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Student organization builds second escape room location on Franklin Street

CTE Royal Bao, Riley Harper, Juan Mateo Alvarez.JPG
Royal Bao, Riley Harper and Juan Mateo Alvarez stand in front of Chapel Thrill Escapes on Franklin St. on Sunday, Feb. 18, 2024.

Chapel Thrill Escapes, the student-made nonprofit organization that builds escape rooms at UNC, opened its second physical location on Franklin Street on Feb. 16.

The location on Franklin Street introduced the new themed room, “The Lost Tar Heel.” Over 70 people RSVP'd and attended the grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new room.

“The Lost Tar Heel,” the third room of CTE’s collection of escape rooms, cost over $10,000 to build and prepare. The room is about a UNC student who has gone missing, UNC junior and CTE building team member at-large Mateo Alvarez said.

The room begins in a dorm loosely inspired by Michael Jordan’s 1983 room in Granville Towers, and a second secret room that CTE wants to keep private for the mystery, Riley Harper, a UNC junior and CTE CEO, said.

Previous rooms include “Rameses in Wonderland” on the bottom floor of the Cobb Residence Hall and “The Bell Tower,” a virtual room created during the pandemic.

Harper said hiding the second part of the rooms at CTE is a tradition.

“In the old room, ‘Rameses in Wonderland,’ we did the same,” Harper said. “And we like to keep that mystery for people to come in and figure it out for themselves, because it really is a wow moment.”

Harper said the idea for the room started with a mystery of a missing student, whereas previous CTE rooms were more whimsical.

“Our goal for this room was to make it more detective-themed, and so that was where “The Lost Tar Heel” kind of came into play,” Harper said.

The organization first opened its doors on Nov. 1, 2019, by four co-founders, Cameron Champion, Philip Smart, Hunter Davis, Dan Hirst and 20 student workers — making CTE just over four years old.

Champion said the upcoming anniversary and expansion is special to him.

“Franklin Street is just another drop in that bucket of an [organization] that will continue to evolve and grow in the ways it fulfills its mission of putting unique students together and challenging them to build cool things,” Champion said.

Harper said CTE signed the lease to the space on Franklin Street in May 2023 and began building in August. Former CTE CEO Sameer Rao said the expansion is super exciting.

“This is a chance where students can come together and work on something outside of their schoolwork with others,” Rao said. “And put together something that's bigger than the sum of its parts.” 

Jacob Gyoerkoe, a UNC sophomore who has been part of the CTE build team since February 2023 and an escape-room enthusiast, said he has been to over 100 escape rooms and CTE stands out from all the others.

“I think the main thing that's different about Chapel Thrill Escapes is that it's fully student-run,” Gyoerkoe said. “The students run all the finance business side of it as well as build the rooms from scratch.”

For the first grand opening to “Rameses in Wonderland,” an invitation to attend was given to former UNC Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz. For the new room, Harper said he sent an invitation to interim Chancellor Lee Roberts but did not get a response back.

Ian Scott, vice president for advocacy at The Chamber for a Greater Chapel Hill-Carrboro, said celebrating the launch of new businesses is a long-standing tradition for the Chamber.

“It’s something we have been doing for 100 years or more in this community,” Scott said. “We're happy to be a part and to continue that tradition here tonight.”

Reservations to “The Lost Tar Heel” launched the night of the grand opening. Harper said the first private booking was made the day after opening.

@DTHCityState |

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