Friday, January 6, 2017

Guest Post from Author Erik Hanberg

Erik Hanberg is guest blogging today.  Check his site out at

The Scorpion Extraction

January 5, 2017 by Erik Hanberg,

In the spring of 2015, a group of friends and I went to Portland, Oregon to “escape the room.” (An escape room, if you don’t know) is basically a chance to get locked in a small room with a group of friends or coworkers and have to figure your way by solving puzzles, figuring out clues, and then communicating with others in the room. It was an absolute blast. I came away thinking that I wanted to create an escape room in Tacoma.

The idea of an immersive experience with a ticking clock and lots of puzzles really appealed to me. There are many escape rooms all over the country, and I knew it was a matter of time before one came to Tacoma. I wanted to be involved! I started talking about it with friends, but soon realized that two kids, a business, several unfinished novels, and a seat on the Metro Parks Board might be too much to also add managing an escape room. Fortunately, my good friend Andrew Fry was eager to start one.

He created Adventures by Appointment and wrote a script for the business’s first escape room.

He called it The Last Escape. Using his connections in the theater world, he brought together a team to build a sumptuous set and an engaging mystery. I loved participating in The Last Escape in my own small way, but it made me even more excited to create a room with Adventures by Appointment.

So when Andrew approached me about a new room, I jumped at the chance.

I’m happy to say that The Scorpion Extraction, the next room of Adventures by Appointment, is open and ready to go. I wrote the “script” for it, which is a funny thing for an immersive theatrical experience. Basically it means I laid out the premise: here’s the general storyline, here are the twists, and here is the puzzle path that a group will have to follow to get out of the room. But that’s only a thumbnail of what’s needed to make a room work.

The production team at ABA are the ones who realized the vision.

My puzzle path was fun, but it was sometimes impractical (at one point the script would have required a loaf of bread be used for every run of the room, which is probably the very definition of impractical). Jen and Blake straightened things out and brought their experience from The Last Escape to bear on the creation of this room, which allowed us to jump over hurdles and figure out what would be workable and fun. And the actors who inhabit the roles needed in the story will make each show slightly different, depending on the mix of actors and the questions they get from the group trying to escape. So there’s a real improv nature of this kind of experience that I only provided the loosest of sketches for. I got to participate in some of the tech rehearsals in preparation for opening, and it was a joy to see things in real life.

I’ve written a few plays over the years, but this was a particularly fun experience because so much of the joy of it comes from things outside the “script.” So. The Scorpion Extraction is now open.

Here’s the story:

You are part of an FBI recovery team getting ready to extract an informant who has been feeding information to the FBI on the dangerous and powerful mob boss known only by the code name Red Scorpion. However, when you and your team arrive, it becomes difficult determining just exactly who is who. Be careful not to side with the wrong person, as it could be a fatal error. Can you rescue the informant before the Red Scorpion’s henchman reach you? 

I think it’s a blast. If you would like to book a group for either The Last Escape or The Scorpion Extraction, you can do it on the Adventures by Appointment website.

 Good luck with your escape!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Announcing the Next Escape Room (and a surprise)

As we move into September we have had to make a decision on the small business Adventures by Appointment LLC.  It has been fun and the response has been as much as I could have asked for.  The month of August was busy and the month of September has filled nicely.  This makes continuing the room on into the holidays and beyond an easy decision.  After hiring the Jen York as the Managing Director it is time to get serious.

However, without the Spaceworks advantage on rent it becomes a little trickier, plus we need to satisfy all of patrons who pleaded for another room after finishing the first.

So what to do next?

Announcing the second adventure offering from Adventures by Appointment.  This next room will be in keeping with the theatrical requirements of the escapes, with two actors in the room as part of the action.

Even more exciting is that Mystery and Sci Fi Author Erik Hanberg will be penning the script and puzzle path.  Erik was instrumental in pushing the first room forward and a great sounding board for what was being created.  So now it is his turn.

You are part of a FBI recovery team getting ready to extract your informant who has been feeding information on the dangerous and powerful mob boss who has been terrorizing the city.  However, when you and your team arrive, it becomes a challenge determining just exactly who is who.  
Be careful not to side with the wrong person, as it could be a fatal error.
Complicating matters is that you are under pressure to beat the clock, as henchmen are on there way and the consequences of there arrival are to be feared.
Can you figure out who the informant is and escape, or will you fall victim to "The Dark Count".

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

All Kinds of Escapes at Court House Square

What a month of July it has been for The Last Escape. We have seen birthday parties, family outings, tourists in Tacoma and company team building groups all come through the escape/puzzle room. Facebook has been active with followers and those interested in checking out what we have created, and engaged in requesting what kind of escape room we might build next.

We opened in June and had several small groups come through. Early adopters of a new business in the city, friends of The Last Escapers (what the actors, designers, techs and writers call ourselves at Adventures by Appointment) and even curious walk ups made up those first several runs. Among them was a reporter for The News Tribune who came in slightly skeptical and left a fan.

