REPOD Episode 4: Escape Room Storytelling Through Spectacle, CU Adventures Anne & Chris Lukeman

In episode 4, we chat with Chris and Anne, owners of the escape room company CU Adventures in Time & Space in Urbana, Illinois. Chris and Anne’s game design has a very thoughtful cinematic quality to it, full of spectacle, surprise reveals, and smooth narrative flow.

After learning about their background in indie filmmaking and their love of kitsch, horror, roadside attractions, and fantasy scavenger hunts, all the pieces fell into place. Chris and Anne have a strong aesthetic vision that becomes apparent the minute you play any one of their wonderful games.

We really loved rummaging around in their brains, and we hope you’ll enjoy all the stories and tidbits we discovered.

man and woman posing next to a sign that says CU Adventures in Time and Space

Episode 4

Episode Summary

In this episode, David and Peih-Gee chat with Chris and Anne Lukeman, owners of the escape room company CU Adventures and the escape room shirt company Solve Our Shirts.

We talk about how a trip to Wisconsin and to two attractions in particular “opened their eyes to a level of weird that became a commercial business.” Those attractions were Wizard Quest, a fantasy-themed scavenger hunt and House on the Rock, which Anne describes as a “skyscraper hobbit-hole of kitsch.” We learn about their background in indie filmmaking and how it has influenced their escape room design process. As part of his design philosophy, Chris says that anywhere in one of their escape rooms, “it should feel like a picturesque, lived-in space, and either tell part of the story, inform part of the puzzle, or be weird, or be funny. It HAS to do one of those things.”

They talk to us about the pros and cons of operating in a smaller community. We find out why they decided to release their remote game Lost Temple as a print-and-play. David and Peih-Gee gush over Solve Our Shirts, their latest project, which is an escape room in a t-shirt. Chris and Anne tell us about their plans to expand with a fantasy-themed mini-golf course with additional gamification, a bar, and gaming rooms.

Reality Escape Pod mission patch logo depicts a spaceship puncturing through the walls of reality.

Topics Discussed in this Episode

  • Anne and Chris tell us how a trip to Wisconsin in 2012, and visits to two different attractions in particular “opened their eyes to a level of weird that became a commercial business.” [1:09]
  • One of the attractions was Wizard Quest, a scavenger hunt that takes place in a large immersive fantasy-themed space. [1:40]
Indoor playground with fantasy themes including a castle, unicorn and slides.
Wizard Quest
  • The second attraction was The House on the Rock, which Anne describes as a “skyscraper hobbit-hole of kitsch.” [4:55] 
An assortment of strange animatronic musical instruments.
Animatronic(?) Musical Instruments – Image via Atlas Obscura
The gaping maw of a giant sperm whale sculpture.
Giant Sperm Whale – Image via Atlas Obscura
A massive infinity mirror illusion.
Infinity Mirror Illusion – Image via Atlas Obscura
  • We learn about Anne and Chris’ background in spectacle-based, indie filmmaking, and how they met in college. [9:30]
  • They tell us about how they actually crossed paths at a Bruce Campbell book-signing event 6 years before they officially met. [10:30]
  • Chris talks about how his background in production and set design has influenced his escape rooms [12:20]
  • As part of his design philosophy, Chris says that if a player stands in any part of his escape rooms, “it should feel like a picturesque, lived-in space, and either tell part of the story, inform part of the puzzle, or be weird, or be funny. It HAS to do one of those things.” [13:11]
  • Anne talks about how their games typically follow a three-act structure similar to a play or a movie, and how it typically corresponds to three different spaces. [14:10]
  • One of the things that CU Adventures takes pride in doing well is accommodating both newcomers and experienced players. [15:40]
  • They don’t create rooms of varying difficulty. Instead, they prefer to adjust difficulty level on the fly via the hint system, gamemaster interaction, or by swapping out a puzzle. [16:16]
  • We talk about the length of escape room games and discuss unsatisfying conclusions to escape rooms. [17:15]
  • Anne and Chris tell us that none of their games end with unlocking a door. They discuss why their games don’t end with an “escape back to reality.” [19:13]
  • Anne and Chris discuss the pros and cons of operating in a smaller community. [20:50]
  • Anne and Chris tell us about their traveling rooms, which are mobile, large-scale escape rooms that they created for special events like GenCon. [23:25]
  • We talk about their digital games, Floor 13 and The Lost Temple, and their roots in old-school point-and-click adventure games, including Monkey Island, 90’s MUDs (multi-user dungeon) and Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time [26:45]
  • Anne and Chris talk about their decision to release The Lost Temple as a print-and-play digital game instead of as an avatar livestream game. [28:50]
  • We chat about Solve Our Shirts, of which David and Peih-Gee are both big fans. [32:35]
  • Anne tells us about how they were able to pivot from an escape room company to manufacturing and fulfillment of a physical product. [34:10]
Model wearing teal t-shirt with the puzzles removed.
Solve Our Shirts – Image via CU Adventures
  • We talk about the hint system in Solve Our Shirts and how hinting and cluing is an art form when done well. [36:30]
  • Anne and Chris talk about their plans for expanding, which included a fantasy themed mini-golf course with additional gamification, a bar, escape rooms, and gaming rooms. [40:10]

Resources

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Mentioned in this Episode

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Support REPOD

Thanks for listening!

Guest Bio

Chris and Anne Lukeman, owners of CU Adventures in Time & Space and Solve Our Shirts

Chris & Anne Lukeman are owners of CU Adventures, an escape room company located in Urbana, IL. In addition to their in-person games, they have also hosted large-scale pop-up escape rooms at Gen Con Indy, and developed the digital/print-and-play hybrid games The Lost Temple and Floor 13. Their newest game is Solve our Shirts, a full-length at-home escape room where all the clues are on a t-shirt!

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CU Adventures – Solve Our Shirts: Escape from the Maze of the Minotaur [Review]

Update 3/23/21: If you enjoy Solve of Shirts, we hope you’ll check out our interview with creators Anne & Chris Lukeman on The Reality Escape Pod.

A monster with the body of a man and the face of a puzzle.

Location:  at home

Date Played: December 2020

Team size: 1-4; we recommend 2

Duration: 60-90 minutes

Price: $35-$40 for a single shirt, $50-$60 for the deluxe edition, couples packs also available

REA Reaction

To the best of my knowledge, Escape from the Maze of the Minotaur is the first time that puzzles, cotton, and a bit of polyester have been blended together to create a play-at-home escape game… and it was great fun.

Assortment of t-shirts showing the front and back designs in assorted colors.
Image via CU Adventures

Solve Our Shirts is onto something and I strongly recommend it. The question that you have to answer for yourself is which edition you’re purchasing:

  • Standard ($35-40) – the core product
  • Deluxe ($50-60) – the core product + a few added props and puzzles
  • (Or the couples version of either of these)

My advice: The core product stood firmly on its own. If your budget is tight, this was the main event and you will not feel like you missed out.

If you’re not going to miss the extra $15-20, the premium product added a few good puzzles and a prop that gave me a good laugh, and now sits on my desk.

The couples version is great if the t-shirt design speaks to you and a puzzle solving companion in your life. While we appreciated having two shirts side by side for solving, a second shirt added no additional content.

All options are good options; simply pick the one that speaks to you. I can’t wait for more Solve Our Shirts.

Series Overview

This review only covers details specific to this individual shirt from Solve Our Shirts.

For a detailed explanation of the concept and mechanics, and a general analysis of the entire product line, check out our Solve Our Shirts Overview.

Continue reading “CU Adventures – Solve Our Shirts: Escape from the Maze of the Minotaur [Review]”

CU Adventures – Solve Our Shirts [Overview]

Update 3/23/21: If you enjoy Solve of Shirts, we hope you’ll check out our interview with creators Anne & Chris Lukeman on The Reality Escape Pod.

