(l-r) Christine Brugger, 27, Mercedes Hollett, 25, and Ally Brinzea, 24, all of Bloomington, work on a clue at Code and Key Escape Room in Fountain Square Mall. Photo by Rodney Margison


Three escape room businesses—simulated entertainment experiences likened to live versions of the board game Clue—have opened in Bloomington within the last year. They’re among about 50 such businesses in Indiana, and more than 2,100 nationwide.

The fast-growing trend, developed in Japan in 2007 and inspired by video games, has flourished since coming to America in 2012. Trend watchers say escape rooms are popular because consumers want to be active and create memories with friends. Locally, costs range from $24 to $28 per person for an hour’s play.

“It’s such a fun experience, but one you can play with friends and family in real life, without looking at a screen,” says Alex Burch, who, with his wife Kate, owns Code and Key Escape Rooms in Fountain Square Mall. “You use different parts of your brain and learn to cooperate with others,” he adds. The couple, who earned graduate degrees from Indiana University, opened the business in October.

In a theme-based escape room, a group of eight to 12 works to solve a mystery or to accomplish a mission by finding word-, number- or logic-based clues hidden in props and furniture. Players have 60 minutes to solve the puzzle and escape the room. Game masters monitor rooms by closed-circuit video and offer clues.

“It’s all about problem-solving and team-building,” says Sara Dobbins, 22, an IU graduate student, who has been to Locked Up twice. The escape room opened in August at 933 N. Walnut. Dobbins says playing with other Panhellenic recruitment team members allowed the group to find strengths, such as being good at number puzzles, they didn’t know about each other. “We walked out of the experience better friends,” she says.

Maggie Reisdorf, 22, is the executive director of the local Locked Up. She’s an IU grad and says she and her co-owners—her mother Stacy Reisdorf and Duane Casteel—created stories for four rooms. Her favorite is Banner Up, which requires players to determine who stole the IU men’s basketball championship banners.

Scott Smith, of Boonville, Indiana, opened Enigma, at 2660 E. 2nd St., in March 2017. The Butler University history professor and game enthusiast also developed stories for his three rooms, with carnival kidnapping, murder mystery, and haunted dorm themes.