rooms”—are put in a locked space and challenged to solve a series of puzzles, crack codes, and find hidden clues that will eventually lead to the key that unlocks the door, all before time runs out, which is, in most cases, an hour.
Originating in Asia, escape rooms started popping up in North Texas a couple of years ago. You can now Nancy Drew your way out of rooms everywhere from Fort Worth to Rockwall. In fact, the business is so hot that the Red Door Escape Room in Southlake will soon open a second location in Plano, a city that already boasts two puzzling palaces.
Most of these establishments have multiple rooms, and all the rooms have different themes. While some rooms are made for horror fans (a zombie chases players at Room Escape Adventures in Plano), most themes, like the Steam Punk room at Mesquite’s Xcape Adventures, are meant to get your gears turning, as if you’re playing a real-life board game. And for just about anyone, a ticking clock is all that’s required to get the adrenaline pumping.
“The timer is the great equalizer,” says Patrick Emile, co-owner of Deep Ellum’s A Room With a Clue. “We have people come in who are so excited and some who are dragged along, but once that timer starts, it’s go, go, go. You’re immediately into it.”
Which gives us an idea. Haunted houses are the slapstick comedy of adventure, nothing more than a crude, passive pastime. No brainpower is employed when you’re merely waiting for something to hop out and cause you distress. So the next time our fright-loving friends gather for a trek to somewhere like Hangman’s House of Horrors, our plan is to reroute them toward a more immersive experience. Because maybe it’s not that those of us who eschew haunted houses have lily livers. Maybe it’s that we simply have a more sophisticated sense of entertainment. We’re certainly not afraid to admit that.