Coronavirus pandemic encourages ingenuity in Ann Arbor escape room business

ANN ARBOR, MI — Decode Ann Arbor closed its store in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. Now, six months later, its owners say the business has found a way to offer a fun and safe experience for everyone.

a store front at night: Decode Ann Arbor is now offering a game that can be played with a mobile device using the front window of their store.

© Steve Marowski | Ann Arbor/
Decode Ann Arbor is now offering a game that can be played with a mobile device using the front window of their store.

Using the storefront window at 3170 Packard St., people can use their mobile devices to find different puzzles, and after each puzzle is solved, “something magic happens before your eyes,” owner Patton Doyle said.


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While Decode Ann Arbor normally offers traditional, indoor escape rooms, Doyle said this new activity is something being done out of necessity.

“We’ve always been experimenting with the format, and this was sort of our result of our brainstorming about what was possible, and that still gives people that sensation of playing something that’s tangible,” Doyle said.

The window-front game is called “Around the world in 30 minutes” and is used with a web browser on a mobile device. The information from the first four challenges is used to solve the final challenge and decode the final message. It takes about 30 minutes, Doyle said, and costs $26 per group, which can be just one person or a family.

Normally, store employees would be able to watch groups solve the traditional escape rooms inside. However, they won’t be at the storefront to watch people solve their newest puzzle. Doyle said it took a lot of testing to see what difficulties people experienced when playing the game.

“It’s been much more difficult to ascertain what people have experienced, what they have done well and what they struggled with, but we’re hoping it will lead us to more innovative game ideas in the future,” Doyle said.

Decode Ann Arbor also offers scavenger hunts that take customers through businesses in both Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. Those games are still active, Doyle said.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the store has essentially gone six months without revenue because due to complying with public health guidelines. But, Doyle said the pandemic has provided the ability to think about the online game and the future of the business.

“Since we’ve been working on this online game, we’ve been trying to think about how we can build that into future games and what new opportunities it provides — not just the limitations of the format,” Doyle said.

More information on Decode Ann Arbor can be found on its website.


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