Meet Dr Alex ‘Bones’ Mulhall a PhD qualified Archaeologist who has just opened his first escape room in Swindon. Alex has used his academic background to create a wonderful themed room that fully utilises his knowledge and skills. But most importantly, it creates an offering that is unique and unusual for the escape room scene.
“After qualifying in Archaeology, I didn’t have much success with finding the right job” says Alex. After searching for the right thing, at age 29 he ultimately made a choice to go into business for himself. “I have always liked building and creating things, it just came together” he says.
Alex is another of the new owner/builders who have very little prior experience of escape rooms, having played only 5 himself. “I knew I wanted to make and build things, and I devised all the puzzles myself” he explains. “I didn’t intend for the room to be based on archaeology, I had in mind a curio, mystery type story. It just seemed to morph into this”. It fits nicely with his academic experience and his natural skills. The room itself is testament to his natural flair with his subject, it offers a sense of authenticity that is so often lacking in escape games.
Having played the game, our entire team were thrilled with the ingenuity and flow of the puzzles. Everything is made so beautifully, with high quality woodwork and presentation. “That’s my mum’s old sewing machine table” Alex says, pointing to a wonderful puzzle set up that included some of the fine parts he has hand made. I suspect his mum is pleased with how it’s been put to good use, for his family have certainly supported the creation of this room. Friends and family were his initial play testers, and that helped Alex to understand how people were relating to the game information and clues. He says he is enjoying being Gamemaster for the game, describing it as “a lot of fun”. This is an additional aspect in which he feels a personal service can be offered to customers.
Having taken a year in the planning and construction, ‘Professor Dunstan and the search for the Ancient Statuette’ opened at Co-Decode in Swindon in July 2017. Alex is now working in his on-site workshop to develop room number two. His initial outline idea is for a sci-fi theme, but I suspect he may also have that ‘morph’ into something more quirky and unusual once it starts coming alive in his imagination.
It’s the personal touch that allows Alex to intelligently and quite uniquely, adjust the difficulty of the game puzzles, based on a group’s needs. Whether young, inexperienced, or even very experienced, his design of the puzzle structure and flow gives complete adjustability. “I want people to have a full experience, no matter what their level of knowledge or experience” he says. To date, the statistics show an overall success rate of 40% for this first room.
I asked Alex what he had found the most difficult in the process of setting up his new business. “Finding a location and getting it within budget,” he explains “the centre of Swindon town was just too expensive.” So he made a business decision based on cost, which led him to the multi-purpose retail/industrial unit he now occupies. It may not be the most ideal location, but it is sound business sense when it’s a first set up of an escape room, and a first business venture.
Alex is taking one step at a time, and learning as he goes. As a quiet and unassuming character, I can see he will be successful at connecting to people and their needs. That’s important, because ultimately, it offers the personal touch that can be so vital to the success of any escape room business.
Read our review of ‘Professor Dunstan and the search for the Ancient Statuette’ HERE
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