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”.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

RIP Marvin Minsky Artificial Intelligence Pioneer

When we are as connected as we are, (and when you are a media pig like I am) you are going to get constant notices of people passing.  Glenn Frey and David Bowie as recent examples.  I felt a little more nostalgic with Glenn Frey.  When it is someone like Alan Rickman I feel sad because of the age that he passed and knowing his personal contributions are no longer available, though his achievements will have lasting effects.  Leonard Nimoy was sad to me on a very nostalgic level.  I also recognize he had a long and fulfilling life.

This rather long preamble is for the death of Marvin Minsky at the wonderful age of 88.  Minsky co-founded the MIT Artificial Intelligence Lab in 1959. His goal was to mimic human perception and intelligence in a machine; along the way, he created some of the first robotic hands with tactile sensors, while also working to address the philosophical questions posed by the machines he created.

I met him once in my life and heard him speak twice.  At one point as a youngster in the late 80's I was deeply fascinated with his work on artificial intelligence.  He was a character.  When AI fell into a bit of a slump, (and in order to be taken seriously you had to call the next steps Expert Systems), I am sure he was as prickly as could be.  But at the same time I would have loved to hear his views on Deep Blue and Watson.  I suppose I will have to look those up.

Here is a snippet from an article today in Scientific America:

""Why are you asking me this question?" Minsky growled. The concern that scientists will run out of things to do is "pitiful," he said. "There's plenty to do." We humans may well be approaching our limits as scientists, but we will soon create machines much smarter than us that can continue doing science.

But that would be machine science, not human science, I said.

"You're a racist, in other words," Minsky said, his great domed forehead purpling. I scanned his face for signs of irony, but found none. "I think the important thing for us is to grow," Minsky continued, "not to remain in our own present stupid state." We humans, he added, are just "dressed up chimpanzees." Our task is not to preserve present conditions but to evolve, and create beings smarter than us."


Saturday, January 23, 2016

Juggling the Business and the Art

Some of the research being conducted for "The Last Escape"
Whenever you work on a big project you have to accommodate the ever shifting requirements that will bring it to fruition.  In the case of the puzzle/escape room under development there are several different tracks operating at the same time.  The business planning is essential for many reasons, the most prominent in my own mind is the fact that I should be practicing what I preach.  I am currently teaching two separate courses at the University of Washington Tacoma in entrepreneurship, one as an  undergraduate course and the other as part of a continuing education certificate.  Both use business planning as the infrastructure for building out your company on both an operational and a funding level.  Plus of course it is an incredibly valuable tool for a successful outcome.

So I am working on that.  Finding a venue, creating a proforma, developing marketing materials, organizing and recruiting a team, procuring funding and performing recursive reality checks are all the plates spinning right now in my off time from my day job.  I am really enjoying myself.

Additionally, there is the creative element.  The whole point of this was to produce something fun with theatrical elements.  The balance here is going to be the practical flow of the puzzles that will be challenging, exciting and fun to do as a team, the story that needs to be told over the course of an hour that will have several endings based on how far the teams progress toward the escape, the characters who will inhabit the room from the gamemaster to the limited role playing that can be infused into the customers and how much historical accuracy can be integrated into what is a fictional situation.

I am working on that.  This requires a bit of research and experimentation.

The good news is that I have the complete skeletal structure of the puzzle elements as they lead to locked boxes, strange riddles, brain teasers, hidden rooms and required tasks.  When I write stories I often have it worked out completely in my head.  Once I put it on paper I realize where I have holes to fill and characters to develop.  It is never complete until the third or fourth rewrite (for me).

In this case I have the story down.  However instead of rewriting it I need to run it.  I need to know the realistic time it might take ten people working together to finish each challenge.  It can't be too hard or to easy.

There are also several pieces that will need to be fabricated or procured.  Then there is a set to build.

My next post will talk about the people who are helping me get this done.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Bringing an Escape Room to the South Puget Sound

Real life room escape games have been cropping up around the United States with greater frequency over the last two years.  These stylized escape games which pit creative problem solving against a ticking clock started in Hungary and took off in Japan where they are extremely popular.  In our own area there are currently no less than five puzzle room companies in Seattle and at least one that I know of in Redmond, with many in Portland as well.
Theatrically speaking there is a spectrum to the experience.  On one end of the spectrum there are simple puzzle rooms that are filled with a variety of puzzle types.  Small teams of people work together to figure them out until each puzzle leads them to meta puzzles which leads you to the means to leave the room.
On the other end of the spectrum are thematic escape rooms.  These carry a story or plot line along with the necessary puzzle solving to make the escape.  They are immersive to a place or time and can heighten the urgency of the clock.  Think a prison break or escape from a mad scientist’s lab.
It is this story driven type of puzzle and escape room that I will be bringing to Tacoma (in conjunction with some great local partners).  I wanted to create something that would be a combination of stage play and puzzle room, with the idea that plotting, story line and stagecraft such as lighting and special effects would enhance the experience. 

At its core it will still be type of physical adventure game in which people are locked in a room with other participants and have to use elements of the room to solve a series of puzzles, find clues, and escape the room within a set time limit.  But there will also be a plot, characters and a story line added to the experience.  

It would be possible to put it together today and run a beta of it next week (and I was tempted to).  However, I would rather up the quality as much as I can.  This means more time and money to build a dedicated set, create special puzzles and purchase props.  So I am going to run a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a higher end product through perks that will include first patron advance ticket sales, puzzle sponsorship and hopefully some cool swag.  At the very least, this will give me the opportunity to spread the word, find some beta testers and up the quality of the experience. 

If you are interested let me know, and look for the upcoming campaign.

"Know him, Hear him, See him, Free him" - Assisting Houdini in His Last Escape

Hopefully you have seen the press release from the EDB about Infoblox renewing its lease in Tacoma for another six years. Growing from sixty...