Escape Long Beach

Jack McCarthy, director and puzzle master at Escape Long Beach, opens a door to an elaborately decorated puzzle room called The Queen. The puzzling Belmont Heights business opens this week.

Looking for an escape? One puzzling new neighborhood business is offering its own unique take on that idea: Escape Long Beach opens Friday in Belmont Heights.

Here’s how it works: Willing participants are shut inside a room — in this case, a garage laboratory of a mad young scientist. The lab is filled with complex puzzles to solve, and the clock is ticking. There’s only an hour for detectives to figure it all out and escape — or face the fictionally dire consequence of a biological weapon wiping out California’s population.

The concept of escape rooms is still foreign in Long Beach, with only one other pre-existing operation based in Bixby Knolls, but it’s a business that’s growing. Escape rooms jumped from just 22 rooms in 2014 to more than 2,300 in the United States today, according to a recent survey from an industry website called Room Escape Artist.

Owner Thomas Cordova, who is winding down his longtime career running a local construction company, said he wanted something creative and artistic to do in his retired years, and he’s built a totally immersive experience with Escape Long Beach at 3926 E. Broadway.

“We’ve gone way over the top,” the Belmont Heights resident said about the two different rooms, original storylines and puzzles he’s created alongside his nephew and room director/puzzle master Jack McCarthy, who just graduated from USC, majoring in business and theater direction.

Right in time for Halloween revelers, The Lab opens Friday the 13th of September. A second option, The Queen, is set to open on Oct. 4, leading paranormal investigators on a hunt for lost souls in a ghostly Queen Mary-themed room.

“I’m excited to create something fun and new, close to home,” Cordova said, noting that he hopes Escape Long Beach’s success will allow the family to eventually expand into an even larger space in the area.

McCarthy, who has escaped more than 50 such puzzle rooms and helped build several others in the Los Angeles area, said he’s been working for the past six months with his uncle to get the two rooms ready.

They’ve transformed 700 square feet of what used to be an RCA television repair store into an action-packed escape from reality. It’s a place where detectives must look high and low and work together to unearth clues to save California. It's a place where paranormal investigators must have courage in the face of otherworldly discoveries.

Cordova noted that the puzzles are family-friendly, with staff trained on how to adjust the rooms to different degrees of difficulty. Clues are available via text. The rooms also are handicap accessible.

All bookings are private, with a four-person minimum (rooms typically can accommodate two to six players). For reservations, call 562-825-9997 or visit EscapeLongBeach.com.

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