INTERVIEW – Jim Thomsen of Escape the Place – ESCAPE ROOM

Jim tell us a little about yourself and Escape the Place

After being an executive/technical recruiter for the past 10 years, I joined my son (CJ) in the business (last June), as a principal in the business and the roles of VP, Facility Manager, and Chief Puzzle Engineer.

Why did you decide to get involved in the escape room industry?

I’ve been an avid puzzle person my whole life. Most of the gifts I get (at gift-getting time) are puzzles of one sort or another. I probably have 50+ in my collection. However, it was really CJ that got me into it. He’s a full-time pilot and Captain in the USAF who lives in Colorado Springs and works out of Pueblo, CO. He visited an escape room in Denver at the end of 2014 on a team building outing with 11 of his squad-mates, and came back stoked about opening up a facility. (I had never heard of the industry at that point.) We started making plans to open in Orange County first, but I was still working full-time at that point and it ended up making more sense for him to open up in The Springs. (The first one in that market I might add.) He opened with BlackSite and The Hangover, then added The Chamber last September.

Eventually, I retired from the recruiting gig and, as mentioned, ended up joining him in June 2015. We opened in mid-November in Mission Viejo with BlackSite, The Hangover, and The Chamber all fully functioning from day-1.

What makes your rooms unique?

With so many rooms around, I’m almost afraid to say that ours are unique. What I can tell you is that they are all designed and built in-house with great care taken with regard to how they look, feel, and operate. We are very conscientious about escape rates, and that everyone has a great time… regardless if they escape or not. We have located Escape The Place in a very upscale location and would like to think the overall look and feel of our facility is exceptional in this industry. We also take great care in making our guests feel welcome from the minute they walk through the door, while monitoring them in the rooms, and in our debrief with them afterwards.

What do you think is the most important part of an escape room design?

I believe it is important to have a good back story, but you definitely have to have good (challenging puzzles) for a room to work. A good mix of mechanical, mental, technical, and technological puzzles is important. There also has to be plenty for everyone to do… you can room a good escape room if you try and put too many people in it. You don’t have to spend a ton of money on decor, but a room definitely can’t look like it’s temporary, or that you decorated it with a couple hundred bucks. It should fit the backstory as well.

Please share with us a fun story that has happened with your company.

Lots of fun (funny) stories. Obviously, we hear everything that goes on in the rooms and it still surprises me when I iterate things like “red dots mean whatever they are on is irrelevant to your escape”, and customers will get into the room and immediately say something like: “did he say to ignore or pay attention to things with red dots”. Or they will get into the room and say: “Do you think he was telling us the truth in the briefing room.” 

Probably the funniest thing I’ve seen lately though is, we had a group of young teens in for a birthday party, 6 against 6 in The Chamber. We had talked about whether to put the keys in the light panel or not in the brief and everyone agreed to put them in. However, once keys were found, they were put into and taken out of the light panel (by both teams) so many times I lost count. I would guess they wasted at least 15 minutes in each room trying to fool the other on how much progress they had made in the room. Ultimately, they could have used the wasted time, since neither group escaped.

What advice do you have for players?

My primary advice for players is simply “respect the rooms”. We spend a lot of time briefing on the dos and don’ts of the room, which I believe cuts down on a lot of damage. However, I still see a small percent of players going in and brutalizing components in the room after being clearly told that the room is about using brains, not brawn. Some of the things in our rooms our hand built and can’t be easily replaced. If certain things get broken, it might mean a room could be down for days for repair, and not available for the next group that is booked. 

Other than that, I would say don’t underestimate yourself, or overestimate yourself for that matter. I’ve seen players who did not think they would contribute, be awesome. I’ve also seen some that think they’re going to do great, not do so well. I always remain players to think critically, creatively and to collaborate. To that I would add, if something isn’t working, put a fresh set of eyes, or hands on it. It could make a big difference it time spent on a certain puzzle and to your success in escaping a place.

 

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