This is the preamble players hear when they enter one of the escape rooms at the First Empire Party House, located in Santa Rosa Plaza.
Players enter a medieval-themed room. There is a large ornate dining table in the center. Paintings decorate the walls. Witches’ hats, potion bottles, and goblets are among the decor – some may lead players to hidden clues while others may be red herrings.
“Welcome to Rumpelstiltskin’s Castle,” Kent Harding, co-owner of the First Empire Party House and Escape Rooms, tells the group with a mischievous smile.
As the players quickly scanned the room, trying to figure out what was in store, a large gate—the room’s main entrance and exit—suddenly closed behind the group. They were now on their way to unraveling the room’s mysteries. But will they do it in time?
Rumpelstiltskin Castle is one of six escape rooms within the 6,500-square-foot space on the second floor of the mall. Interactive experiences attract people of all backgrounds – teachers, teens, scientists, journalists, grandparents – and it’s not just about solving clues; It is about expanding your mind and connecting with others.
“It’s like reading a book. You use your imagination, analyze and interact with the characters,” said Michael Calvet, co-owner of the company. “Instead of being told what to think, you have to know what you think yourself.”
Escape rooms, which evolved from the video game experience, are quests in which a group work to find clues and solve puzzles in order to “escape” a room before time runs out.
First Empire initially opened as a themed party space in 2021. But after inviting the owners to try The Grape Escape in Napa, they were intrigued. The team began designing and testing multiple escape room ideas and adding them to the space that same year.
The Mystery of Rumpelstiltskin’s Castle – North Bay’s only escape room for up to 32 people – features areas with clues and nearly 70 hidden puzzles.
It’s known as a cumulative escape room or “meta-puzzle” where the puzzles each team has found are pieced together to finally solve a bigger puzzle, he said.
“You’re in a constant state of discovery,” Calvet said.
The most challenging hall in the First Empire is “The Asylum Hill Project”, where players walk through a strange asylum built on top of a cemetery. In its easiest spin-off, “Mission Impossible: Lights Out,” players trace the clues left by a secret agent named Kojak to solve a mystery.
Calvet said a two- to six-person range is ideal for smaller rooms. If you lose your way, all hope is not lost: the rooms have a ‘game expert’ who will share hints with you.
Adults are the typical audience for escape rooms on weekdays for team-building events, Calvet said. During the weekend it is mostly kids, teens and couples.
Anthony Doiron, 41, surprised his fiancee, Amber Rose, by trying to escape the “Mission: Impossible” room instead of watching a movie in the theater. Rose enjoyed it so much the couple returned four days later to try out the asylum-themed escape room.
“It felt like a virtual reality game, you take a character and you do a mission. I wouldn’t have been able to solve it on my own,” Doiron said with a laugh. “It was a real bonding experience.”
Dave Fellows, who experienced his first escape room at Reed Between The Lines in Rohnert Park, considers himself an escape room enthusiast. He said it is an activity that is always on his to-do list when he travels.
“It feels good to throw yourself into a different reality for a while,” said Fellows, 35, of Sonoma. “I have a kind of geeky personality and just love puzzles.”
In 2007, a company called SCRAP in Kyoto, Japan, opened the world’s first escape room. This phenomenon slowly permeated the United States around 2012.
“It’s different from watching a movie where you’re simply enjoying it,” Calvet said. “You participate in life and you participate in the world around you.”
Calvet said he loves the activity because it stimulates new ways of thinking.
In Petaluma’s Code Zone, players translate codes, decipher puzzles, and board a pirate ship to search for a stolen queen’s crown.
“Escape rooms are a throwback to when families got involved without phones and played games together at home,” said Dennis Davis, co-owner of Code Zone.
The family-owned escape room has hosted events such as weddings, gender reveal parties, and senior resident outings.
“Come in with an open mind,” said Sarah Davis, co-owner of Code Zone. “Expect the unexpected.”
You can contact general writer Mia Constantino at [email protected] searchingformya on twitter.