Bull City Escape - Best of the Triangle Finalist for 3rd Straight Year

Bull City Escape was named a finalist in Indy Week’s annual Best of the Triangle survey for the third straight year!

You read that right…for THREE STRAIGHT YEARS Triangle residents have selected Bull City Escape as one of the best places for indoor fun and entertainment in the Triangle!

“More than 57,000 people voted in the two rounds of this year’s Best of the Triangle contest, totaling more than 365,000 votes in 343 categories. That’s crazy.” - Jeffrey C. Billman, IndyWeek

We love providing Customers outstanding experiences, and we love consistency!

Thank you, Triangle!!!

Bull City Escape Renews Certification in Durham Living Wage Project

Bull City Escape has renewed its certification in the Durham Living Wage Project, an organization whose purpose is to promote a just economy where workers are paid fairly, employers are successful, and our community thrives as a result.

“We’re excited to continue our certification in the Durham Living Wage Project. In particular, this is a recognition of our great employees for all they do to serve our Customers, our business, our community, and one another.“ - Dan

To read more about the Durham Living Wage Project, click here.

Continuing the Tradition!

Earlier this year, Bull City Escape officially changed hands to new owners, Dan and Chrissi Harmon.

“We first visited Bull City Escape as Customers, and were blown away by the quality of the games and the passion of the staff. They were creating amazing Customer experiences. We just had to be a part of it!”


That commitment to Customer experience has built a huge, loyal fan base.

“Our Customers know we’re rooting for them. We want them to escape the room, but whether they escape or not, we do everything we can to make sure they have a great time.”

These (almost) North Carolina natives have lived in North Carolina for over 20 years, and raise 4 amazing children!

“This is an exciting new adventure for all of us! We’re so grateful to Alice and her staff for building such a successful business. We can’t wait to continue building these amazing experiences!”

We’d love to hear from you! Drop us a note at info@bullcityescape.com and let us know how we’re doing!

How Many Neuroscientists Does it Take to Unlock a Door?

By Vanessa Moss

Duke’s Summer Neuroscience Program kicked off their first week of research on June 4 with a standard morning meeting: schedules outlined, expectations reiterated, students introduced. But that afternoon, psychology and neuroscience professor Thomas Newpher and undergraduate student services coordinator Tyler Lee made the students play a very unconventional get-to-know-you game — locking them in a room with only one hour to escape.

Not the usual team building activity: Students in Duke’s 8-week Summer Neuroscience Program got to know each other while locked in a room.

Not the usual team building activity: Students in Duke’s 8-week Summer Neuroscience Program got to know each other while locked in a room.

Bull City Escape is one of a few escape rooms in the Triangle, but the only one to let private groups from schools or companies or families to come and rent out the space exclusively. Like a live-in video game, you’re given a dramatic plot with an inevitably disastrous end: The crown jewels have been stolen! The space ship is set to self-destruct! Someone has murdered Mr. Montgomery, the eccentric millionaire! With minutes to go, your rag-tag bunch scrambles to uncover clues to unlock locks that yield more clues to yet more locks and so on, until finally you discover the key code that releases you back to the real world.

16 scientists in total, this summer’s program dips into many subfields, in hopes of pushing the students (most of them seniors) toward an honors thesis. According to Newpher, in 2018 76% of the neuroscience students who graduated with distinction had done the SNP program at some point during their tenure as a student.

From “cognitive neuro” that addresses how behavior and psychology interacts with your neural network, to “translational neuro” which puts neurology in a medical context, to “molecular and cellular neuro” that looks at neurons’ complex functions, these students are handling subjects that are not for the faint of heart or dim of mind.

But do lab smarts carry over when you’re locked in a room with people you hardly know, a monitor bearing a big, red timer, blinking its way steadily toward zero?

Apparently so. The “intrepid team of astronauts” that voyaged into space were faced with codes and locks and hidden messages, all deciphered with seven minutes left on the clock, while the “crack-team of detectives” facing the death of Mr. Montgomery narrowly escaped, with less than a minute to spare. At one point, exasperated and staring at a muddled bunch of seemingly meaningless files, a student looked at Dr. Newpher and asked, “Is this a lesson in writing a methods section?”

