Up until recently the only ways you could experience escaping from a room were by playing video games or going to prison. Video games are by the far more preferable of the two — I’ll take tapping buttons in the comfort of my living room over two decades of carving a tunnel through solid concrete using nothing but a soup spoon any time.

The explosive popularity of escape rooms, however, has opened up a entirely new avenue to enjoy such a challenge. In them, you are locked in a room themed after some intriguing scenario and given only a single instruction: leave. With just an hour to accomplish that mission you must frantically observe your surroundings, paw around for clues and items that you can use to manipulate the environment, and, with nothing but your profound insight and the barking input of your friends, figure out the series of tricks you’re meant to do in order to open the door before it unsatisfyingly opens on its own.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Words don’t do justice to how fun all of this really is. When I went, I leafed through every book I found like it may have contained the secret to immortality, felt buzzes of wonder every time a once locked drawer or cabinet finally popped open, and stood in awe when I caused a wall to swing out and reveal a second, bigger, and even more cryptic room.

Travis and Becki Walterson have provided this thrill at Trapped in Bismarck since they opened in 2015. “Winters in Bismarck are long and harsh,” said Becki. “We give locals something totally new and exciting to do indoors. The reactions we’ve gotten have been astounding — lots of ‘Oh my god!’ and ‘That was amazing!’ It’s the kind of attraction that people talk about for hours afterward, breaking down what they figured out and what they should have done differently.”

“A lot of our guests are ladies,” Becki continued. “Since they’re generally the ones who plan the family outings. They often bring along their husbands, who might think this kind of thing is silly, but the second that door closes behind them they forget to be skeptical as they start scrambling for answers. Groups with kids have a special advantage, because kids have such fine attention to detail — they notice the stranger little things, which sets the adults in motion to sort out how they all fit into the bigger picture. It’s a great family dynamic!”

“The art of a designing an escape room requires keeping the puzzles intuitive without being obvious. We have to adapt our puzzles to suit our local audience, too — North Dakotan know-how means our guests figure things out in ways that no one could have anticipated!”

Trapped in Bismarck keeps four differently themed escape rooms, which they change regularly to keep things fresh. Their newest room is themed after a prison break, no soup spoon required. They’ve also got a murder mystery themed room on the horizon, so every guest can channel their inner Inspector Clouseau. Others include the ZMB Trials, a zombie apocalypse conundrum, and The Lost Toy, a gentler and less stressful challenge for kids under 12 years old. They even have mobile rooms that can be summoned to parties and corporate events: Their Mad Bomber offers a MacGyver-esque “cut the red wire” challenge, while their Bank Heist lets you pretend for an hour that you have a shot at early retirement.

You can see which of Trapped in Bismarck’s rooms sound the most intriguing at trappedinbismarck.com. If you go, just remember that I got all the answers right away, so there must be something wrong with you whenever you get stuck on a puzzle.


By David Scheller