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The great escape

Like a scene straight out of Southern Oregon’s gold-mining and train-robbing days of the late 1800s, a well-appointed room at Escape Ashland, boasting an old piano, tired saddle and a fully stocked bar greeted Ashland resident Katy Repp and her family on a recent afternoon.

Their task was to prove their innocence and escape in time to celebrate their son Tripp’s 15th birthday.

One of two themed escape rooms at the Ashland establishment — a live-action problem-solving game in which participants use teamwork and elements of the room to find clues and solve a series of puzzles to escape — the ambiance was hard to beat.

Escape Ashland opened in March 2017, with owner Kerri Franklin eager to put a local spin — with history and culture included — on the themes of her game rooms.

With the hustle and bustle of downtown Ashland just outside the mythical Ramblin’ Rogue Saloon, it could have easily seemed like the Old West as a friendly barkeep named Hannah Howard welcomed the group with a sly smile before raising some harsh allegations.

“Welcome! This is the year 1880 at the Ramblin’ Rogue Saloon,” she stated. “There have been a series of stagecoach robberies in the state of Jefferson — from Northern California to Southern Oregon. The bandit has been leaving little bits of poetry at each of the robbery sites.

“The U.S. marshal is tired of being made a fool of, so when you guys came into town being rowdy last night, he decided to blame you for all the recent stagecoach robberies.”

As any mother might be, Katy Repp was unphased by threats of jail or being trapped with her children.

“That figures,” she quipped. “I guess just serve us a drink already!”

But rather than reaching for a glass, Howard got down to the business at hand.

“The marshal has locked you into the saloon while he goes to collect his reward from Wells Fargo. You have exactly one hour to find the real bandit and alert Wells Fargo,” she said, surveying the room. “And three of you were extra rowdy and got locked into the jail.”

Donning hats and fake handguns, three members of the party were led to a small cell, their freedom in the hands of those who remained in the saloon.

“Whoever’s coming to jail, follow me!” Howard announced.

Laughter aside, the clock was ticking. With their freedom at stake, their task was to piece together clues taken from local history and determine the identity of the train robber.

For nearly the full hour — save five minutes — the group laughed, brainstormed and stumbled their way through a series of clues that led to more clues, lock combinations, maps and poems.

Repp’s daughter, Sierra Repp, an admitted first born driven to succeed — and escape — was focused on solving the clues and keeping the group on task.

“We have to find the combination to this lock,” she said. “What do these cards mean?”

Birthday boy Tripp Repp was more intrigued with the props in the room. Ultimately, the combined brain power of everyone in the group solved the clues. After searching old photos and maps to piece the story together, they finally managed to clear their names.

“You made it with five minutes to spare,” Howard finally told them.

Sierra Repp said she enjoyed the complexity of the clues and working as a group.

“I really like the fact that you knew there was more to find, and the clues all have to do with different skills, so everyone in the room can be helpful,” she said.

“Like some of it is math, versus some is more about history.”

Another recent visitor to the escape room, Victoria Graham, said her family makes a point during vacations to check out escape rooms wherever they travel. The family has visited at least four dozen so far.

Escape rooms, also known as escape games, have become popular around the country in recent years. In addition to the one in Ashland, they are offered in Medford and White City.

Graham said the Ramblin’ Rogue Saloon fit well with Southern Oregon. The family has visited both of the rooms offered at Escape Ashland, including the original one, “The Audition.”

In “The Audition,” guests are diverted from an important acting audition and trapped in a green room by a surprise visitor. Escape is necessary to thwart the surprise visitor from stealing the part for himself.

Graham said the creativity of the rooms are a big draw.

“When we go on vacation as a family, we often will look to see what escape rooms are there and plan our trip accordingly. They’re a lot of fun to do as a family,” said Graham.

“We just loved Escape Ashland. We loved the storyline. The art direction was really great. It’s more unusual to have one of the hosts in the room with you, but he interacted throughout the game, which was really fun. They do a really good job of getting you vested in the story and in working toward your escape!”

The Escape Ashland games have different locations in downtown Ashland. “The Audition” is at 147 N. Pioneer St. Ramblin’ Rogue Saloon is at 40 N. Main St.

Admission price is based on group size, with discounts for students and military members. Kids 5 and younger get in free. For details, call 541-613-6488 or see http://escapeashland.com/

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

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