With four escape rooms in Nottingham city centre, it could appear that these team-building puzzle scenarios are becoming a standard in the city’s things-to-do. But what is an escape room?

“The hardest part is trying to explain what they are”, said Mark Thompson, director and keymaster of maze room Cryptology. “It’s a bit like The Crystal Maze, except unlike it being one puzzle for a couple of minutes, its a series of puzzles over an hour.”

Growing in popularity, these puzzle rooms have seemingly taken Nottingham by storm. Joining Cryptology are Escapologic, Logiclock and iLocked. Pitting a group of two or above together in a room for an hour, using logic and mind games to escape, these puzzle rooms offer a completely new experience of entertainment.

“I saw this weird and funky thing called an escape room and I thought I’d give it a go”
Mark Thompson, Cryptology

For Mark, it all started with a day out in Bristol. “I was looking for something to do when I visited my friend in Bristol”, said Mark. “Then I saw this weird and funky thing called an escape room and I thought I’d give it a go. That’s when I thought I’d do my own.”

A former Maplins’ buyer, the entrepreneur has built what was one escape room into a franchise, starting a second Cryptology over in Barnsley, Yorkshire.

image4Image: One of the puzzles involves diffusing a bomb, shown above.

Being a bright-spark at high-school, with a keen interest in computing, sudoku and crossword, Mark believed that after the experience of the escape room in Bristol he was “absolutely convinced that [he] could replicate stuff similar to that.”

“Although I wasn’t confident that it would make any money, I was confident that the games I created would be competent enough against the competition.”

  • Escape rooms in the city provide a new experience of entertainment
  • Mark Thompson, owner of Cryptology: “I was confident that the games I created would be competent enough against the competition”
  • Recent escapist Nathan Asborne: “We got the full experience.”

Despite a difficult economic climate, puzzle rooms are proving themselves as being a successful business venture. “Most escape rooms aren’t closing down. I haven’t seen many go pop”, said the thirty-four year-old. “I built slowly, and when I started to expand, I started to employ more staff. The franchise that’s in Barnsley is started to grow now, with the second puzzle room opening up over there.”

“There’s four escape rooms in Nottingham, but we all compliment each other.”
Mark THompson, Cryptology

“I started this because I had a really boring job. I knew that one day I wanted to work for myself, and I knew that I had the capability to do so. When it comes to them popping up everywhere, it’s because people – like me – are looking at escape rooms and thinking ‘I can do that’, and then they go and do it.”

Audio: Escapists at Cryptology describe their experience

“The great thing about escape rooms is that there’s no competition. There’s four escape rooms in Nottingham, but we all compliment each other.” Mark continued, explaining how he saw the future of escape rooms: “But if escape rooms want to grow, they have to diversify; they have to become the next level. It needs to be more than find a key and unlock a padlock.”

As for recent escapist Isabella Burton and Nathan Asborne, they described the experience as “more difficult than I thought it would be”, with the experience “really getting your mind working.”

Finishing the experience with forty seconds to spare, Nathan said that “it got the adrenaline going. I was very happy when we got out there. The best part was the challenge; the time limit made it really excitable. We got the full experience.”