A New Way to Escape: Award-Winning Tulsan Novel Inspires New Escape Room | Arts & Theater

It was a new idea born out of necessity.

Leah Wietholter was convinced that the two vacant offices in the building where her business is located would be the perfect place for an escape room. She knew the kind of experience she wanted to create and knew that her husband Chris’ experience in personalized home automation would help make the experience even more real and immersive.

The one thing Leah Wietholter couldn’t do was create a story.

“I’m a forensic accountant and a private investigator, so making up stories is not something I’m comfortable doing,” she said. “That’s when I thought about finding a detective novelist who would accept his work being suitable for this.”

Wietholter said she wanted it to be a writer from Oklahoma, and whose books would suit the kind of family clientele she hoped the escape room would attract.

She began researching crime novelists in the state and soon came across a recently published book by Tulsa writer Mary Coley, titled “Blood on the Mother Road.”

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“Blood on the Mother Road: No Place to Hide” is the second in Coley’s series of novels about Claire Northcutt, a freelance journalist. She’s working on what should be a report on life along Route 66 in small towns like Persimmon, Oklahoma.

However, her investigative instincts are piqued when her early interviews lead to suspicions that something is wrong with this small town – something that could involve the local cafe’s new waitress and Holt, a former boyfriend of Claire’s, a security agent. undercover DEA, whose work also brought him to Persimmon.

“I got this call out of the blue,” recalls Mary Coley. “It was Leah, who explained that she had read my book and loved it, and wanted to know if I would be willing to have the script used for an escape room.”

Thus was born Novel Mysteries, a new escape room experience that opened a few weeks ago just east of downtown Tulsa.

“It’s kind of a dream come true,” said Leah Wietholter. “I knew I wanted to be an investigator since I was a kid. And personally, I love escape rooms, and we’ve been to them all over the country. We wanted to make it a really first-class experience.

After a brief introduction and introduction to the rules, guests are ushered into a room that resembles the kind of office the manager of a small-town restaurant might retreat to to work on the books, work out the week’s schedule or just sit quietly. for a few moments.

What it is, however, is a kind of prison – as guests are told by a character’s disembodied voice. And they have 75 minutes to figure out how to escape from the office and then from the restaurant itself, or something terrible will happen.

The premise of the escape room comes directly from a scene in Coley’s novel.

“We worked with puzzle designers in the UK, and in our discussions they said, ‘Well, there’s the scene where a character is locked in the restaurant,'” Chris Wietholter said. “And we thought, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s going to work!'”

Originally, the time limit was set at 60 minutes, said Chris Wietholter. But after initial beta testing, they determined that there was only about a 20% success rate among those who played the game, so the time was increased.

“That’s also why we recommend having at least three people in your party,” he said. “There’s a lot to be done to figure it all out, and it’s often helpful to have people with different ways of thinking working together.”

Leah Wietholter said one thing they wanted for their “Blood on the Mother Road” experience was for everything to be grounded in reality. The office and restaurant contain most of the elements one would expect to see in such places, from desks and filing cabinets to tables and chairs, adding machines and condiment containers, neon signs and jukebox.

Yet any of these common elements could turn out to be a clue that brings us closer to the solution and a way out of this predicament.

“Blood on the Mother Road” earlier this year won the 2022 Oklahoma Book Award for Best Novel. Coley has previously been a finalist for the award twice. Her first book in the Claire Nothcutt series, “Blood on the Cimarron,” won the Tony Hillerman Award from the New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards (Coley and her husband split their time between Tulsa and Santa Fe, New Mexico).

Coley has written eight books, most of which are set in Oklahoma. His first novel, “Cobwebs,” included the Osage Reign of Terror, later made famous by David Grann’s “Killers of the Flower Moon,” as an integral part of its plot.

The Claire Northcutt series grew out of Coley’s own career in journalism.

“In my early books, my main character was a science teacher, and I wanted to write about a different type of character,” Coley said. “I worked for the Ponca City News for a while, and I always seemed to draw inspiration from the things I learned back then. So I decided to make this character a journalist, who would naturally investigate while trying to come up with a story.

The setting for “Blood on the Mother Road” is fictional, although Coley has stated that it was inspired by an actual town in Oklahoma.

“If people pay attention to how certain places are described, I think they will be able to understand,” she said. “It was a bit difficult to come up with the name of a city that looked like Oklahoma, but isn’t. We have some unusual town names in this state.

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