But it was with the publishing of the article that really opened the secret passageway, I mean door, to the room. All sorts of days and times popped up on the adventure calendar. We show four or so shows for ticket purchases each weekend in the month. This is for those who are looking to come have fun in sets of two or four or six, or an entire booked room of 10. Friday at 7:00pm, Saturday at 7:00pm (and 9:00pm at first but now 5:00pm) and 5:00pm on Sunday are the pre-scheduled times.

Then came the call for gift certificates so I had to figure out a way to provide the adventure ticket without a pre-determined time. I posted about how Adventures by Appointment meant that you can secure your own appointment for time and day. As soon as that became clear more phone calls came in asking for specific days and times. With enough notice and an actor and tech willing to do so, we could do a 2:00am show on a Weds. In what is supposedly one of the most haunted buildings in Tacoma!

Now we have Flex Tickets for Two People, Four People, A Private Party Escape and even a Team Building Escape that comes with lunch and a facilitated discussion following.

And it has been fun. We have had to add additional tech folks to run the escape no matter what the time and day, more actors to be the Mediums in the room (Madam Dana and Lady Jade have been supplemented with Price Nicki and Otho the Magnificent).

Finally and importantly, we will be starting a part time Managing Director of Adventures by Appointment in August and will be looking to expand to two and possibly even three different escapes to choose from.

We are looking at a bank robbery theme, a prisoner breakout, CDC virus outbreak and alien autopsy story lines. Which would you like to see happen?

Friday, June 24, 2016

Set Up Your Adventure (by Appointment) for The Last Escape

And the room is now open!  The first production of Adventures by Appointment LLC has gone through its trial runs, previews, beta tests or whatever you might like to call them and it has opened for business.

So what is it exactly?

I like the way Erik Hanberg put it.

"Tacoma's first puzzle/escape room is a new kind of theatrical experience in the South Sound. The puzzle room challenges participants to race the clock and break themselves out of a room by solving a series of elaborate puzzles that lead a group through a narrative involving eccentric billionaires, a spiritualist medium, and the most famous magician in the world."

And judging by the feedback we have been getting since it opened, we have succeeded in creating a very fun and exciting experience.

"One of the best experiences. I took my 13 year old son and he loved it as well. If you want to experience something completely different set an appointment now."
"Super fun experience! Easily the best Escape room I've done."
"I had so much fun, by the end my heart was racing as we tried to bet the clock.The puzzles were well thought thru definitely providing a challenge while remaining fun. "

Who would have thought that one year ago I would be looking through puzzle books and reading about Harry Houdini in order to try and write puzzle paths and a storyline that would hold up as an escape room adventure.

Of course the reason it is an cool as it turned out to be has more to do with the sets, props and special effects.  Blake York did an incredible job on creating the space that could function as a mediums parlor for tarot card reading and also keep unobtrusive the set lights, grid, false walls and other surprises.  Jen York not only helped keep it on track as the director but found amazing talent to run tech and act as the medium, gamemaster, hintgiver and all around entertaining addition to the experience.

The show has three consistent running times and days.  Friday and Saturday at 7:00pm and Sunday at 5:00pm.  But we only need a commitment of 5 to 6 people who want to go through the room in order to coordinate a time and day of your choice.

We just ran one at 3:00pm on Sunday because the group could not make any other time.  One of our mediums was on vacation and the other worked, so I had to run out and get a new fake mustache, borrow a turban from our Tacoma Little Theatre friends and step up to the cards.

Honestly the mediums we have Madam Dana and Lady Jade are practically one woman shows in their own right.  I may have to dedicate the next post to them.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Another Step Closer to the Last Escape

It is one thing to get excited about an idea and quite the other to go about implementing all the necessary details to make it a reality.

Creating an escape room is a creative exercise that involves writing, design, casting, directing and puzzle making.  Fun!  Yay!

But it still needs a home.  It has to exist in the context of ticket sales, leasing space, hiring and licensing.  It needs to be housed within a business.  Work!  Not as much of a Yay!

That is the bulk of what I have been doing over the last month and a half, and it is now bearing fruit.  It was also a major reason for taking the project on.  Although I have been mentoring companies , sitting on advisory boards and teaching entrepreneurship at the undergraduate and professional development levels, I haven’t walk the walk in quite some time.  It is easy to forget the anxiety that comes with worrying over forgetting important details, finding funding and waiting, waiting, waiting to hear whether a something that is a lynch pin to your success will come through. 

Behold the LLC!  Adventures by Appointment LLC is the company that will be putting on the production of The Last Escape. 

That meant registering the company with the state, registering the domain name ( , filing for a state business license, filing for a city business license and opening a business bank account which also requires things like a EIN number and an operations plan. 

That of course leaves the requirement of finding the right location.  How about right in the middle of downtown Tacoma?  Yes, we have an address.  410 A Street, Suite 410, Tacoma WA.  Many thanks are due to Spaceworks Tacoma for their help in finding the property and arranging for the first six months at a low rate.

