This trip took place April 28th through April 30th, 2017. I drove to Kansas City with my cousin, Todd, for his bachelor party. Also in attendance were my other cousin, Dan, their father/my uncle, Mark, their cousin on the other side, Megan, and Todd’s friend, Mike.
I woke up with a sore back from six hours on a pull-out couch bed. It was raining again, a theme on this trip. No one else was awake so I got dressed and went down to breakfast. I got there as it was starting so I grabbed a plate of the items that were available and chose a table. I had some scrambled eggs, breakfast potatoes, a muffin, some fruit, and lots of grape juice. It was on par with other continental breakfasts I’ve had. I was definitely disappointed there was no bacon available. I know I was one of the first people to eat breakfast that day as it had just opened but all they had was two types of sausage (of which I am not a fan). A large group of people accumulated in the dining area as I ate. There must have been a basketball tournament in town because there were twenty or so rambunctious twelve-year-old boys running around, up and down the halls, and goofing around in the elevator and stairwells. If that wasn’t annoying enough, Fox News was on the television above the fireplace spewing conservative propaganda non-stop. Hotel TVs should just show the weather, Game Show Network, or the Discovery Channel, something everyone can tolerate.
I was hoping someone, anyone from my party would wake up and join me for breakfast but after I was done eating and browsing social media for another ten minutes I gave up and went back up to the room. Dan, my cousin, and Megan, his cousin from the other side of the family, had woken up, thankfully, and were ready to head down for breakfast (poor timing for me). We walked down the hall to the other suite with the rest of our band of bachelor-party brethren, Todd, my cousin and groom-to-be, Mark, my uncle, and Mike, Todd’s best friend. Everyone else was finally ready for breakfast so they went downstairs while I went back to our room to take a shower. Not that you’ll ever stay at the Homewood Suites in Overland Park, Kansas, but the water pressure was good and the towels acceptable.
Dressed for a rainy day exploring Kansas City, I rejoined Todd and the others in the dining area. The forecast was not promising for the second Twins-Royals game in the three-game series so they were looking at brochures for area attractions and trying to choose things to do instead. Todd, the honoree on this trip, didn’t have any strong opinions on what we did that day so it we decided to play it mostly by ear. The only event that we had pre-scheduled was an escape room challenge, which I was very excited for. Before we could go, however, everyone else had to get ready. Ever ahead of the curve, I watched TV while I waited for them to shower and dress (it took quite a while).
Once everyone was finally ready to go we piled in our rental vehicle and headed from Overland Park to downtown Kansas City, Missouri via the scenic route. Megan wanted Starbucks so we Googled the nearest location (which wasn’t nearby nor in the right direction). That detour did lead to some nice neighborhood sightseeing at least. It was pouring, so I couldn’t get any quality pictures, but we passed several large sculptures and modern art pieces in what turned out to be a very high-end area with beautiful historic homes.
Our first destination, not counting coffee, was Breakout KC, an escape room company in a historic portion of town filled with mills along the Missouri River. We were early for our 2pm appointment so we parked and walked to a nearby pizza place for lunch. If it seems like we just ate breakfast, it’s just because it took so long for everyone to get ready and then for our Starbucks trip. It had actually been six hours since breakfast (mine, at least). Il Lazarone offers wood-fired thin-crust pizzas and other Italian-inspired dishes like bruschetta and flatbreads. We had a balsamic-based flatbread and a couple types of pizza including a carne (fancy meat-lovers) and two others I can no longer remember. I’m not partial to thin-crust pizza or flash-baked pizza but everything was tasty. Everyone ate their fill and we walked the two blocks back to Breakout KC.
I knew, roughly, what escape room challenges were before visiting but I was thrilled to finally experience one. If you’re not aware, escape room challenges involve small groups of people being locked in a small room solving a series of puzzles to secure their escape before their time limit expires (usually an hour). My cousin, Dan, booked one of Breakout KC’s most difficult rooms called Szechuan Secret. They told us at the time of our visit that it was their hardest room with a 24% success rate but their website currently has one other room listed at 22% (updated frequently). All six of us were rookies so attacking their hardest room was a daunting task. Our room monitor, an employee keeping an eye on our progress, first gave us the ground rules and explained the general scenario. Here’s the blurb from the website:
Our monitor showed us the room and told us that a small flat-screen in the corner would allow them to communicate with us in times of need. We could request clues at any time during our hour (three times max) but the staff could provide us with bonus clues unprompted at their discretion. He also told us not to break stuff. If something comes apart easily it’s meant to and if it doesn’t, it’s not a puzzle in need of cracking. Got it. Let’s do this!
