Es­cape to the SCV

Un­locked own­ers aim to pro­vide Santa Clarita res­i­dents with an en­ter­tain­ing and chal­leng­ing ex­pe­ri­ence

The Signal - - Food & Entertainment - By Matt Fer­nan­dez Sig­nal Staff Writer mfer­nan­dez @sig­nalscv.com

Ten in­di­vid­u­als are trapped in a 1920s manor, fran­ti­cally solv­ing puz­zles and search­ing for the item that will lead to their sal­va­tion. Out­side, a car screeches to a halt and a mob boss be­gins to pound on the door. A timer ticks ever closer to­ward zero, and as it hits 13 sec­onds, one last trunk is un­locked and opened to re­veal the item in­side.

The door bursts open and Gary Kas­san, who isn’t a mob­ster, says, “Con­grat­u­la­tions. You’ve fin­ished the May­field Manor es­cape room!”

Kas­san and Dave Kelfer have owned and op­er­ated Un­locked Es­cape Rooms in Ne­whall for the past two years. Both men own other busi­nesses and felt the de­sire to start an es­cape room com­pany af­ter they vis­ited one for Kas­san’s birth­day.

“I was look­ing for some­thing to do for Gary’s birth­day, so I bought an es­cape room gift cer­tifi­cate for us and our wives, but he had never done one be­fore and didn’t even want to go,” Kelfer said. “We fi­nally went and we had a great time, then went to din­ner and as soon as we sat down we said we had to get in on this.”

Es­cape rooms are of­ten com­pared to real-life video games. Play­ers en­ter puz­zle-filled rooms and try to un­cover clues un­til they reach their main goal. Un­locked has three dif­fer­ent themed es­cape rooms, each de­signed to ac­com­mo­date groups of dif­fer­ent sizes: “Sher­iff’s Of­fice” for four to six play­ers, “Pro­fes­sor’s Base­ment” for six to eight play­ers and “May­field Manor” for nine to 14 play­ers.

They plan on open­ing a new space-themed room that will fit eight to 10 play­ers in three weeks.

While most es­cape room com­pa­nies are lo­cated in the densely pop­u­lated and tourist­laden areas of West L.A. and Hol­ly­wood, Kas­san and Kelfer said that be­ing lo­cated in Santa Clarita was al­ways the plan.

“Our kids grew up here and there wasn’t re­ally a lot to do, and hav­ing an es­cape room com­pany out here is a re­ally big boost to the en­ter­tain­ment value of Santa Clarita,” Kas­san said. “At the time we founded the com­pany, there was re­ally noth­ing out here like it and it was an op­por­tu­nity to bring some­thing new to the val­ley.”

Kelsey Jirik­ils, a player who com­pleted the “May­field” room, said that hav­ing lo­cal es­cape rooms is wel­comed en­ter­tain­ment, es­pe­cially for those hav­ing trou­ble ac­cess­ing the en­ter­tain­ment op­tions in Los An­ge­les.

“A lot of peo­ple say there’s not a lot to do here, which breaks my heart be­cause I re­ally like Santa Clarita,” Jirik­ils said. “Even though L.A. isn’t that far, trav­el­ling there for en­ter­tain­ment isn’t al­ways fea­si­ble for ev­ery­one, so it’s re­ally amaz­ing to have some ac­ces­si­ble lo­cal en­ter­tain­ment.”

Kas­san said that start­ing the com­pany was a “painful” ex­pe­ri­ence and that nei­ther of them re­al­ized how much time, money and work they would need to in­vest, es­pe­cially while main­tain­ing their ex­ist­ing busi­nesses.

Part of the strug­gle with in­tro­duc­ing peo­ple to es­cape rooms is that they as­sume it will be a scary ex­pe­ri­ence or that they will be locked in a cramped space. Kelfer added that peo­ple who haven’t done an es­cape room of­ten think that the com­pany builds panic rooms for houses rather than pro­vide an en­ter­tain­ment ex­pe­ri­ence.

“A lot of peo­ple are pan­icky when they come in here and are wor­ried that the ex­pe­ri­ence will be claus­tro­pho­bic,” Kelfer said. “But as soon as we tell them our themes aren’t scary and that they aren’t ac­tu­ally locked in, hence our name, they vis­i­bly start to re­lax and are able to have fun.”

Mariah Har­ri­son, who also com­pleted the “May­field” room, said that com­pared to other es­cape rooms she has played, the non-scary theme of the room and the qual­ity of the puz­zles re­moved any sense of de­feat when strug­gling to solve any one puz­zle and made her ex­pe­ri­ence with Un­locked more en­joy­able.

First-time es­capist Jake Ren is one such player who had his ex­pec­ta­tions of es­cape rooms chal­lenged by his ex­pe­ri­ence with Un­locked.

“It was a lot dif­fer­ent from what I ex­pected, be­cause I thought it would be scary and that we would have to ac­tu­ally es­cape from a locked room,” Ren said. “I didn’t re­ally feel too pres­sured un­til the last two min­utes, but that in­ten­sity was my fa­vorite part, and I thought the puz­zles were re­ally in­ter­est­ing.”

Fel­low par­tic­i­pant Ni­cholas Guz­man said that a good way to gauge one’s po­ten­tial en­joy­ment of an es­cape room is to try do­ing rid­dles and puz­zles, and that es­cape rooms are a good way to fur­ther bond with friends or make new ones.

The own­ers be­lieve that what sets their com­pany apart from other es­cape rooms is their per­sonal at­ten­tion to the guests. Kelfer said that while many com­pa­nies have recorded in­tro­duc­tions and ori­en­ta­tions, Un­locked’s are live and en­sure an in­ter­ac­tive ex­pe­ri­ence for the cus­tomer as soon as they open the door.

Fur­ther­more, they try not to hold the cus­tomers’ hand and give too many clues while also not mak­ing the chal­lenge too hard for its own sake. Kas­san said that while many other com­pa­nies also fill their rooms with ex­cess props and red her­rings to dis­tract the play­ers, Un­locked’s props are all re­lated to the tasks, which al­lows for more puz­zles and mean­ing­ful in­ter­ac­tion.

“Gary and Dave re­ally showed how much they care about their busi­ness,” said player Nathaniel Jimenez. “They weren’t just some shady busi­ness­men try­ing to make a quick buck. They ac­tu­ally care about what they’re do­ing and you could tell how much ef­fort went into craft­ing their es­cape rooms.”

Jirik­ils said that based on her safe and en­gag­ing ex­pe­ri­ence at Un­locked, she would rec­om­mend that oth­ers give the ac­tiv­ity a try.

“A lot of the more com­mon forms of en­ter­tain­ment like movies, Net­flix or even some board games are more pas­sive,” Jirik­ils said. “They don’t pro­vide as much ex­cite­ment or dif­fer­ent way of think­ing as es­cape rooms.”

For more in­for­ma­tion about Un­locked Es­cape Rooms or to book a room, visit http://www. un­lockedesca­p­e­r­ooms.com.

Matt Fer­nan­dez/The Sig­nal

Gary Kas­san, left, and Dave Keller cre­ated Un­locked Es­cape Rooms to bring a new source of en­ter­tain­ment to Santa Clarita. The two have owned the lo­cal at­trac­tion for the past two years.

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