Drawing off the rich history of the Lake of the Ozarks and catching the tailwind of a national trend that's swept across the country, LakeEscape, the area's first live-action escape room aims to entertain and challenge locals and tourists alike in the heart of the Bagnell Dam Strip.
Drawing off the rich history of the Lake of the Ozarks and catching the tailwind of a national trend that’s swept across the country, LakeEscape, the area’s first live-action escape room aims to entertain and challenge locals and tourists alike in the heart of the Bagnell Dam Strip.
The new business, co-owned by three locals from different backgrounds, opened its door for the first time Thursday morning, offering people of all ages and intelligence levels an opportunity to discover their inner sleuth — using codes, keys, clues and tools to escape from uniquely designed rooms with creative backstories tied to the Lake.
Drew Busen, a marketer at Zimmer Radio Group; his brother Evan Busen, a firefighter for Gravois Fire Protection District; and Thor Fox, a Miller County paramedic, are not originally from the area, but have made it their home over the past decade or so. The Busen brothers, originally from a small town of about 200, Timewell, near Quincy, Ill., and Fox, originally from St. Charles, Mo., have one thing major thing in common though, they’re all escape room enthusiasts.
The trio have visited escape rooms in Canada, New York, the Niagara Falls area as well as all over Missouri from St. Louis and Springfield to Branson and Columbia, usually taking in more than one room at a time. Between the three of them, they estimated they’ve experience at least 15 to 20 escape rooms, which they’ve drawn from to create their own version in Lake Ozark.
“We’re local like everybody else, we want stuff to do. We get bored in the winter just like everybody else does. When we were going to other towns to do these, we were like think about how much fun this would be to have at the Lake?” Fox said.
Drew Busen said they wanted to take advantage of the family atmosphere and actives at the Lake, which he feels has been lacking in recent years.
“This is something that sort of transcends age groups. Grandma can’t go jump on the trampoline and you can’t take your 10-year-old to a bar, so it’s good for all ages,” Fox said. “We’ve achieved a certain synergy with the Lake because of the themes we chose.”
Speaking of the themes, LakeEscape currently offers two rooms, mostly created by Shaun McDonnell of Ozark Mountain Woodworks in Osage Beach and Craig Allen, who works full-time for MoDOT, using a lot of recycled wood from old barns in Quincy.
The first room involves escaping from the “brig” of a pirate ship into the captain’s personal study.
“You’ve been caught stealing rum from the captain’s stock, that’s not cool and it doesn’t fly. You’re going to have to walk the plank, but the first mate has made a deal with you. Because he’s a pirate, he’s willing to let you go free if you can sneak out of the jail cell, break into the captain’s private study and in the study find the name of the island where the captain hides all of his buried treasure,” Fox said. “If you can give that to him in one hour, the amount of time you have until you set sail for the open seas, he will save you from walking the plank, but if you don’t there’s nothing he can do about it.”
Inside the brig, a small room that can fit about eight people total, cabinets, hidden doors and clues written on the wall help participants solve the riddle to escape the prison and enter the captain’s study for the official one-hour game.
Old treasure chests, made-up maps and journals test the minds and instincts of anyone who dares try to escape. Before the game starts, participants watch an introductory video explaining the rules and goals of the game. As the game starts, the co-owners roll empty bottles under the door with notes reminding how much time is left and as many as three clues to help solve the riddle.
The second themed room is outfitted with artifacts donated from Ameren Missouri. Known as “The Water Wall,” the goal of the second escape room is to steal scientific research from a secret lab inside the dam before the room is flooded. Ameren donated signs, old photos and frames, as well as old power boxes and tools, while the rest of the material came from the barns in the Quincy area.
The third room, still in the works, could be escaping from a burning hotel suite or a zombie apocalypse. Fox said the average success rate of escape rooms nationwide is around 30 percent, which he feels is too low.
“We might just aim to make it easier than that,” Fox said. “We want to challenge people, but we also want them to walk out of here feeling accomplished and happy. Everybody achieves, but everyone goes down to the wire.”