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!