Bellingham’s first escape room business, The Eureka Room, has seen some revamping in the past couple of years during the COVID-19 pandemic – including a change in ownership.
But the change in ownership and the pandemic has not harmed the business. In fact, the new co-owners of The Eureka Room said that they will be opening a second location in Fairhaven, called Crypted Escape, sometime in the next couple of months.
Jesse Stanton, the creator of The Eureka Room, began withdrawing from his ownership position as early as 2018.
He began stepping back from duties such as hosting the rooms and began delegating more managerial tasks to current employees at that time, according to CharLee Bethje, one of the current co-owners of The Eureka Room.
“The change was really gradual,” Bethje said.
The Eureka Room is currently co-owned by four individuals: Eileen Lee, the chief operating officer; CharLee Bethje, the chief innovation officer; Hugh Wichman, the majority owner; and Adam Hockemeyer, the chief financial officer. All four of the new co-owners are recent graduates from Western Washington University.
Lee and Bethje were the first two to take over ownership from Stanton, with Wichman and Hockemeyer coming on board later.
The main changes made by the new co-owners focused on business practices such as implementing a phone number and a new online booking software.
The rooms themselves were designed by the original owner, Stanton, and have remained largely the same, with occasional puzzle updates being made by the new leading team.
Bethje said that because escape rooms are a relatively new business practice, there’s not a lot of guidance on how to create puzzles for them.
A lot of their inspiration comes from playing other rooms and reading up on how certain puzzles work.
“We haven’t bought a puzzle specifically for Eureka,” Bethje said. “All of it is just from scratch, mostly.”
There are three rooms currently available to be played at The Eureka Room. Out of Orbit contains a lot of tactile, experimental puzzles and Backstage Breakout focuses more on logic and word-based puzzles, Bethje said.
The third room, Winter Wonderland, is holiday-themed and is currently being revamped to be more applicable year-round.
Roderick Kimball, the author of Path Puzzles and the founder of Enigami Puzzles and Games, is a longtime puzzle creator, solver and enthusiast. He has created puzzles for the National Museum of Mathematics, Games Magazine, Reader’s Digest Canada and NPR’s Ask Me Another.
Kimball said that if you design a puzzle entirely from scratch, including designing the type of puzzle and its basic mechanics, you have to get really creative.
“There’s actually quite a lot of puzzling, puzzle-solving, in puzzle making,” Kimball said.
Employees at The Eureka Room play the rooms as part of their training. Cameron Schrock, a host at The Eureka Room, said that it’s a really good way to understand how the puzzles work and what guests may be thinking while trying to work through them.
“[Playing the rooms] has helped me deliver so many hints successfully,” Schrock said. “I know what I struggled within that room, and thus I have an idea of what people may struggle with in the future.”
Roughly 100 guests play at The Eureka Room each week. Lee said that this comes out to about 25-30 bookings each week.
Millie Johnson, a mathematics professor at Western, is the founder and puzzle designer of the WWU Great Puzzle Hunt, an annual puzzle scavenger hunt where teams from all over Whatcom County compete to solve a series of puzzles relating to a variety of academic subjects.
The purpose of the puzzle hunt is to help participants broaden their knowledge on a variety of subjects, Johnson said. Participants are encouraged to look things up and work together to learn from one another.
Johnson said she thinks escape rooms are a good avenue for people to expand themselves and keep their minds active.
“[Puzzles and escape rooms] have that same ability for people to take care of themselves in different ways,” Johnson said.
Lee said that her favorite part of taking over The Eureka Room was the opportunity for growth both as a business and as an individual.
“We’ve grown a lot and we’ve learned a lot as a team, and we’ve grown to the point that we’re opening a second location in Fairhaven,” Lee said.
Bethje said that taking over ownership has been both scary and exciting. Their favorite part of running the business has been the opportunity to experiment and try new things.
“I think it’s very sad that there haven't been more escape rooms in Bellingham, given the kind of people that this place attracts,” Bethje said. “Very curious, very adventurous types of people. It’s kind of sad that there’s not enough [escape rooms], so we’re trying to make more.”
Jordan Oliver (she/her) is a city life reporter for The Front. She is majoring in sociology with a minor in journalism. When not working or studying, she enjoys photography, bouldering, drinking overpriced coffee and watching tv shows about pirates.
You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.