Cliff Carron-Campbell was “underwhelmed” the first time he visited an escape room with his cousin Toby Carron, who was “a big fan of escape rooms.”
“I didn’t have that great of a time,” Carron-Campbell said. “I felt like there were too many people in too small of a space.”
The cousins discussed starting an escape room business that would fix everything they didn’t like about traditional escape room experiences.
“That’s what we’ve done with Escape Prose,” said Carron-Campbell, who now co-owns the Provo Towne Centre escape room with Carron and his brother-in-law Andrew Nelson. “We wanted it to be fully immersive, so we came up with this concept of going into a story, and from the outside, as soon as you walk into the lobby, you are immersed in the story.”
Escape Prose guests travel through chapters of a story set at the Starlight Traveling Carnival to solve the mystery of the missing Sheriff Griffin. The story utilizes more than 2,000 square feet of space for one experience, which is “pretty much unheard of in the escape room industry,” according to Carron-Campbell.
“Typically, you’re in a room anywhere from 200 to 400 square feet and you’re in that room for almost the entire hour,” Carron-Campbell said. “The first one I went to, there were 10 of us and we were cramped. We were walking all over each other, no one knew what the other person had already done and it was very chaotic, and that’s not the case here.”
There is also no time limit at Escape Prose, whereas guests at typical escape rooms are asked to leave if they don’t meet the objective within the allotted time, Carron-Campbell said.
“I absolutely hate that, and most people that we’ve talked to also hate that,” Carron-Campbell said. “I would liken it to going to a movie that you’ve saved money for and right at the climax having them turn off the film and say, ‘Well, you almost got to finish the movie. Thanks for coming,’ and you leave in frustration.”
Most groups finish the Escape Prose experience in a little over an hour, but everyone completes the journey, according to Carron-Campbell.
“You don’t get out of the story until you solve the mystery, and so people really feel like they’ve had a complete experience, they get their money’s worth, they leave happy,” Carron-Campbell said.
The owners said Escape Prose is a family-friendly experience that gets everyone in the group involved.
“We intentionally designed each one of our spaces to highlight maybe a certain skill set that people in the group might have,” Carron-Campbell said. “One chapter room might be more hand-eye coordination, physical stuff. The next one might be something for people that are really good at observation and can pay attention to detail. You might have one that is traditional with a lot of puzzles and things like that, so there’s something for everyone.”
One of the owners’ favorite memories at Escape Prose is when Joe Godfrey proposed to his girlfriend in the escape room.
“I spoke with the store owner of Escape Prose and asked him if he could modify the last puzzle in the Escape Prose to hold the ring,” Godfrey told the Daily Herald in an email. “He gladly made accommodations to make the ring appear out of thin air in the final puzzle. This final twist in the Escape Prose caught her completely off guard. She started crying with joy and said yes to my proposal.”
Escape Prose signed a lease with Provo Towne Center last summer, and the owners said being located at the mall has been great.
“The exposure that we get just from foot traffic alone has been really good for us,” Nelson said. “The mall itself is great to work for.”
The owners have also set up a free mall quest that functions as a scavenger hunt with clues throughout Provo Towne Centre for visitors to find.
“It’s just to help them maybe spend some time if they’re waiting for a movie or something like that and give them a taste of some of the escape room clues,” Carron said.
Carron-Campbell said the owners plan to bring a new story into the Provo location when this season runs out and possibly transfer the Starlight Traveling Carnival experience to a new location as the business expands.
They are also working on a mobile concept that would allow customers to rent a box from Escape Prose including instructions, a story and puzzles to create an escape room experience elsewhere.
“Whatever the reason is that you would like to go to an escape room, but feel like you can’t right now in your life, this is a more affordable option where you can actually bring it home and do it with your friends and family there,” Carron said.
One of the owners’ goals with Escape Prose was to provide recreation that families and friends could do together to build memories, according to Carron.
“In the society that we have with so many screens everywhere we look, I think it’s important for people to get out and do things like this,” Carron said. “It’s good to get people out and interact, and they feel good when they do it.”