President Obama Escapes: Interview with Breakout Waikiki

President Obama and his family escaped a room at Breakout Waikiki during their winter vacation to Hawaii. We recently interviewed MacGregor Greenlee, General Manager of Hawaiian Operations at Breakout Waikiki about his experience hosting the Obamas.

Manoa Market in game image of the game played by the Obama's.

Room Escape Artist: When did you first find out that President Obama and his family were coming to play one of your room escapes?

Greenlee: We didn’t find out about the impending visit from POTUS until about an hour before he arrived. Initially it was only the Secret Service who showed up to sweep the place, do background checks on the employees, and open every single door, drawer, nook and cranny within all of our escape rooms to make sure it was safe. As you can imagine, that part took the longest.

How did the Obamas’ visit come about? What’s the backstory?

I can’t speak with any certainty how they came to visit us, but it may have something to do with a one year old tweet that was sent from the Breakout account. A year prior to President Obama’s actual visit, I found out that he and his family were coming to Hawaii for Christmas and I quickly wrote up a tweet and sent it out, assuming nothing would come of it. At the time, nothing did come of it, no response, no retweet, nothing. But fast forward a year and President Obama walks in our door to do an escape room at our facility. Whether he saw the tweet or his vacation planner did, something caught their eye and drew them to Breakout. Of course, I think it goes without saying that the Breakout ownership has set up a top class business which is reflected in our reviews online. I’m happy to think that some of our customers’ experiences helped inform the President’s decision to drop by.

What was it like interacting with the Secret Service? Did they make you change anything about your operations or your game?

The Secret Service were all about taking care of business just like you would imagine, but they were also very patient and understanding with the employees at Breakout who were no doubt shaking at the thought of running a room for the President. It wasn’t clear which room President Obama was going to do because they had a party of about 30 people who split into four different rooms. His daughters chose our Mission Manoa room which is based on a room at our original location (Breakout Kansas City) and features a hand cuffing component. As you can imagine, the Secret Service was not going to allow anyone in the room to be handcuffed, especially the President!

Was everything else business as usual? Were there other paying customers visiting that day?

There were paying customers that day and everything was running normally up until about 2:30pm. That’s when the secret service came in and started their sweep which definitely alerted the other customers to something going on. We unfortunately couldn’t tell them, for security reasons, so we had to do our best to explain in vague terms that we needed to escort them out after their game was done.

Which game did the Obamas play? Is that the game you would have recommended for them?

The Obamas, specifically President Obama and his two daughters as well as some other family, played Mission Manoa. This was one of our original games at Breakout Kansas City, one of my personal favorites and a perfect one for them to take on. It’s a challenging room, currently with an 18% success rate, that mixes a variety of different puzzle types and incorporates among the most locks in any game we offer.

What was it like to tell the President the rules of your game?

I didn’t run the room personally, but having heard first hand from our employee Janelle who operated the room for them, she was more than a little stressed out. Every room has its stresses, but put the experience of the President in with everything else definitely takes it to a new level. Full credit to her for keeping her cool and taking care of them as she would with any other group. Her and the rest of the staff did an exemplary job under extremely high pressure.

We hear that the Obamas escaped with only 12 seconds to spare. How intense were those last few minutes? Were you nervous that they weren’t going to make it out?

The tension could not have been higher in those last few moments! We knew we had to let them set their own pace and attack the puzzles as they saw them, which was very hard because with a high profile guest it’s hard to resist the urge to take control. However, as anyone who has done an escape room knows, you have to experience for yourself or it’s just not very fun. Fortunately in the end, they had what it took to escape the room just before time expired. They did use all three clues, but they used them wisely and that can always make the difference!

How aggressive were they (or you?) with the hints?

They were fairly average in the way they took clues, never waiting too long to request a hint or asking too early before they were stuck. As with most groups, there were some things they understood immediately and others that they struggled with before overcoming.

Who was the all-star?

Word is that Malia was key to their breakout, doing most of the heavy lifting when it came to solving the larger puzzles!

Did they take a post-game photo with their time?

They did, but we weren’t allowed to take it with our own camera. Instead their Photographer took the photo but it’s licensed for personal use only.

Is there anything you wish you had done differently?

Everything went about as close to perfectly as you can hope. Three of the groups broke out, one did not, everyone had a great time and there were no major issues. All in all, near perfect!

How has business been since their visit? Any notable uptick in escape room players?

We have absolutely experienced a bump in business since the President dropped by. Starting with the night he came in, we had quite a few groups book the same room he did just so they could give it a shot. Since then we have continued to enjoy a little bit of buzz that has carried over.

Do you expect a visit from President-Elect Trump?

Time will only tell, but we are certainly ready to have him drop by! If President-Elect Trump is up for the challenge, he is more than welcome to drop by and take on the Obama’s time whenever he would like to.

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