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Escape room phenomenon comes to Lancaster

A trip to Escape Room Lancaster is like a trip to another time and place.

Greeting players with a cobblestone corridor and Sherlock Holmes' front door, Escape Room sweeps visitors away to 19th century London. And that's only the entryway.

The concept of a unique, interactive escape room began in Asia and Eastern Europe. Escape rooms have gained popularity in the United States, primarily in big cities. Dimitri and Mary Papadimitriou, the owners of Escape Room Lancaster, were inspired after they visited one in Philadelphia. They loved the experience, and felt compelled to open their own.

"My cousin told me about it. He said, 'You have to try this!' So we did and we had a blast," Dimitri Papadimitriou said.

Escape rooms are a gaming experience in which participants work together as a team with the goal of using a variety of clues to solve puzzles so they can "escape" from a locked room, all inside 60 minutes. Lots of people are familiar with escape room apps, but figuring out solutions in an interactive environment takes the experience to a completely new level.

Escape Room Lancaster welcomes players with walls decorated with Pinterest-inspired collages and a lounge area that's sleek and modern.

Before playing, participants are given a set of rules to follow; one of those rules is to keep the room's mysteries to themselves after they escape. When it's time for players to be "locked in," they travel down the cobblestone street past playful, familiar-looking front doors. Outside each door hangs a sign that displays the best escape time for each room.

Players can choose one of three rooms for the game during the online booking process: a 1920s Lancaster train station; modern art gallery heist; or medieval castle.

Each room is decorated to immerse players in the game's environment. The themed props and set pieces provide clues and puzzles, and each room has a secret to discover. The Papadimitrious worked closely with Daniele Colombo, a consultant from Europe, to set up the clues and puzzles. Colombo's goal was to make the puzzles tricky but not too difficult. "We won't keep you locked in," Dimitri Papadimitriou joked.

Escape Room Lancaster offers players challenges, but having fun is the top priority; players who get stuck will be given help. Each room has a different way of communicating hints, so even the hints maintain the room's theme and atmosphere.

The Papadimitrious invited friends to test each room to make sure game play was designed appropriately.

Katie Forrester, a Lancaster resident and one of the test players, escaped with three minutes to spare, saying, "How often do we get to play detective as adults? I'm not so sure I really wanted to escape. I loved the challenge and the collaboration! What an absolute blast."

The fun of solving puzzles as a group works well for parties and corporate team-building. Mary Papadimitriou explained that the number one tip for success is to communicate. "It's very important to tell everyone what you're seeing when you look around. I've seen groups get stuck because one person sees a clue, but doesn't think to tell everyone else."

Another important piece of advice is to work only with the props that are movable. If something is affixed or has a "do not touch" sticker on it, move on, because it's not part of the clues or puzzles. Plus, players don't need to have knowledge about anything outside of the room, so no electronic devices or cell phones are allowed.

Children can enjoy the fun, too. The Papadimitrious recommend that children who participate are at least 10 years old and accompanied by an adult, more for their safety than for puzzle-solving.

"Oh, yeah, our kids did it. They had a lot of fun," Mary Papadimitriou said.

Escape Room Lancaster is located in the Station Square Shopping Center, directly across from Lancaster's newly renovated Amtrak train station. Dimitri, who also owns Hammerhead Custom Carpentry has completely transformed the space, which had previously housed a tattoo parlor.

The operating hours for the summer will be most weekday nights and weekends. Participants will be able to purchase individual tickets for a rate of $24 per person. Up to eight players are allowed in a room at one time. Individuals and groups can book online at Escape Room Lancaster's website.