The first student-built, student-operated escape room — Chapel Thrill Escapes — is relaunching this week with a new room, “Rameses in Wonderland,” in Cobb Residence Hall.
Sameer Rao, a senior and the CEO of Chapel Thrill Escapes, said the nonprofit was founded in 2019 by four UNC seniors who had a dream to build an escape room and leave something at UNC that could persist over time. The original team ran the first room, “The Belltower Escape Room,” until March 2020.
When the pandemic made it challenging to manage an escape room in-person, and students were asked to leave campus, the original team moved the escape room online.
After two changes in leadership, Rao and the former executive director recruited a new team in 2022. The new team has been working on the “Rameses in Wonderland” room for a year.
Gillian Zech, a junior who lives on campus, said she was excited to see the original website when classes were online, and she now follows the group's Instagram. She is especially excited about the new theme.
“They're finally going to be open again, which is awesome. So, I signed up as soon as I could,” she said.
Allan Blattner, the executive director of Carolina Housing, partnered with the original team when they were looking to set up their first escape room.
Blattner said that, at the time, Carolina Housing had just built the Carmichael Makerspace and was still working on the Morrison Art Studio and Carolina Gaming Arena.
“We were just looking for these kinds of innovative spaces that would add value to staying on campus. And, so, how cool is it to have an escape room?” he said.
Blattner also said Carolina Housing did some initial construction to make the room secure and discrete from the rest of Cobb Residence Hall.
However, other than the initial construction, members of Chapel Thrill Escapes built the room themselves.
Sophomore Mariana Chavez-Guerrero, the executive director of Chapel Thrill Escapes, said the building process included choosing a theme, connecting the clues of the room, building the puzzles and making aesthetic choices. They also used the Makerspaces around campus when creating the room, which she said has been a big part of the organization’s success.
The team considered multiple theme options before choosing the UNC play on Alice In Wonderland, Chavez-Guerrero said. The team would like to keep any future rooms centered around UNC.
Through its partnership with Carolina Housing, Chapel Thrill Escapes has made the room available to on-campus residents this week at no cost.
Because Chapel Thrill Escapes is a nonprofit, they have a business team that works on partnerships with organizations such as 1789, which is powered by Innovate Carolina, and The Meantime Coffee Co. The organization has even created its own merchandise. All funds raised go toward creating rooms and paying gamemasters.
Chavez-Guerrero said she appreciates the multidisciplinary skill sets and creativity of the team.
“I think putting all those like minds together in a room and being like, ‘Okay, how can we make a puzzle that ties into this theme, but then also ties into the rest of everyone else's puzzles?’ Just kind of realizing that everything can be connected, I think was really cool,” she said.
Ambica Ramchandra, a senior who plans to visit the room, said this will be her first escape room, and she is excited to support other Tar Heels.
“I think the best part of the entire initiative itself is that it's student-run,” she said.
Appointments for the escape room are now available online.
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