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Thursday, May 13, 2021

Escaping the Eureka Room

In a windowless room there is a locked door, a filing cabinet and a painting of an old, bearded man named Maceo Van Meer.  Behind the door lays his life’s fortune. Only through a series of hints, clues and brain-teasing tasks can it be claimed.

Bellingham’s original real-life series of room escape games, The Eureka Room, is now offering its second room challenge, located downtown in The Bellingham Herald Building. The new room is titled “The Captain’s Workshop.” It requires a team of four to eight people to solve an array of optical tricks, secret codes and hidden clues, all with a nautical Pacific Northwest theme.

“When I first heard of the concept of escape rooms, I was thrilled by it,” creator Jesse Stanton said.  “I was surprised Bellingham didn’t have one yet.  It seemed like the kind of thing Bellingham would enjoy.”

Escape rooms have become a

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Photographer Rachel Postlewait holds a Eureka Room brochure on Thursday Jan. 19. // Photo by Rachel Postlewait

national trend that vary by group size, challenges, objectives and overarching themes.  Stanton designed the room with a story in mind, creating puzzles that complimented it. These include optical illusions, solving lock combinations and figuring out the purpose of items found.

“I thought pretty consciously about trying to have different sorts of puzzles in a way that different people with different skills can all contribute,” Stanton said.

The Eureka Room currently has two facilitators: Stanton and his family friend Amanda Key-Wynne. Two more people will soon be trained.  Key-Wynne has been involved since the beginning of the business, working as a host for participating groups.

The host’s role is to explain the fictional context, offer one hint if needed and provide time warnings during the one-hour timed sessions.

“The Captain’s Workshop” is preceded by Stanton’s original room, titled, “Double Agent Investigation.” It ran from February through December 2016.  Some ideas for the previous room were inspired by puzzle books.  The new room includes more elements and fictional context, as a more elaborate backstory was created, Stanton said.

“The interest level was so high it was really clear I needed to do another one and make it better than the first,” Stanton said. “I’ve barely advertised at all.  It’s all been through word of mouth and people telling their friends.”

With the nature of puzzle rooms, people want to go out and start trying more rather than wait a year for the next room to come out. This creates a non-competitive business environment, Stanton said.

The Eureka Room is a business intended for group bonding and developing teamwork.

“You come out of it knowing more about your teammates.  With the feeling of overcoming a challenge together, it brings you together in a way going to a bar or the movies wouldn’t,” Stanton said.

Key-Wynne tells Stanton he should write a book about the dynamics of how people with differing personalities work together for a common goal.

“When I first heard of the concept of escape rooms, I was thrilled by it. I was surprised Bellingham didn’t have one yet.  It seemed like the kind of thing Bellingham would enjoy.”

Jesse Stanton

Jade Thurston’s take:

It was dark. I parked my car a block from our destination and stepped out into the rain. I wasn’t sure who I was meeting up with or what kind of clues we would have to solve, but I was ready.

Directions came earlier by email, stating the following: “Greetings from the law firm of Keure, Thome, and Aro. We are currently in the process of disposing of the assets of a gentleman named Maceo Van Meer. Mr. Van Meer left no direct descendants, and you have been identified as a potential beneficiary of his will. The will includes some rather unusual conditions.”

With those sentences swimming in my mind, I felt eager to experience The Eureka Room.

On Thursday, Jan. 19, my team and I – The Western Front reporters Jhomarie Sadang, Logan Portteus and photographer Rachel Postlewait – took on the challenge of the room.

Key-Wynne met us in the Herald Building lobby. We stepped into the old, brass elevator and headed up. With the elevator’s “ding” we walked out and into a long, white hallway with dark wooden office doors lining both walls.

Smiles sat on our faces but our group seemed nervous. I was nervous.

After a quick game introduction by Key-Wynne, we found ourselves in a small room without windows and one other door. Curiosity soon undermined my concern.

Our initial reaction was to rip the room apart in search of any little clue – anything and everything was under suspicion. Rarely did we think to look for clues or to solve puzzles in a specific order. At first, we were hectic.

Moving on, I realized the four of us brought different strengths to the situation. Since the room includes a variety of challenges, our cooperation was key. I often found myself thankful the room allowed us to work and come together so well, despite the subtle frustration that comes with solving a mystery.

Key-Wynne’s hints were critical for us first-timers. Though she did not help directly, she provided the perfect amount of push to get us going in the right direction.

With a few minutes to spare, we made it out as beneficiaries of Maceo Van Meer’s will. Relief flooded through me but the story wasn’t over yet. Key-Wynne proceeded to hint to the final piece of the puzzle: a storyline plot twist I did not see coming.

Instantly, I wanted to take part in this kind of game again.

Solving the mystery has about a 35 percent success rate, according to The Eureka Room website. Participants pay $15 or $12 as a student, with a minimum charge of $50 per session. You will have the room to yourselves if your group has four or more people. Otherwise, The Eureka Room can pair up separate contestants to meet the minimum charge.

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A door leading into the room the escape game is held in on Thursday Jan. 19. // Photo by Rachel Postlewait

Jhomarie Sadang’s take:

Our scenario begins with a man named Maceo Van Meer. He died and we are identified as beneficiaries in his will. Our goal was to solve riddles and find clues to help us obtain an award of his will and reveal his big secret.

I wasn’t sure what to expect since it was my first time participating in an escape room. None of us had.

We proceeded upstairs. The building was eerily quiet and the hallway evoked feelings of a lost decade. I could feel the suspense building up as we walked down the hall and reached our location. The door had an opaque window with the name Van Meer stamped on it.

Before entering the room, Key-Wynne explained how the game was going to work. The room was filled with clues and codes. Within an hour, we had to solve the series of puzzles, escape and solve the secret of Van Meer. Allowed only one hint the entire game, we felt the stress set in. Key-Wynne began the timer, left the room and closed the door behind her.

The success rate for completing the room is low, but I was determined to solve the puzzles before time ran out.

We began to look around for clues or anything we thought might help us. After finding a couple of puzzle pieces, we realized it wasn’t enough to figure out what it meant or what to do with them. We soon realized we needed to unlock a different lock before we could unlock the first lock we encountered.

Does it sound confusing? It was.

The most difficult part of the game was not knowing what to do. I was impatient and frustrated. Eventually, we the discovered objects that gave us the hints we needed to get back on track.

Thirty minutes into the game, we obtained a key to unlock the door to the next room, the final puzzle. Immediately, we started scouring for clues. After frantic searching, we found a box containing a key. There were four small keyholes to choose from.

Jade Thurston and Logan Portteus work together dilligently to solve the challenege of the Eureka Room.
Jade Thurston and Logan Portteus work together to solve a clue on Thursday Jan. 19. // Photo by Rachel Postlewait

Key-Wynne came into the room to congratulate us on progressing to the next room. We were told to be careful in our decisions because one wrong choice could result in losing our only hint. She left the room again.

Another 15 minutes passed, and we were all stumped. We decided to take advantage of the hint we were offered, as we didn’t have much time remaining.

With the information the clue provided us, we were able to unlock the one thing we needed to seal our fate as winners. We won the rights to the will and, in turn, were awarded the treasure.

Key-Wynne came back to congratulate us, but said we still needed to figure out Van Meer’s secret. With four minutes to spare, we tried to piece together all the information we gathered from our notes. We ran out of time. Luckily, Key-Wynne told us the secret, so we didn’t have to leave wondering what the final piece of the puzzle was.

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