Edwardsville High School girls soccer players spent a recent Saturday morning team building, but they did it in an unlikely place — miles from the nearest sports field.
They were at Beast Escape Room in Glen Carbon, where people pay to get locked in an office suite, then work their way out by solving a puzzle.
“It was so much fun,” said Jane Ann Crabtree, 17, of Glen Carbon, one of three team captains. “We were frustrated at the end because we didn’t finish. If we had just had a few more minutes, we would have found the evidence.”
The “evidence” was a file folder hidden in a private investigator’s office. It contained incriminating information on the “beast,” as well as a key to unlock the door.
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The girls had to work together, scavenging for clues in desk drawers, on bulletin boards, behind computers and under waste baskets. They had one hour.
“It’s like an Easter egg hunt for big kids,” said Beast owner Kyle West, 29, of Highland.
But the puzzles he creates are much more challenging than just finding hidden objects. They require people to think.
Someone may find a key under a lamp and use it to open a briefcase, only to find another clue leading to a photograph with double meaning or a piece of paper with markings that need to be decoded.
“I like seeing people’s brains trying to solve the puzzles,” said Kyle, who watches from computer monitors in another room. “You can see in the physical world what they’re thinking because of what their hands are doing.”
Escape rooms have become trendy in Asia, Europe, Australia and the United States in the past 10 years. A half-dozen operate in the St. Louis area. Beast is the only metro-east location.
Businesses, organizations and sports teams use escape rooms to improve communication and encourage teamwork, while friends and families do it for fun.
“It’s a good activity for someone who isn’t into sports but who wants to feel that competition-based adrenaline rush that you can get with sports,” Kyle said.
Abby Federmann, assistant coach for Edwardsville varsity girls soccer, arranged two sessions for the team, dividing into groups of about 10 players each.
“Last season, we were successful, but we weren’t quite as connected as I wanted us to be,” she said. “I thought we should do some team building to get the girls communicating with teammates that they wouldn’t normally be with in a social setting.”
Kyle laid a few ground rules: Solving the puzzle would not require moving furniture, taking pictures off walls, shaking objects or removing anything such as electrical tape.
The girls could ask for help by shouting, “Kyle, we need a clue!” He listens with headphones and communicates via computer monitor.
The team’s first session started with a huddle and cheer: “Five, six, seven, eight, Tigers!”
Girls entered the office suite and quickly spread out among three rooms. The first contained the investigator’s desk. The second had a conference table and bulletin board with a world map and numbered photos of gorillas.
Taylor Hansen, 16, of Edwardsville, made a beeline for the third room, where sparse furnishings included a putting machine.
“I have bucket of golf balls, and there’s a putter in here!” she called out to the others.
Girls carefully examined the computer, shredder, tape recorder, camera, telephone, coffee maker, dart board, artificial plant and even a blazer hanging on a wall hook.
Emily Kolo, 18, of Edwardsville, made it her mission to open a red wooden box, despite not having combinations to its three locks.
“I’ve guessed these before without having a clue,” she said, sitting on the floor, spinning the dial. “Maybe I can do it again.”
A timer counted down the minutes, increasing the girls’ sense of urgency. Voices and movements became more frantic. The group requested their first clue after 19 minutes.
At times, everyone seemed to be talking at once. Cheers erupted whenever someone found hidden items, such as a jar full of fake money.
“This is stressful,” said Marissa Bogner, 17, of Edwardsville. “There’s so much to do, and we’re running out of time!”
The girls didn’t make deadline, but they came extremely close, and Kyle showed them how to solve the puzzle before taking a photo for the Beast Wall of Fame.
“I had no idea what to expect,” Jane Ann said. “I had never been to an escape room. It was cool. I would definitely do it again with a different scenario.”
Kyle is a Troy native and 2009 graduate of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. He studied video production and business and helped produce a Quincy newscast before starting his own photo-booth business.
“My dad and I built the original photo booth for my sister’s wedding, and it held 20 to 30 people,” he said. “Someone said, ‘That’s not a photo booth. That’s a photo beast.’”
The name stuck and eventually Kyle expanded, opening Beast Escape Room in October.
Today, it consists of two office suites with a third in production. The soccer team chose “The Investigation.” The other one, “Trapped Friends,” has a medical theme.
“You have an hour to get in, save your friends and escape,” according to the website description.
Sessions cost $25 per person. Reservations are made online with time slots available in the afternoon and evening Tuesdays through Fridays and all day Saturdays and Sundays.
Kyle is constantly dreaming up new puzzles, which he tests out with family and friends.
“The more of these that you’ve done, the (more) familiar you are with the game, and the better chances you have of getting out,” he said.
At a glance
- What: Beast Escape Room
- Where: 4517 Illinois 159, Suite 4 in Glen Carbon
- Cost: $25 per person
- Reservations available: Afternoon and evening Tuesdays through Fridays and all day Saturdays and Sundays
- Information: Visit www.beastescaperoom.com, call 618-530-7341 or email email@example.com