Nocturnal Puzzle

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Read the Whitefish Pilot article here.

 

NOCTURNAL PUZZLE

Night grows dark, and a search-and-rescue team wanders inside an abandoned cabin in the forest for shelter. Something feels off, and once the first booby-trap is discovered, survival means escape.

That’s the premise of HiddenKey cabin, an escape room game that recently set up shop outside Whitefish.

Located on Highway 93 South next to Montana Coffee Traders, HiddenKey has had its doors open for just a month, owner Sandy Welch said. It’s one of several escape game rooms in the state, she said, including in Missoula, Billings, Belgrade, Great Falls and Helena.

The game takes teams of two to 10 people into a room, where they have to search for clues and solve puzzles to escape in 60 minutes. Players must be age 12 or older.

Right now two puzzle rooms are offered at HiddenKey, with plans for two more in the works. Welch said so far, she’s hit her initial month’s goals of 10 groups a day.

Escape games have been growing rapidly in the U.S., Welch said. In 2014 only 22 companies operated games like hers. By 2017, that number is at nearly 2,000 and growing fast. Originating in Asia, the games have been popular with locals as well as tourists, who check in at different vacation destinations to look for new games once they’ve been hooked.

While her games are geared for anyone in the area who hopes to try out the puzzles, the flow of tourists in Whitefish will keep bringing new, interested visitors into the escape rooms.

“Whitefish has a lot of tourists, and actually playing escape games is something that tourists do — once you find one you move around and try others,” she said. “In the winter, folks are here on a ski vacation, but at some point you get a little sore and you need a couples hours off, you need another diversion and this is a nice thing for that.”

Welch said her games are designed at the beginner level. Of the multitudes she’s played, she said she’s seen games that are easier, more difficult, and some that are designed to be nearly unsolvable.

Just as she hopes vacationers in Whitefish will get sucked into the game, Welch explained the draw of her own first experiences with escape games.

She and her family stumbled on the games while on a two-week vacation Florida. They tried it out, needing a break from the beach, and they were hooked.

“By the second week we were looking for something to do, and we found escape games. We played like three different games, we’d play one and say, ‘Maybe we should do that again tomorrow,’” she said. “We left and we couldn’t stop talking about it for the next hour. We spent as long talking about it as we did playing. It was just that exciting.”

At HiddenKey, players are only stumped as long as they choose to be, Welch said. The rooms are equipped with cameras, microphones and speakers, allowing the staff — called game masters — to offer up hints and clues to stuck visitors.

Most of the time players can get the game solved in the 60-minute time period, or at least get very close. Sometimes she’ll see players whiz through the puzzles in 20 minutes, and other times confident visitors will be humbled by the game.

The fun part about the game is the teamwork, Welch said. Each player gets to contribute a different perspective in solving the game, noticing clues that another member of the group might not pick up on.

“You have to use teamwork and communication while you’re playing, so you get this really great shared experience, which is nice when families are on vacation or for a group of friends. You now have this one thing you all did together, but it’s still something that there was enough going on that you still have to talk to each other about it afterwards. It’s an experience that lasts longer than just the actual experience lasts,” she said.

The games are for anyone, she added. It doesn’t matter if one is young or old — anyone can come in and give the game a shot.

“We’ve had a 12-year-old’s birthday party, we’ve had teams from law firms and healthcare companies play, we’ve had three generations play together, so it’s such a great mix,” she said.

For more information and to book game times, visit www.hiddenkeyescapegames.com or call 406-823-0564.

Hidden Key Brings Puzzle Challenge to the Flathead

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You can read the entire Daily Interlake article here.

HIDDEN KEY BRINGS PUZZLE CHALLENGE TO THE FLATHEAD

As soon as a group walks in, the clock starts ticking.

They have exactly 60 minutes to find their way out of a small cabin, and to do it, they’ll need to solve puzzles, find clues and undo locks.

But that’s all part of the fun at Hidden Key Escape Games — a physical adventure game that opened last month near Whitefish.

Here’s how it works: Teams of between two and 10 players enter the game space and are given a scenario. In the case of North Fork Cabin, they’re part of the search-and-rescue effort looking for lost hikers in the area. They’re also tasked with searching any buildings they come across, including the cabin. As a storm rolls in, they go inside, and that’s where the game begins.

