Escape room experience tests team work skills

Three custom rooms offered at Zero Hour Escape Rooms in Plymouth

By Kristen Miller
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Already in handcuffs, Bob Oberleitner gets ready to enter the Prison Break room at Zero Hour Escape Room in Plymouth. (Sun Sailor staff photo by Kristen Miller)

Imagine being wrongly accused of stealing Brett Favre’s Super Bowl jersey, handcuffed, and locked in a jail cell with the opportunity to escape.

That is just one of three possible scenarios at Zero Hour Escape Rooms, which offers real-life escape experiences in Plymouth.

Owner and northern Minnesota native Lee Tufte opened his first escape room last year in Duluth, after being introduced to the industry by a Florida couple. He had helped the couple write a business plan for their own interactive gaming experience.

The concept behind escape rooms is that teams are locked in a custom-made room and given one hour to escape using clues and riddles found inside the room.

What Tufte found was people who experienced the escape rooms walked away happy.
“Even if they don’t escape (before the time is up), everyone has a good time,” Tufte said.

While escape rooms can be entertainment for groups of any age, they are also used as team-building exercises that have expanded into the business sector. Escape rooms have the ability to strengthen bonds among co-workers, and they can also be indicators of how people interact as a team, Tufte explained.

In February, Tufte and his brother-in-law and Plymouth native Alex Ramsey, opened Zero Hour Escape Rooms MPLS, at 12800 Industrial Park Blvd.

All of the rooms are custom-made and hand-built by the owners Lee Tufte and Alex Ramsey. Here is a cell from the Prison Break escape room.

Together, Tufte and Ramsey designed and built the three rooms, designing each around the team-building aspect.
“We want people to work together,” he said, to solve the puzzle and escape before the hour is up.

The three games to choose from are:
• Gold Rush – designed like an 1800s log cabin, participants are challenged to find a hidden stash of gold.
• Mad Tea Party – this Alice In Wonderland theme challenge participants to lock up the red Queen after she interrupted the tea party.
• Prison Break – without the chance of a fair trial in Wisconsin, prisoners who were wrongfully accused of stealing Brett Favre’s Super Bowl jersey look to break out.

The gold rush room is the most challenging of the three rooms.
“It took a really long time to create,” Tufte said, noting everything in the room was custom-made. “As well-prepared as you can be, there are always changes … once the build starts to take place.”

Inlaying the puzzles can also be “very tricky,” Tufte said, noting a puzzle he may think is difficult, can be extremely easy or hard for some people. Therefore, they try to get as many test groups through before they launch a room. They plan to have five rooms in the future.

“We do design our rooms to be universal to everyone,” Tufte said.

From the control room, staff members can watch the participants as they navigate through the experience, sending clues to keep the participants on the right track to escape under the hour time limit. Here, are participants in the Prison Break room. (Sun Sailor staff photo by Kristen Miller)

To make sure participants are on the right track, staff members watch from a control room with monitors, and have the ability to send clues.
“We try to keep clues riddles as well so you feel like you’re the one figuring it out even though you had help from us,” said Kara Hartman, manager at the escape room.

Ultimately, “we want them to think outside the box,” Tufte said, which is why he said children oftentimes have an easier time than adults.

Kids tend be more open-minded to “a lot of possibilities, which is the mind-set you need going into these rooms,” Tufte said.

“It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “Once you play one escape room, you almost become addicted.”

Bob Oberleitner of Elk River recently experienced the prison break escape room.

“I really enjoyed my experience and was really surprised to see the investigative energies that my friends shared during the process,” he said. “The time sped by and we look forward to another visit.”

For more information, visit zerohourescaperooms.com or call 763-270-0653.