Code Breakers: Pittsburgh's first kids escape room opens Wednesday
November 22, 2016 12:00 AM
Shawn Carr, left, and Brian Colonna, owners of the Code Breakers escape room, stand in the escape room, reflected in one of the puzzles, as the alien hologram plays above.
By Courtney Linder / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Software engineer Brian Colonna and his longtime friend Shawn Carr never expected to co-own a spaceship.
But after the duo visited their first escape room together in Pittsburgh in July 2015, they joked about creating their own. Only they weren't kidding — by the end of last December, Mr. Colonna, 38, and Mr. Carr, 37, signed the lease for their facility in Pines Plaza shopping center in Ross.
Last June, after months of planning, designing and constructing, the pair opened Code Breakers, a space-themed escape room that involves rebuilding a spacecraft and returning to Earth.
The space allows visitors to “go beyond trying to escape a room,” Mr. Colonna said. When he and Mr. Carr plotted their project, they knew they wanted to diverge from the pattern of Pittsburgh’s numerous other escape rooms, which rely on the novelty of unlocking doors and finding keys.
Now, they’re trying out a new niche — a children’s escape room, the first of its kind in the city.
While the puzzles in the space vessel will be adapted for children ages 7 to 12, the escape will still use the same custom-built room.
Mr. Colonna, who works in the Android Department at Google, and Mr. Carr, who works in sales, got handy with plywood, upholstery tacks and paint, shaping the elements of the spacecraft by hand.
“We built this whole thing in my garage,” Mr. Colonna said, pointing to the silvery, faux metallic spaceship walls. “We didn’t know the first thing about construction,” he laughed.
But they did harness their skills in logic, design and programming in creating the puzzles for both the adult and child versions of the space escape. Mr. Colonna spawned a number of original brain teasers, including a UFO maze on one of the ship’s control panels, a hot-wiring activity and a secret code composed of alien symbols.
“Most parts have an analogous children’s version,” Mr. Colonna said, noting that only 25 percent of adults manage to fully activate the spaceship in the hour time allotment. The kids’ puzzles are simpler and test dexterity, teamwork, logical reasoning and mathematics.
“The puzzles sometimes feel like a maze,” Mr. Carr said. “You might go down the right path and find things to help you move on, or you might take the wrong path.”
But if the problem-solving does run amok, there is a reference tablet built into the spaceship’s interface. Mr. Colonna designed the featured app to provide game players with hints every few minutes.
He said he hopes this attention to detail in forming what he called an unprecedented children’s learning experience will continue to bring families back.
“Kids go through phases of laser tag and Chuck E. Cheese, these typical birthday party activities,” Mr. Colonna said. “But this is different.”
Code Breakers recommends group sizes from three to six children for optimal problem-solving and teamwork, but single tickets are available. An adult must accompany the bunch, but the grown-up version of the game won’t be ruined because the puzzles are different.
Code Breakers’ child-friendly experience opens Wednesday. Sessions are $60 for up to six children. Details: 1130 Perry Highway, Suite 101, Ross (15237); 412-837-1988; www.codebreakers412.com.
Courtney Linder: email@example.com or 412-263-1707. Twitter: @CNL_13.