The Bull City Escape website lists creative problem-solving, focus, attention to detail, and performance under pressure as a few of the skills a group hones by playing their game — all of which are relevant to this group of students, many of whom are pre-med. But hidden morals about clarity and strength-building aside, Newpher picked the activity because it allows different sides of people’s personalities to come out: “When you’re put in that stressful environment and the clock is ticking, it’s a great way to really get to know each other fast.”

Bull City Escape Earns 2019 TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence

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For the 3rd year in a row, Bull City Escape has been awarded the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence. With over 150 reviews averaging 5-stars, Bull City Escape is ranked #1 for Fun & Games in Durham, North Carolina.

Now in its 9th year, the Certificate of Excellence designation recognizes establishments that consistently earn great TripAdvisor reviews from travelers.

The Certificate of Excellence accounts for the quality, quantity and recency of reviews submitted by travelers on TripAdvisor over a 12-month period.

Squad Goals! Durham Group Activities

By Ashley Strahm

Dive in to find your way out at Bull City Escape

This interactive experience will test your group's wits. You'll be locked in a room for 60 minutes; to escape, you'll have to find clues, solve puzzles, and crack codes. This escape game is sure to test your team members' communication, collaboration,and brain power.

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Pros: You'll get to show off your super sleuthing skills. All of that Matlock has finally paid off.

Cons: Well, this is obvious - you're locked in a room with your coworkers for an hour. Team bonding, indeed.

Details: A maximum of eight people can play at the same time and the cost is $25 per person. To book a private event during the week, contact Bull City Escape directly.

The 3 best escape game spots in Durham

In search of a new favorite escape game spot?

Hoodline crunched the numbers to find the top escape game spots around Durham, using both Yelp data and our own secret sauce to produce a ranked list of the best spots to venture next time you're in the market for escape games.

1. Bull City Escape
Topping the list is Bull City Escape. Located at 711 Iredell St., the escape game spot is the highest rated escape game spot in Durham, boasting five stars out of 59 reviews on Yelp.

Bull City Escape. | Photo: Andrea J./Yelp

Bull City Escape. | Photo: Andrea J./Yelp


Durham Tech, Women’s Business Center help pave the way for Cheung’s great escape

There’s 60 minutes on the clock.

Friends, families, and colleagues are locked in a room and must work together to find clues, solve puzzles, and crack codes to find the key to the outside.

This is a picture of the owner of Bull City Escape. It has been voted the best escape room in Durham, North Carolina.

They’re called escape rooms and they’re on an upward trend in entertainment.

“Your entire group is working toward a common goal, but it requires so many different types of thinking,” said Alice Cheung, 30, owner of Bull City Escape. “When you’re under the time pressure it really highlights people’s individual strengths within a collaborative group effort.”

Cheung brought this interactive experience to Durham in 2015 after attending a joint seminar by the Durham Tech Small Business Center and the Women’s Business Center of North Carolina.

“The seminar gave me the confidence I needed to open the business,” said Cheung. “I wouldn’t consider myself a natural entrepreneur so that was a big mental hurdle to overcome. But being in that space and being aware of all of these free resources made me realize that there’s a community here that’s going to be supportive.”

The idea stemmed from a leisure scroll on TripAdvisor during a vacation Cheung took to Nashville.

“I was just looking for things to do when I found an escape room. I decided to try it and loved it, then I looked more purposefully at escape rooms when I traveled,” said Cheung. “The more I played, the more I kept thinking about what I would do differently. There was nothing like it in Durham or the Triangle at the time so I thought this would be the perfect place for this sort of thing.”

When the idea hit, Cheung was working full-time at Duke University. She opened the business in summer 2015 by additionally working nights and weekends, but just a few months in, she decided to leave Duke and operate Bull City Escape full-time.

“When I started in 2015, it was such a new idea. It was hard to explain what escape rooms were to get business insurance. It felt pretty isolating at first, but the small business seminar was so supportive and excited to hear what plans I had. It made me feel more confident about talking to other people about it and it opened up a whole network community within Durham that I’m extremely grateful for and rely on every day.”

Bull City Escape features three game rooms, all designed in-house and unique to their facility.

“It was just a lot of notes jotted down at first, but the seminar helped make it concrete,” Cheung said. “It really gave me the confidence to be able to do this, otherwise I think they’d just be vague ideas that I keep dreaming of, but wouldn’t necessarily know how to implement.”

Cheung also supports the Durham Living Wage Project, which urges employers to pay living wages so that all workers can prosper.

