Huntington escape room creates homegrown challenge for global visitors

JUSTIN ROGERS | Gazette-Mail
Debbie and Steve Adkins watch the Gazette-Mail team participate in The Lost: Escape Room in Huntington. The challenging attraction, which opened in July, will open a second location in Cross Lanes in April.
JUSTIN ROGERS | Gazette-Mail
Two of the newest themes will featured at The Lost: Escape Room Kanawha hang on the walls of the Huntington location.
JUSTIN ROGERS | Gazette-Mail
Debbie and Steve Adkins (above) own The Lost: Escape Room in Huntington. The pair got into the escape room business after visiting one in Tennessee and plan to open a second location in Cross Lanes next month.

HUNTINGTON — The door closes behind you. An image comes up on a television screen as a voice explains why you’re there, that you only have about an hour to put together clues and solve puzzles that will lead you out.

Success isn’t guaranteed.

If this were a James Bond movie, failing to work out the mystery would mean something gruesome happens and Bond (hopefully) saves the world without you, but at the Lost: Escape Room in Huntington, about the worst that could happen is you might swear a little at coming up short, but then have a good laugh.

After all, it’s only a game.

Just a stone’s throw from Big Sandy Superstore Arena at 300 C Eighth St., in Huntington, The Lost: Huntington Escape Room opened in July.

Owners Steve and Debbie Adkins said they can scarcely believe how well it’s done.

“We had no idea. It was something fun we liked and thought we might give it a try,” Steve Adkins said.

Their three games at Lost have exceeded their wildest expectations — so much so, the husband and wife are opening a second escape room attraction next month in Cross Lanes.

Escape rooms, Adkins said, have been in vogue in the U.S. for about three years.

“But they’ve been big overseas in Europe for at least 10,” he said.

In the lounge area of the Huntington escape room, the Adkinses have two big maps — one of the U.S., another of the world. Pins mark the points of origin of Lost: Escape Room visitors.

The Adkinses have seen customers from about two-thirds of the country, but on the world map, people have come from Europe, far-flung parts of Asia, the Middle-East and even a couple of out-of-the-way islands in the South Pacific.

“Most of the people from outside of the country already know what this is,” he said. “They’ve seen it before.”

In West Virginia, escape rooms are still relatively new, though Lost in Huntington isn’t the first of its kind in the state. There are at least two others — one in Morgantown and another in Fayetteville.

Another recently announced it would open in July on Charleston’s East End.

Until about three years ago, the Adkinses didn’t know much about escape rooms and certainly had no plans to open one. Steve Adkins and his wife are medical professionals in Huntington. He’s a cytotechnologist; she’s a neurological nurse.

The couple discovered their first escape room while visiting their daughter, Katelyn, in Nashville, Tennessee.

“We were just looking for something to do in Nashville.” He laughed and added, “Like there’s nothing to do in Nashville.”

They’d heard about something called The Escape Inn, which sounded different — at least, it was something they’d never tried.

“We took the whole family and just had a really great time,” he said.

It was so much fun they kind of wished there was something like this in Huntington. They just didn’t think a much smaller city could support an escape room — until they visited another daughter at West Virginia University and discovered another escape room in Morgantown.

Suddenly, having one closer to home seemed very possible.

“So why not Huntington?” they asked.

For research, Steve Adkins said they went to several different escape rooms, played the games offered and kept track of what they liked from those games and also what they thought might work.

“Finally, we just decided to go for it,” he said.

So far, so good.

Unlike some other escape rooms, Steve Adkins said, they’re entirely homegrown.

“We’re not a franchise,” he said. “We designed all the games and developed the scenarios. You won’t see our games anywhere else. It let us have more of a hometown flavor with what we do.”

They used local actors to help create their stories and props. Some of the actors are friends or members of the Adkins family.

A few of them didn’t know how involved they were in the process until they tried out one of the games.

Steve Adkins said he didn’t have any real experience with puzzles or designing games.

“The closest thing I can think of is, I did some geocaching,” he said.

Still, Steve Adkins and his family managed to come up with at least three very elaborate stories, each with numerous challenges for players to work out from beginning to end.

Some are more difficult than others, he said.

“We have one that’s probably better for beginners,” he said. “Another that’s more involved and has more puzzles and one that’s really hard.”

None of them are meant to be played alone or even with just two people.

“You need a group to work out the clues,” he said. “Different people bring different strengths.”

Steve Adkins recommended groups of six to eight people. Admission is $25 per person, and booking in advance is very much recommended, though not absolutely required.

“We get slammed on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Thursday is a little hit or miss sometimes,” he said.

Steve Adkins said their escape rooms have been popular for corporate functions, which use them for team building and as a kind of analysis of individual participants.

He said they’ve provided reports to companies who’ve sent their employees through Lost.

Mostly, however, it’s just for fun, and people come back, even if they’ve played a particular game before.

Steve Adkins said they play the same games over and over, hoping to beat their previous time, but he smiled and said, “You might remember some of the clues. You might remember most of the clues, but you’re probably not going to remember all of the clues.”

And you might not remember them in order.

Sometimes they don’t improve significantly on the second trip through, he said.

Before each game, Steve Adkins, his wife or a member of the escape room’s staff goes over the rules.

Like any game, there are things you should do and things you shouldn’t.

For example, he said, not everything in the room is meant to be handled — like the television, which plays a video to establish the scenario the players find themselves in.

Other objects, like books or menus or telephones may be picked up and used.

A sticker is affixed on or near items that are meant to stay put.

“Please, don’t break anything,” he said and laughed. “This stuff is expensive.”

Steve Adkins said participants shouldn’t show up drunk (being drunk doesn’t help with problem solving) and climbing in the room is strictly prohibited.

“You’re not a monkey,” he added.

They don’t allow recording inside the rooms and ask that people not reveal what they learn from playing. Many hours went into creating each game.

Basically, he said, just behave yourself and have a good time.

“Every room is wired for sound and video,” Steve Adkins said. “We can see and hear everything that’s happening. You talk to us and we can talk to you.”

If a group is having trouble, it can request clues and even bargain its way into a little more time.

“We might ask you to sing and dance,” he said.

While bribery isn’t specifically encouraged, it has been accepted.

“We had one group that offered to bring one of our employees donuts for a little help,” he said. “They were good people. She gave them a little help and they brought her donuts from the store down the street.

“Just be nice to your game master and they’ll be nice to you.”

Steve Adkins promised the location coming to Cross Lanes, opening next month, will have different games and different puzzles.

So, if you’ve played the three rooms in Huntington, you’ll have two new stories to try.

“We’re starting with two games,” he said. “If it goes OK, we might add a third and maybe a fourth.”

Reach Bill Lynch at

lynch@wvgazettemail.com,

304-348-5195 or follow

@LostHwys on Twitter.

Follow Bill’s One Month at a Time progress on his blog at

blogs.wvgazettemail.com/onemonth/.

He’s also on Instagram at

instagram.com/billiscap.

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