By Zach Sparks
Most horror fans are familiar with the deep and patronizing voice of Jigsaw, who commands people to play a death-defying game as retribution for their crimes or personal shortcomings. EscapeTime in Severna Park has its own control master who invites guests to play games, but this one is more forgiving and family friendly.
Jose Matos and Russell Paterno opened EscapeTime in March 2018. “We invited a group of realtors to experience it with us and decided that it would be a great atmosphere for team-building activities that we could bring to the Severna Park community,” Matos said.
That experience was so enjoyable that the duo decided to start their own business, with Jasmine Torres serving as the supervisor.
The concept is simple: Each team has 60 minutes to solve various puzzles, riddles and codes. Those who work well with their friends, teammates and colleagues will have the best chance to escape.
“Our rooms are generation three level,” Matos said. “A lot of places are generation one, which are just locks. Generation two’s are locks and regular puzzles. Generation three, the level of technology here and props … we have a command center where someone is watching, giving clues.
“We’ve had customers as young as 6 years old and as old as seniors,” Matos added.
EscapeTime offers four rooms, each with its own level of difficulty. Arabian Nights is the “easiest” room, with a difficulty rating of six out of 10.
“For Arabian Nights, some of our clues and puzzles are out in the open,” Paterno said. “Some of the more difficult rooms, what you see is not what you get.”
Arabian Nights participants are “prisoners” who were captured after stealing bread. In their dungeon, they uncover a secret wall compartment that contains directions to the fabled Cave of Wonders. After trekking through sand and storms, they find the cave, but there is more to the cave than meets the eye.
The newest room, Ghost Ship, is the most challenging at EscapeTime. Matos and Paterno consider it their greatest creation so far.
“It took three months to build,” Matos said. “It’s the most immersive room we have. It feels like you are actually in that environment.”
When asked about the story behind the room, Paterno teased, “The captain has run into a rock wall in the middle of the night … and Davy Jones wants your soul.”
The other two rooms are Hangover Vegas Suite — an exercise in uncovering the events of the wild night before — and Area 51, where players are tasked with sorting alien rumors from truth while infiltrating a military installation.
Each room is made from scratch, and EscapeTime has beta testers who try new rooms before they become available to the public.
“We come up with a theme that we want,” said Paterno, who used to work at the gaming department at Best Buy, where he would run tournaments.
“I’ll draw up the room design and I’ll have Jose build crazy puzzles.”
The co-owners plan to keep each room going for eight months to a year and then flip them to offer new challenges. Arabian Nights will have three more months before being replaced by a room inspired by “Beauty and the Beast.”
“We want to keep it a novice-type difficulty and keep it Disney themed because those are very popular,” Paterno said.
EscapeTime as a whole has become popular with families, corporations, sports teams and other groups. The business partners with Brian Boru Irish Restaurant and Pub to do birthday parties, which can be planned by calling EscapeTime.
The Severna Park escape room can accommodate 40 people at once. For corporations, the staff members will often challenge them to complete different rooms in a race against the clock, seeing which team will finish first. To even the difficulty, the team with the harder room can get more clues.
Matos and Paterno hope to expand to a second Anne Arundel County location in 2019, but they are thrilled with the success of their Severna Park business.
“We both grew up and lived in Anne Arundel County,” Paterno said.
Matos said, “We want to bring new entertainment to Severna Park.”
EscapeTime is located in Severna Park Market Center at 487 Ritchie Highway, Suite 102. To see if you can flee one of the EscapeTime rooms within 60 minutes, book your visit on www.escapetimemd.com or call 410-544-1188. Hours are Monday through Wednesday 5:00pm-10:00pm, Thursday and Friday 3:00pm-10:00pm, Saturday 11:00am-10:00pm and Sunday 11:00am-8:00pm.
Players won’t find Jigsaw, but they will encounter a fun and challenging experience.