Escape room comes to North Little Rock 

'Locked room' mystery takes hold.

PONDERING: James Burris (foreground) and Joseph Hoke try to make their escape. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • PONDERING: James Burris (foreground) and Joseph Hoke try to make their escape.

The room, which looks like a rather shabby vice principal's office, is securely locked, an electronic key pad on the door the only hope of escape without crying for mercy. Inside the room, four students from the William H. Bowen School of Law of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock — Lauren Kuhlmann, Joseph Hoke, Rachel Freeman and James Burris — frantically paw through papers, books and files, looking for the clue that will eventually lead them to a combination lock. Opening that lock will lead to other clues, which lead to other locks, and eventually, hopefully, to freedom. Unseen, the one who built the room looks on through one-way glass, smiling at his victims' confusion, periodically feeding them frustratingly vague hints via a handheld radio. On a shelf nearby, a digital clock with blood-red numbers, worthy of a movie about a comet on a collision course with Earth, counts down to zero. Every five minutes, the ominous drum of a rapid heartbeat is piped in through speakers, upping the tension. Will they escape in time?

While locked-room mystery games have been popular on smartphones for years, there's something surreal about watching flesh-and-blood people try to solve the real thing. At Central Arkansas Escape Rooms, located at 109 E. C Ave. on Park Hill in North Little Rock, that's exactly what patrons get: one thin hour to solve a mystery by following a winding series of puzzles and clues. We won't spoil the game by telling you specifics on what those puzzles and clues are, but they are clever and devious.

Though the escape room concept is big in Europe and on the east and west coasts of the U.S., the room on Park Hill is the area's introduction to the concept. Admission is $20 per person. The room can accommodate groups of up to eight, with groups of four or more recommended for the best chance to escape.

Jeremy Rhodes was the man behind the one-way glass the day we visited the rented storefront, which is next to a massage therapist's office. With six co-founders, Rhodes opened Central Arkansas Escape Rooms on Thanksgiving weekend 2015. They have since hosted around 70 groups for the facility's initial puzzle, which puts groups in the office of a fictional paranormal investigator who has disappeared while on the verge of blowing the lid off a dark conspiracy. Rhodes said the plan is to change the scenario every three months, with the next being a magic and science-themed puzzle called "The Alchemist's Laboratory," due to premiere in March.

Though there are turn-key escape room scenarios that you can buy, Rhodes said that when he and his co-founders started thinking about bringing the concept to Central Arkansas, it was important to them to do it all from scratch, from writing the script to building the puzzles to solve. Their room initially had too many props, Rhodes said, with extraneous knick-knacks quickly turning into red herrings that threw beta testers off the real trail.

"We learned a lot in the process," Rhodes said. "When we first started out, we put a lot into the room. We put way too much. Our beta testers were just grinding to a halt." With the miscellaneous items in the room thinned considerably, Rhodes said the current solve rate stands at about 50 percent, with half the teams making it out in an hour. The quickest a group has solved the room was a team of computer engineers, who strolled out with just over 22 minutes to spare. Regardless of success, Rhodes said players he's talked to overwhelmingly find the experience fun and rewarding.

"We've had all kinds of different groups," he said. "My favorites are the three-generational groups. You'll have the little kid, and he solves a big part of the puzzle. Then grandpa comes in, and he's got something. Everybody has a part that they play."

With escape rooms popular for intense team-building exercises, Rhodes said the owners plan to eventually move to a larger facility so they can do more scenarios simultaneously, along with hosting larger groups. He said they're in talks with the Arkansas Literary Festival to do a book-themed puzzle during the festival in spring, and hope to present intense, five-minute puzzles at local conventions.

As the clock ticked down on the four law school students inside the room, Rhodes got positively giddy when he saw they had lucked upon a clue that could have given them a shortcut to the way out and a spot on the leaderboard. Distractions arise, however, and Lady Luck's shot at glory is bypassed and ignored. With just four minutes and 21 seconds to spare, the group finally found the clue they needed and raced to the keypad, the four friends emerging seconds later, a little frazzled but all smiles. All reported having a great time, which they said was a way to blow off steam after finals.

Burris said he was skeptical about the idea but had a great time once he was in the moment. "It was the onslaught of everything," he said. "You'd get one clue, and you're starting to look at it, and then somebody would find something else. You'd get distracted, and then you'd think: Well, maybe my clue doesn't work until we get something else figured out. That was also part of the fun of it, too."

Central Arkansas Escape Rooms is open 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, and 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday. For more information or to book tickets, visit centralarescapes.com. Tickets are $20 a person.


From the ArkTimes store


Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

More by David Koon

  • Both sides rest in federal civil suit over 2011 police beating, to the jury tomorrow

    Attorneys for both the plaintiff and the defendant have rested this evening in a federal civil suit by a man who was beaten in October 2011 by an off-duty LRPD Lieutenant outside a restaurant in the Heights. After closing arguments tomorrow morning beginning at 9 a.m., the case will go to the jury.
    • Jun 13, 2017
  • Alleged LRPD brutality civil suit in federal court: Day One

    Some tense moments in federal court today as attorneys squared off for a federal civil trial sought by a Little Rock man who was pummeled by a Little Rock police lieutenant  in October 2011 outside a restaurant on Kavanaugh Boulevard. As seen in a bystander's video of the incident, Chris Erwin was struck at least 7 times in the face by Little Rock Police Lt. David Hudson outside Hillcrest's Ferneau restaurant on Oct. 29, 2011. Hudson was working off-duty security at the restaurant at the time.
    • Jun 12, 2017
  • Federal judge dismisses lawsuit over Sherwood's hot check court

    A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed last August against the city of Sherwood over a hot check court attorneys say operated as an unconstitutional "debtor's prison" that trapped poor defendants on a treadmill of debt and incarceration for years and in some cases, decades.
    • Jun 8, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

Most Shared

  • Hutchinson lobbyist moves to Teacher Retirement System

    Rett Hatcher, director of legislative affairs for Gov. Asa Hutchinson, has left the governor's staff to go to work Wednesday as deputy director of the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System.
  • Obamascare

    Republicans at long last may be about to see their most fervent wishes and wildest predictions materialize — millions of people losing their medical and hospital coverage, unaffordable insurance, lost jobs, a Medicare financial crisis, mushrooming federal budget deficits and fiscal crises across state governments.
  • Megyn vs. Alex

    As vigorously hyped broadcast events go, Megyn Kelly's televised confrontation with internet conspiracy cultist Alex Jones proved something of a dud.
  • Monkey wrenches

    Junior is 17 now, and shows no interest in driving, or even taking the driving test. It's got his Old Man a little concerned, and not just because we're running a car service for one these days.

Latest in A&E Feature

  • Hard edges

    The 59th Delta provokes thoughts about why we love our unnatural lawns, and what is real, anyway?
    • Jun 22, 2017
  • Read a book

    Summer recommendations from a few voracious readers.
    • Jun 15, 2017
  • On the 'Vagical Mystery Tour'

    'The Daily Show' writer Lizz Winstead is showing up for repro rights.
    • Jun 8, 2017
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »


  1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30  

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Summer hopes

    • Maybe they'll hit 7 wins again and spend the holidays in Shreveport! HUZZA!

    • on June 22, 2017

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation