Did you know we have escape rooms in Downtown Tulsa? Founded in 2022 by owners Chris and Leah Wietholter, Novel Mysteries is a unique part of our community located in the East Village. We sat down with Chris to learn more about how Novel Mysteries came to be and why it is so special. Get ready to plan your next date night, hangout, or family gathering!
How did it all begin?
Chris: So, my wife, Leah, has a private investigator license, is a forensic accountant, and owns Workman Forensics. They are a fraud investigative firm that does financial analysis and anything that has to do with accounting in the legal world that would be used in court.
Suppose you had a partnership dispute or embezzlement, for example. In that case, you'd hire a forensic accountant to do whatever magic that she does. She worked for the FBI for a couple of years, then she was in public accounting, and then she started her own firm, which she has had for 12 years now.
Leah has always wanted to own an escape room; she loves them. In the summer of '21, we started the process of getting the narrative for (our themed escape rooms) Tiny's Diner and Investigation Academy; those two were created by a group out of London. They build escape rooms, props, and narratives for people.
We told them we wanted to use a local author's book, and they helped us pick a scene from Blood on the Mother Road. And then, they created the types of puzzles we needed. Some of them didn't translate well to the American market, so we had to adapt them and add some more puzzles. For Investigation Academy, we wanted to make some of those puzzles a little bit grander ... some of those original ones were like tiny desktop puzzles. Secrets of the Estate is our kind of child; we created the puzzles, narrative, and everything from scratch on that one.
In April of '22, I was at a point in my career in home automation where I could leave my job, so I did in order to finish building Novel Mysteries, and then we opened that June.
How does it work?
Because of my background in home automation, custom integration, and home theaters, I was able to take a lot of that knowledge and outfit these rooms, and so each escape room is run on a home automation system. I don't have to trigger anything.
Everything is done with programming and logic, so whenever one puzzle is completed, it automatically triggers another puzzle, or it could trigger three different puzzles to complete. If there's an issue that happens, I can just release something with my phone, like a magnetic lock. It makes it really easy to reset the rooms via just hitting the reset button on there. We don't have padlocks in each room or each game, except for one padlock in Secrets of the Estate.
What makes Novel Mysteries unique?
Most escape rooms in town use a lot of padlocks or directional locks. These rooms only have one of those, and everything else is either magnetic locks or RF IDs — basically moving switches in the correct order to complete a circuit. So much more technology is involved at Novel Mysteries than in the traditional type of escape room. We've had many enthusiasts and even employees of other escape rooms compliment our rooms for the tech involved specifically.
We are located Downtown because my wife's business is located in the building next door, so the spaces are connected. I can walk from here to her business and all that stuff.
Who are escape rooms for?
Most of our clients are escape room enthusiasts; they travel a lot or like all the escape rooms around Tulsa. We've had an uptick in some younger audiences, especially parents looking for something for kids to do. With our rooms, there's nothing bloody, scary, mystical, or any themes like that; they're all really, really clean. The only thing that's scary about Tiny's Diner is the title of the book it comed from. But other than that, nothing would make a parent question whether to bring a kid here versus some other escape rooms in town. We don't have any haunted mansions or crime scenes, so there's no death or anything like that. So we've had a decent amount of traffic lately because of parents looking for something wholesome and different besides an arcade or a video game to do together. There is no age limit, and you can connect with your kids without a cellphone.
We're also starting to get a lot of corporate events for team building. National and local businesses have come by because it is a great way to teach people to work together with little to no risk in the outcome. So we are working on doing LinkedIn ads for HR leaders to consider. It is also financially feasible and safe for companies, as they don't have to rent out a space or do trust falls; it is something to do outside the office that still benefits the workplace environment.
The most important thing to know is that you don't need to be an expert to play and have a good time at our escape rooms. Anyone can do them. We also have different levels of difficulty levels: Enthusiasts who go for the leaderboard, Puzzlers who don't want a lot of hints, and Adventurers who are more guided. I love seeing people have fun in the rooms. My favorite quote from someone who played it is, "That was refreshing."
Anything else we should know?
We are starting a partnership with Tulsa Public Schools called Street School. On Wednesdays, they'll bring two groups to play the Investigation Academy escape room. We'll be doing at-risk seniors first and then juniors in high school. It's a great way to give back so these kids can learn outside of school. We're excited for them to come over.