“As a player, it’s that a-ha moment,” said owner Sandy Welch. “There’s actually a whole lot of adrenaline and endorphins and that good stuff. It’s a cool way to share an experience with other people.”

But players aren’t alone — there are video cameras and microphones spread throughout the room so the game master can keep tabs on the players, and most importantly, offer as many as three clues in case they get stuck.

Escape games are a relatively new phenomenon in the United States. The games got their start in Asia and were inspired by video games based on a similar premise — a player trapped in a room had to solve a series of riddles to advance to the next level. The first documented escape room opened in 2007 in Tokyo and quickly spread throughout Asia and Europe before landing in the U.S. in 2012 with the opening of Real Escape Room in San Francisco.

In 2014, Welch said there were between 22 and 24 escape room companies in the U.S.

“As of July of this year, there were 1,950 — and we were counted in that,” she said. “So we went from 22 to 1,950 in three years.”

The city home to the most escape games is Beijing with 182, while Los Angeles is the top city in the U.S. with 23. Welch said there are either seven or eight rooms in Montana in cities such as Missoula, Great Falls and Billings.

The former political consultant said she chose to open her escape game in Whitefish because of the town’s resident base and influx of tourists. To succeed, escape game businesses must constantly attract new customers — after all, a game can only be played once.

“Once I have three games up, you can be a customer of mine three times and then, until I tear it out and replace it with something else, you’re done,” Welch said.

Her plan is to open three games — North Fork Cabin, which opened in September; Vigilantes which is set to open in November; and a third will take shape in the spring.

Welch’s guests have varied widely, from a children’s birthday party to a group of attorneys. She noted that escape games work well for corporate team-building events and bachelor or bachelorette parties, too.

“A group that gets through really fast, gets through in about 50 minutes,” she said. “Every group has a different experience.”

Welch discovered the games during a visit to Florida to see her brother. Over the course of her two-week trip, she played three different games. And after retiring from the political consulting world, Welch needed something to keep her busy and this was it.

“It looked like a decent business model, but what really attracted me is the employees seemed to really enjoy their jobs and that was important to me,” Welch said. “Bringing something like this to the community is just cool. It’s a fun thing for people to do, it’s a fun job to be able to give to some people. It’s exciting.”

Hidden Key Escape Games, at 5790 U.S. 93 S., is open from Tuesday through Saturday. On weekdays, games run from 2 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., and from noon to 9:30 p.m. on weekends.

Reporter Mackenzie Reiss may be reached at 758-4433 or mreiss@dailyinterlake.com.

Escaping into a Game

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You can read the Flathead Beacon article here  The article on their website includes some great photos from GREG LINDSTROM | FLATHEAD BEACON

Escaping into a Game

Hidden Key Escape Games in Whitefish offer life-size, immersive puzzles with detailed storylines

WHITEFISH — You’re in a hurry, but for good reason: there’s an emergency.

Some hikers have gone missing, and it’s your responsibility to help find them. As part of search and rescue efforts, you wander up the North Fork, looking for the missing people, when you stumble upon a cabin. It would make sense that they might be in there, so sure, why not check it out?

But something is amiss as soon as you walk in — you can feel it. The door closes behind you and — click — you’re trapped.

And that’s when the game starts. Can you figure out the puzzles inside in time to escape from this cabin?

The cabin interior is actually space within Hidden Key Escape Games, newly opened on U.S. Highway 93 just south of Whitefish in what was formerly the Stumptown Anglers building.

Owner Sandy Welch fell in love with escape games while visiting her father and brother in Florida. In these games, which are gaining popularity around the country, two to 10 participants are placed in a locked room full of hands-on puzzles to solve as they work to escape within an hour.

“It’s just so much fun,” Welch said one morning last week as she fixed up some of the props.

Welch played several escape games in Florida while on vacation and couldn’t shake the desire.

“Since then I’ve played in Tennessee, Arizona, New York, and Canada, and just thought it would be something really great for Whitefish,” she said.

When she decided to dive in and start up Hidden Key, Welch hired a consultant to help with the actual puzzles. Though the game is specifically built to mirror a Montana situation, Welch wanted it to be accessible for everyone. That means not making the puzzles too challenging, not quite yet.

Welch beta-tested the consultant’s work and found it was almost too easy. So she and her family and friends added their own puzzles, which have become her favorites.

