USA Today ranks a Lawrence business as one of the top 10 in the country

photo by: Nick Krug

Breakout Lawrence, located at 727 Massachusetts Street, is an escape room business, which gives participants locked in a room an hour to complete various puzzles that will unlock the door.

When I think of escaping in Lawrence, I normally think of things like Memorial Stadium before halftime. But that’s not what USA Today had in mind when it ranked the city as having one of the best escape room businesses in America.

Breakout Lawrence at 727 Massachusetts St. has been voted one of the best escape rooms in the country, according to an article published by USA Today’s travel network.

If you are confused about the idea of an “escape room,” don’t feel bad. You probably are just un-hip. Escape rooms are an entertainment craze where you and a few friends get locked in a room and have an hour to solve several ciphers and clues that give you the secret code to open the door. (Leavenworth has a similar, thriving business, but you don’t go with your friends, and you get a lot more time than an hour.)

USA Today’s website recently named Breakout Lawrence the seventh best escape room in the country. A team of travel editors and escape room experts picked 20 escape room businesses across the country, and then USA Today readers voted to determine the top 10.

Matt Baysinger, owner of Breakout Lawrence, is pretty excited by the ranking. He also owns the popular Breakout Kansas City business, which last year was ranked No. 5 by USA Today. Baysinger, a former University of Kansas track and field athlete, is pleased the Lawrence location is getting national recognition. The Lawrence business has grown from having a single escape room to now having four of them.

Two of the rooms have quite a bit of local flavor. One is named “The Rules of Basketball Museum,” capitalizing on the fact that KU is home to James Naismith’s original rules. From the Breakout Lawrence website: “Your Trip to the Rules of Basketball Museum takes a dramatic turn when you learn of a plot to steal the historic document.”

One of the other rooms plays off of Lawrence’s Civil War history. Although the room doesn’t require you to know about Lawrence’s Bleeding Kansas history, it does highlight for visitors that Lawrence was a major player in the war. The set up for that room is that you and your fellow soldiers are trapped in an enemy bunker, but you have an hour to try to escape before your captors return from a scouting trip. (I’m not sure if it is a Boy Scout or Girl Scout trip, or whether there is even a difference anymore.)

Baysinger does a lot of the work to come up with the scenarios, clues, ciphers and other gadgets that make the escape room concept work. He started the business about two and a half years ago in Kansas City, and has been operating in Lawrence for about two years. He said he comes up with the ideas in various ways. Sometimes it is simply an idea he gets from watching an adventure movie or a James Bond flick. Other times he does a bit of research.

“We spend an inordinate amount of time coming up with cool clues,” Baysinger said. “If you check out the cipher section in your library — admittedly it is a small section — you would find people in the military and government have been using cipher speak since the beginning of time. You can get ideas from that.”

Baysinger’s company builds all of its own props and gadgets for its escape rooms in a facility based in Kansas City. The company, though, has a more unique project underway. The company is outfitting a 53-foot-long semitrailer to serve as a mobile escape room. The trailer actually will house two escape rooms.

Baysinger said he thinks it will be the largest mobile escape room business in the world. The company plans to have the trailer in the parking lot of Topeka’s Westridge Mall for Black Friday shoppers. (I can picture it now: You have one hour to escape before your credit card debt swallows you.) Baysinger said he plans to have the trailer in Lawrence several times per year, and he expects it to do good business as part of regional festivals and events.