In recent years, a new form of entertainment, escape rooms, has been sweeping the nation. According to an article from the New York Times, from 2014 to 2018 around 1,880 new escape room companies have opened their doors nationwide. One such company, CU Adventures in Time and Space, has been a part of this boom, and now after 3 years, they’ve decided it’s time to expand their operations and open a new, larger location in Urbana.
When CU Adventures first opened, co-owners and spouses Anne and Chris Lukeman had only the venue on 123 W. Main St. with one room called Office Hours. They later opened 2 more adventures in that building and rented out a second building on 110 S. Race St. about a year later.
The name they choose for the company, CU Adventures in Time and Space, is just the start of where these rooms diverge from the norm. In an industry filled with names like Escape Room City, LabEscape and Brainstorm Escapes, the Lukemans chose to set themselves apart from the beginning, opting for a more unique name.
“We’ve always been a big fan of the kind of big, silly, jokey names. So Adventures in Time and Space really fit,” said Chris Lukeman. “There’s a bit of a ‘Doctor Who’ reference in there and we liked it. It kind of makes it a pain on official business paperwork… but it made us laugh.”
As they created more rooms, the co-owners tried to make each room based in its own unique genre. “I mean, we’re just genre people,” said Anne Lukeman. Now with over 7 different escape rooms, the Lukemans just opened a third location on 302 N. Broadway.
The new opening comes with a number of changes, including the closing of their original location on W. Main and with it three of their adventures, The Cabin, Calling All Heroes and The Lost Temple. The Main St. location had simply been outgrown, and the 7,500 square feet of the new Broadway location brings with it new possibilities.
“It’s allowed us to do some really cool redesign of the games and the kind of experiences we want to deliver from the ground up, in a huge space that we’ll be able to do some experimental, large-scale gaming that should be interesting,” Chris said.
Chris and Anne are avid escapists themselves, having gotten the idea to make their own room after completing “Wizard Quest” in the Wisconsin Dells. From the start, they say they wanted to make the experience a little different from a simple “locked-in-a-room” design, putting their experience as filmmakers to use.
“While escaping a room you’re locked in is a valid sort of storytelling experience, it’s much more exciting to prevent the apocalypse by assembling an idol in an ancient temple or a casting the spell that will vanish the dragon from the kingdom or pulling a sword out of stone,” Chris said.
The combination of more space and the cinematic mindset has allowed them to integrate more theatrical elements into the new venue’s adventures. Previously, things like immersive lighting and reactive sound weren’t possible, but now they are excited to incorporate them alongside new sets.
Designing a game room is an interesting experience and a very complex one at that. Not only does it involve coming up with stories and puzzles, but it also requires them to think about how different groups would approach the rooms in different ways.
“Some groups are going to come in and focus on things like the elegance of the puzzle design and stuff like that. And some groups will view it as a competition. It’s their interpretation on what the game is and what the story is. So we design kind of a set that 70 percent of teams will have a very similar experience and then that the last 30 percent of teams will just do weird random stuff,” Chris said.
The Lukemans’ newest escape room, Revenge of The Cabin, is already available to the public, and more adventures are on their way, the co-owners said. As to whether this new room or any other was their favorite, the Lukemans were hesitant to choose just one.
“Their all special in their own way. They’re like children. You can’t pick one,” Anne said. With the new site up and running, for both Chris and Anne this is not only a chance to expand the business but a chance to give back to the community they were a part of. They’ve worked with local artists, musicians, lighting designers and more to make their adventures, and the Lukemans are greatly appreciative for all the additional help.
“We talked about how we came from a filmmaking background in indie film. No one gets paid, you spend money and hope that people will see the art and it’s great being in an industry where we can pay artists to be able to create these things.”