Jennifer Everetts never planned to own an escape room, but when she went on a family trip to Cincinnati in December 2015, she surprised her six grown children with an escape room adventure — something new for her family.
“The kids kept talking about it and were saying, ‘Muncie needs an escape room. We need an escape room in Muncie,’” Everetts said. “And I said, ‘Yeah, that would be a fun thing — somebody ought to do that — and I didn’t really think it would be us.’”
About eight months later in July 2016, Everetts found herself opening the original Escape Muncie building in the Blue Heron Plaza on North Pauline Avenue. She said she gave the idea some thought, and — after brainstorming from her son Andrew Walker — came up with room themes for visitors to solve puzzles in a designated time frame with their groups.
Jennifer Everetts said she wanted a stable fundraiser to support her and her husband’s nonprofit Journey Home Jamaica, which is what inspired her to buy the Blue Heron Plaza and open Escape Muncie. The ministry, founded in 2011, serves foster and orphaned children and women in distress in Jamaica.
“That’s primarily why we opened to begin with, because we had Journey Home Jamaica established and we were taking teams over and we were taking trips and stuff, but raising money to do nonprofit work like that takes a lot of work,” she said. “We were trying to brainstorm ways to have fundraisers that weren’t as hard as car washes and that kind of work, but that we would see a return on. So, we had the idea to open an escape room and use the funds for the ministry.”
Book an Escape Muncie escape room
It costs $25 per person to book an escape room at the original Escape Muncie location and at The Adventures of Gilbert and Maude. Bookings can be completed online or by calling 765-729-0196. While Jennifer Everetts recommends having a group with four to six people for most of the puzzles, accommodations can be made to fit a group of any size.
Both locations are open Monday – Saturday, 3 p.m. – midnight.
Source: Jennifer Everetts, owner of Escape Muncie
Everetts knew the Blue Heron Plaza buildings were vacant because her husband, Bruce Everetts, worked in the Taylor Architects building next door as a partner and project architect. The two of them together bought the plaza buildings at once and had been working on a new building name and themed escape rooms for years after the original Escape Muncie opened. They came up with The Adventures of Gilbert and Maude, Muncie’s newest escape room adventure.
“People had played all four of our games, and they were begging for more,” Everetts said. “It takes two or three months to really work out a game to make sure that it actually works. So instead of changing out our rooms, we decided to purchase another building.”
While they wanted to open The Adventures of Gilbert and Maude last year, Jennifer Everetts said, the couple took time off from the project during the COVID-19 pandemic and decided to open the second location in June 2021, coinciding with Escape Muncie’s fifth anniversary. With the success and repeat customers Escape Muncie has seen, Everetts said she is encouraged for the future of The Adventures of Gilbert and Maude and excited for the opportunity to support multiple charities beyond her own.
“I thought this could be fun if it was a fundraiser that was open all the time that people could come to all the time and come back to again and again,” Everetts said. “Once you’ve established it, you don’t have to do all the work.”
Everetts wants to grow Escape Muncie’s community presence by hosting Food Truck Fridays and other events in the parking lot, and she is considering sponsoring a community mural across the outside of the Blue Heron Plaza involving Ball State art students.
To run Escape Muncie and direct the escape room games, Everetts said, she relies on the help of multiple employees so she can focus on her art labs, coming up with new escape room ideas and marketing all four of her plaza businesses.
Susan Harris, senior hospitality and theater creations double major at Ball State, was introduced to Escape Muncie by her best friend Julia Tharp in December 2020. Tharp was looking for jobs in Muncie and applied to Escape Muncie, where she needed to learn how to play the games before being allowed to run them. Tharp took Harris to play every escape room with her.
"By the time I played all the games, I got to know Jen really well and she asked if I wanted a job too," Harris said. "It was kind of a unique way to get hired because I knew all the games before even needing to jump in."
Harris said most of Escape Muncie's customers have never played an escape room before. Employees walk them through how the locks work and offer unlimited hints if customers are struggling.
"I think our guests really enjoy [unlimited hints] because the pressure is gone," Harris said. "We want them to escape — it's more fun if they get to. If they don't escape, we walk them through how they could have."
Harris said Jennifer Everetts created instruction books on how to reset the rooms between groups. The most important task, Harris said, is throwing away the paper that previous groups wrote on and getting out fresh paper for the next group to solve puzzles.
"I love watching people and the things they do and what they come up with that are so cool and creative," Harris said. "There's also this joy that you get from kids to adults figuring out these puzzles — I love watching that happen."
Harris also works in the Splat Lab and Let There Be Art! studio if Everetts asks her to pick up a studio booking. Harris said her favorite part of the job is watching people solve escape rooms and coming back to play more.
"Escape rooms are definitely a different level of thinking, nothing is a coincidence," she said. "That's probably the most fun part of doing an escape room is figuring out the different paths. Once you do one, you kind of get addicted."
The Everetts are closely involved with the Ball State community, often inviting students from immersive learning classes to the escape rooms close to the beginning of the semester for icebreaker opportunities.
“It’s so much fun,” Jennifer Everetts said. “What we see is that they don’t know each other at first and, then, after 20 minutes, they are learning to know each other, and they start working together because their end goal is — in 60 minutes — to get out of this escape room.”
While the creation of new escape rooms is a lengthier process, The Adventures of Gilbert and Maude course already has two rooms open: On Safari and The Pirates of the Caribbean. On Safari features Gilbert and Maude visiting their friends, Dorothy and John, but John goes missing while trying to find elephants. The players then have 60 minutes to follow clues and try to discover John's location. The Everetts said this puzzle has a completion rate of 5 percent and is recommended for an expert-level player.
“We like for people who have played all our other games to come into our new games and have a different experience,” Bruce Everetts said. “The biggest challenge, really, is in just the creative approach — to create an experience that's different from everything else.”
Pirates of the Caribbean is rated at a moderate difficulty level with a completion rate of 60 percent, Jennifer Everetts said. Gilbert and Maude are on a cruise when their ship is attacked by pirates. They sacrifice themselves to save the passengers and later find a map in the captain’s quarters, which inspires them to investigate the possibility of hidden treasure. The difficulty of the games, which the Everetts create themselves, is decided by the completion rate of all the groups that participate.
“In the original Escape Muncie, we had four different rooms that were all very different in the experience, and all of the box games are very different in their experience as well,” Bruce Everetts said. “In Gilbert and Maude, there’s at least a common theme so that, when you’ve played one of the games, you can go to the next one to get a consistency in the experience.”
The original location’s rooms include the theater, mansion, classroom and grandma’s living room, along with four box games — portable games that can be set up on a table — and two circus-themed games in a box truck outside of the building.
“You can play those either out in the parking lot, or we can bring them to your events,” Jennifer Everetts said. “The games are enclosed in our truck, so it’s just like a room.”
Jennifer Everetts said the next room in The Adventures of Gilbert and Maude — the castle — should be open in 2022. Once all games are opened, Escape Muncie will have built 17 games total, five of them being the escape rooms in the Blue Heron Plaza.
Bruce Everetts said his favorite part about running Escape Muncie is connecting with people and building friendships.
“Talking with people after the game and building friendships has been very rewarding,” Bruce Everetts said. “We can see the benefit of the service we’re providing, but we’ve also made a lot of good friends, and that’s been fantastic.”
Grace McCormick also contributed to this article.
Contact Lauren Clark with comments at email@example.com.