The Great Escape

by Lisa Talley | lisa@fresnoflyer.com

“There is a live zombie in the room on a chain… “ Andrew Vallejo tries but fails to hide a mischievous smirk as he rattles off this little fact with a very cool nonchalance.

Of course, it’s not a real zombie – otherwise, we’d all be staring at a very dark and dreary future akin to the likes of Fear the Walking Dead – but an actor who has a romping good time playing the part.

And it’s all just another day for The Great Escape, a locally owned and operated business in Clovis offering a collection of rooms for patrons to attempt an escape.

A year in the making, The Great Escape is the brainchild of owner, Jana Wilkerson – a teacher within the Fresno Unified School District for the past 20 years. The inspiration came soon after a trip to bring her son back to college where she tackled her first escape room. Jana found an immediate passion for solving intricate puzzles in very tense environments.

“After that weekend she spent a month thinking about what she would have done differently and how she would develop a room [herself],” shares Andrew Vallejo, manager of The Great Escape. “After a month of it keeping her awake at night, she decided just to do it.”

All the rooms – themes, puzzles, and game in all – are entirely original and unique to The Great Escape. Wilkerson initiates the construction of the rooms concerning themes, ideas, and puzzles, and when they’re ready for a test run, she’ll unleash them on her staff.

“We try it, give our ideas and then help to re-develop or perfect the puzzle. It becomes a group effort,” says Vallejo of the experience.

The process of developing a completely original game can take some time as the crew has to not only work out the kinks but also to find puzzles that can work within a constrained space. However, rather than seeing it as a deterrent away from theme ideas, they view any limitation as an inspiration to take the games in a unique direction.

Inside The Great Escape, there are a series of rooms of all shapes and sizes. Flanking the right are two small rooms and a long, narrow room. Instead of attempting to create a game for each of the different spaces, figuring out how to cram eight people into each room, the talented staff created a game split a group right down the middle.

The Heist is a game – complete with a laser maze – that takes half the team and plops them in a room away from the rest of the group. They would then tackle the puzzles in their space while the other four attempted to solve the remaining mysteries in the room next to them, each needing the help of the other team to complete the escape.

“The Heist is all about communication and it’s funny to watch how different people communicate with each other,” says Vallejo about being on the other side of the games as a proctor. “However, the Zombie Lab is probably everyone’s favorite to watch.”

Ah, there it is. The zombie reference is coming full circle now.

The Zombie Lab is The Great Escape’s most intense experience, which is primarily due to the live zombie in the room who chases the participants around as they attempt to figure out their clues. Every 5 minutes, the chain holding the zombie in place gets longer, meaning that the zombie has more reach and flexibility in getting its hands on someone.

“About halfway through he can pretty much get you from anywhere [in the room]. If you’re tagged, you’re infected and have to stay in the infirmary until your team finds and chooses to use the antidote [which] can only be used once,” explains Vallejo.

A quick look at the Zombie Lab inside The Great Escape

It’s a strategic game that requires quick thinking and quick footwork. The tension in the Zombie Lab tends to run high, so the staff has incorporated a ‘lab assistant’ who helps to oversee the entire process.

“Fight or flight is very real, and people do the strangest things when they are in that fight or flight mentality. It’s so unpredictable and makes it fun to [watch],” continues Vallejo.

The staff assures that although many people are wary of the Zombie Lab, every team who chooses the room comes out through the other side having had a great time.

The Great Escape’s crew aim to create unique experiences for its patrons, and that means replacing the old with the new. Each theme is active for six months before putting a new game into place. Old themes have not made reappearances in the past, but depending on demand, they could see a repeat.

Currently, the only room facing an overhaul is the one hosting the Mafia Bomb Squad – set in 1920s prohibition – and will be replaced with a new game titled The Curse at the end of the month.

The Curse centers on a tropical vacation that has gone wrong. Someone in the group has stolen a precious artifact that set a curse upon the entire team. Your job? Figure out who took it and what ‘it’ is.

The Great Escape is currently offering specials for the Halloween season with promo code: HALLOWEEN2017. The Mafia Bomb Squad is 20% off while it’s still in session. Anyone using the promo code will also receive 10% off the Zombie Lab. Can you handle?

For more information follow The Great Escape online @thegreatescapeclovis on Instagram and @thegreatescapegames on Facebook.

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