Pittsfield Twp. "escape room" visitors hunt new puzzles in Kerrytown businesses

The team behind Pittsfield Township "escape room" Decode Detroit recently entered the second phase of its multi-part adventure game with the launch of Minerva's Escape, a free puzzle scavenger hunt in Ann Arbor it hopes will help promote local businesses.

The original escape room challenges players to figure out how to outwit Minerva, "an adolescent artificial intelligence with ambitions too big for her motherboard," with whom they've been "locked" in a room. In a new extension of that experience, Minerva has "escaped to the internet," and players must track her down through a series of clues left at Ann Arbor businesses and restaurants.

Participating businesses include Ann Arbor Spice Merchants, the Lunch Room, and TeaHaus, all located in or near Kerrytown. Each digital puzzle is concealed within an item that fits into the surroundings of its host store. Players identify the puzzles by the Decode Detroit logo that marks each one.

TeaHaus manager Jody Jones says the game has already generated some new foot traffic for her store and is a good way to bring people in who wouldn't normally stop.

"It's a great fit for our business, because we really enjoy engaging with our customers no matter what the reason, and we also have the opportunity to introduce someone to tea who may have never been introduced," Jones says.

She says the puzzle is well hidden and fits seamlessly in the shop. While most customers haven't recognized it, for those playing, it's unmistakably part of the game.

"It has been a lot of fun to see people looking for the piece in the store," Jones says. "You almost know immediately if they are a customer or a game player by they way they are searching. I have to resist the urge to play that one game you played as a kid: 'You're getting warmer, you're really hot, you're on fire!'"

If nothing else, the game can be a conversation starter.

"I did have one experience on the first day we had the puzzle, where I thought someone was playing and asked him, 'Are you playing the game?'" she says. "The guy looked at me inquisitively and was like, 'I don't know, am I playing the game?' Turns out he wasn't, and that it was a pretty funny question to ask someone just shopping in TeaHaus for the first time."

Two more Minerva's Escape missions are planned for downtown Ann Arbor, according to Decode Detroit cofounder Patton Doyle, including puzzles at Vault of Midnight, Downtown Home and Garden, and 826michigan.
Eric Gallippo is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.
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