Iovine and Young Academy students bring Escape SC to campus

Up until April 24, students will have an opportunity to step into the wild, thrilling world of diamond smuggling — for half an hour, at least. Escape SC is bringing the escape-room concept to campus with a “diamond heist” twist, challenging students to decipher a series of clues to prove their innocence after being framed by diamond smugglers.

“I think what really drew me to [escape rooms] was the idea of being in a completely different environment and having to piece together a bunch of things and get out quickly, and the chance to prove myself,” said Racquel Fygenson, one of the members of Escape SC.

Escape SC was formed by Landon Brand, Fygenson, Brianna Doyle and Justin Bishop, freshmen at the Iovine and Young Academy for Arts, Technology and the Business of Innovation, for a class project. Their assignment was to earn as much money as possible in five weeks. Initially, they tried creating a portfolio website. However, they decided to pursue a project they were more passionate about.

While designing their Diamond Heist escape room, they drew on their previous experience with escape rooms and built a plotline using antique props for inspiration.

“One of the things that we did is that we went to an antique store and a couple thrift stores, and we just looked around at different props we thought might be useful, and then came up with a way to build a story around that,” Fygenson said. “We came across this kind of old-timey, 1920s scale at an antiques store and we thought, ‘Oh, this is pretty cool. We could build something about smuggling around this,’ and then from there we came up with smuggling diamonds.”

Knowing there were many escape rooms already out there, they tried to innovate on the conventional escape-room model and make it more accessible to USC students.

“First of all, we wanted to make a really low barrier of entry for college students, so we tried to figure out how to make it a shorter experience that we could make cheaper, and also bring it right to USC’s campus,” Brand said. “We also provided more backstory than most escape rooms do, just because we’ve been frustrated with how little plot goes into each escape room — it seems like it’s just a bunch of puzzles, and we wanted to provide something so that, maybe, at the end, you could tie it all together and feel like you know what the story is.”

The Diamond Heist escape room debuted on March 26. Escape SC is also raising the stakes by offering a $150 cash prize to the team who solves the puzzle in the shortest amount of time before the end of the event. So far, the time to beat is 12 minutes, 28 seconds.

For students looking to earn the grand prize, Brand and Fygenson offered tips on the optimal strategy to use, based on their observations of other groups over these past two weeks.

Fygenson recommended inspecting the room for clues immediately, instead of focusing too much on any one clue in the beginning.

“A lot of teams get caught up in the idea that there are puzzles, that they might not be able to solve them, and they psych themselves out. In reality, all the puzzles are pretty solvable as long as you have scoured the room and you have all the clues,” Fygenson said.

Brand shared his theory on the secret to doing well in the competition, based on the two main types of groups who play escape rooms.

“One group takes a pretty shallow approach to the puzzle and just moves quickly around the room, and typically, they do very well,” Brand said. “Another group just finds a clue, and then tries to go all the way through just figuring out the significance of that clue, right off the bat, maybe before it’s even possible for the room.”

The Diamond Heist escape room is available every Saturday and Sunday noon to 10 p.m. Reservations for a group of one to four people can be made on their Facebook page for $40 per group.