DULUTH — Professor Prank’s long-held beef against his high school science teacher, the humorless Dr. Baxter, is at the root of an escape room recently launched virtually by Solve Entertainment.
The assignment, guided by the rambunctious prof, starts with a plot to play a practical joke on the loathed scientist — but then morphs into a mission to also thwart Dr. Baxter’s nefarious master plan.
“Professor Prank,” the local entertainment company’s first online game, offers its puzzle away from the conventional space of a locked room and on to Zoom. Up to 10 players are given a Professor’s-eye view of Dr. Baxter’s lab and direct the host — created and acted by Luke Moravec — to look here or there, open this or that, poke in and around certain corners.
He is your eyes and ears as you look for locks to unlock and codes to decode.
The company’s switch-up to a Zoom-based game comes at a time when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest people don’t gather, especially not a single room — which has been the premiere setting for escape rooms of pre-pandemic times.
“That’s the thing about our business,” said Richard Hansen, co-owner alongside Matthew Wagner. “If something happens, you have to figure out how to change with the industry. It’s like all theatrical experiences. You have to figure out how to deliver it. The show must go on.
“I’ve always lived by those five words.”
Zoom links to the game are sent out about 10 minutes before start time. Then players meet Professor Prank for the game overview and to divide tasks: an official reader, the notetaker, the one who serves as the official decider — the voice that is the final decision when multiple commands are clogging the Zoom audio.
The title character leads the team into Dr. Baxter’s laboratory lit only by his headlamp. Here’s a freebie: Ask him to turn on the lights.
Your first job is to find a hiding spot for a rubber rat with a decidedly human name — a nook or a cranny that will catch the doctor by surprise. He hates rats.
“It’s your turn to be part of the prank,” as the prankster says. “To leave no seat without a Whoopie Cushion.”
Professor Prank offers a 360 degree view of the space — the shelves with test tubes and beakers, the cold storage unit, the work station, the aquarium and everything in between.
Along the way, players will discover the evil doctor’s master plan through the use of Professor Prank's on-site hands: complete annihilation of pranks. This is also preventable if one can turn the right clues into the right moves to solve it and then jam it.
But not by us. Our fivesome failed.
The shift online
Escape rooms offer interactive plot-driven puzzles — a concept that was relatively new when Solve Entertainment first opened in 2015. Less than a year later, Zero Hour Escape Room also set up a downtown shop.
As of about this time last year, Solve’s keepers are on their second location — this time at the Hunter Building, 31 W. Superior St.
Both Hansen and Moravec noted this space’s spot in history. It was built in the early 1870s and, with an unprecedented three stories, was billed as Duluth’s skyscraper.
Solve Entertainment hosted its last live game in mid-March, then closed to slow the spread of COVID-19. Hansen admitted that he was against going virtual — the idea of shoe-horning a tactile, in-person form of entertainment onto the internet. Wagner and Moravec kept pushing the idea.
The trio dabbled in virtual games in other markets and saw what worked and what didn’t. Moravec, a seasoned local actor and musician, offered a game that would be different than an in-person experience, one that took advantage of the tricks that are possible without a live audience.
“He’s just a very intense performer and has an overwhelming drive to entertain and perform,” Hansen said. “He’s so perfect in his methods and his practice.”
Hansen is now more than sold on a virtual game, he said they are already working on the next offering.
If you go
What: Solve Entertainment's "Professor Prank"
Where: Go to solveentertainment.com
Price: $80 for up to 4 players, $15 for additional players
Difficulty level: Medium-ish, according to its website