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Eye On | Escape Tactics — Cracking the code: Escape rooms challenge the mind

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Escape Tactics owner William Gant, at left, gives instructions to the group before they enter the escape room.

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William Gant wants you to have fun. He wants to give the people of the Wenatchee Valley something to do on any day of the week. He wants your mind to expand, he wants you to make new friends, and he wants to help you conquer the Escape Room.

Gant, along with longtime partner Jessica Brentner, are the owners and operators of Escape Tactics at 415 King Street in Wenatchee.

An escape room is not a panic room, nor is it a scary haunted house type activity. Escape Tactics is a giant puzzle. The goal is to unlock a lock. How you do it, however, is completely up to the patrons, and that’s what Gant likes the most about his business in downtown Wenatchee.

In the simplest form,” Gant said. “Everything about an escape room is beautiful.”

The pair lives the nomadic lifestyle and met in China. You guessed it, at an escape room. When Gant and Brentner decided to come stateside, they chose Florida as their first stop. A trip to Leavenworth in November 2016 sparked an idea in the duo. Three months later, Gant and Brentner brought their talents to North Central Washington, providing the greater Wenatchee Valley the only escape room in over 100 square miles.

Originally we did an escape room in China,” Gant said. “It was so great. The first thing I did an escape room, I thought, ‘This is the coolest thing in the world,’ not only because I’m just a gamer, I love puzzles and challenges, anything to do with the mind. But watching people come together. I thought to myself then, ‘This is the opportunity to provide an exciting opportunity for others.’ ”

After first visiting North Central Washington, it took Gant and Brentner just three months to make the 56-hour trek diagonally across the country, making Wenatchee their new home. Gant said the first time he visited Wenatchee, he immediately fell in love with the area but admitted he thought there was something missing.

We wanted to come here because firstly, there was a demand for indoor stimulating recreation,” Gant said. “And to grow with something. To be the first escape room in North Central Washington and expand the number of people that come into this beautiful valley. We want to give something for people to do here. My favorite thing is when I get calls from people in Moses Lake, or Richland, or Chelan, and they’re telling me they are coming to Wenatchee to get a piece of this escape room.”

Escape Tactics has two rooms you can escape from, and the experience starts as soon as you walk through the door. The harder one, called The Study, has about a 20 percent completion rate in the allotted hour-long timeslot. Das Feast, currently the second room in which to escape, has about a 50 percent completion rate. Gant is there dressed the part to help the guests should they need it through a video monitor in the rooms.

The Study can house a maximum of eight guests working together to achieve the common goal; Das Feast has a max of six.

Gant emphasized the fact that people do not need to know each other prior to working together in the escape room. He said that often times double daters, after hours work groups, and families make up his customer base, but also said that some of his fondest memories from the first year of Escape Tactics came from strangers working together and finishing the puzzle.

The beauty of this is the unexpected, I think,” Gant said. “There is no better way to meet people and come up with a way to overcome awkwardness than achieving a common goal. To give others an hour of happiness. It’s not about the money for me, it’s not about growing the business everywhere. It’s about when that group leaves, and I hear them talking about how fun that was, and about when they can come back. That’s what it’s about.”

Gant said that he measures his success by the word of mouth referrals and online reviews. Of 76 online Google reviews, all 76 have given Escape Tactics five stars.

Chelsea Baird of Wenatchee went as a part of a triple date and did The Study. She said the atmosphere, host, and overall experience was better than she anticipated.

We had three couples,” Baird said. “(Gant) is very eccentric. He is really nice and really cool. I loved him. It’s a bonding experience, it really is. You don’t realize what everyone does. Everyone has a different way of tackling challenges. Me, I was just throwing everything about and running around. One of the men was just observing and then throwing out ideas and directions. Only one of us even know how to unlock a lock. There is nothing else like it in the valley.”

Because there is no set demographic of escape room fans, Gant said it is somewhat difficult to market online. He relies on word of mouth for the business to flourish, and so far, he is succeeding. He also said one of the biggest challenges he has faced since opening his business at the beginning of last year, is educating the people on what an escape room actually is. Educating the public has been slow, but effective.

Aside from Gant, the face of the business and Brentner, the puzzle maker, Escape Tactics employs two other half-timers who are just as excited about escape rooms as the creators.

You know, we are looking for people who are excited about life, puzzles, and bettering themselves every day,” Gant said. “I don’t look at those people as my employees and I hope they don’t look at me as boss. We’re in this together.”

The escape rooms change appearance and flavor every year or so, and Gant said there may be a detective theme in the works for next year.

I can’t wait to go again,” Baird said.

Gant said Escape Tactics was excited to be a part of Wen-Con in April 21 at Town Toyota Center. They deployed two identical, small escape rooms for pairs of two to solve. The teams had 15 minutes to break the code and race against another pair in an adjacent, identical room.

It was a hit, with a sign-up sheet quickly filled.

Gant and Brentner would like to expand their business and mentioned there could be more on the horizon soon. In addition to the new rooms coming later this year, Escape Tactics is toying with the idea of offering an Escape Room Box – mini puzzles designed for weekly or monthly game night at home – as well as traveling chests, portable mini puzzles.

Why not?” Gant said. “Why would I say no to anything that the people want? I’m excited, they’re excited. Let’s keep this thing going.”