The Escape Room I Didn’t Know I Wanted – Part 1 – Play


Lisa: This is the first piece in a three-part series by Diane Kobrynowicz and Sarah Mendez about taking risks and finding community through escape rooms.

Since David and I discovered escape rooms 6 years ago, we’ve been striving to grow the wonderful community of people who play, create, and share a love of real-life collaborative discovery adventures. We were touched by Diane and Sarah’s story and we’re excited they wanted to write it.

Here is Diane’s story, in her words.

A maze made from caution tape with a ghost at the end.

The Pop-Up Escape Room in a Garage in Pflugerville, TX

Folks, we played the most exciting, fun, and unusual escape room. It blew us away. The creators and hosts of this escape room, Sarah and Jonathan Mendez, far exceeded our expectations.

How did we happen upon this treasure?  That was thanks to David and Lisa at Room Escape Artist and their commitment to the escape room community! 

Our Background

My fiancé Tony and I started playing escape rooms 4 years ago. Like many of you, once we played our first game, we were hooked. Since then, we:

  • have played most of the rooms in our locale (the greater Austin area) 
  • are proud inaugural members of REA’s first Escape Immerse Explore tour and every tour thereafter 
  • have played about 150 rooms each across 6 states, 18 cities, and 3 countries

We take our fun seriously and are always up for new experiences. When we learned about a homemade pop-up escape room in our area, it piqued our curiosity.

A REA Connection

Lucky for us, Jonathan reached out to David and Lisa — whom he did not know personally but only as a reader of this blog! — to let them know about the escape room his wife Sarah had built in their garage. He wondered whether the REA audience in Austin might like to come play before they took it down. Lisa emailed those of us in the area to let us know of this time-sensitive pop-up escape game opportunity.

Diane and Sarah with their significant others.
Left to Right – Tony, Diane, Jonathan, Sarah

In a Garage?!

Okay, on the surface, really, how good could an escape room in someone’s garage actually be?

Yet, we were intrigued. It was a room we’d not played in our area. It was a possibility for novelty, adventure, and taking a chance on a new experience.

So why not?

We made plans to go. Then I discovered they lived a bit out of town – oh dear. We live in the east side of Austin, close to downtown. We are never out in the suburbs. Suddenly, I wasn’t sure if this home-grown amateur opportunity would be worth the $80 round trip Lyft – we are car-free folk – or the 45-minute drive. It seemed like we’d have to invest more than I’d expected for something I imagined would have little payoff. Plus, we didn’t know anything about this husband-and-wife team. What were the chances we’d actually like them?

Tony – usually more measured – was optimistic. They might be the fun, smart, creative, and artsy type who love escape rooms enough to craft an interesting and fun one themselves. “Yeah right,” I told him, uncharacteristically muted. I’m almost always the optimistic one; “everything is awesome” is my typical outlook.

Ultimately, we decided to go. After all, given the choice between doing an escape room and not doing an escape room, I’ll always choose the former.

Sarah's house exterior, decorated for Halloween.

Wildly Decorated

As our Lyft drove into the suburbs, we started to see some fun Christmas lights, even though it was more than a week until Thanksgiving. As we approached the address we’d been given, however, we noticed something different. The outside was still decorated for Halloween — which had passed 3 weeks earlier. Wildly decorated. This could be interesting…

A hallway decorated for Halloween.

The Mud Room Gates of Hell

Jonathan came to the door, greeted us warmly, and introduced us to Sarah. Their lovely home had been transformed into an exceptionally well-themed escape room lobby, complete with a “waiting room” sign. Halloween decor filled the massive space, with mood lighting, cobwebs, and “tortured souls” struggling between earth and hell.

A wall that looks like it has faces trapped within it.

They’d opened the portal to hell and the demons had escaped. Our mission would be to make our way to hell and close the portal, thereby saving all of humanity.

What clever mind created this ghoulish scenario that was thematically on point for Halloween, cheeky fun, and not at all scary?

After a lovely conversation sharing our escape room experiences, we made our way to “hell.”

I loved passing through their mud room into the “gates of hell.”

Engrossed and Enchanted

Once inside, we were transported. We needed to gather supplies, which required solving puzzles. One puzzle asked us to understand which transgressions would bring you to which circle of hell: was taking the last breadstick a worse transgression than neglecting to floss?  LOL! Insightfully, giving up on your dreams cast you into the deepest level of hell.

As we made our way through the portal deeper into hell we had spirits to resolve, the journeyman to pay, and a clever way to discover to cross the River Styx. All the while we were deeply engrossed in a compelling narrative with integrated puzzles. We hit only one place where a little bit of tweaking would have improved game flow. It confused and stopped us unnecessarily. 

Each puzzle advanced the story and entertained us. We experienced an immersive environment so entrancing we completely forgot we were in someone’s garage. Instead, we were fixed on finding the death scythe so we could close the portal of hell and save all of humanity.

Without the cameras or microphones that we’ve come to expect in escape rooms, Sarah had invented an ingenious clue system that worked perfectly. It kept the immersion and gave us just what we needed to advance when we got stuck.

When we found the death scythe and solved the final puzzle to allow us to deal with the hot, hot flames of hell, we were in for the unexpected biggest reveal yet… and one more objective.

When we finally came to the climax to face the demon, my screams of “terrified” delight were so real that the neighborhood dogs started barking.

We were engrossed and enchanted. Jonathan and Sarah were every bit as delightful as Tony had imagined. 

A halloway decorated for Halloween.

Escape Room +

We got so much more from this experience than an escape room playthrough.

There will be more rooms to play! In fact, Sarah has already planned her next two designs.

Moreover, we have new friends who are also escape room enthusiasts and eager to play.

Finally, Sarah and I have begun collaborating on an escape room-related endeavor that I’ve been creating. I’d just been missing the perfect partner.

Trusting our escape room community and taking chances has already yielded magical results. We can’t wait to experience whatever demons come our way next.


Lisa: As I mentioned at the top, this is the first piece in a 3-part series by Diane Kobrynowicz and Sarah Mendez. Stay tuned for the next installments, coming soon!

1 Comment

  1. This reminds me of our first forray into creating escape rooms. We had done two in Montreal and just fell in love with them BUT our home was Kauai, Hawaii and we had no access to more and none of our friends had experienced them….SO…we created our own in a 32ft airstream we had for Halloween and then did another one in our house for Valentine’s Day. We now own the only escape game on Kauai 😉

    I love homemade games and stories of homemade games….there’s so much passion involved.

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