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Reality Rooms Niagara presents puzzling challenges

LEWISTON – So, you think you’re pretty good at puzzles? Check this out.

With just three clues provided, you’re given the task of finding a hidden $1 million bottle of wine, sent into a carefully appointed room, with just 60 minutes to accomplish the mission.

The “Wine Cellar” room is lined with scores of wine bottles – and a locked gate leading into the next room, where the prize lies further hidden. But wait, these bottles aren’t ordinary wine vessels and those photos on the walls aren’t there just for ambience. If the devil is in the details, then owner/creator Patti Lank has made a deal with Beelzebub in an effort to dupe unwitting participants.

But it’s all in good fun, as patrons to Lewiston’s new Reality Rooms Niagara, at 765 Cayuga St., will agree.

Lank opened her business earlier this summer in the plaza behind Tin Pan Alley Restaurant, with the second puzzle room, called the “Wizard Train,” debuting just a couple of weeks ago.

This room is geared more toward families, say 12-year-old kids and up, with clues discovered only under the cover of black lights. No one has yet cracked the code, said Lank, also known as the “Game Master.”

“These rooms are suited to all types of thinkers,” she noted.

Behind the desk in the reception area, a tag line under the Reality Rooms logo says they “Take you to unexpected places” and Lank said it’s important to note that, “These aren’t escape rooms, these are really about solving puzzles. It’s an adventure. You’re not locked in the room.”

Monitoring patrons’ every move in the rooms through a closed television screen, Lank said she’s there to offer extra clues – but that will shave some time off your 60-minute deadline.

“I’m watching so I know where they are in the puzzle path,” she said. “Their job is to search for clues. If, and when, they do find the bottle of wine, for example, they’ll scream and yell – it’s so exciting!”

But so far, only a third of the people who enter actually solve the Wine Cellar puzzle, according to Lank, who is working on her third, multi-chambered room, the “Casino Heist,” to open in coming weeks.

With the help of her husband, Jim, and a few friends, she turned the former Rivershore Inc. office space into these reality rooms in a few scant months.

“The designing part is really fun for me,” she said. “I like finding things that I think belong in these rooms. We’re already looking ahead to flipping the rooms someday because I’d really like to do an airplane room.”

That idea is a nod to her husband, Jim, an international pilot, as well as their two daughters, Madisson,26, and Mackenzie, 22, also both pilots. Madisson is currently working for a Portland, Ore.-based company, and Mackenzie is based on Maui. They caught the travel bug from their parents, who are both world travelers.

Lank said she hops on her husband’s flights occasionally and has visited adventure rooms in other areas to gauge what works.

“It’s everywhere – all through Europe,” said Lank. “And there’s at least 20 just in Toronto. But I think the coolest one I went through was on Marco Island, Fla., where (the scene was) an airplane that had crashed in the Everglades and you had to get out of the airplane and on to the island.”

It was actually a trip to an escape room in Buffalo that led to Lank’s latest business venture, she said. Western New York now boasts a handful of these enterprises, with only one other in Niagara County at this time – Escape Rooms Buffalo, at 290 Oliver St., North Tonawanda.

“The girls came home for Christmas and they had done four escape rooms in Toronto and we went to one in Buffalo and we had so much fun,” she recalled. “My husband jokes that by the time we got home from Buffalo, I already had a business plan.”

Lank said she knew the Lewiston property was going to become available, took possession May 1 and opened in June. She said the landlord was “awesome” about letting her turn mundane office space into these realistically themed rooms.

“I made these walls myself,” she said, pointing out cement-looking wall coverings that are actually cleverly painted Styrofoam.

“My friend, Dave Holstrom, is a contractor and he helped with the beams and the floor and other things,” she said. “My husband and I built the wine racks. Center Cut Restaurant kept empty wine bottles for me at the end of the night and Supermarket Liquors and Wines gave me the wooden wine boxes.

“I had to come up with all of these ideas to hide the clues,” she said. “But everyone has so much fun that tries this.”

Lank said the concept really took off about three years ago, and has been especially popular with the college set, but she wanted to engage an older clientele, as well.

“I think that if someone does the Niagara Wine Trail, for example, then they can come here and do this and then go to dinner,” she said. “My goal is to give people something to do.”

Lank said a leader board in the lobby will aid those with a competitive streak.

Lank knows a little something about competition. She is a recently retired five-time U.S. Women’s National Curling Champion.

“I stopped competitive curling last year, although I’ll still compete in seniors, but I wondered what to do now,” she said.

The answer was creating Reality Rooms, and she started her research online.

“I’ve gone to Facebook forums, just looked up start-ups and people have been awesome about sharing information,” she said. “It’s been an awesome learning curve for me – the technical side, starting a (brick and mortar) business in Niagara County, learning the internet. It’s been crazy, but really broadened my horizons and it’s been really, really fun.”

Lank and her family created and operated a seasonal crepe stand, called “Holy Crepe,” from 2008 to 2012. They sold it after four years of working concerts and festivals.

Lank said she knew she had a winner with her Reality Rooms when “a gentleman came in from California, where he works in an escape/reality room business and he’s paid to go to others to scope them out when he’s traveling. He said this is the best one he’s even been to. That was quite a compliment!”

“I’ve had birthday parties here and the Peach Queen contestants came through,” Lank said. “We’ve also had stag and stagette parties. A dentist will be coming in with his staff soon – it’s especially good for team-building for companies. I like to make it a personal event for everyone. It’s a fun night out. A lot of people see it on TripAdvisor.com, but people here in town don’t know I’m here yet.”

The cost for one hour is $20, and a group must contain a minimum of four and maximum of eight guests. The business is closed Mondays and is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. the rest of the week, but is only open by appointment. More information is available at: www.reality roomsniagara.com, and bookings may be made at the website or by emailing: realityroomsniagara@gmail.com or by calling 713-9066.

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