“I’ve been able to hire and build a team that I trust 100 percent and are amazing,” Cheung said. “I feel more deeply connected to people who live and work in Durham and it’s an honor to be able to contribute to the health of this community and help build the kind of city that I want to live in.”

Cheung says she’s grateful for the Durham Tech Small Business Center and Women’s Business Center of North Carolina for resources they offer small business owners.

“It was great to see how supportive Durham is of small businesses,” Cheung said. “Seeing so many people who are passionate about small businesses and contributing to the growth of Durham was really inspiring and motivational.”

Bull City Escape is open Thursday through Sunday and located at 711 Iredell Street in Durham.

To learn more about small business seminars offered by Durham Tech, please visit: https://www.durhamtech.edu/sbc/

Bull City Escape Earns 2018 TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence


Bull City Escape has been awarded the 2018 TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence. Bull City Escape is ranked #1 for Fun & Games in Durham, North Carolina.

Now in its 8th year, the Certificate of Excellence designation recognizes establishments that consistently earn great TripAdvisor reviews from travelers.

The Certificate of Excellence accounts for the quality, quantity and recency of reviews submitted by travelers on TripAdvisor over a 12-month period.

Building Camaraderie Through Cooking, Climbing, Cracking Puzzles (Duke Today)

How special activities foster teamwork and positive results

By Jonathan Black

During an afternoon last summer, Nicole Schramm-Sapyta rolled out a pie crust while coworkers blended herbs, chopped vegetables and sliced fresh peaches.

Staff members from the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences were in the middle of a team-building activity – a farm-to-table cooking class at Southern Season.

“You learn about a person while doing something low pressure,” said Schramm-Sapyta, chief operating officer for the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences. “Then, when there’s a more high-stakes occurrence, it’s much easier to trust and talk to someone.”

Teamwork – one of Duke’s guiding principles – involves working collaboratively to solve problems and reach team goals, said Joy Birmingham, senior practitioner with Duke’s Learning and Organization Development. To foster positive work relationships, she recommends team exercises. 

“Getting to know each other outside of work allows us to trust one another,” she said. “We learn about each other’s background, likes and dislikes. It leads to us not being afraid to ask for help or feedback with one another.”

Here are some ways Duke offices build teamwork.

Chopping vegetables

Shortly after joining the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences last year, Schramm-Sapyta wanted to get to know her new team. She asked, “what better way to do it than to surround ourselves with food?” She and a dozen employees whipped up corn pudding, cold soup with shrimp, salad with vinaigrette dressing and a peach tart at Southern Season. 

“I find that people are more productive when they are comfortable with each other,” Schramm-Sapyta said. 

Solving puzzles

Ginny Boyer wanted her newly formed team to bond, so she locked them in a room together. 

Boyer, director of strategic planning for Duke’s Open Library Environment, booked time at Bull City Escape, where small groups solve puzzles to find their way out of a locked room. Rooms feature varying themes, from stopping a spaceship from self-destructing to finding magical jewels.

“It was important to get everyone together in an environment that was fun and challenged us to work together,” Boyer said. “It breaks down barriers.”

Climbing to new heights

Duke’s Karsh Office of Undergraduate Financial Support has made a habit of visiting Duke landmarks. The team has visited the Nasher Museum of Art and the Lemur Center. And, most recently, about 10 colleagues climbed 210 feet to the top of the Duke University Chapel.

Lisa McClain, information services specialist, says getting out of the office allows everyone’s personality to shine.

“You work together all the time, but you don’t necessarily get to know each other all the time,” she said. “We learn to work better together after experiencing something like the amazing views from the Chapel.”  

9th Street Merchant of the Month - Bull City Escape

By Kate Van Dis

This is a picture of the owner of Bull City Escape. It has been voted the best escape room in Durham, North Carolina.

It’s rare, as adults, to recapture the mysterious lure of sleuthing and the joy of epiphany that came with childhood games. But Bull City Escape might offer just that opportunity. In its “A Study in Murder” room, for example, you and your team of detectives (aka, friends, family members, colleagues, or just cool people who signed up for the same time slot) will crack the mystery of an eccentric billionaire’s murder. You’ll have just sixty minutes to discover the identity of the killer and get yourselves out of that room. Owner Alice Cheung designs each escape room to be just that - an exhilarating escape from the ho-hum evening out or at-home game night.  

