Audrey Love

It’ll take more than heel clicking to get out of the escape room La Grande Parks and Recreation has devised for their latest venture.

The “Wizard of Oz” themed escape room — the third installment of its kind hosted by the Parks and Rec department, centers around helping Dorothy (once again) head back to Kansas. Escapees have stepped in the Wizard’s laboratory to ask for a favor of their own, to find Dorothy has trapped herself inside the lab. With only a short amount of time until the Wizard sets off for Kansas without her, escapees are given 40 minutes to solve a series of clues and puzzles so they, along with Dorothy, can head home.

McKayla Nitz, recreation supervisor, said the department’s two previous escape rooms — a “Stranger Things-esque” room and a kidnapping scenario — were well-received by the community.

“I think we’re starting to pick up steam and people are beginning to understand what (escape rooms) are,” Nitz said. “A lot of businesses are using them as team-building exercises.”

La Grande Parks and Rec offered their first escape room experience in fall 2017, and given the spookier aspects of previous themes, Nitz set out to create a more whimsical experience this go-around to accommodate all ages.
Upward of 120 people have tried to “escape” from each of the previous rooms, and with half that amount already signed up for “Oz,” Nitz predicts this year’s adventure will exceed past numbers.

“We’re trying to expand our offerings to a wider audience. There’s not a lot for college-age people, specifically, to do in this town,” Nitz said. “This was something we thought would appeal to them, and a lot of community members ended up enjoying it too. The goal was originally to help incorporate students into the community, but it ended up being something for everybody.”

In past rooms, staff have been able to observe groups from an adjacent room through mirror-filmed windows to ensure escapees are following the rules. With “Oz,” however, a live actor will be in the room with participants as part of the experience and can give groups up to two clues to help them solve the puzzles. Groups can technically ask for more than two clues, though two is the limit to count toward an official solve.

It also helps to work with those you’re familiar with.

“The room becomes easier if you know the people you’re solving with because you know how to work together,” Nitz said. “The reason it works so well for team building is because you’re all working (with) a deadline and working together in small ways (toward) the same goal.”

Escape rooms have become a popular American pastime over the last several years, with nearly 2,300 escape room facilities in the United States, according to USA Today. However, the experience is one not often found in Eastern Oregon.

See more in Friday's edition of The Observer.