escape room

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!”

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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!

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

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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

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.”

Bull City Escape Earns 2017 TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence

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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.

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. 

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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.

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“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?

Coordinator

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.”

Investigator

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.

ESCAPE GAMES: New Business Offers Interactive Puzzle Challenges (The Herald Sun)

By Cliff Bellamy

The Herald-Sun | Bernard Thomas

The Herald-Sun | Bernard Thomas

DURHAM — Remember the 1990s? Knowledge of the decade might help you navigate the first problem-solving game at Bull City Escape, but immersion in the decade is not necessary to participate in the game, said Alice Cheung, owner of the business that opens Friday, June 5 at 711 Iredell St. in the Ninth Street business district.

Teams of two to six people get 60 minutes to search clues, solve puzzles and look for codes to the key that will allow them to escape from the room. The theme of the first game is the 1990s, and the space has paraphernalia from the decade — Furbies, calendars and magazines from the decade, posters of Boys II Men and the Spice Girls, and videos of “Independence Day,” “Sleepless in Seattle” and other movies from the era.

Bull City Escape (bullcityescape.com) describes itself as “an interactive, real-life escape game,” recommended for families, companies and groups, and puzzle enthusiasts. Participants can solve the escape puzzles as a team-building exercise, or just for fun.

The Herald-Sun | Bernard Thomas (L. to R.) Briles Johnson, Melissa Terrell and Zaina Robinson are looking for clues that will allow them to escape, at Bull City Escape.

The Herald-Sun | Bernard Thomas (L. to R.) Briles Johnson, Melissa Terrell and Zaina Robinson are looking for clues that will allow them to escape, at Bull City Escape.

Cheung played her first escape game about a year ago, and “I loved it immediately,” she said. She has played games in spaces in different cities, all with varied themes — a pirate theme in San Francisco, an office theme in Philadelphia, a warehouse theme in Birmingham.

As she played the games, she began wondering, “If I designed it, what would I do differently?” and the idea for Bull City Escape emerged.

Cheung keeps a notebook with her in which she brainstorms ideas for puzzles and future themes. Future escape room themes might be a mad scientist scenario, or a combination murder mystery with a “Downton Abbey” feel, Cheung said.

Cheung, who will mark her second year in Durham this summer, thinks Durham is an ideal fit for this kind of business and activity. There’s “such a quirky and brainy population here. They’re so open to new ideas,” Cheung said. She has lived in different cities, but “no place has felt like home quicker than Durham.”

She mentions The Scrap Exchange as one example of Durham’s creativity. She also credits American Underground for nurturing entrepreneurs, and the city’s support for small businesses.

The Herald-Sun | Bernard Thomas

The Herald-Sun | Bernard Thomas

Before opening the business, she attended seminars on small businesses at Durham Technical Community College, and worked closely with the non-profit Women’s Business Center of North Carolina-Durham, which she called an “incredible” resource for new businesses.

Bull City Escape’s Ninth Street area location was perfect. “I gave up square footage for location,” Cheung said of the space. “I love that we’re surrounded by small businesses.”

Employees at the Women’s Business Center helped her to test the escape room and game. Members of the center also will participate in a group-building game at the Friday opening. The game will be both a team-building exercise and a way to help Cheung grow her business, said Briles Johnson, executive director of the center. Johnson said she had never participated in this kind of game before, “which is another reason why it is very intriguing and exciting.”

Cheung studied psychology and education in school, and brings that knowledge to bear when designing puzzles and games. “All of the puzzles are designed for different kinds of intelligence, so everyone in the group can contribute something,” she said. “The most successful teams are the ones that bring those different kinds of intelligence” to the problems, she said.

People who want to play one of the games can show up individually, or as a group. Cheung recommends reserving a time on Bull City Escape website.

Cheung said she is open to talking to groups about new themes and game ideas. Looking ahead, one of her dreams is to have a larger space, and perhaps multiple themes in different spaces in Durham.

Escape games are “an immersive entertainment,” Cheung said. “You’re not just absorbing something from a screen. … You’re fully present with your team members and you’re working toward a goal” of solving the puzzle.

Bull City Escape launches an interactive, real-life escape game on Friday, June 5

Your team is locked in a room packed with hidden clues. You have 60 minutes to solve the puzzles, find the key and get out!

At Bull City Escape, small teams of 2-6 people—friends, relatives or strangers—use their wits, deductive reasoning, and problem-solving skills to ultimately find the way to escape the room.

Our inaugural room has a 1990s pop culture theme. Work with your team in a fun, nostalgic setting and share the glory as you crack the codes to get out.

Live escape games are widely popular overseas; top-ranked attractions in major cities in Europe and Asia. They’re becoming a favorite pastime in the U.S., and now the Triangle can get in on the fun.

We offer an extraordinary and exhilarating entertainment experience. Games are developed for families and friends, but make for a great company outing. This exercise provides a way for organizations to build leadership, teamwork, and communication skills.

Bull City Escape is located at 711 Iredell Street, next to Durham’s hip Ninth Street. Open Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and upon request for private groups. To book a game, visit bullcityescape.com.

info@bullcityescape.com
bullcityescape.com