SPOILERS FOR BREAKOUT KC’S SZECHUAN SECRET ESCAPE ROOM BEGIN HERE
Monitor-guy left the room and a video played on the television with more of our spy backstory. As it began, monitor-guy and another employee barged into the room and handcuffed us all. It was a shock to say the least. The cuffs were in front of us and long enough that we could basically work freely as though our hands were not bound but mentally it really messes with you to be handcuffed. The video stopped and we were on the clock. Sixty minutes to enter a four-digit code in the door’s keypad and escape. We probably should have had some kind of strategy going in but instead we all headed in different directions and started pawing at things in the room; the adrenaline was pumping fast! There was a small piece of furniture in the middle of the room on a straw rug. I immediately moved the furniture and lifted the rug (escape room 101 and plain old common sense) revealing some large plastic puzzle pieces and a guide to read numbers in Mandarin.
I passed off the puzzle pieces and continued rummaging. There was a wind chime hanging on one of the walls (the room was meant to be an outdoor market) that had foreign characters on it. I recognized two of them as numbers (4 and 9) separated by subtraction signs. It took me far longer than I care to admit (maybe thirty seconds) to realize that the subtraction symbol was the number one in Mandarin. The first code was 1419. Everyone started entering that code into locks visible around the room. There were at least ten padlocks on various pieces of furniture and walls and one nearby opened with that code. Behind it was a large circular puzzle. Progress.
At this point I felt like a badass. I was, perhaps, made to be an escape room expert. That feeling didn’t really last much longer. I spent the better part of the next five minutes scouring one of the walls for numbers in Mandarin. It was covered in foreign newsprint, which it turns out, was just a distraction. So much wasted time. Somewhere else in the room (three feet away but basically in another world while I was distracted with newsprint) someone unlocked a wooden crate that had a small scale, a shopping list, and some instructions. We had to fulfill the shopping list of mostly fruits and vegetables and, using the scale, figure out the exact total of everything. There were dozens of plastic produce pieces that Mike and Dan started weighing in order to determine how much our list would cost by weight. That process took at least ten minutes and I didn’t pay it much attention. We had to divide and conquer. The rest of us unlocked a few more locks with some basic puzzle pieces for the puzzle on the wall (they had Velcro backing).
Time while inside that room seemed to stretch both longer and shorter at random. We reached the twenty-minute mark and were essentially stuck. I hadn’t produced much since my quick three discoveries and was getting frustrated. I got approval from the rest of my team and requested one of our three clues from the monitor. It helped us get the code for the lock the shopping list was meant for us to determine (which we couldn’t). I wasn’t involved in the math but it must have been a math error because our failed attempt was way different than the actual code given to us. That lock opened a hidden door in one of the walls (what?!) and led us into a small room filled with weapons, a jail cell, lockers, and assorted other spy items. Each locker had another lock we had to get open in order to ultimately escape. This was actually quite exhausting.
There were more Mandarin numbers that someone entered into a lock and found a black-light flashlight. That led us to several clues for other locks but they were hard to find (and I mean very hard). We had to turn off the lights and search every inch of those rooms. We even missed one and our monitor gave us a bonus tip so we didn’t lose twenty minutes on it (I forget when we used the other two clues afforded us and what clues we were given). Continuing my tendency to chase useless distractions, I found a map of Asia on the wall that had random English letters on it and tried to determine if there was a pattern or clue somewhere that would help our cause. In the other room, Dan and Megan had enough of the puzzle pieces to know roughly what we needed to do with them. Mike or Todd found a clear plastic overhead for an old classroom-style projector. Too bad we didn’t have an old classroom-style projector (yet)!
We eventually unlocked one of the larger lockers and got the projector and a bunch more stuff. There were multiple overheads that needed to be projected onto the puzzle wall in order to determine a code word. For the last few minutes, Mike and I teamed up in the jail cell recently opened by using a secret code on a fancy ring. There was a big, heavy lock on the floor for some reason that looked suspicious. We thought it had to be vital to escaping somehow and so we kept at it. Meanwhile, in the main room, Dan, Mark, and Megan had all the overheads figured out and had the secret code word it was meant to provide. The code was supposed to release another four-digit code, one that we hoped would lead us to freedom. The clock ticked down to zero and we had failed.
