Aaron and Jessica Souza's Extreme Escape
By Richard DuPertuis
Story and Photos by Richard DuPertuis
A MAD SCIENTIST has released a deadly virus in town, goes the storyline. You must find the formula for the cure in his lab – no meager task, for he has sealed the information with 15 locks. Each must be opened in sequence after following clues to codes to their combinations or keys, including one last key that unlocks the door.
To win the game, you must escape the room within one hour.
This walk-in puzzle is one of three rooms offered by Extreme Escape in downtown Redding. The other two mimic a casino and an Old West jail. Husband-and-wife proprietors Aaron and Jessica Souza designed, constructed and scripted every meaningful detail – including those that might lead you astray.
“We might ask you to put together things that don’t normally go together,” Aaron says cryptically. “Think about the possibility of fitting a square peg into a round hole.”
Jessica performs a rapid-fire, pre-game orientation for a group of nearly 20 stalwart souls preparing for the challenge. She introduces them to five different kinds of locks they will encounter, as well as to other particularities in the room.
“There are things you can move and some you can’t,” she cautions. “If something seems stuck, it’s meant to be that way. Don’t force it. An exception is the fire extinguisher. There are no clues on it. Don’t move it. Unless you set something on fire.”
Today’s players are all employees from Home Depot in Anderson. They split into two teams, with most people going into the casino. Jessica locks the remaining seven in the Mad Lab. Led by their supervisor, Alicia, the team of workers scans walls marked by cyphers and symbols and clues not yet seen.
A screen on a wall plays a countdown of minutes remaining.
During the next hour, team members search the room in all directions, and shout out their findings – or their bewilderment. Overheard, things like: “It’s a sudoku! Does anyone here do sudokus?” “Do we weigh the locks to get a combination?” “So, we have all the marbles. What now?”
Three times, all the action stops and the team asks aloud for a
clue. They get three clues free, a fourth one if they agree to a two-minute penalty.
Aaron keys in the first clue from his desk computer, where he monitors action in the room via closed-circuit camera. “Through clues and hints we ultimately control the tempo of the game,” he says. He hits “send.” Clue 1 appears on the screen inside the Mad Lab.
The team springs back into action: “Okay, we need three letters and four symbols!” “The wall correlates to the board!” “What do we need the tweezers for anyway?” “I got a fan!”
Aaron admires the problem solving he sees on his computer monitor. “About half the time, the way we set it up and the way they interpret a task is different,” he observes. “And there are times when what they concoct works.”
It works for the team from Home Depot – barely. The players emerge from the Mad Lab with little more than one minute left. Thumbs up from Aaron. “You stayed calm. You communicated well,” he told the team.
Aaron and Jessica say they didn’t fare that well with their first escape room, while on a trip to Reno to visit family. “We didn’t get out,” says Jessica. “And we’re not very good at losing. But we were hooked. Instantly.”
They say they had to book six weeks in advance for the room in Reno, and so they had to wait until they returned to Redding to play again. “We searched around and found an escape room in Lake Tahoe,” recalls Aaron.
“Which is a long drive from Redding, but that’s our nature. Impulsive,’ adds Jessica. “We found it was a cool thing to do with
the whole family. It helps recreate that bonding that so often gets lost in families.”
They both prioritize family, even those beyond their own. For the holidays last year, they constructed a Christmas-themed escape room, and donated the proceeds to Northern Valley Catholic Social Service’s Adopt A Family program. “We sponsored six families,” he says.
They’re planning a school-themed room this year. “We want to raise money so we can donate scholarships to graduating seniors, four to six of them, depending on how much we make.”
As it was in Reno, the demand is strong for an hour in an Extreme Escape’s IQ-twisting, mental maze here in Redding. Friday, Saturday and Sunday bookings normally fill the hours between 10 am and 10 pm, according to Aaron. It’s easier to get in earlier in the week.
Now, what do you think a creative, competitive couple like this might plan for a holiday? Clue 1: They're hooked.
“We’re just back from a four-day trip to Austin, just for escape rooms,” says Aaron. “We played six rooms, plus one on the way there. We found one in Sacramento while we were waiting for our plane.”
Adds Jessica, “There’s that spontaneous nature.” •
Extreme Escape • 1440 Butte St., Redding
(530) 768-1919 • All bookings are made through the website,