Already, Hidden Key has ushered a considerable amount of participants through the North Fork cabin scenario, including a law firm, a health-care office, a 12-year-old’s birthday party, three generations of one family, and bachelorette parties.

In her first month in business, Welch reports that she’s hit the target averages she was hoping for, and she hopes business will continue to pick up with the addition of new games.

In November, Hidden Key will introduce another game, this time set in Bannack, Montana in 1864. It was a time of unrest and infamous vigilantes and gold rushes, and players will be deputized before entering Sheriff Henry Plummer’s office.

Plummer was a real sheriff in the Montana and Idaho territories in the 1860s, and vigilantes hanged him in 1864. Game players will be faced with a series of challenges in the office as well as the neighboring saloon.

Welch was working on the new game sets last week, with barn wood already installed on the floors to give the rooms a sense of time and place, and was planning on painting a piano from 1875 before constructing the bar.

Little details help bring the game to life, as do the five game masters working for Hidden Key who are on hand to make sure the experience runs smoothly.

“We’re here so that people have a good time,” Welch said, showing a control room where game masters can watch cameras and listen to microphones in every room.

People who haven’t played before generally have two concerns, she said. First, they’re actually locked in a room, and second, they worry about feeling stupid because they can’t figure it out.

“You can always get out the way you came in,” Welch said, noting that the point of the game is to exit a different door.

And there’s a job for everyone, she said.

“There have been people who say, ‘I’m not good at this, but I like puzzles.’ They usually figure out the hard stuff,” Welch said with a laugh. “Everybody gets to do something, even if you’re just a good searcher.”

A third game, which will likely take up the back building currently used for storage, is expected in late winter or early spring. Welch has been dreaming of the puzzles for it already, and of the smiles and laughter from the people escaping.

“It’s just a great communication and teamwork kind of experience,” she said. “By the time you leave, you now have a shared experience.”

For booking and other information, visit www.HiddenKeyEscapeGames.com or call (406) 823-0564.

That’s One Way to Escape!

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A new door from one room to the other. The log cabin has four inch thick cedar walls. Lots of sweet cedar sawdust! Thanks Jim, great job on demolition and construction.

The Latest Statistics Are Out

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A big thank you to David and Lisa at REA for their diligent work.

There are almost 2,000 Escape Room companies in the US today. Hidden Key is one of them!

Read their article here.

Walls making Escape Game Rooms

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Walls are going up. This door is the entry to our first escape game room with the Game Master office to the side. Next will be electronics buried into the wall before sheetrock and paint.

The Most Important Key

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Got the key to the building last week. I was so excited with so much to do I forgot to post it!
I'll get better. There is so much to share.

Vigilante Headquarters

Vigilante Headquarters

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We took a trip to Virginia City to do some research on our Vigilantes room. It was great inspiration and will give our rooms some wonderful touches. Most of the buildings were made of very plain wood, set in every direction you can imagine!

 

Vigilante Headquarters
The building identified as the Vigilante Headquarters of the mid 1860’s.

 

Vigilante Oath
A photo of the oath the original Vigilantes signed.

 

There are lots of stories as to the Vigilantes being good guys or just out to get rid of their enemies.

 

Dance Hall
This building was thought to be the dance hall in the 1860’s.

 

This was likely the building where a lot of the characters from the Vigilante and Sheriff Plummer time period spent some time.

 

Some interesting interior shots. The wallpaper and tin ceilings were in many buildings. Hurricane type lanterns were the lighting of the day. The white wall covering seemed to just be nailed on but interestingly didn’t rip.

 

Barbershop
Barbershop
Store
Store
An old shop
I read about women putting up white sheets inside their log cabins. I think this is what that would look like.

 

We are doing all we can to make sure you step back in time when you enter our Vigilantes room!

Play the Northfork Cabin or Vigilante Escape Now!

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The Northfork Cabin Escape game is open and getting great reviews! The Vigilantes Escape Room Game is now open!

We have games available in the evenings during the week, weekend games are available afternoons and evenings. See our Book Now page for specific times.

If you are looking for something special give us a call! We will open for special occasions and business events outside of normal operating hours.

Looking for a Location

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I’m in the process of looking for a location in or around Whitefish. If you know of a great space that we can do our build out let us know!