A Great Escape
Countdown Louisville Gaining Popularity With its Local Escape Room Challenges
Writer: Shannon Siders
A beautiful, young singer has been taken captive by a sadistic songwriter somewhere in the city. When a group of friends find a ransom note for the woman, they become immersed in the sinister plot of a lyrical psychopath. With only an hour to earn their freedom, the group races against the clock to break free and save the singer.
While this may sound like the plot of a Hollywood blockbuster, it’s actually the scenario of one of the games at Countdown Louisville, Jeffersontown’s only local escape room.
“Ransom was the first game we created,” says Countdown Louisville Owner Greg Butler, of the game described above. “I lived in Nashville for many years and based the idea of the game off the songwriters and record label people I met there.”
A Kentucky native, Butler moved to Louisville a few years ago with his wife, Dana, who is originally from the area. The couple tried an escape room in the fall of 2015, and Butler was hooked. By December he had a lease on a building, and Countdown Louisville opened its doors on June 1, 2016.
Butler had support from a designer out of Toronto, Canada, to assist with the development and structure of Ransom, before going on to create two more rooms, Electrovault and Survival, on his own. Each of the three rooms provides interactive, real-world adventures filled with exciting clues to solve complex, thrilling puzzles.
The games are set up like movie sets, scenically designed to immerse the players in the room’s theme, with the goal of exiting the room by solving its puzzles in under an hour. Each game has a distinct feel and storyline, and many guests end up coming back to try out another room after their first visit.
Electrovault was the second game to open at Countdown Louisville. Groups in this game are surrounded by historical items with ties to Nikola Tesla, and are challenged to escape from a penthouse birthday party after discovering the party host’s dark secret.
Around 25 percent of groups have successfully broken out of the Electrovault game in under an hour, and groups participating in Ransom have had a 35 percent success rate.
The advanced level Survival challenges a group of four to 10 guests to help hackers intercept a meteorite that is about to destroy the earth. The group is divided into two separate rooms at the start and must break down the wall between them to combine their resources for a shot at winning the game.
“Survival is by far our most challenging game,” says Butler, noting that 10 percent of groups have successfully broken out of the room in under an hour.
Countdown Louisville is completely locally owned, not part of a franchise and Butler is proud of the company’s Louisville roots.
“Everything we’ve created was produced here, and our entire staff is enrolled in local universities,” he says.
Butler and his team have worked together to provide a unique experience for guests, and have been able to attract quite a few repeat customers.
“All of our games have multiple rooms,” Butler says. “That’s a big deal to players. At a lot of other games, you’ll go into a single room and spend the whole hour there.”
While the games provide a spooky setting and can lead to some tense moments as teams race to beat the clock, there are no attempts to startle or scare guests in any way like at a haunted house. Team members are welcome to leave the room at any time if they feel uncomfortable, and all “locked” doors can be easily opened without outside assistance.
The most rewarding part for Butler has been how well-received the games are, even by skeptics.
“We get a lot of people who are dragged to the escape rooms, usually one person is a catalyst and another person isn’t as interested,” Butler says. “I can see the look on their face when they arrive that they aren’t into it, but they come out of the game and have truly, genuinely loved the experience. It’s rewarding to see how well it is received. People love it.”
Teams often get so wrapped up in the experience that they leave their hesitations at the door.
“I have never had someone not enjoy the game, even if they didn’t want to do it originally,” Butler says. “The games are a walk-in puzzle that give you the opportunity to work as a team to solve problems. Regardless of a person’s learning style, they will bring something to the table.”
Group sizes vary depending on the game but typically range from two to 10 participants. Butler noted that even in larger groups, everyone has a hand in solving the puzzle.
“The games bring people out of their shells to help contribute, and it’s fun to watch them have small successes together,” Butler says.
The games are suitable for groups of all kinds, including families and friends, coworkers, gamers, teams and more. Groups of any size can be accommodated, and the Countdown Louisville team works with guests to craft an unforgettable event.
Groups participating as a team-building exercise make up one of the largest pools of customers at Countdown Louisville and for good reason. Butler and his staff of eight combine to have decades of experience in developmental leadership and team building and have designed the Countdown Louisville escape rooms to challenge participants to exercise their communication, critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
“I spent almost 20 years in the pharmaceuticals industry in sales, training and leadership,” Butler says. “The most rewarding part of that was in training and development. Whenever we had new hires into the industry, I would train them.”
Countdown Louisville can even provide audio-visual support, prepare meeting materials and provide post-game leadership feedback for team building groups. Butler noted that the games have been very popular with dozens of local and regional companies, student groups and healthcare teams, as well as various other groups.
Thousands of guests have visited Countdown Louisville since it opened less than two years ago, and Saturdays are typically sold out. A new game is set to be unveiled this summer that will pit two groups against one another, but interested guests will have to wait a few months for the details to be released.
For those having trouble choosing which game to try, it all comes down to personal preference.
“We’ve had a lot of people who have played all three rooms, and there’s not an overall favorite,” Butler says. “People end up finding something in a room to latch onto that they really love.”
The games are family-friendly, but guests must be 10 years of age or older to participate. Any guest age 16 or under must be joined by a parent or guardian, and a waiver is required for guests under 18 who are playing without a parent or guardian.
Countdown Louisville, located at 1500 Envoy Circle Suite 1501, sits just behind Honda World off Bunsen Way in Jeffersontown. Guests must register in advance at countdownlouisville.com. There is an option to book an entire escape room, otherwise, participants may be paired with others who have signed up for the same time slot.
Are you up to the challenge?