For decades, Americans young and old have been fascinated with detective stories, crime shows and whodunit games. Now, local mystery aficionados can look no further than Riverside to satisfy their thirst to be a private eye — at least for an hour.

Opening in a few weeks, Vault Escape is a new puzzle room business that Riverside residents and owners Sarah Kampbell and Jennifer Segal are calling a “live action, entertainment experience.”

Located at 3234 Harlem Ave., Vault Escape features two themed mystery rooms in which small groups of people work together for 60 minutes to discover hidden clues and solve complex riddles to successfully make it out. Kampbell and Segal work together to create problems people can solve using a mix of common knowledge, detective skills and intuition. 

Kampbell says while some may not be familiar with puzzle rooms, the concept has gained extensive popularity over the years and has been featured on TV programs including “Big Bang Theory” and the “Ellen DeGeneres Show.”

“It’s everything from a scavenger hunt within the room to the riddles and brain teasers with physical elements where you might have to move some things in the room to make something else happen,” Kampbell said. 

The Riverside stay-at-home moms decided to open the business together after going to a puzzle room place and falling in love with the concept.

“We loved it so much that in the car ride home we were like, ‘Yep, we’re going to open one,'” Kampbell said.

The owners are fairly new residents to Riverside and bring with them some interesting backgrounds as well. Kampbell, originally from Minnesota, recently received her Ph.D. in Byzantine history from Princeton University. 

Prior to that, she worked as an underwater archeologist studying shipwrecks. Segal is originally from New Hampshire and has past experience working for Martha Stewart’s company and a technology company on the East Coast. She also formerly owned a company that created Chinese wooden puzzles.

Kampbell says they decided to open up shop in Riverside because of the proximity to their homes and great traffic location.

“We wanted to add extra business to the village,” Kampbell said. “There are so many open storefronts and we also wanted to be close to where we are. The location is phenomenal right off Harlem and near the train stop, so it’s perfect for us.”

The inaugural puzzle rooms at Vault Escape are titled “Mad Scientist” and “Inheritance.” In the “Mad Scientist” room, players “accidentally” stumble into the lab of a mad scientist, and they have an hour to escape before the scientist returns. In that room, chemistry and other science skills will greatly come in hand to complete the tasks needed to make it out.  

In “Inheritance,” the story line revolves around an uncle, a world traveler, who has recently died and has left behind puzzles and games from his journeys. 

“He’s sort of like a wacky old man, and he sets it up so that if you want to inherit the money, you have to figure out how to leave the room,” Kampbell said. “For that one, the theme is that you’re in an older man’s study with that sort of worldly theme.”

Kampbell and Segal create the rooms after doing extensive research and purchase realistic props, sometimes including things from their own homes and travels that will match the themes they choose. 

Themes for the rooms will be redesigned every six to nine months, depending on when business starts to fall off in a certain room. 

Vault Escape is marketing towards adult crowds but will accept guests ages 14 and older and children 10 and up with a parent present. Children under 18 will need a parent signature to participate. The rooms are not designed to be scary, so guests should not be worried about that.

Guests could potentially be in the puzzle rooms with strangers, but typically Vault Escape will book parties of six or eight guests who are all family or acquaintances. Kampbell says the event is perfect for corporate functions or other large groups looking for a unique bonding experience. 

“It’s a really fun way to interact with family and friends on a night out,” Kampbell added. “Instead of going to dinner and a movie where you just sit there together and passively watch this, you can actually interact and work together.”

Vault Escape has not officially opened but will soon be taking reservations on their website, VaultEscapeChicago.com. Regular operating hours are Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. For ticket information, visit the website or call 708-990-3029.

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