Travel Escape Room is Moorhead's mobile mystery machine
Sarah Carlisle has been planting a plethora of puzzles in in her trailer for the last five years, because that's how she rolls.
MOORHEAD — Sarah Carlisle wants to take you on a trip back to the ‘60s that will blow your mind.
The owner of the Travel Escape Room has decked out a 32-foot trailer in groovy Summer of Love swag - love beads cover the entry, velour-covered chairs, psychedelic art circles and pillows, funky blue lights creating a not-quite-blacklight vibe.
There’s an Area 51 warning sign and the dorm refrigerator is decorated with stickers: “The truth is out there,” and “Stay trippy, little hippie.”
Serenely looking over it all is a poster of Janis Joplin. It’s a with it flower power pad that welcomes you to Carlisle’s latest roaming riddle: “The Mysterious Disappearance of Cousin Ned.”
A cryptic video from hippie host Cousin Ned, a lover of “conspiracies, aliens and Bigfoot,” sets the scene and drops a few primo clues before he beats feet.
“Remember the mushrooms have the answer!” Ned says. “Good luck, little cousin!”
This is Carlisle’s fifth year of taking her escapist fare on the road.
The 41-year-old calls all of North Dakota and Minnesota her territory, and with prom season in full swing, she’s busy. The summer will be filled with stops at fairs, corporate events — anywhere hip people dig the idea of thinking outside of the box to escape a box.
Teams of up to eight need to leave their hang-ups behind and go with the flow in their 15- to 20-minute sessions to puzzle their way out of Cousin Ned’s trailer.
Carlisle’s last game involved a rogue artificial intelligence, but none of her games are of the scary variety she says. Scary is a bummer in her book.
Carlisle and her husband, Brandon, enjoyed their first escape room for one of his birthday celebrations. They were elated to beat the time limit with seconds to spare, she said. Definitely, out of sight.
In 2016, Carlisle created her own escape room scenario as a team-building exercise at HERE Technologies in Fargo (formerly Navteq), where she was a project leader.
It was part of a weeklong set of activities “and it was hugely popular” with her co-workers, she said.
When HERE closed its Fargo office in 2017, Carlisle decided it was time for a logical leap, and made being the chief enigma officer of Travel Esape Room her main focus.
“I was in a moment in my life where I could take a chance. So, I opened a mobile escape room,” Carlisle said.
As part of going pro with her puzzling, she did a mentorship with the owner of a Chicago-based mobile escape room, an experience she said unlocked a lot of mysteries about the business.
Her husband, Brandon, fitted up the trailer and is “the Mr. Fix-it” of the operation. He’s also not above doing a little acting in a pinch. (Duuuuude, he looks soooo much like twitchy Cousin Ned!)
Carlisle can generally cycle three groups through the game scenario in an hour, with time to straighten up the trailer and reset the game and its puzzles.
Game instructions take a few minutes, then she shuts herself into a cubby at the front of the trailer, and monitors the game as it unfolds.
The game is designed to be immersive and interactive, and players must solve a number of puzzles to win.
The trailer is outfitted with a heating and cooling unit, so Carlisle can keep on truckin’ into December, but after that, it’s hard to keep things comfortable for participants. Winter winds and icy roads also make winter travel too tough, so she’ll park it until Mother Earth brings more mellow weather.
“The thing I love is that people are in a different space,” Carlisle said.
And that’s pretty far out in her book.
“You’re in a place where you can forget your problems - and do another problem that’s a lot more fun!”