Article By Bill Beggs Jr.
St. Peters, Mo.—Imagine someone on your work team has been poisoned and you have only an hour to find the antidote and save a life. Or, à la Agatha Christie, you’re on a train speeding through a snowy night and someone’s been murdered and your team has been charged with apprehending the murderer before the train makes its next stop and the killer escapes. Or perhaps you’re an adviser to JFK and have come to an impasse with your counterpart in the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev, who’s conspiring with Fidel Castro to put nuclear missiles in Cuba, a scant 100 miles from the Florida Keys.
In this last scenario, it helps to imagine that it’s 1962, and props make that easier. The phone is black and has a rotary dial, and there’s even a manual typewriter–you know, one without an electrical cord. You have to hit the keys pretty hard. But the phone and typewriter are only era-specific details; what you and your colleagues really need to remember is that you have only one hour to prevent nuclear armageddon. No pressure? Yeah, right!
These are but three of the five available scenarios to choose from, each with a varying level of difficulty, in the Escapology section at the east end of Kokomo Joe’s in St. Peters, Missouri. (The other two available themes at present are “Arizona Shootout” and “Th3 Cod3” (perhaps the most difficult challenge as it is designed for well-intentioned hackers).
KJ’s got its start about four and a half years ago as a family- fun destination with 100-plus arcade games, “mini” bowling, glow-in-the-dark miniature golf, go karts, a laser maze, and so on, but it wasn’t until January that the Escapology attraction opened. Escapology is akin to a “live” version of the classic Parker
Brothers detective board game Clue. It’s mostly for adults and is played by two to six members against the clock. General Manager Madeleine Strupp says business has been brisk since Escapology opened, with groups intent on team-building arriving from Wentzville School District, insurance companies, area chambers of commerce, and many others. Party City held its regional meeting here. Some companies “buy out” the entire facility which includes arcade games, laser tag, and the five escape rooms.
You say you haven’t heard about “escape rooms”? Some of us at MM&E hadn’t, either. Strupp says the game concept originated in Japan, caught on in Europe, and came to the States relatively recently. Like most any fad or fashion that hits the U.S., it started on the coasts and has only in the past few years made it to the Midwest. Escapology is the brand name of a sort of steam-punk version of the concept that was established in the UK. Strupp says with a chuckle that the Brits pronounce it “Eska-pology.” The home office for the brand is now on this side of the pond, in Orlando.
So, how do you play? Well, we only have the space for a teaser, but here goes. Your team is “trapped” in a room with a given scenario and with all the clues you need to escape located somewhere in that room. Maybe there some clues in a drawer and others within a scientific formula jotted on a whiteboard, or perhaps there are clues in the pocket of a vintage wool sport coat hanging on the back of a chair. “Game masters” are accessible via intercom and you can ask for as many as three hints, but points are deducted with each hint. Teams that manage to escape without asking for hints score higher, and the earlier they get out, the better. Some teams that were a tad slow on the uptake have been trapped in a room for months … just kidding. But maybe a game master–Strupp says theater kids are great in this role and love to mess with players’ heads–will teasingly lead a team to believe such a silly thing.
Joe and Angel Johnson are the brains and brawn of KJ’s, which had its beginnings in Rolla with a somewhat less ambitious concept. Strupp got her start with the company 12 years ago at their skating rink in Rolla. She notes that Angel, a social worker with exceptional people skills, is more the “face” of the company. Joe is the dude with the toolbox. He worked for Brewer Science in Rolla, eventually quit to do KJ’s full time, and built out the Escapology rooms. Two rooms that are as yet non-themed may become, Strupp says, a submarine scenario (“Captain, we only have enough air for the next hour!”) and a plane scenario (but probably not one, with apologies to Samuel L. Jackson, like in that stupid movie where dangerous snakes escape into the cabin). At present, they’re party rooms.
Kokomo Joe’s is definitely a family affair. Adam Johnson, 19, one of Joe and Angel’s three sons, handles sales for KJ’s. The venue’s tropical theme and overall vibe isn’t by accident. Whenever the Johnsons vacation, it’s usually someplace warm, with a beach.
As for Madeleine Strupp, wherever she travels, she checks out the escape-room opportunities in whatever out-of-state location she happens to find herself. It’s positively addicting, she says. And, just like the kids addicted to video games, there are plenty of adults who just can’t escape from enough escape rooms. Some are pretty nerdy, natch. But we’re sure you aren’t. Right?
All that said, do co-workers build better teams when meeting at KJ’s? It certainly appears to be the case: “We went to Kokomo Joe’s as a group of co-workers and had an awesome time!” exclaims Megan, who works for the River City Rascals baseball club (of the Frontier League). “While there, we were able to grow closer to one another, which strengthened our communication and teamwork at our jobs. The thrill of escaping the escape room was one of the highlights of our visit, which also improved our communication.”
Tracy Mueller of Master Networks, a membership network of service-oriented entrepreneurs and business leaders, was happy with the effort KJ’s put forth when the national group hosted its leadership conference there. Staff accommodated the company’s request for classroom-style seating in the event room, she reports, and the audio worked perfectly.
“Members met early for lunch, and they assigned two staff members to our afternoon event,” Mueller said, noting that the two continually checked on the group. “It was such a pleasure to network during lunch while being taken care of by the staff. I really appreciate how they went above and beyond to provide the very best to our members. The entire staff made such a team effort to make our event successful. I’m looking forward to having more training at their location.”
Kokomo Joe’s has more than Escape Rooms. Their conference room can accommodate 100 guests for cocktail hour, 80 guests seated classroom-style, and 64 guests seated at round tables. Full audio visual services are also available onsite.
If you’re not curious about escape rooms by now, we’ll have to check you for a pulse. Need an escape? Then make sure to attend MM&E’s FAM event on Sept. 27, 2017. It’s open to all meeting and event planners.
One last thing, a tip on driving directions: GPS is fine as far as it goes, but you need to exit at Cave Springs Road, then head south for a few hundred feet. Keep your eyes peeled for the service road, Veterans Memorial Parkway, where you’ll head west for a little while.
Bill Beggs Jr. is a contributing editor from St. Louis.
Madeleine Strupp, General Manager
Escapology / Kokomo Joe’s
Phone: (636) 447-5656 / Cell: (636) 485-4346
4105 N. Cloverleaf Drive