No escaping Baxter students' talents at Portland amusement

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PORTLAND — Using their technical expertise, students at Baxter Academy for Technology and Science have designed interactive elements for The Escape Room on Congress Street.

“I don’t want to ruin the surprise, but in general (the students) transformed ordinary or everyday objects like mirrors, board games and artwork into complex puzzles using electronics, magnets and lasers,” David Jopp, owner of The Escape Room, said.

With the new elements provided by the Baxter Academy students, “you think the mirror will be an ordinary mirror, but it now has a surprise dual function built in,” Jopp said. “I can’t wait to see how our customers react.”

He said the partnership with Baxter Academy was an “opportunity to fill a gap for electronics and technical assistance (for us) and an opportunity for the school to put their (students) to real-world use.”

But what he wasn’t prepared for, he said, was how quickly the students “came up with some fantastic ideas. I was completely blown away by their creativity.”

The escape room concept is to lock a group of people in a room with a certain amount of time to solve puzzles and find the clues that will ultimately unlock the door.

The Congress Street business has three themed rooms: The Pharaoh’s Tomb, The Saloon and The London Blitz. Jopp said the interactive elements created by the Baxter Academy students would be “put into all three of our currents rooms over the next few weeks.”

Jonathan Amory, engineering teacher at Baxter, said working with The Escape Room was “a great opportunity for our students to design something for use beyond the classroom. This kind of partnership is so valuable in terms of providing real-world experience.”

The students who worked on The Escape Room were juniors, and Amory said when school is back in session this fall they will continue to work on some other prototypes that “still need some polishing.”

The students worked to “create one-of-a-kind products designed to baffle and amaze visitors to The Escape Room,” Jopp said in a press release. The goal, he added, was to “incorporate innovative technologies into the clues to create a varied and compelling narrative.”

Amory said before the students got to work this spring, they were able to tour The Escape Room, which allowed them to “brainstorm ways to make the clues more unique and interesting.”

The idea, according to Amory, was to “provide the whole escape room experience with more variety and creativity. We used microcontrollers to make things that look ordinary do something unexpected.”

Jopp hopes visitors to The Escape Room will appreciate the new obstacles in each of the games, saying, “This is just the start of a great and expanding partnership.”

“The school will be adding The Escape Room to their curriculum next year in both the 10th-grade engineering class and the 11th-grade advanced computer science class, and we’re hoping to (also work with) other programs the school offers, (such as creating) high quality videos,” he said.

“The opportunities to collaborate are endless.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KirishCollins.

David Jopp, owner of The Escape Room in downtown Portland, plays with a ouija board that received some surprising technical upgrades from students at the Baxter Academy for Technology and Science.

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