Time is Ticking to Escape Modesto
By Noel Daniel
The lights have dimmed. You and nine other captives are locked in a room you’re not familiar with. Symbols, foreign words and numbers are scrawled along the walls. These and the occasional item are your only clues to escape. A voice crackles through a speaker: You have only sixty minutes. Sixty minutes to crack codes, answer riddles, and solve puzzles. Will you make it out?
Seri Mitri, one of the three brothers to open Escape Modesto, admits that it’s quite a challenge.
Seri and his two brothers, Salim and Sammer, grew up in the Modesto area and all graduated from city high schools. The idea for Escape Modesto, however, was entirely Seri Mitri’s brainchild. After travelling to Greece last July, he stumbled upon the idea of an escape room while trying to make plans for Athens with his friend.
“I had no idea what an escape room was and he went on to tell me all about it,” said Seri. “It’s a room, and it’s themed, and you’re with friends or coworkers or family, and you have to solve all these clues and find your way out. It seemed like so much fun.”
Unfortunately, that particular escape room was booked — but now that Seri knew about them, he started to do research. He wasn’t sure they even existed in America, and when he looked them up, he found out they had critical acclaim in Asia and Europe. There were a few in San Francisco and some in L.A. He decided he wanted to open one.
“The weekend I got back, I went with my brothers to three of them in the bay area,” said Seri. “And we realized; oh yeah, we definitely want toped one of these. And so my brothers and I opened it up.”
Because the brothers are all from Modesto, they have a powerful loyalty to the city and they understand that one of the common issues locals are vocal about is the lack of things to do. Seri thinks that, with Modesto being the “hub of the Valley,” that should change.
“There’s really not much to do here, that’s everyone’s complaint,” said Seri. “[Escape Modesto] brings a lot of the positive, good crowd downtown. People come here, they go out to dinner afterwards, they go out for a drink after.”
The locals are definitely noticing. Escape Modesto has garnered praise from everyone from businesses to families to groups of friends. There are a plethora of comments on Facebook, with people tagging each other and sharing posts. And, as mentioned earlier, businesses will stop in for the greatest challenge of all — team building.
Just in the month since they’ve opened, they’ve had Starbucks, Doctors Medical Center, In-n-Out, Gallo Winery, as well as various law firms and doctors’ offices. Organizations can work in teams of up to 12 people. First, the team chooses which room to escape from, then must work together to solve riddles and detect clues.
Want to go, but don’t necessarily have a whole team to go with you? That’s fine, too.
“Say you and a group of friends want to go and it’s just two or three of you,” Seri said. “You guys can book it to go in and you’ll probably join other groups. Complete strangers, they walked in, they didn’t know each other and by the end they were best friends. It’s a great bonding experience — people are making friends.”
In fact, the record for best time — in both rooms — went to groups of people who came in without knowing each other.
“One group, they escaped King Tut’s room and they had so much fun that they exchanged phone numbers and they came back to do the other room together,” said Seri. “So it’s really cool. It’s definitely a positive social involvement, interactive experience.”
Currently, there are two rooms available. First, and the easier of the two, is King Tut’s Treasure wherein you and a group of treasure hunters stumble upon the teenaged king’s tomb, but are sealed in when the door closes behind you. Your goal is to escape with the treasures, or else perish due to lack of oxygen.
The second room is harder. Prison Break involves a storyline in which you and your friends have been framed. You’ve been locked in a maximum – security prison and await your wrongful execution. You only have one hour before the prison guards return, so look carefully and you just might make it.
Although both rooms have a clear theme — namely, escape or die — escape rooms in general are veering off from this. There are plans to open a new room as early as this January with an interesting new perspective.
“It’s going to be a CSI detectives room where you’re on the trail of a serial killer and you’re the detective and you have to follow a series of clues from the crime scene,” said Seri. “You have to solve the clues and figure out who the killer is before he strikes again.”
The room will involve a detective’s office, a crime scene, and put you in the shoes of the investigators.
Sound like fun? Apparently, Seri has never seen people have so much fun in his life. When he sits and monitors the room to make sure everything’s going smoothly, he witnesses some truly wonderful moments.
“This weekend, we had a group of 50-, 60-, 70-year olds and they had so much fun,” Seri said with a laugh. “I haven’t seen kids have that much fun at Disneyland.”
He explained that the anticipation, the knowledge that you’re problem-solving and actually working towards finishing a complicated puzzle is a rewarding experience, and that delight is shared with those you’re cooperating with. The time limit adds a sense of urgency, and the fact that the Mitri brothers get the guests in character first can’t hurt the immersion factor.
“And I’m listening and watching them, because we’re monitoring them, and they’re like ‘hurry up, guys, I can’t breathe!’” Seri laughed. “They’re all into it. So they really play the role. We set them up before we start, and we get them into character, so it’s a very immersive experience.”
“It’s not like sitting and watching a movie, or playing a board game,” said Seri. “It’s very interactive.”
For more information, or to book your own escape plan, visit escapemodesto.com.