In Season 5, Episode 10 of REPOD we chat with Taylor Pfyffer and Josh Skidmore from The Exit Games. Passionate escape room enthusiasts Tay and Josh have made a name for themselves with their innovative and captivating games. Their latest creation, Pins & Needles, just won a Golden Lock Award. Both this game and their other game, Servants of Sleight, placed in the top 40 on the 2023 TERPECA list.
The intentionality of their storytelling shines through in every little detail, even the immersive “warnings” on their website. Players may be surprised to discover that Tay and Josh build all the games themselves, given their impressive scenic design. They also share some of the Easter eggs hidden in their escape rooms, such as sneaking a Fenways into the “back alleys” of New York City.
They stuck to their guns when everyone told them that a tattoo parlor theme was too risky, or that the names of their games were “weird” and it paid off. The escape rooms at The Exit Games, particularly the acclaimed Servants of Sleight and Pins & Needles at their Clearwater, FL, location are designed with escape room enthusiasts in mind. Tay and Josh have a true passion for escape rooms and it shines through their inventive designs, captivating storytelling, and meticulous craftsmanship.
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RECON Remote 23 will take place August 19 – 20, 2023, online.
RECON 24 will be in person.
Topics Discussed in this Episode
- [2:03] David tells Tay and Josh that their newest escape room, Pins & Needles, won a 2023 Golden Lock Award.
- [2:50] Josh tells us about how he and Tay got into escape rooms because they were huge fans of point-and-click video games as kids. They played their first escape room in 2015 and became instantly addicted, playing worldwide. Josh and his father eventually opened their first location in Wilmington, North Carolina, in August of 2016.
- [4:07] Tay talks a bit about the differences between their two locations in North Carolina and Florida. She mentions that Wilmington was the first location where they cut their teeth. They eventually chose Clearwater, FL, after visiting family there and falling in love with a location for rent. She mentions that the Clearwater location is not only larger, but it caters more to enthusiasts.
- [6:13] Josh talks about their decision to deconstruct Servants of Sleight into two different games, Dog Gone Alley and White Rabbit Society, at their Wilmington location.
- [8:05] Peih-Gee clarifies the timelines of the games: Wilmington was the first location. They next built Servants of Sleight in Clearwater, then built deconstructed versions of Servants of Sleight back in Wilmington.
- [8:28] Tay tells us that they will soon be bringing a deconstructed version of Pins & Needles called Hidden Needle Tattoo Parlor to their second location in Wilmington.
- [8:50] David says he played the deconstructed versions of the escape room first, which Tay and Josh recommended against. He says that he liked the games, but couldn’t see the hype until he played Servants of Sleight and realized the gestalt of the game.
- [10:09] David mentions that both Servants of Sleight and White Rabbit Society are built around a magician’s bar, and that they are aesthetically pleasing, but very different. Tay tells us that they really wanted a mysterious Illuminati-meets-magic vibe. Josh tells us that for White Rabbit Society, the vaulted ceilings and the big chandelier are original from when the building used to house a bank. They changed the design a bit to match the building in Wilmington.
- [13:29] Peih-Gee talks about the great names for their escape rooms and says that they’re different from normal naming conventions. They give just enough clues about the theme to be intriguing without spelling it out entirely.
- [14:05] Josh says that he wanted to come up with a name that was different, yet catchy enough to sound like a household name. Tay says that they really wanted a non-traditional name and that they consider naming their escape rooms to be an art form with sneaky nods to the theme. Josh says there are multiple meanings behind the names of their escape rooms that will come to light once you’ve played the game.
- [15:41] Peih-Gee mentions that she enjoys the mystique of their names, and how memorable they are, meaning she can distinguish them from other escape rooms.
- [16:03] Tay talks about why they changed the name from Pins & Needles to Hidden Needles when they moved the game to Wilmington. She explains that the game is slightly different in Wilmington, without the thriller elements, and that they wanted to make it clear that they are different games.
- [19:22] Tay tells us about how and why they adapt their enthusiast-centered games in Florida for a more newbie-friendly crowd in their North Carolina location.
- [21:50] Peih-Gee talks about the intentionality of their storytelling, which is evident even in their “warnings” on their booking page, which are told in character and help give the flavor of the experience.
- [23:45] Josh tells us about their design process. They start with a feeling that they want to replicate and try to recreate it through scenic and original puzzles.
