By Alta LeCompte, Las Cruces Bulletin.
At the outset, Griff Allen of Lost Cruces Escape Room sounds like a typical business owner sharing a simple mission statement.
“We are in the experience business,” Allen said during a recent interview. “We want people to go out the door wanting to come back and wanting to come back with their friends.”
An escape room is a live adventure game where people collaborate to solve their way out of a room. It is entertainment, but Allen also courts corporate clients with the goal of helping them build high-performance teams.
“We apply rubrics to analyze team dynamics,” he said. “We can build strategies for individuals and work groups.”
The experience Allen and his team have created presents challenges designed to “stimulate the creative process and get over the fear of trying something new – and not feeling silly.”
“It’s important to Las Cruces and New Mexico for all of us in the region where we’re in a situation beyond our control and have to do more with less,” he said. “The people who will thrive are those who can move faster and smarter and be more effective.”
The escape room creates an environment focused exclusively on problem solving, Allen says, forcing “people to establish situational leadership and high-quality interaction dynamics.”
Behind the locked room
In a pre-event conference outside the escape room, team members study the dynamics of high-functioning teams. The puzzle that unfolds is a complex mystery that challenges players to locate a missing heiress.
The game, Ariana’s Wedding, is set in her anxious father’s reading room, where she was last seen.
Players are plunged into a fictional world in which they become imaginary figures solving a problem bigger than themselves, Allen said.
A video monitor mounted over the door displays a countdown timer and clues.
At the end of each 60-minute game, there’s a de-briefing and a celebration.
Allen earned a degree in mechanical engineering and then embarked on multiple careers: working for an integrated steel mill and a fluid power company in Cleveland; serving as engineering director for a non-ferrous metals company that supplied the medical and aviation industries; motor sports analyst for ESPN.
His takeaway from engineering and motor sports was that teams that consistently win “have a culture and habits that demonstrate much higher communication and collaboration.”
After ESPN, Allen transitioned into TV, theater and film acting. Then, as director of organizational effectiveness at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, he helped guide the process of moving to a new facility. He completed the Parkland project in 2015.
He moved to Las Cruces “because you don’t have snow,” Allen said.
His first idea for a business was a karting center – high-performance go-karts on an indoor track. He determined, however, that Las Cruces was not a viable market due to the cost and projected utilization rate.
An escape room was Plan B.
Allen’s sweeping background played into the concept he fleshed out with experts in organizational development, instructional design, game design, theater, film and business.
“The back end of the business rests on a deep understanding of engineering, theater, media, film and business,” Allen said.
His team includes four academics with doctoral degrees who work remotely, a local historian and local theater professionals who “create the magic.”
“The people who are actually on set are pulled out of our local set design talent. They are the ones who convince the players they’re actually in a millionaire’s mansion,” he said.
Allen plans a second escape room this year that challenges players to prepare a seemingly normal 20-something woman to be a super hero.
A third game, Manhattan Mission, will have experienced players move at a blistering pace to save the world by stopping the development of a “peace keeping device” before it falls into the wrong hands.
Players in the fourth escape room, Fountains of Truth, will solve the disappearance and apparent murder of Col. Albert Fountain and his son.
In addition to expansion, Allen said he will hire 12 part-time game masters, lobby managers and operations managers.
“Our goal is to become a destination employer for people who want to challenge themselves to be their best, build value for the community and have fun at work.”
He will measure his own success by whether Lost Cruces is relevant, Allen said.
“I’m not out to be popular, I want to be relevant – relevant to families … to travelers, to healthcare professionals to academics, to mobility-challenged veterans and retirees.
“A lot of people look at Las Cruces and New Mexico and say, ‘Poor me, everything is dismal,’” he said. “I see opportunity. This is a great environment for someone with my passion and skill set.”
Alta LeCompte can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 575-343-7478.