Springfield native’s take on escape room games takes off

Summer is popular for escapes – to beaches, amusement parks and movies.

Springfield native Chris Barnes is promoting escapism that doesn’t require leaving the room or a picking up a joystick.

For the second consecutive year, Barnes will bring back his version of the popular escape rooms to Ridgewood School, where students in grades 5-9 can have fun and learn.

He’s also popularized his own in-home version that has attracted hundreds of subscribers so far.

Part of Ridgewood’s Summer Enrichment Program, “Escape Room: Whodunnit?” features a scenario in which players become detectives to solve riddles, crack codes and search for clues to solve a case in a given timeframe.

These will be offered Tuesday, June 27, and Thursday, June 29, at 9 and 11 a.m. and 1 and 3 p.m. at Ridgewood. The cost is $20.

Barnes, never much of a video game enthusiast, said escape rooms fire his imagination as they are designed like puzzles for the mind.

Following the success of last year’s escape rooms at Ridgewood, Barnes — a Ridgewood and North High School graduate and fifth-grade teacher at Miami East Elementary — thought of the next step beyond schools.

Escape room venues have popped up, much like laser tag did several years ago. and there are at least two in the Dayton area. But at around $30 a person for admission, Barnes thought there could be a more affordable option.

After brainstorming several ideas, he incorporated them into Escape the Crate, a company launched on Jan. 1.

“I took what I did at Ridgewood and moved it into a play-at-home game that doesn’t require more than a dining room table,” Barnes said.

It’s a modern version of a board game with props coming inside the crate. Players refer to the Escape the Crate website to begin, and it is designed for one to six players.

Inspired by novels, all games have a historical angle, with Escape the Coliseum, and Escape the Confederate Spymistress among them.

With good reviews in the online community, demand came quickly.

“Business has been insane. I thought I’d have 20-30 subscribers and have more than 300 currently,” Barnes said. “We get four or five requests a day.”

Subscriptions cost $29.99 or a single game costs $39.99 and games come out bi-monthly. The games will be offered internationally this summer, with waiting lists in Canada and Great Britain.

Although the games are generally just playable once, they can be reset or shared with friends or others.

When not teaching, Barnes’s Springfield home is his warehouse for now.

“It’s my other job in front of the television,” he said.

Escape the Crate has gained attention with a BuzzFeed article and been nominated for a CUBE Award for best subscription boxes. Barnes credits these from escape room reviewers spreading the word.

With about three years worth of Escape the Crate scenarios, from cowboys and spaceships to Houdini, Barnes is keeping his options open.

He also does summer work at the Columbus Zoo. But don’t think he’s overwhelmed, just blessed.

“I really don’t feel like I’m working at any of the three jobs I have,” said Barnes.

To register for Ridgwood’s escape rooms, call 937-399-8900 or go to www.ridgewoodschool.org/.

For more information on Escape Crates, go to https://escape-the-crate.com/.

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