UA grad Caitlin Sing opens escape room, Fox in the Box with Husband
Neuroscience and cognitive science sophomore Joshua Hoeft points out a clue on the computer screen to Konner Kirwan, a sophomorestudying neuroscience and cognitive science and molecular and cellular biology, center, and psychology sophomore Marissa Guinta, right, while trying to escape the Zombie Lab room at Fox in a Box on Sunday, Aug. 28. The trio attempted a pirate-themed escape room last December at Phoenix Escape Room in Tempe and were unsuccessful, but managed to escape the Zombie Lab at Fox in a Box with about four minutes to spare.
UA College of Pharmacy graduate, Caitlin Sing, recently opened an escape room business with her husband Neil Sing at Main Gate Square. Fox in a Box Tucson, opened May 13, the same day Caitlin graduated from pharmacy school.
Neil, who has a degree in chemical engineering and chemistry from the University of Idaho, took a few graduate courses at UA before rethinking his career path.
The couple were inspired to create their business during a vacation to Los Angeles around a year and a half ago when the couple visited an escape room where groups are “locked” into a room and must escape by figuring out clues and using items in the room under a themed scenario.
Neil said they were completely blown away by the experience, and the owners of the L.A. escape room encouraged them to create their own escape room in Tucson, where there were no escape rooms at the time.
“I thought [the owner] was a little crazy," Caitlin said. "I was like ‘don’t encourage us, we have our own things kind of planned,’ but then the more we thought about it we kept talking about the experience. It’s a big leap for both of us really to kind of say goodbye to our science careers for a little bit and to do this instead.”
With the idea of creating an escape room in mind, the pair looked for a place to host their business and finally decided on a location in Main Gate Square because the two “got along really well” with the Marshall Foundation, according to Caitlin.
The rent payments for Fox in a Box Tucson go back to the UA and can fund scholarships and other funds, which is one of the reasons why the couple said they decided to host their business there.
From there, it was time to build the rooms. Fox in a Box Tucson has two rooms that are differently themed; one where players are trying to release a cure for a zombie plague taking over the world, and another where players are trying to rob a bank and escape in time. In both scenarios, the players have 60 minutes to achieve their goal and have to solve a variety of puzzles with different clues.
Constructing the puzzles involved help from an outside company, because some puzzles have electrical or magnetic components that had to be specially made.
With the puzzles made, the pair focused on making the escape rooms realistic to create an immersive experience for the players. The Sings used fake blood and dirt in the zombie-themed room and tried to make the bank look like a real bank, Caitlin said.
Neil said they purchased some of the props locally from the UA Surplus Store, thrift shops and Craigslist.
To heighten the feeling of immersion, the rooms are equipped with sound effects and music, as well as videos and trailers to watch before the game. Caitlin said the production of the videos was outsourced.
“When we did the one in Los Angeles, we were completely blown away by the experience, where you walk in and you feel you’re completely immersed in another environment,” Neil said. “There’s everything from the sounds you hear to the things that you see, the things that you can interact with are all tied in with the room theme and bring you together in a way that’s very unique from other things. We specifically chose to do it that way because we wanted to have the best experience possible for our customers and our players.”
Neil said the pair’s science background influenced the design when working on the zombie-themed room, which is designed to look like a lab.
“We knew what type of things we wanted to have featured in the zombie lab,” Neil said. “When you walk in it feels like a laboratory, it doesn’t feel like someone’s guess at a laboratory, so there’s kind of things that influence it."
Because they were constructing an escape room, where players must search for clues that could be hidden anywhere in the room, Caitlin said they had to hide things like wires and electrical outlets or put “Do Not Touch” stickers on them.
“We have to put 'do not touch' stickers on [electrical outlets] because people might think that there’s a clue in there,” Caitlin said. “Hiding things is kind of our thing because if it isn’t meant to be used, we don’t want you to really see it or be able to touch it.”
The rooms were built concurrently and took about a month to complete, according to Caitlin.
Since then, the couple said they have made some changes to the rooms based on feedback from players, such as taking out decorative prop magazines that had players thinking they needed to search the entire magazine, thus taking up time. They have also included pens and paper in the room for people to take notes.
“Puzzles can change, it’s kind of an ebb and flow in terms of how we change it, but one little thing can definitely change the whole room,” Caitlin said. “People kind of constantly give us feedback. We’re definitely at that stage now we’re getting into the scheme of things, of how things should run.”
About half of the groups make it through the zombie-themed room and about a third make it through the bank robbery-themed room, Caitlin said.
Now that students are back at the UA after summer break, Caitlin said the two are hoping to get more students to come to Fox in a Box Tucson.
So far, though, the business has drawn in people from all ages. Neil said he has seen people ranging from ages 10-70 going through the rooms.
Arthur Briones, who went through the zombie-themed room with his family, called the escape room, "amazing."
“This is probably one of the better ones we’ve been to in Tucson,” Briones said, adding that he would come back again to do the other room.
Neil said he enjoys the autonomy of running his own business and hearing positive feedback from players.
“Having the right type of mindset when you go in is essential to having a great experience," Neil said. "I really enjoy creating that mindset for people, hearing [positive feedback] really motivates me especially to want to keep doing this.”
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