It's a Sunday afternoon, and the last team enters the room. It's a team of jocks — several current and former high school wrestling coaches — and the early puzzles stump them just as badly as their predecessors.

They struggle through the "H20" and "hush" puzzles and stall on the Scrabble tiles for over 30 minutes, but eventually — with the help of Chezrony's clues — they figure out the four-digit number in the tiles' pattern and make it to the final puzzle with a little more than seven minutes left.

The vast majority of the prior 26 teams never made it this far. Now a woman named Kylie Greene holds one of the symbol-covered boxes in her hands. Her boyfriend, a coach named Tim Brengle, not-so-gently attempts to pry the second box apart.

Some of the puzzle boxes from Enigima Productions' Trapped, Volume 2.
Tom Carlson
Some of the puzzle boxes from Enigima Productions' Trapped, Volume 2.
Master builder George Koval constructing puzzles in the Freeburg, Illinois, workshop.
Danny Wicentowski
Master builder George Koval constructing puzzles in the Freeburg, Illinois, workshop.

"How do we know which way this thing opens?" he says.

"Maybe we should put them together," suggests his buddy Alex Muertz, a systems analyst at Monsanto. "Maybe there's some kind of magnet inside of them?"

Greene holds her box end-to-end with her boyfriend's. Nothing. Muertz takes one of the boxes, presses the opposite side to Greene's.

"There's a key in there," he says, turning the box over, peering at the incomprehensible clutter of symbols printed on all sides. For a moment, the two boxes rest on top of each other, a slightly offset diagonal, and the boxes touch just so — just as Chezrony and Koval designed them to. The magnets inside align, and a latch pops open.

But to Greene — who hadn't gone through the hard work of matching the symbols and figuring out precisely why the boxes needed to touch the way they did — it appears as if the lid magically popped open in her hands.

"Hey," she says, dumbstruck. The key stares back at her, nestled next to a tangle of wires and a battery. "It literally just pulled open."

Her boyfriend snatches the key and walks to the door as the timer ticks past the seven-minute mark. He fits the key into the knob and turns. The door swings open. A beat passes in silence. Then everyone goes nuts.

"I can't believe it!" someone screams.

High-fives ripple across the room. Fists are bumped. The team rushes through the door. Less than hour later, they're all gathered at Llywelyn's Pub to celebrate.

"I never once thought we were going to get it," says Brengle.

The champions aren't the types for deep ruminations on strategy and problem-solving.

"It helps because we know how to talk to each other," offers Nicky Herron, a Web developer married to one of the wrestling coaches.

"We did exactly what we're doing here now," her husband quips back, chuckling. "Everybody speaking at the same time."

Back on the third floor of the rented room, Chezrony packs up the boxes and clues. He'll display them in the waiting room for Trapped: Volume 3 — which he hopes to do in July.

"They were doing average," he says of the winning team. "I don't mean that as any kind of offense; they were doing just as good as other groups were doing. But those other groups that were average never got out. It totally blew me away that they made those leaps as quick as they did at the end."

This isn't the way he'd envisioned Volume 2 to end — with yet another "mistake" win. Not after all the planning, designing and building that went into it. It's a bittersweet ending for the puzzle master.

"We executed the vision perfectly, but it was too hard," he muses. "I have to remember that even a group of ten people haven't seen or experienced a lot of the things I have, as far as gaming or movies and puzzles. They wouldn't pick up these references or these ideas."

Still, by a different measure, Trapped was a resounding success. After just two weekend runs, 265 people attempted the puzzle — nearly triple the attendance of Volume 1 back in November. And he's gotten plenty of interest from local business owners enamored with the corporate team-building potential of his escape rooms.

But the little kid in him is interested in more than just a potentially lucrative enterprise.

"I went into this planning on it being a learning experience," he says. "Not just for running a business, but seeing human nature."

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5 comments
mark_stone
mark_stone

too bad these only have limited runs.. .sound like they'd be great team-building exercises.

Tim Brengle
Tim Brengle

I highly recommend this. We had a blast, and made it out!

 
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