It started as an activity for students, but when Code Rulers Escape Room owners Sharece Johnson and Jeremy Hilledge saw its potential outside the classroom, they turned their creative energies toward the business they opened June 11 in Collinsville.
It’s located at 850 Vandalia St. in Suite 210.
Patrons enter the room and have an hour to solve clues, riddles and puzzles based on a theme.
Johnson said this form of alternative entertainment also fosters skills like listening, teamwork and reasoning. Hilledge said it’s an activity that brings people together, letting them resist —at least for a little while — the draw of their cell phones.
Right now, one room is operating with a pop culture theme. A Titanic-themed room will open this month. Rooms will change out every couple months.
Q: What is an escape room?
A: SJ: “Escape rooms are physical activities where you’re with a group of anywhere from two to 12 people and you’re solving a series of riddles and clues using logic and deductive reasoning to accomplish a shared goal — to escape the room — within a certain time frame. And our time frame is 60 minutes.”
Q: If you can’t solve the puzzles, are you just left in the room?
A: SJ: “No, we let you out. And technically you’re not locked in there. You can come and go freely at any time. There’s a little less fanfare if you don’t make it. We have a sign that says ‘We made it out,’ so if you made it out you get to record your time.”
Q: What’s the fastest time you’ve seen here so far?
A: JH: “Fifty-two minutes and 30 seconds.”
Q: Your rooms have themes to them. What themes are currently in use?
A: SJ: “Right now we have the pop culture museum, so it looks more like an exhibit. This month we’ll open the Titanic Time, and the goal there is to stop the ship from sinking. We plan to change the rooms in about September-ish, and we definitely know we want to do something like a back-to-school theme or a sports theme for football season.”
Q: What drove you to open this business?
A: SJ: “We did this for the students at a school that we work at. It turned out really well; they were able to use soft skills like attention to detail, critical thinking, leadership, teamwork, all of those things. As we explored escape rooms on our own in the St. Louis area, we thought ‘Man, this is a good thing to bring over to the Illinois side.’”
Q: Who are your targeting when you design and build an escape room?
A: JH: “Anybody that enjoys a challenge, likes to problem solve or critically think. People who like to do trivia, puzzles, or who watch game shows that are more intellectually stimulating than others. I also like to think that we target teams, whether it’s a business team or sales team or marketing team or something like that. When we started this, it was about the teamwork with students and showing them these soft skills you can learn doing an activity like this. People who like to go sit at a movie and not be challenged; I don’t know that they would love this.”
A: SJ: “I would say anyone who’s looking for physical entertainment, people who maybe like laser tag, who like being outside or who like competitive challenges, they would probably find this as something that holds their attention. For the passive person who likes a movie, maybe not as much. Because this is really interactive, really engaging.”
Q: Generally, it seems like interactive activities like this are more common now than before, like painting parties or crafting parties. Why are places like this springing up?
A: JH: “I think as society continues to get bigger and we get farther away from people, we have to try to create opportunities to bring people back together. It’s so easy to turn your phone on and play a game and tune out to everything that’s going on around you. I think this is a little bit of a resistance to that mentality. I think it’s important, it’s a reaction in opposition to what’s going on with the advancement of technology.”
Q: A positive opposition?
A: JH: “I think so. I think it restores a balance.”
Q: What reactions do you get from folks who’ve been here? Do they come out of the room different than when they went in?
A: JH: “For the most part. You definitely get a lot of positive feedback. I think it’s one of those things that they talk to us about for five or 10 minutes and then they’re out the door, but you run into them a week or two later and they’re still talking about it. It’s so outside the norm for them.”
Q: It seems like this offers the rare opportunity for people to still learn something even though they’re out for a social occasion.
A: SJ: “You come here and you do this as a team activity and more than likely, people go to lunch or dinner after. And then it’s more time for them to talk about this. That’s less time for them to be self-absorbed or buried in their own phones. It’s fostering communication.”
Q: It also seems like this is evergreen, something people can keep coming back to since you’re always changing themes.
A: SJ: “Before people leave, they always ask when the next room opens and when we’re changing rooms.”
Q: Is it hard to keep coming up with the themes and challenges?
A: JH: “I don’t really think it is. Sharece and I work so differently, and we compliment each other so well that once we get an idea in our head, it’s very simple to run with it and create clues around it and stage it. I don’t find that to be terribly challenging. The hard part is implementing our ideas.”
Q: You could go on forever with this?
A: JH: “As long as you can keep coming up with themes and implement what you want to implement, I don’t see an end game to it. As long as people are interested in doing these experiences and there’s a need for it, you can just continue to run with it.”
A: Q: Do you have plans to take your business elsewhere aside from this location?
JH: “We talked about doing pop-up shops in October when we get to Halloween time, going different places that have a room we can rent and set up for a month. We’re hoping that by bouncing around with those pop-up shops that we can get a little more exposure. And if things go well, we want to get bigger. We’ve done some before with two floors and outdoor areas. Being in an office complex like we are now limits what we can do. If we had more space in any direction, we could go crazy.”
Sharece Johnson and Jeremy Hilledge
- Job: Co-owners, Code Rulers Escape Room in Collinsville
- Purpose: Offer stimulating, challenging entertainment and foster communication and interaction between groups and teams.