Puzzle room guests find new world of fun, suspense


AURORA | Fans of “Game of Thrones” would probably agree that tax preparers, masseuses and lawyers are unlikely neighbors for the series’ namesake chair made of rusty swords and scabbards.

Dothraki warriors and fire-breathing dragons are more probable allies for the daunting symbol of sovereign power than, say, the law offices of Harry Simon PC or Massage & Skincare by Karyn.

But such is the case on the fourth floor of a diffident Denver office building across the street from Kennedy Golf Course.

That’s where Aurora native Steve Osborne and his fiancée, Alysha Archer, have established King’s Escape Room, a local take on the increasingly popular escape or puzzle room phenomenon, in which participants work through a series of cryptic clues in a one-hour time frame to solve a thematic mystery.

Osborne — a graduate of Gateway High School — along with Archer opened their first room, deemed “Return to the Throne,” in late September. Loosely based on the “Game of Thrones” epoch, the room requires participants to find a hidden birthright so an estranged prince can oust his brother and assume his rightful position on the throne.

Osborne decided to dive into the escape room business shortly after his father — nicknamed “The King” — passed away earlier this year. That was when the entrepreneur ditched his job as a marketer for law firms and decided to dive into his newfound passion.

“The reason I love (escape rooms) is because they are super addicting, and it is an hour where you get a break from your cell phone and the computer,” he said. “I needed to do something different and decided to open something, I guess, that I love.”

Osborne said that in just three weeks of business, more than 60 parties have already tried out his first room — though only 12 percent of those have solved the complete puzzle.

While Osborne admits his room is on the more difficult side, he said he took pains to make it unique.

“There’s kind of a thing in our industry to have a vanilla-ish concept, like a bank heist, a casino heist, or solving a murder,” he said. “It’s kind of vanilla — that’s why we started out with the ‘Game of Thrones’ one first.”

Indeed, “Escape a Specific Unpleasant Place (Dungeon, Prison, Preschool, etc.)” was the most common theme in a 2015 survey of 175 escape room facilities from around the world, taken by  Scott Nicholson, a professor of game design and development at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, Canada. “Investigate a Crime or Mystery” and “Solve a Murder” were the third and fifth-most prevalent themes, respectively.

To further differentiate himself, Osborne said he plans to open a rock-and-roll-themed room in the coming weeks, and an additional room based on the infamous “Curse of the Billy Goat,” which is notorious among fans of the Chicago Cubs. Osborne said the average lifespan of a room is about six to eight months.

Unlike the perennially hokey haunted houses that pop up each October, Osborne said escape rooms are a year-round affair. He added that educating patrons on the general concept, as well as the evergreen nature of escape rooms, is one of the industry’s biggest hurdles. (One of the top banners on the King’s website reads, “What the $%#& is an escape room?”)

“The biggest challenge in the (escape room) industry is the knowledge of them,” Osborne said. “A lot of people are confused about the concept, or are super terrified about being locked in a room.”

King’s Escape Room Open 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Weds.-Fri.; Noon to 10 p.m. Sat. and Sun. Booking by appointment only Mondays and Tuesdays. Rooms last for one hour. Call 303-807-2485 or visit kingsescaperoomdenver.com for more information.