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Escape!

Posted: July 3rd, 2015 | Arts & Entertainment, Features, Top Story | 1 Comment

By Alex Owens

New attractions make Downtown the place to be

Downtown has always been a good place to escape, but now that’s become literal, thanks to some offbeat forms of entertainment that have popped up in recent months.

Case in point: There are now two “escape rooms,” a growing form of entertainment where groups of people are locked into a room for up to an hour or until they solve a series of puzzles or clues.

The Great Room Escape San Diego, a creation by the same people who operate the popular Halloween attraction the Haunted Hotel Downtown, opened June 5 at 424 Market St., the same location as the hotel.

“We’re using a lab set that we also use for the Haunted Hotel, but this is family friendly,” said co-owner Greg DeFatta. “We don’t want people to associate an ‘escape room’ with scares or fear. That said, the room we’re using as a set does have a zombie.”

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(left) Host Jeff Krapf listens to local pop-culture satirist David Moye’s “unusual Father’s Day gifts” on a recent “Tonight in San Diego” taping. (Courtesy Tonight in San Diego)

Escape rooms have been popular in Europe, but have only recently started up in the San Diego market.

[Editor’s Note: see “Hinting Around,” in the June edition, Vol. 16, Issue 6 of San Diego Downtown News.]

DeFatta hopes to make the Great Room Escape stand apart by applying the same standard of special effects that have distinguished the Haunted Hotel.

The Great Room Escape is open Thursdays through Sundays for $34.95 per person. DeFatta said groups ranging from four people to 12 can go through together. He hopes the room is able to satisfy people during the times of the year when the Haunted Hotel isn’t open.

“We have an incredible location, but we realized we’re not tapping into the tourist market as much as we should,” he said. “There are not a lot of entertainment options for families, even though a lot of them stay down here.”

The Great Room Escape is not the first escape room to open Downtown. That honor goes to the Puzzalarium at 841 14th St. It’s the brainchild of Stevon Streeper, a designer of both video games and board games.

Open since September, Streeper prefers the term “immersions” to “escape rooms” because “you can do so much more than clues.”

Open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 1 – 10 p.m., Streeper’s Puzzalarium charges $25 each for groups of four people.

“Three people will do OK, and five is all right, but it’s best for four people,” Streeper said.

A mysterious person known as the Puzzlemaster offers hints and clues to the guests.

“The Puzzlemaster also keeps track of score,” Streeper said. “We’re the first ‘escape room’ to offer scores and that allows for a larger complexity. It’s like being in a movie rather than watching one.”

So far, the Puzzalarium is doing well despite no money spent on advertising.

“We’re booked a month ahead,” Streeper said.

Not interested in puzzles, but want a different kind of escape?

The Lab in the Great Room Escape creates challenges (Photos by Mike Rollerson)

The Lab in the Great Room Escape creates challenges (Photos by Mike Rollerson)

You can go to a taping of “Tonight in San Diego,” a late night Internet talk show which tapes every Monday night at the Horton Grand Theater at 444 Fourth Ave.

For $7, guests can watch the taping, which usually includes comedy, skits and a top local band, according to show creator Fale Luis.

“We want to show San Diego music is more than indie rock or ska,” he said.

Some shows have featured San Diegans demonstrating the finer points of air guitar, a popular disc jockey attempting to dance like Vanilla Ice, and even a segment on weird Father’s Day gifts.

“Honestly, the people watching the taping have no idea what they’re getting into, but they see how much we put into it and want to bring people back to the show,” Luis said. “Especially because there’s nothing else going on Downtown on a Monday.”

The show will be filming its third season through September, using the same set as whatever play is being presented by the theater.

Luis wants to continue using the Horton Grand Theater for future seasons, but has big dreams for the next step.

“By fall, we hope to have enough product that we can show some of the local TV stations what we have and they’ll put us on there,” he said.

Learn more about these three fun and exciting things to do Downtown by visiting their respective websites; the Great Room Escape, greatroomescape.com; Puzzalarium, puzzalarium.com; and “Tonight in San Diego,” tonightinsandiego.com.

—Alex Owens is a San Diego-based freelance writer. He can be reached at alexowenssd@gmail.com.

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