Our monitor came in and confirmed the bad news that we were losers (our words, not his). Apparently, we were roughly thirty seconds away from escape when we ran out of time. The four-digit code that we had just unearthed didn’t go to the final door but it did go to that mysterious lock on the floor of the jail cell that Mike and I had been toiling over. That lock, once opened, would give us one last four-digit code that worked on the escape door’s keypad. We were so damn close! The success rate was only 24% and, sadly, we were in the 76% of the Szechuan population. I loved our adventure even though we were unsuccessful and the group agreed. We took a picture in their lobby with a sign exclaiming how close we came in our (slightly depressing) failure. It was still raining outside which now felt more appropriate.
SPOILERS FOR BREAKOUT KC’S SZECHUAN SECRET ESCAPE ROOM END HERE
Back in the car we relived the experience to the best of our collective recollection. It was fun to talk it through and exclaim just how awesome we had done for rookies. If you’re ever in Kansas City and looking for a fun activity for friends, family, or even business, I highly recommend Breakout KC. They created an incredibly detailed and fun environment from which to escape and I really wish we had time to see all of their six different rooms. It is high quality entertainment at a reasonable price, especially considering they are the top-rated escape room operation in the Kansas City area.
Our groom-to-be, Todd, was in charge of deciding our next activity because our baseball game was officially rained out by then (it had been raining for at least fifteen hours). There was driving range a few miles away called Top Golf. The driving bays are indoors so it was a popular place that day (and potentially every day, for all I know). We pulled into the lot and it became clear we might have to wait a while for an opening. Someone called inside to see what the wait was and we found out it was over four hours! No golf for us. I wasn’t too terribly disappointed, personally. It would have been more expensive for a single hour than going to the Twins-Royals game would have been, almost double in fact.
Todd’s next idea was bowling. I researched alleys online and found one relatively close by. There was a long line, which I thought was likely due to the rainy day but it turned out to be because of the ancient owner behind the register. I don’t know if someone had called in sick or if he’s like that every day. I was tempted to hop behind the register and get people shoes so he could focus on one thing at a time and clear his long line forming. Only four of us wanted to bowl, Mike, my cousins, and myself. We had some friendly competition. Dan wanted to bet on the outcome but only Mike was interested (I believe Mike won between the two). With my recent bowling league experience I was able to secure the best score in the first game. My second game was quite a bit worse. There wasn’t much else going on. We chatted fantasy football a bit, those of us bowling are in a dynasty league together, but no trades were negotiated at the time. A weird guy in the lane next to us was trying to give his son professional lessons but they both sucked. It was awkward because they were both taking it so seriously like his kid was going to join the PBA next month.
We stayed at the alley a little longer than we should have in order to finish our second game which made us late for dinner. We didn’t have a reservation at our preferred dining establishment, Jack Stack Barbecue, but we wouldn’t dare go anywhere else based on the wonderful reviews we had all read. The wait for a table was 45 minutes to an hour when we arrived around 7pm (not too bad of wait, honestly). It was still pouring so we sat in the car. I was stuck in the backseat for the wait and got claustrophobic for the first time in a long time (I battled through it, though). Eventually my uncle wanted to go inside to use the bathroom and I jumped at the chance to stretch my legs. The inside of the restaurant was absolutely packed with people waiting to eat. Every available place to stand was occupied including back by the bathrooms, which was not an enviable location to be.
Our turn to be seated finally came and the scouring of menus began. The choices were numerous which made it very difficult to pick something. Everything sounded so delicious! I eventually settled on a platter of meat where you could pick two types from a list of five or six. It was a popular choice at our table because it allowed us to try more than one entrée at this popular establishment. We shared an order of onion rings, which came stacked a foot high on a spear, while we waited for our main course. They were large and served very hot. The breading was damn near perfect.
I chose the pulled pork and beef burnt ends for my meat platter. Burnt ends, I learned, are delicious scraps of brisket, the fatty, potentially burnt end parts widely considered to be a Kansas City staple. They are, by far, the best tasting thing I ate on this trip. I had steak fries and cheesy corn bake on the side. The corn bake, the second best thing I ate on this trip, was so simple and good; just corn in a creamy cheese sauce. I’m definitely going to recreate it at home to the best of my cooking ability (it may take several tries). Everyone enjoyed their meals as much as I and it was surprising how many leftovers there were considering how hungry we all were while waiting for a table. I brought mine back to the hotel, and later, all the way back home to eat for dinner the following evening.