Alice has always loved puzzles, and the ones she created for her “A Study in Murder” room at Bull City Escape are her toughest yet. This Stanford graduate went to college in California and grew up in New York, but she has visited more than 125 escape rooms between those two coasts (and beyond them). In fact, Alice loves escape rooms so much that she left her job at Duke to open Bull City Escape, Durham’s first escape room experience.


Before becoming an entrepreneur, Alice’s career had been singularly focused on undergraduate admissions and higher education. Her parents ran a small Chinese takeout restaurant on Long Island during Alice’s childhood. It was hard work; so hard, in fact, that her parents often discouraged the entrepreneurial life. So, Alice had always shied away from starting a business of her own. Still, the call of escape rooms and puzzles continued in her personal life. Alice found herself seeking out escape rooms while on vacation, and she has notebooks full of ideas for riddles and rooms. Also, Alice knew that Durham had just the right energy for escape rooms - quirky, fun, creative, and smart. So, Alice took the leap and started Bull City Escape in 2015 while she was still working full time at Duke. For a while, she was working seven days a week, including evenings - the true entrepreneur life. But happily for Alice and for Durham, news of Bull City Escape spread quickly and the rooms started filling up. Alice agreed to finish the academic year at Duke and then committed to Bull City Escape full time.


Escape games started as point and click computer games and apps and then matured into real life versions. The first real life escape game occurred in Japan and spread quickly in Asia, appearing in US cities like San Francisco and New York in 2012. At Bull City Escape, you can make a reservation for any of the three rooms (in addition to “A Study in Murder,” there are “Lunar Lockdown” and “Enchanted Kingdom”). Alice reports that Bull City Escape gets a lot of groups - families looking to bond, colleagues looking for team building opportunities, and university groups who are trying to get to know each other better. Still, it’s a lot of fun to go with just one friend and meet some new folks while you’re there. In fact, Alice says that groups made up of strangers are often the most successful. Whatever your group, you’ll be locked in a room with them for one hour. During that time, you’ll navigate a series of clues, riddles, puzzles, and combination locks in your attempts to escape.

If you’re tired of the same old dinner-and-a-movie date, this is a great opportunity to get outside the box and do something that is fun, immersive, and challenging, the three key missions that Bull City Escape keeps in mind for its clients. Alice loves creating puzzles that reach across the disciplines, incorporating numbers, colors, spatial reasoning, and word riddles - which means you don’t have to be a “puzzle person” or a “numbers person” to enjoy an escape room. This is an experience that can work for anyone. It’s also worth mentioning that claustrophobic people need not worry. The rooms are sizable enough that you won’t feel squashed, and there’s always an emergency key next to the door, just in case. Besides, once they start playing, people usually have so much fun they forget they were nervous in the first place!

Here are a few more things that make this entrepreneur tick:

Alice loves all things puzzles. When she’s not at Bull City Escape, she indulges that passion by playing board games like Ticket to Ride or Code Names, or by listening to NPR’s Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!

Though she misses Durham when she’s away, Alice loves to travel - she has family all over the country and enjoys visiting them frequently.

Her New Year’s Resolution? She is going to take things “one hurdle at a time.”

Guess which downtown business had the best holiday window decorations (The Herald-Sun)

By Joe Johnson

If you thought downtown holiday window displays in Durham were a little more festive this year, there was a good reason – a competition was going on.

Downtown Durham Inc. (DDI) held a contest for businesses to decorate their front windows, and the winners were announced Tuesday.

Bull City Escape's window display. The tree is hung with keys and the stockings are filled with riddles, stickers, and candy.

Bull City Escape's window display. The tree is hung with keys and the stockings are filled with riddles, stickers, and candy.

Rock Paper Scissors Salon and Gallery took the top honor, while Empower Dance Studio finished second and Bull City Escape came in third.

It’s the first time DDI has held the contest.

“Downtown Durham is already known for all the great restaurants,” said special projects coordinator Rachel Wexler. “We wanted to show that we have strong retail in downtown, too. The holidays are a boon for all the businesses, and the contest was a way them to have a little fun with their windows.”

Rock Paper Scissors, 413 E. Chapel Hill St., decorated its window with Christmas elves flying around, a white tree and gold streamers.

One Facebook commenter said the display made her smile.

