'Escape room' games arrive in Portland, South Portland

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PORTLAND — After the doors lock, you have 60 minutes to find your way out. And the people with the keys are betting against you.

This isn’t some diabolical dungeon with fiendish creators. It’s the latest, trendy entertainment venture to come to Maine, and it’s happening in Portland and South Portland.

At The Escape Room in Portland, and Maine Escape Games in South Portland, groups of customers will search for clues and solve puzzles to get out after the doors lock behind them. There are no instructions and nothing is plainly spelled out. It’s about ingenuity, communication and collaboration.

Stephen Knight, owner and creator of The Escape Room at 496 Congress St., said there are other similar diversions around the country, although his business isn’t affiliated with any others.

He said he “thought people in Portland would love it” after he visited one in Miami six months ago.

“Portland is a great little city, but it doesn’t offer anything like this,” Knight said.

The Escape Room will officially open for business on Thursday, and Knight already has bookings for opening night.

It has a single room, known as the Lodge because of its rustic feel, although Knight said he has plans to add a second room, to be called Longfellow’s Office. He said he wants to stick to a Maine theme.

Regardless of the motif, the goal is to find your way out in an hour or less. There will be clues and puzzles around the rooms, and the answer to one clue will lead you to another. Knight said people are supposed to pick things up, open cupboards – leave no stone unturned – and most importantly, work with each other.

Escape in South Portland

Rene Letourneau, co-founder and chief operating officer of Maine Escape Games, said her business at 125 John Roberts Road in South Portland will open in mid July.

Although a five-room operation is planned, only the first room, “the Maine Room,” will initially be ready.

“The idea is you are locked in a lighthouse and the lighthouse keeper has mysteriously gone missing,” Letourneau said. “You have 60 minutes to light the lighthouse and keep the harbor safe. When you’ve solved everything, you receive the final code to unlock the door and get yourself out.”

Knight and Letourneau aren’t betting on your success, however. They want the rooms to be a fairly substantial challenge.

“I don’t want them to win,” Knight said. “I want a success rate of about 20 to 25 percent.”

Letourneau said she hopes for a success rate of “35 to 40 percent.” She said they want the room to be challenging and fun.

Knight said The Escape Room is a great team-building exercise for groups and work-related events. Since it “only takes an hour,” he said, it’s not a huge time commitment, either.

“It’s good because people won’t know what to expect (going in),” Knight said. “You have to work together, you can’t be a lone wolf. You have to communicate.”

“It’s something you have to work together and strive for to accomplish,” Letourneau said.

The Escape Room can hold groups of up to 10, and the cost is $20 per person. Knight said his plan to be open Wednesday through Sunday, beginning at 5 p.m., with a new session beginning every 90 minutes.

The largest room at Maine Escape Games can also accommodate 10 people, Letourneau said, and once the smallest room is operating it will hold six. The cost will be $25 per person, and hours will be 9 a.m.-9 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday, with by-appointment hours if necessary on Mondays and Tuesdays.

While walk-ins are welcome at both venues, Knight and Letourneau said the best way to make sure you get in is to book online at escaperoomme.com and maineescapegames.com.

Every three months the clues in Portland will change, and depending on the time of year there will be different themes. Knight said he plans to do a haunted-house theme in October, and will have a larger focus on company holiday parties in winter. He said he’s considering starting a “singles night,” too.

“Next month we’re going to start serving beer and wine,” he said. “We’ll have a Ping Pong table and a TV with video games (in the waiting area).”

Letourneau said Maine Escape Games will also have themes that change with the season.

“We wanted to do a Maine theme to start with because we thought it would have a wide appeal for people who live here, but also for tourists who come here in the summer,” she said.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

Sidebar Elements

Stephen Knight is the owner of the The Escape Room at 496 Congress St., Portland, where customers must find their way out of a locked room.

Once the doors are locked, people inside have 60 minutes to find their way out of The Escape Room in Portland, using clues hidden around the room.

Alan Baldwin, left, and Rene Letourneau are two co-owners of Maine Escape Games at 125 John Roberts Road in South Portland, which is scheduled to open in mid-July.

Rene Letourneau, co-founder of Maine Escape Games at 125 John Roberts Road in South Portland, said her goal is to have up to five separate rooms for different groups. The first one will have a lighthouse theme.

Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.