SOS FTW

Location:  at home

Date Played:  December 2020

Team size: 1-4; we recommend 2

Duration: 60-90 minutes

Price: $35-$40 for a single shirt, $50-$60 for the deluxe edition, couples packs also available

REA Reaction

Solve Our Shirts is a burgeoning product line that blends physical props, t-shirt design, and a digital interface to create a novel way to puzzle. The concept was cool and the execution was stellar.

CU Adventures has achieved a renowned status for their escape room design pre-2020, and their digital escape game design throughout 2020. With games like the 2020 Golden Lock Award-winning The Lost Temple and the similarly brilliant Floor 13, this small company from Champaign-Urbana, Illinois has provided some of our favorite puzzling experiences of the past year.

While there is only one installment currently in the Solve Our Shirts lineup, we have it on good authority that there will be more coming, so with this overview, we’re ready for when future installments arrive.

In the meantime, Escape from the Maze of the Minotaur is a must-play game for the at-home puzzler.

Red and teal puzzle shirts folded and laying beside one another.

Series Installments

  • Escape from the Maze of the Minotaur (review)

Who is this for?

  • Story seekers
  • Puzzle lovers
  • Players who want a souvenir of their puzzling
  • T-shirt wearers
  • Any experience level

Why play?

  • Inventive puzzles
  • Surprising moments
  • You still have a high-quality t-shirt after you’ve solved all the puzzles.
Assortment of t-shirts showing the front and back designs in assorted colors.
Image via CU Adventures
Continue reading “CU Adventures – Solve Our Shirts [Overview]”

CU Adventures in Time & Space – Floor 13 [Hivemind Review]

Update 3/23/21: If you enjoy Floor 13, we hope you’ll check out our interview with creators Anne & Chris Lukeman on The Reality Escape Pod.

Floor 13 is a combination digital + printable game created by CU Adventures in Time & Space in Urbana, IL.

The print and play packet resting on a laptop keyboard.

Format

Style of Play: fusion of point-and-click adventure game and print-and-play tabletop escape game

Required Equipment: computer with an internet connection, printer, pen and paper, scissors, tape

The no-printer variant is really good, but the print-and-play version is better. Also, make sure that all players are using the same packet (print or no-print).

Recommended Team Size: 1-3

Play Time: about 60 minutes

Price: pay what you want; minimum $10

Booking: purchase online and play at your leisure

Description

Floor 13 was a fusion of LucasArts-style point-and-click adventure with tabletop escape room. We received a PDF with about a dozen printable pages (there is a no-print variant as well), and a few pages had bits that required cutting out. Then we used a web-based interface to click around and interact with the game world. This interface kept us organized while presenting the puzzles as well as the story.

Avoid using the paper elements before being instructed to do so or you might short circuit the game.

Hivemind Review Scale

CU Adventures in Time & Space – The Lost Temple [Hivemind Review]

Update 3/23/21: If you enjoy The Lost Temple, we hope you’ll check out our interview with creators Anne & Chris Lukeman on The Reality Escape Pod.

The Lost Temple is a combination digital + printable game created by CU Adventures in Time & Space in Urbana, IL.

Lisa and David on Zoom with Escape The Roomers, a Print and Play game sitting on their keyboard with scissors and a pen.

Format

Style of Play: fusion of point-and-click adventure game and print-and-play tabletop escape game

Required Equipment: computer with an internet connection, printer, pen and paper, scissors, tape

This game was designed to be printed. There is a “no print” version, but using it really does rob you of this game’s finest moments. We strongly recommend doing most of the cutting out prior to the start of the game. (Keep track of the page numbers for the things you cut out.)

Recommended Team Size: 2-4

Play Time: about 2 hours

Price: $10 for print-and-play with higher prices for shipped components

Booking: purchase the game and play at your leisure

Description

The Lost Temple was a fusion of LucasArts-style point-and-click adventure with tabletop escape room. We received a PDF with a couple of dozen printable pages, many of which had bits that needed to be cut out. Then we used a web-based interface to click around and interact with the game world. This interface kept us organized while presenting the puzzles as well as the story.

The flooplan for a university library with a hand written letter on it.

Hivemind Review Scale