The 13th Gate, the acclaimed haunted house in downtown Baton Rouge, is adding a new year-round attraction later this month.
13th Gate Escape puts teams in a themed room and gives them an hour to find a way out. The participants have to solve logic puzzles to find secret passages and crack codes that allow them to escape from the room.
Dwayne Sanburn, who owns the 13th Gate, said escape games started in Japan a few years ago, then spread across Europe and into Canada before dipping into the U.S. Escape My Room opened on Loyola Avenue in New Orleans in October. One escape room operator told Newsweek that he expects there will be more than 300 escape rooms in the U.S. by the end of the year.
Sanburn said he’s looked at opening an escape room at 13th Gate for about two years. He visited various operations across the U.S. and Canada to study the industry.
“They’re like haunted houses: They vary in quality,” Sanburn said. “But we have great set builders, so making these is very easy for us.”
When the 13th Gate Escape opens on June 23 at 800 St. Phillip St., next to the 13th Gate, participants will have a choice of two rooms to escape from: the Collector, a setting reminiscent of the “Saw” movies in which players are trapped by a serial killer and have to solve puzzles to get their freedom; and Death Row, in which players have to find a way to get out of a prison. Two more rooms will open in December: the Tomb, which Sanburn said is an “Indiana Jones-type adventure” in which players have to escape from a room in a pyramid, and the Asylum, where players must escape a mental institution.
“We have used a lot of the props and set pieces from the 13th Gate for the game, but there’s a lot of new stuff,” Sanburn said. “We’re going to continue to build new games periodically. There’s a lot of crazy stuff we can do, and we have the talent.”
It cost about $50,000 to get the 13th Gate Escape open, although Sanburn said that number is distorted because so many sets and props were previously used in the 13th Gate. The haunted house shuffles its lineup of scary attractions every year, removing older sets to make room for new frightening scenes.
Larry Kirchner, publisher of Hauntworld Magazine and Hauntworld.com, which tracks the haunted house industry, said escape rooms are another step in the changing industry. More people are running haunted houses as a year-round business and looking for offshoots like escape rooms to keep customers coming in during months that aren’t October.
“There are a lot of these escape rooms that are not well-themed or well thought-out,” he said. “Haunted house owners caught on and said, ‘Wait, wait. We can do a better job.’ ”
Hauntworld has named the 13th Gate as one of the best haunted houses in America, so Kirchner said he expects any escape room the business does will be “fantastic.”
“They’re really obsessed with detail,” Kirchner said. “I’m sure Dwayne Sanburn took the best of everything he saw with the escape rooms he visited and added his own ideas.”
Participants must register online for the 13th Gate Escape; no tickets are sold at the door. Each game costs $25 per person to play, plus tax. Because of the complexity of the puzzles and the frightening nature of some games, the 13th Gate Escape is recommended for people 14 and older.
The games are designed for teams of four to eight players. Sanburn said they’re team-building exercises, in which people work together to get out of the room.
Unlike the 13th Gate, the 13th Gate Escape won’t feature costumed actors frightening participants. Players will strictly be on their own.
“We’re looking to have four to six people working at a time running the games, monitoring the games by camera and helping along the players to nudge them in the right direction,” Sanburn said.
Plans are still in the works to build a 13th Gate south of Central, complete with a haunted house and a corn maze. “We’re collecting pieces, and we hope to begin building sets in another year,” Sanburn said. No opening date has been set.
And the work continues to get the 13th Gate ready for its fall opening. This will be the 14th year the attraction has been open.
“There’s a lot of new stuff we’re building now,” Sanburn said. “We’ll put out some hints and pictures soon.”
Follow Timothy Boone on Twitter, @TCB_TheAdvocate.