- [25:11] Tay expands more on their design process. She explains that they start with a story that they love, and then think about what kind of items would be in that narrative. They then build puzzles that fit that environment.
- [26:44] Josh confesses that he doesn’t have any tattoos and had never even stepped into a tattoo parlor before designing Pins & Needles. David says one of his teammates who is really into tattoo culture was really impressed with the experience.
- [28:07] Tay talks about why they chose a tattoo parlor as the environment for their game, and also notes that some players have gone to get tattoos after playing Pins & Needles.
- [32:07] Tay talks about the pressure they felt building their second game because they needed to live up to the hype of their first game. She says that after seeing how well-received Pins & Needles is, it gives them much more confidence when building and designing their third escape room.
- [33:21] Josh gives us a teaser for their third game and says there are a couple Easter eggs on their website as well as in Pins & Needles. He tells us that it will still kind of be set in the realm of New York’s back alleys, despite David telling them previously that New York doesn’t have back alleyways.
- [34:10] Josh tries to give us a rough estimate of when to expect their third game. He tells us that Servants of Sleight took about seven months to build and Pins & Needles took about a year to build. They are hoping to start building their third game in Clearwater at the end of 2023.
- [34:52] Peih-Gee reads a question sent in by her friend and REA Patron backer Alyssa Diaz. She mentions their impressive scenic design and asks about a set designer and the size of their construction crew. Tay and Josh tell us that it’s mainly only the two of them building, with occasional help from Josh’s dad, Frank.
- [36:38] Josh says that as enthusiasts, they really like detail overload so the environment feels authentic.
- [37:29] Tay talks about Easter eggs and linking stories between their games.
- [38:37] Tay lived in Prague for a few years before they built their first escape room, and when Josh visited her there, they would play escape rooms throughout Europe. They talk about Chris Lattner’s The Room in Berlin being a huge influence on their work, especially the attention to detail.
- [40:39] David says he can relate because The Alchemist Chamber in Prague was his fourth escape room and that the games in Europe in the early years of the escape room industry inspired him to create Room Escape Artist.
- [41:31] Tay tells us a story about the time they experimented with having a bear statue deliver the intro to a game. The only time they ever tried this was when they ran a game for REA writer Richard Burns, who has been trying to figure out ever since if this was a normal intro for the game, and why no one else has ever heard of it.
- [44:54] Josh and Tay are both huge Red Sox fans. They talk about what makes for a great stadium experience.
- [45:33] They tell us that there are a lot of Red Sox Easter eggs inside their escape rooms, including Fenway’s Magic Shop, which is a nod to Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox. David shares that his cousin was Wally the Green Monster, the mascot for the Red Sox, for a decade.
- [46:28] Peih-Gee congratulates the couple on their engagement. Tay talks about trying to incorporate puzzles either into the wedding reception or on their Save the Dates. She says she is open to suggestions.
- [47:42] Tay talks about their future projects, including an escape room at their newest Wilmington location that’s based on cleaning up a dorm room before the parents arrive. They are also opening a coffee shop in Wilmington as well as working on their third adventure in Clearwater.
- [50:07] David tells us that tickets to Room Escape Artist’s Orlando escape room tour are nearly sold out, but you can still purchase tickets to Premium Extension #2, which includes transportation to Clearwater and the two games at Exit Games.
- [52:59] Tay tells us a bonus story about the time they played Project Minotaur and Miss Jezebel in Los Angeles and left with a memorable battle scar.
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Resources Mentioned in this Episode
- The Exit Games website (Clearwater, FL)
- The Exit Games website (Wilmington, NC)
- REA reviews
- Orlando Escape Room Tour
- The Room, Berlin, Germany
- MindMaze, Prague, Czech Republic
About Taylor Pfyffer & Josh Skidmore
It all started in 2015 when we discovered our first escape room while searching for things to do in Boston. Little did we know that this would catapult a passion for escape rooms that would spread from an enthusiasm for escape adventures to taking the leap to build, own, and design our own escape room. In August 2016, we opened our first venue in Wilmington, NC: The Exit Games.
Since then, we’ve debuted our second location in Clearwater, FL and our third, also in Wilmington, in addition to working alongside brands like Mr. Beast on Youtube and Sony to develop custom escape projects. When we’re not working, our addiction of playing rooms has remained intact and we’ve been fortunate to play nearly 350 rooms across the world. We’re excited to see what the future of The Exit Games and escape rooms has in store.
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