If you’re ever in Kansas City for lunch or dinner I would recommend Jack Stack Barbecue. I would also request that you immediately bring some to me in the Twin Cities. It wasn’t too expensive considering the supreme quality of the food and how damn popular it appears to be. Check it out!
Our last activity of the day was back near our hotel in Overland Park, KS. We were so close to beating our first escape room challenge that we were inspired to try our hand at another. Many escape places book up far in advance but Dan found one with an opening at 10pm (and a discounted rate). My uncle Mark, the least interested in escape rooms among us, decided to stay back at the hotel and go to sleep instead. The rest of us headed out into the still monsoon-ish evening. Our second escape mission of the day was called Beasley’s Billions at Tick Tock Escape Games. We walked in to an empty lobby where there were safety waivers to sign. Another group walked in and through small talk it was discovered we were both going to attempt Beasley’s Billions. Apparently Tick Tock has two of the exact same room so bigger groups can split up and race. There were movie posters everywhere that all had “escape” in their titles or as their main theme.
SPOILERS FOR TICK TOCK’S BEASLEY’S BILLIONS ESCAPE ROOM BEGIN HERE
After a couple minute wait we were led back and provided the rules. It was quite similar to our first mission in that a screen provided us with clues, three upon request and the occasional bonus one when the room monitor deemed it necessary. With that, he left and we were on the clock once again. A old-timey radio broadcast with a Casey Kasem impersonator came over a speaker directing us to listen for clues. Dan and I took notes while we listened and everyone started poking around for physical clues. We found several Scrabble-sized tiles with letters and numbers on them and several odd objects with an image of a sailboat taped to them. The room was meant to be an old billionaire’s office and we wanted to find his fortune now that he had died. There were 20+ books on shelves in the room and I rummaged through them all at least twice. One of the books was about the billboard music charts and we had to use it to figure out a series of numbers based on the songs that played on the recording.
After we cracked that code there were several more, of course. One of the locks opened a small box with a weird cord in it. The cord was the missing piece to a device powered by a hand crank. I cranked it and a message displayed on a little screen with further instructions. Todd took notes while I continued following the demanding little screen. “Crank slower. Now faster. Stop. Crank ten more times. Now here’s your next code…” Behind us someone else figured out how to open a secret door in the wall. We were expecting a hidden door after our first mission and thought the biggest bookcase was the obvious location (wrong). Megan did find a hidden compartment in the bookcase but no door, just more tiles and puzzle pieces.
Through the secret door was a similar room with a desk and a mysterious box about four feet tall in the middle of the floor. There were lots of little drawers with padlocks in it. The top contained one of those mazes where you have to navigate a metal ball from end to end. The maze didn’t move so we needed a magnet to make the ball move. I ripped the phone off the desk and tried to use the small magnet built into the handset but it wasn’t strong enough. Mike found a black-light bulb in the lamp which eventually led us to a magnet. Todd completed the maze three times forwards and backwards to satisfy another demanding little screen. I spent the next several minutes in the first room trying to complete a puzzle based on a series of numbers figured out from the sailboat puzzle. I was still working on it when Mike ran from room number two and opened the escape door! I followed him out and, while surprised, was thrilled that we had succeeded!
Apparently one of the lower drawers on the mystery box contained a video camera and the boys figured out how to use it and gain the final four-digit escape code. I asked our monitor what my numbers puzzle was meant to unlock and he said it led to a note indicating there was a secret compartment in the bookcase, the one Megan had already found without help. We had escaped in 47.5 minutes, the second fastest time of the day, which is pretty cool. Beasley’s Billions had a much higher success rate than Szechuan Secret across town. Forty percent of groups make it out of the former, which is probably why it felt so much easier. In the end, I think I have discovered a passion for escaping rooms. There are dozens of escape room challenges in the Twin Cities that I now need to visit!
SPOILERS FOR TICK TOCK’S BEASLEY’S BILLIONS ESCAPE ROOM END HERE
The five of us headed back to the hotel and got ready for bed. I had to pull my bed back out of the couch and tried to increase my comfort using every available blanket as added padding on the center-bar. I put a movie on and set the sleep-timer to half an hour. I probably watch six minutes before nodding off. End of day two.