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Great escape: New Fargo business brings puzzle rooms to downtown basement

Mike Webb, game host, and Belinda Schilling, owner, sit in one of two similar game rooms called "Nana's Condo" Monday, August 28, 2017, at Escape House Fargo at 14 Roberts St. The business has another room with a different puzzle and another yet to be finished. Dave Wallis / The Forum1 / 2
People need to find clues to stop the "bomb" from going off in the "Flood the City" room at Escape House Fargo at 14 Roberts St. The business has two other rooms with a different puzzle and another yet to be finished. Dave Wallis / The Forum2 / 2

FARGO—A dam is about to blow up, threatening a major flood unless special agents trapped on an old wooden boat can stop a would-be terrorist.

It sounds like a nightmare, but it's all just a fun game for bragging rights at a new downtown business.

Flood the City is one of the three varieties of rooms at Escape House Fargo, 14 Roberts St., that opened Friday, Aug. 25, in a basement space that formerly housed The New Direction concert venue until it closed last fall.

It's the newest local escape or puzzle room business, a relatively new type of activity that asks participants to solve a series of riddles to get out of a room within an hour. Locally, West Fargo's Fargo Escape Room and downtown Fargo's Puzzled FM also offer this type of entertainment.

Escape House Fargo is a sister location to a similar venue in Spring Hill, Kan., that was started by relatives of Mike Webb. He moved to Fargo five years ago for a job, and now Webb and his fiance, North Dakota native Belinda Schilling, are achieving a longtime dream by opening their own business in Fargo.

It took over a basement space, the kind of unit that might go unnoticed in a downtown boasting window-lined historic buildings. But the dark setting proved to be perfect for this business.

Schilling said it needed some work over the past couple months to recover from its past as an all-ages concert venue.

"We cleaned, cleaned, cleaned, and I filled more holes in the walls and painted and sanded more than I will ever want to do in my life," she said with a chuckle. "But it's just amazing how it transformed."

Three themes

Escape House offers three room themes, including Flood the City, which is in two spots in the basement. There are also two side-by-side rooms for Nana's Condo, a puzzle that asks players to find three cherished possessions to bring to Nana in exchange for her inheritance.

A third room, The Detective's Office, should be open in a couple weeks.

No matter the theme, Webb said looks can be deceiving, like a small space in Flood the City that seems easy to solve but has proven to be the most difficult puzzle to crack so far.

"The room is everything, and the customer's experience is everything," he said. "We want everybody's experience to be what they thought it would be or even better."

The three rooms follow different narratives, but all share a few similarities, including the fact that many participants simply overthink things, he said.

Schilling said the rooms should work for people of all ages, whether it's a group of kids with parental assistance or a team of co-workers.

Like other similar businesses in town, the two said Escape House Fargo could be a good venue for a birthday party. But they also hope to see it become a go-to activity for professionals and office workers to blow off steam, break the ice with new colleagues or serve as a fun start to a business meeting or event.

Escape House Fargo is available for bookings seven days a week for about $25 per person or $150 to reserve a room for a group of up to eight players.

Business profile

What: Escape House Fargo

Where 14 Roberts St., Fargo

Hours: Bookings available daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Phone: (701) 540-6548

Online: www.escapehousefargo.com

Ryan Johnson

Ryan Johnson is the Features Editor for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He previously wrote for The Forum and the Grand Forks Herald.

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