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Locking down the market: Gainesville escape room finding its footing downtown
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Eric Merrell talks through the work being done at the Against The Clock escape room in downtown Gainesville on May 15, 2019. - photo by Nick Bowman

Things are going well over at Against The Clock off of the downtown Gainesville square — for the business. Visitors, however, aren’t having much luck escaping; the escape rate is around 6% from the Ghost Ship scenario.

Against The Clock opened earlier this year, making it Gainesville’s first escape room. The attractions are becoming more popular in the United States, but it remains mostly a brand-new concept for Gainesville.

Against The Clock

What: Escape room game

Where: 119 Green St. NE, Gainesville

When: 1 to 8 p.m. Thursday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Monday through Wednesday private bookings only

More info: www.againsttheclockga.net

Contact: 678-696-8455

“I think it’s too hard,” said Eric Merrell, who owns the business with his wife, Tonya. “The issue is not enough people know about escape rooms, so they’re coming in clueless. They're coming in and literally inspecting everything and it’s pointless. But they don’t know that.”

Many people who have tried their luck at getting out in under an hour haven’t had much experience with escape rooms. They have struggled with finding the right clues and putting the puzzles together.

There was one group recently that didn’t have that problem. They hold the escape record of 48 minutes, 59 seconds.

“They did amazing,” Merrell said. “The first half didn’t look so hot, but the back end, they smashed it. I think that time will be untouchable.”

Heather Webb and her company, Accusite Surgical Services, were there recently and enjoyed their experience. They took 18 people and split into groups of nine. Neither group escaped, but Webb said it was still a fun time for her and her coworkers.

She walked away impressed with her first experience.

“None of us had ever done one before so we didn’t know what to expect,” Webb said. “It was really cool to see that Gainesville had that and it was fun.”

Merrell is happy with the way the Ghost Ship scenario turned out. It looks better than he thought it would. He said he always wants things to be perfect, which is part of the reason why the second room, The Ransom, hasn’t opened yet.

“The perfection really paid off when I’ve got people who have been to 30 or 40 escape rooms and they’re saying it’s the best quality as far as the amount of time put in it,” Merrell said.

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Against The Clock's first escape room is The Ghost Ship. The Gainesville attraction describes the room this way: "You were enjoying your vacation to an island a few short nautical miles off the coast. Suddenly, the emergency lights come on and a siren begins to wail. The ferry is sinking. Through the mist a large ship appears with a rope ladder thrown over the side in welcome. It appears that no one has been aboard for some time. The coastguard is sure to come looking for the ferry’s wreckage." - photo by Nick Bowman
The Ransom is based on this plot: “You get word that a distant friend has been kidnapped by a group of headhunters. It seems being wealthy and having dirt on his enemies has put a high price on his head. Now that they finally have him, this will surely be the end of him. He has called out for help. Will you navigate through his mastermind way of hiding things? Can you locate his money in time to save his life? Better hurry, time is of the essence.”

Junior Vo, gamemaster at Against The Clock, sits behind computer screens and watches closely on cameras at everything going on inside the rooms. He gives hints and interacts through a screen in the escape room when needed.

“It’s a fun job, but you always have to focus,” Vo said.

He didn’t have much experience with escape rooms before working at Against The Clock, but now, he loves them.

“I have been through it by myself and it took 1 hour, 17 minutes,” Vo said. “But that was just one man’s work, so working here has given me a lot of experience with them.”

Webb said she loves them now, too. She plans to go back when The Ransom opens and might even go to other cities to try them.

“It was something I would definitely go and do again,” Webb said. “I still want to go and do that same room to see if we can get out. And he’s opening another room so I told him to tell me when that opens so I can go do that.”

The Ransom could be ready in a few weeks. Merrell said he’s hoping to have it open soon, but the busyness of Ghost Ship has taken away from the time he needs to be spending on the other room.

“This one room has been doing insane,” Merrell said. “And with this one being busy, it takes away from every minute working on the other room.”

After The Ransom opens, Merrell will start work on the next scenario. He plans to have five scenarios to offer when he’s done.

“We’re happy,” Merrell said. “I just wish we had more time to work on the other stuff, but it keeps us busy.”

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