Empower Dance Studio, 109 W. Parrish St., used decals to dress its front windows. There were white and pink Christmas balls and stars along with a pink triangular tree.

Bull City Escape, 711 Iredell St., had a cardboard fireplace with stockings hung in its front window.

The contest, which had 25 entrants, ran Nov. 25-Jan. 1 with online voting. Rock Paper Scissors Salon got 76 votes, while Empower Dance Studio earned 65 votes and Bull City Escape pulled in 61 votes. DDI offered prizes of $350, $200 and $150 in advertising or marketing services to the winners.

“We were pretty excited with the number of businesses that took part,” Wexler said. “It can only get better from here. The response, especially on social media, was great.”

Bull City Escape Holiday Gift Guide

Does your family love tackling escape rooms together? Do your friends plan their vacation itineraries around escape games? Here are some fun gift ideas for your Sherlock-obsessed, puzzle-addicted, room-escaping loved ones!

NOTE: Bull City Escape is not receiving any compensation for this post. These are just games that we enjoyed and want to recommend to others.

Escape the Crate

Escape the Crate is a series of "escape room in a box" games. The materials have a homemade quality to them, but the puzzles are clever and entertaining. The series follows a villain through time to stop him from altering history. Each game (or chapter) focuses on a different time period and does a great job of integrating historical facts. Perfect for puzzle-loving history buffs!

$29.99 + shipping. Games can be purchased individually or through a subscription.


Unlock! is a card-based game series. Games involve a combination of cardplay and entering information into an app. You won't destroy any of the materials during gameplay, so you can easily repackage it and give it to someone else (er, not that we're condoning regifting...). Affordable and compact, these games would make great stocking stuffers as well. 

We enjoyed Squeek & Sausage, The Formula, and The Island of Doctor Goorse. There are 3 newly released adventures (The House on the Hill, The Nautilus' Traps, The Tonipal`s Treasure) that we haven't played yet, but are on our Christmas list!

$15 per game. There are 6 different games available. 


Each Exit: The Game contains a journal, decoder wheel, "strange" items, and 3 stacks of cards. This game does not require a separate app or website - everything you need is provided in the game box itself. Gameplay involves manipulating and partially destroying game pieces, which is fun but also means you can't easily repackage the game for multiple uses. We were impressed with the puzzle design, artwork, hint delivery system and method of progression. 

Of the three games we played, we recommend The Abandoned Cabin and The Pharaoh’s Tomb. We did not enjoy The Secret Lab and do not recommend it. 

$13-16. There are 6 different games available.

Journal 29: Interactive Book Game

Journal 29 is a "unique book game where you can solve riddles and puzzles and submit your answers online to get the keys and move forward" which is an accurate (if staid) description. We were surprised at how much we enjoyed this book. It's full of strong, clever puzzles that make innovative use of the book format. Some of the puzzles require searching for answers on the internet, which opens up every imaginable possibility, so it really pushes you to think creatively. The biggest downside is the lack of a formal hint system.

$16. There are 60+ puzzles packed in this book. While they do connect to each other, the book does not need to be completed in one sitting.

Think fun: Escape the room

We played Dr. Gravely's Retreat which is more story-driven than the games above. The story was well-written, intriguing ... but waaaay too wordy. Still, the artwork was beautiful and it included some clever physical puzzles. It was fairly simple to reset and did not involve destroying any of the game pieces. The box says its for 3-8 people, but we recommend it for 2-4 players. 

$22. There are 2 different games available (Secret of Dr Gravely's Retreat and Mystery at the Stargazer's Manor).

Escape Room in a Box: The Werewolf Experiment

Confession: we have not actually played this game yet BUT WE REALLY WANT IT (::hint:hint::). This game launched on Kickstarter in 2016 ... and immediately sold out. It was then picked up for production by Mattel ... and immediately sold out again. Fingers crossed that a new batch will arrive in time for the holidays. 

$30. See full reviews: Room Escape Artist, Opinionated Gamers, The Room Escapist


You can gift a real-life escape room experience, of course! The escape room industry has hit the US full-force and there is likely to be one near your loved one's hometown. See if you can purchase a gift certificate or (even better) plan the excursion. Create a fun, unique, and memorable experience with your family and friends!

