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From left to right, escape room players Calley Murphy, Brad Murphy, Rebecca McGuffin, and Charlotte Cooper pose last year after a game in front of the Excalibur escape room inside Frederick’s Clue IQ: An Escape Room Experience.

Gathering in a small room and engaging in a tailored escape game with a group of friends or family members has been frowned upon during the COVID-19 quarantine.

But recently, the owner of a local escape room operation came up with a way to virtualize the experience.

Steven Winder, the owner of Clue IQ: An Escape Room Experience in Frederick, partnered last month with Frederick Coffee Co. to create a full play-at-home escape room game and recently answered some questions via email about the details.

Can you tell me a little bit about the play-at-home escape room game that you are offering through Clue IQ?

Winder: Our goal was to take all of the puzzle-solving fun of an escape room and package it up into a format that could be easily transported. The story we have crafted is that of the legendary Black Box Detectives Society, an organization made up of the best investigators and sleuths throughout history. The legendary Black Box Detective Society is giving you a shot at joining their ranks. But they have a bit of an unusual interview process. They have specially prepared a case for you to solve: The murder of a prominent businessman, Malcolm Reynolds. You will be given a case of physical evidence that was collected, then it is up to you to solve the mystery and prove you are worthy of joining their organization.

How does the play-at-home game work and who is it geared toward (families, friends, etc.)?

Winder: Players must make a reservation for a date and a preferred pickup window on our website. They will then go to Frederick Coffee Co & Cafe to pick up their ‘kit’ of goods that will be needed for the game. They may even call from outside and have a contactless pickup arranged. They are allowed to keep the kit for one night and must return it the next day. The game is designed to be a full-length experience, we expect most teams to spend around 90 minutes playing. But unlike a ‘normal’ escape room you are not racing the clock here so teams can play at their own pace or even take breaks. We custom build a website that guides you along the process and has hints for every puzzle [and] in case you get stuck help will always be easily available. The website is also where you will enter all of your answers in place of having locks. We tried to make it very family-friendly, but much like our traditional games they really span from pre-teen all the way up to grandma. This would work for an at-home date night for a couple just as well as a game night for a family of four. Some puzzles will start to get quite challenging for children under 10 but there is a mix of easier and harder puzzles, … lots of hints are always at the player’s fingertips and it is completely up to them how much guidance they take along the way.

How do people participate in the play-at-home games?

Winder: I think I covered that above. Book online, pick up at Coffee Co. (it has all the info/instructions you will need built right in). Return to Coffee Co. the next day.

How has the response been to the play at home games so far and how long do you plan to keep offering them?

Winder: The response has been fantastic. Our initial launch was only to our email subscribers, as we always try to give them first dibs at new items or special sales. We sent the email out Thursday evening (the 14th) and a couple booked within minutes and by the morning it was totally sold out over the weekend. We spent the next few days putting more kits together so more people can play and then made a full public announcement [the night of May 17]. The responses have been fantastic though. We used some early feedback to make some small changes and adjustment but people seem to really love it which is awesome. Part of starting this business and what I love about it is the fact that we see people at their best when they come together to have fun and accomplish a common goal. It is a very rewarding experience and knowing we can bring a little fun to people right now feels pretty good. We absolutely plan to keep offering them. This was something on our to-do list for a very long time, the current situation we are in just moved it up to the top of that list. We envision this being just the first part, Chapter 1 if you will, in a larger Black Box Detectives Society story. We already have some rough ideas for the next two stories.

Do you have any future plans for Clue IQ (during quarantine or after) that you would like to share?

Winder: The continuation of the Black Box storyline as touched on above. We are getting very close to finishing a brand new in-person game as well, so hopefully, once we officially re-open our escape rooms we will have a new game for people. It is the largest and most advanced game we have ever done, probably [two to three times] as big as any game in the region. We are also playing around with the idea of doing live streamed games. Players would connect over a platform like Zoom to an employee inside one of our games. This employee would act as a sort of avatar for the players to control. We have a specially crafted website where players can take a closer look at items that [are] found and explore 360 photos of the space all to accompany the live stream video/audio. The fun of this is it would allow a local family who are fans … to connect with friends or family from the other side of the country and play one of our games together. We have done some early testing and are still fine-tuning how exactly it would all work. Depending on how much longer we stay closed this might come online soon now that the Black Box game is in full swing.

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