Occupation of the space will take place the first of April and the serious, non-serious work of putting together the production with Jen York directing and Blake York designing becomes real.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Finding a Room to Escape From

As a rule of thumb,  it is difficult to create a puzzle and escape room without a room. Not just a simple office space but somewhere that you can expand beyond four walls to create little surprises and heighten tension.

Location is always a consideration as well. Most businesses rely on foot traffic and those that have street front also benefit from the ongoing signage exposure to the public.   But when you are serving six to ten people at a time and the adventure is by appointment then you have more flexibility as to your location.  You also have more control over the tone you want to set.

The one requirement I made for myself was that this enterprise was to be in downtown Tacoma.   Close to hotels and restaurants and people, but just off the street enough to be a bit mysterious.

I am no expert. Commercial space is not my forte.  I needed help from someone or something.   I am extremely excited to announce that I am a participant in the Spaceworks program.

Spaceworks Tacoma matches artists and creative entrepreneurs with vacant spaces to activate Tacoma.  What a fortuitous match.

They are an amazing team of people who are energetic,  committed and hard working.   I will also be serving as a mentor to some of their latest artists and entrepreneurs just now launching their businesses into new spaces.

We have identified a location that I think is perfect.   I'll need to wait for approval but if it works out, I am going to give details about it here.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Last Escape

Building a puzzle/escape room is one thing, and the story that unfolds while escaping is another.  You may love a venue, (consider the interior of the Pantages or the 5th Ave Theater), but it is really the show that stays with you.  

So it was important to me that the two be separated.  “Adventures by Appointment” is the name of the company that will put on the escapes, but the first puzzle room production that will launch it is called “The Last Escape”.

This all started close to a year ago in a conversation with Erik Hanberg.  He was the impetus for the exploration for this kind of entertainment in the South Sound.  He and Mary had just participated in an escape room in Portland and had had a fantastic time.  So for a few weeks we kicked it around, with discussion of themes and stories and how something like that might be received in Tacoma.

We missed a short window to visit a room up in Seattle and then I was off on vacation to Sunriver, Oregon.  As is my habit, I bring a creative project outside of my daily routine with me.  This time, it was the development of an idea for a story to become the basis for an escape.  Being the obvious person that I am I immediately thought of the greatest escape artist of all time, Ehrich Prach, known to the world as Harry Houdini.  I bought and books, articles and even read his obituary.  I began to research puzzles as well.

When I returned I was ready to move this story forward and create the production, which also meant building a company, finding a venue and spending a lot of creative energy.  Erik has been a valuable sounding board and though he is busy with being President of the Parks Commission, co owner of Side X Side Creative and releasing the second book is his sci-fi trilogy “The Iron Harvest” I am hoping to convince him to write and produce the second escape room adventure.

I decided to approach this business like a venue for theatrical productions in order to build a revenue model.  Because the number people who attend a production at any one time is very small, there are some limitations.  Nevertheless, there are many similarities.

I have a firm grasp of story and stage, as I have been in over thirty five theatrical productions over the last ten years.  Combined with my entrepreneurial experience, it has provided me with the confidence to push forward.  Unfortunately most of my experience is through the guise of an actor.   

Luckily I know a few folks with a broader set of theatrical skill sets.  I have known Chris Serface for years, since we first performed together in "My Fair Lady" at the Tacoma Musical Playhouse, then "The Wind in the Willows" and "Urinetown" among others.  Chris became Managing Artistic Director at Tacoma Little Theatre and now runs the show there along with Karen Christensen and Blake York and their board.  All of whom I have done shows with. 

Chris helped answer my questions about scheduling, budgets, roll out of productions and really helped me translate how ticket
sales and audience estimates might work with what I am trying to do.  Bottom line, less seats to sell means more shows per week.  Plus my overhead will be smaller.

I am happy to say that Tacoma Little Theatre will be partnering with me on the first production.

I mentioned Blake York, who is technical director of TLT.  He also played Ralph, the grown up Ralphie and narrator for the recent production of A Christmas Story, in which I played “The Old Man”.  Along with doing a great job with a ridiculous line load, he also designed and built a magnificent set for the show and was responsible for sound cues.  The set was truly a thing of beauty.  He had also built the set for Fox on the Fairway and at one after show cast party said he wanted to work with me on something.

This is that thing.  I am happy to announce that Blake York will be doing set, sound and light design for “The Last Escape”.  He is keen on quality and understands how to make things happen on stage.

Finally, once the script has been written and the venue has been chosen, you need someone to direct.  I met Jen York during the production of A Christmas Story and loved working with her.  She was easy to communicate with, is organized, detail oriented and very creative.  She also has a wide range of experience in all facets of theater.  She asks the right questions and can give firm instructions.

In meeting with her on the production she has never failed to give me great guidance and advice.  Several elements have come into greater focus because of tasks she gave me to complete. 

Jen York will be directing “The Last Escape”.