Bull City Escape Earns 2017 TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence


Travelers come to TripAdvisor to plan and book the perfect trip. Certificate of Excellence celebrates the accommodations, attractions and eateries that make these perfect trips possible.

Now in its 7th year, the Certificate of Excellence designation recognizes establishments that consistently earn great TripAdvisor reviews from travelers.

The Certificate of Excellence accounts for the quality, quantity and recency of reviews submitted by travelers on TripAdvisor over a 12-month period. To qualify, a business must maintain an overall TripAdvisor bubble rating of at least four out of five, have a minimum number of reviews and must have been listed on TripAdvisor for at least 12 months.

Bull City Escape Named 2017 IndyWeek Best of the Triangle Finalist


INDY Week's Best of the Triangle is an "annual reader-guided tour through 353 of the best things—restaurants, bars, people, places, activities, doctors, dentists, lawyers, accountants, yoga studios, hiking trails, bike shops, auto repair shops, florists, basically anything and everything that you could possibly be looking for—in the area. This is, bar none, the most comprehensive guide to the coolest local stuff out there, imitators be damned. And that’s because it pulls from the collective wisdom of tens of thousands of readers casting hundreds of thousands of votes."

Bull City Escape was named a Finalist in the "Best Place for Indoor Fun" category - the only escape room to ever be named a Finalist in INDY Week's Best of the Triangle! 

Players Can Escape Technology and The World For an Hour at Bull City Escape (North Carolina Homes)

By Pamela Sosnowski

In today's tech-heavy society people seem to prefer looking down at a screen versus interacting with others. Bull City Escape, however, offers a chance for players to set aside the mobile devices for an hour and use their wits and work with each other to escape a room instead of relying on Google. The Durham-based business currently offers two game scenarios with a third one on the way, and is proving popular with participants of all ages.

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"Our escape rooms are fun, challenging, and immersive experiences," owner Alice Cheung said. "They're sort of like real-life video games; in fact, escape rooms evolved from online point-and-click games. However, rather than passively absorbing entertainment form a screen, players actively engage with their team members and the environment around them to achieve a shared goal. They must search for clues, manipulate objects, and solve a series of puzzles, all while a countdown timer looms above, adding an element of pressure to the game."

The current escape rooms to choose from are Lunar Lockdown, where players must escape their crashed spacecraft before it automatically self-destructsand A Study in Murder, which is the tougher of the two games and requires players to solve a whodunit murder mystery. The two games are most suitable for ages 12 and up and must be booked online in advance. Bull City Escape costs $25 a person and is open from Thursday through Sunday and upon request for private groups

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Unless a group is large enough to fill up a game, there's a good chance players may be paired with strangers, which means new friendships get formed at Bull City Escape. Each room is designed like a Hollywood movie set and full of clues such as codes, riddles, and combination locks. Lunar Lockdown is set up like a spaceship's control room while A Study in Murder is set in a Victorian-style parlor. A third game, called Enchanted Kingdom, is scheduled to be unveiled later this year.

Cheung has always loved puzzles and was inspired to bring the concept to Durham after participating in an escape game herself. "When I played my first escape game, I knew it'd be a perfect fit for the Triangle and its creative, intelligent population," she said. "In June 2015, Bull City Escape launched in a small, underground room. Word-of-mouth spread like wildfire and within a month, we expanded to a larger location with windows and enough space for 3 escape rooms. We are proud to call Durham home and so grateful for this supportive community."

Bull City Escape isn't just for families and groups of friends. It's been booked by couples and offices for team building exercises. The business has also welcomed student organizations and university employees. If you're looking not just to escape a room but also escape technology and the world for a while, book an hour of engaging fun at Bull City Escape.

"Escape" from everyday routine at Bull City Escape (Daily Tar Heel)

By Neecole Bostick

When Chrissy Lemmons' family first began their adventure at Bull City Escape, they were running around, yelling at each other and trying to find all the clues at once.

But then each family member fell into their role. Her brother, a natural leader, kept them on time and on task. Her engineer sister focused on solving puzzles. Lemmons, a UNC student, became a facilitator with the walkie-talkie, connecting the puzzles and making sure everyone knew how their work fit together. 


With that kind of teamwork, the Lemmons family escaped the room with 24 seconds to spare. They beat the odds — only 30 percent of groups get out of the room within the one hour limit. 

