Carol Hall is pretty good at puzzles.
So much so, in fact, that people pay her to create puzzles for them.
Hall owns and operates The Hallway Entertainment, a Port Huron-based entertainment company that specializes in escape rooms, game show nights, and more.
She made her name in escape rooms, live-action puzzles where a group of people are locked inside a room replete with riddles, games, and other tests of ingenuity, all of which must be completed to exit the room.
Like many businesses, Hallway Entertainment has been temporarily shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the state’s shelter-in-place order; a room packed tight with people fumbling through puzzles didn’t meet the social distancing guidelines, and understandably so. But whereas other businesses can offer carry-out orders and sales via online gift shops, what can a business do when they don’t rely on physical goods but in-house experiences, instead?
Take the experience to the people.
“Since Hallway is all about the experience while you’re here, how do I still keep the business open? I still have bills to pay,” Hall says.
“So I developed this virtual escape room, sort of a scavenger hunt, to keep my business relevant.”
It works like this. Hall sets up a private Facebook group where videos with instructions and puzzles await the teams. It costs $10 for a team to access the group. The teams then visit various sites across the internet, searching for clues, answering riddles, and solving puzzles.
The first online scavenger hunt, held last Saturday, March 28, hosted over 40 teams. The next game is scheduled for Saturday, April 4.
In developing the puzzles, Hall has gone above and beyond the meat-and-potatoes of an online scavenger hunt. Instead, she enlisted other downtown Port Huron businesses to take part. In fact, it’s those businesses that host Hall’s puzzles. It’s win-win: The businesses sponsor the games by giving gift cards as prizes and Hall uses the businesses and their websites as the actual puzzles, driving traffic to those very sites.
“The scavenger hunt not only provided a fun escape for community members, but also did a terrific job in driving locals to our website. At peak, we had over 50 users searching our Bicycle Service page for the clue at one time. We are very grateful for the opportunity to participate,” says John Eppley, general manager of Alpine Cycles, one of the sponsors of the first event.
“All of downtown businesses are struggling, so the ability to draw attention to our collective shops while providing some much-needed entertainment is very powerful.”
It’s a creative solution to two problems. Hall creates customers for both herself and her neighbors. And, not to mention, it gives people something to do on a Saturday night.
“I could have easily designed a game that wouldn’t have involved other businesses,” Hall says. “Being part of the downtown community, it’s pretty important to stay connected and help when you can.”
Hall isn’t sure how long she’ll be designing the scavenger hunts, though conceivably they could last as long as the shelter-in-place order is in effect. But she does have other ideas up her sleeve.
Hallway Entertainment also used to host a game show night based off popular shows like Hollywood Game Night and Ellen’s Game of Games. Though she’s not exactly sure how to do it yet, Hall hopes to introduce a virtual game show night next.
She’s also taking this time to launch a new business: Padlock Presents. A gift is sent in a locked box, and the recipient must solve a series of puzzles to open it.
Hall has even started to sell her puzzles to other escape rooms throughout the world.
“I guess I have a pretty unique skillset,” she says.