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Success Is All In Your Mind

Chris Sparks is Sure to Challenge you at Surelocked In Escape Games

Article by Karen Justice

Photography by Marie Rose Photography

Originally published in Frederick Lifestyle

People don’t come to escape the room, they come to escape the world.

It’s a game. It’s fun. It’s sixty minutes of riddles and clues that provide an opportunity for your cleverness and creativity to be rewarded. It’s not an escape from danger, it’s an escape from the stress of life. All you have to do to leave the room is turn the doorknob and walk out. But, then you leave all the fun, too.

What is “it?” Surelocked In Escape Games.

An Idea Sparked for the Sparks

Chris Sparks and his two younger brothers were big game players as children. “The first escape game I ever played was a point-and-click adventure online as a teenager,” Chris said. “In 2015, while on a family vacation in Colorado, we decided to go to an actual escape room. We loved it!”

Returning home, the family decided to bring their own take on the escape room idea to Frederick. On the Friday after Thanksgiving, 2016, they opened Surelocked In Escape Games (a Game Overlords, L.L.C. production). Initially open only on weekends, they quickly sold out. Within a month, they had recovered their initial investment. Before the year was out, Chris quit his job to run the family business full-time.

Chris manages Surelocked In and designs the games. His father, an engineer and carpenter, builds the unique puzzles. His mother is a whiz at finding the unique props and set pieces that bring the rooms to life. 

Challenges are Popular

Currently, there are four escape game experiences. The difficulty of each challenge varies. The games range upward from a 4% success rate, to 25%, 33% and 40% percent. Many will enter, few will win.

One of the toughest rooms is Santa-themed, even when the holiday is over. “Yes, I know, it’s not the Christmas season now,” Chris granted. “But, we keep offering each experience until the tickets stop selling. That room was still selling out on Palm Sunday!”

The Great Santascape and Tyrannosolveus Rex experiences both offer child-friendly alternatives to the standard adult games. The fact that Chris has incorporated opportunities for children is not surprising. Chris was a Catholic youth minister for three and a half years before the family’s idea blossomed and he became a full-time Game Master.

The most difficult room they’ve designed, The Witching Hour, has only a 4% player success rate, yet it remains their most popular game. “That’s the only game in the area that is played entirely in the dark,” Chris said. “Darkness challenges people’s critical thinking skills...It’s popular because it’s so tough.”

 

Three Clues and Lots of Experiences

Game Masters monitor players in each room to ensure player safety and provide assistance. “You have three, but only three, chances to ask the Game Master a question,” Chris says. “Success or failure in your mission is up to you.”

People play the games for a wide variety of reasons from date nights to birthday parties. At least one proposal has taken place in each of the escape rooms. “Giving people a fun escape for an hour with puzzles and their loved ones has a magic to it,” Chris shared. “People often say, ‘I don’t remember the last time I had this much fun!’”

“We’re popular because exciting experiences are eternal,” Chris said. “People love experiences, especially ones they can keep retelling the story of again and again.”

Surelocked In also creates off-premises events such as gender reveals, proposals, birthday parties, retirement parties and anniversary celebrations. “Whatever people want to celebrate, we can build a game for it,” Chris says. “We can use office space, a tent, the great outdoors or even a hotel meeting room.”

From Empty to Everywhere

It was an off-premise request that helped Surelocked In recover from the mandatory Covid-related closing. Recognizing that things were going to be different in 2020, Celebrate Frederick approached the Game Overlords with a request: since Chris and company had been creating scavenger hunts for First Saturdays for a few years, would the Game Overlords be willing to create a game to replace The Great Frederick Fair? Thus, the Great Frederick Scavenger Hunt was born as a way to get people back into town!

It was the beginning of their evolution. Discovered by colleges as an adventurous way to provide students with an orientation to the college campus and community, Game Overlords staff members have been flying all over the country to create and manage unique orientation-specific scavenger hunts. Corporations, churches and organizations are also requesting games for staff training, meetings and events.

Chris Sparks is often heard to say, "To whom much is given, much is expected.” Since his days as a youth minister, he has been involved in community service. He’s an alumnus of Leadership Frederick County, has served on Frederick County Chamber’s Generation Connect Committee, is much in demand as Santa, gave a TEDx talk at Hood College and advocates for more public services for the local ALICE population.

International Recognition

Five years after creating his first escape room game in 2016, Chris Sparks won international acclaim. The global organization EscapeTheRoomers named him Player’s Choice Game Master of the Year in 2021, and awarded him the Bullseye Gold Medal. His competition was from far-ranging Brazil, Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Mexico, Russia, South Africa and beyond.

Chris grew up in Frederick County and was very active in Urbana High School’s theater program. “I did musicals, plays, improv and stagecraft,” he said. “The latter helped give me the skills for creating the escape rooms.” The other aspects of his life just make him who he is today: a community-minded, successful, international-award-winning Game Master running a family business that was inspired by vacation fun.

SurelockedIn.com

SIDEBAR

Grateful for the support his lifetime dreams have received, Chris engages Surelocked In Escape Games as a vehicle of community support, serving:

·      I Believe In Me

·      Souls of Love in the Garden

·      Love For Lochlin

·      Big Brothers Big Sisters

·      SHIP

·      YMCA

·      Downtown Frederick Partnership

·      Frederick City Police Department Youth Police Academy

·      The Literacy Council of Frederick County

·      FCPS

·      FCPS Lynx Program (speaker)

·      The Rotary Club of Frederick 

·      Frederick Mental Health Association

·      Fort Detrick 

·      Hood College

·      Frederick Chamber of Commerce

·      National Museum of Civil War Medicine

·      Heritage Frederick Historical Society

·      Numerous churches/youth groups

  • Photography by T. Kowalsky Photography