“We all think through things very differently in my family; I am a big picture person, but my sister is very detailed,” said Lemmons, who has done at least 15 other escape rooms. “A lot of the time we would look at a puzzle, solve it at the same time, and come up with two different answers.”

Bull City Escape is part of a growing trend of entertainment rooms that challenge the brain and group dynamics. Groups of two to eight people are locked in a room for 60 minutes — the only way out is to find and solve a sequence of clues that leads to the final combination. The concept started with online games, then evolved into interactive, real life rooms.

“It’s what you would do with a date or a group of friends,” said Jarrett Saia, a Bull City Escape customer and UNC employee. “It's a completely different experience, and when you know the people well, it's a lot of fun.”

Bull City Escape has three rooms, all with 30 to 39 percent success rates. A Study in Murder tops the charts as the hardest, its room resembling a Victorian parlour. Lunar Lockdown is a spaceship setting, and The ‘90s Room depicts quintessential ‘90s pop culture, Beanie Babies and all.


“I’ve done a lot of escape rooms around the Triangle,” Saia said. “Bull City (Escape) is my favorite one because they go the extra mile to make it seem like you’re in a different place.”

Bull City Escape founder and owner Alice Cheung has a background in psychology and education. She designs each room with the player in mind. She knows people have different types of intelligence, and therefore can approach tasks differently.

“It's good to have a variety of backgrounds among your group,” Cheung said. “Different perspectives foster creative thinking.”

Bull City Escape attracts families, groups of friends, tourists, companies, mystery and puzzle addicts for celebrations, fun, and bonding.

Groups tend to start in a state of chaos of finding clues and exploring the room for the first five minutes, but eventually members break off, taking on different kinds of roles depending on the dynamic of the group. Players tend to gravitate towards roles that adhere to their strengths to help the team get to the next step.

“The first time I went was with five coworkers,” said Alyson Zandt, a Bull City Escape customer and UNC graduate. “It was interesting to see how we worked together and how we all thought of it more as a group project. It was a great way to build trust, and reassert our willingness to work together.”

What role will you take on in 60 minutes?


The coordinator takes on a leadership position, making sure they’re aware of what each member while keeping an eye on the countdown timer. They might take notes, and they'll need great listening skills so they can understand what different groups of people are doing around the room to connect clues. The coordinator keeps the group cohesive and efficient.

“In Lunar Lockdown, I was the one keeping track of what everyone was doing,” Zandt said. “I helped keep up communication because that becomes difficult along with the time restraint.”


The investigator takes on an action-oriented role by finding and identifying different puzzles. They try everything out at least once, and delegate different tasks to members. They don't get stressed easily, so they help keep the group calm.

“Communication is a part of it,” Saia said. “It’s easier to know the dynamic of the group so you can divide tasks up and look for clues.”

Puzzle solvers

The three rooms present a range of challenges, but some types of puzzles emerge more often than others, rewarding specific types of skills. Here are a few:

Codes and Ciphers: If you’re into Sudoku, these puzzles may be the most fun for you.

“Puzzles with a lot of numbers I give to my sister,” Lemmons said. “We divide puzzles with what we know how to do, and it bonds the group together.” Code-breakers think like Indiana Jones: they read the signs and numbers to find deeper meanings, solve combinations and open locks to get to the next step.

Spatial Reasoning and Awareness: These puzzles require players to navigate and analyze three-dimensional images and environments.These challenges may involve noticing details around the room that seem mundane at first, but ultimately work together to solve the puzzle.

Logic: Here, a sleuth must observe and draw associations between different elements in the room to help solve clues. The puzzles require you to be able to distinguish between clues and distractions.

“You’re never 100 percent sure what’s a clue and what’s a decoration because all things seem like they mean something,” Saia said.

Bull City Escape is open Thursday through Sunday, and upon request for private groups. To book a game, visit its website

One Tank Trip - Bull City Escape (Fox 8)

Tom, Emily and Bree recently took a one-tank trip to Durham to take on Bull City Escape.

If you love puzzles, this is for you!

Gather some friends, co-workers or complete strangers who look really smart, and tackle this real-life escape game. You will be locked in a room together. You have to hunt for clues, solve puzzles and use teamwork to find the key that will lead you to freedom. You only have 60 minutes and will be allowed three hints.

We found this game is great for tweens to adults.

If you are interested in booking a game, visit Bull City Escape’s website for more information.