Keynundrum

By Lisa Lowewen
Photos by Rachel Lock Photography

If you’ve been to New York or Chicago, you might have heard people talking about “escaping the room.” This new game, which challenges groups of individuals to unlock codes, solve puzzles, decipher clues and work together to unravel mysteries, has been taking the country by storm.

What you may not know is that you can “escape the room” right here in Topeka.

keynundrumDawn and Aaron Neuhalfen opened the doors to Keynundrum, located at 2900 SW Atwood, after attempting to escape a room in Hutchinson with their son and a friend last year. They were so enthused by the experience that they decided to open a similar concept in Topeka.

“It is so much fun to see people go through the rooms,” Dawn said. “Some make it out, others don’t, but they all have fun.”

The concept is fairly simple. Teams have 60 minutes to solve puzzles, unravel clues and figure out the mystery that unlocks the room. That is where simple ends, however. Clues can be

anything from words written on scraps of paper in the trashcan to tape recorded messages or missing puzzle pieces that uncover a secret meaning. Unlocking one clue simply leads you into the next puzzle, which will send you in a completely different direction. Just when you think you have it all figured out, everything shifts.

Don’t worry. If you get stuck, you can ask for a hint from the person monitoring your progress from outside the room.

“The key is to quit overthinking everything,” Aaron said. “Sometimes the smartest person in the room has the hardest time.”

Keynundrum offers three different escape experiences: Murder Motel and Jewel Thief, for groups of up to eight people; and General Tao’s Back Room, which can accommodate groups as large as 16 people.

Dawn said her inspiration for the stories and clues in each room come from her family and love of books. The storyline behind their latest room, General Tao’s Back Room, which opened in July, came from Dawn’s father.

“This truly is a family business,” Dawn said. “The kids are always making suggestions and the family get togethers always have ‘what if…’ sessions.”

Even though the business is really starting to take off, Dawn and Aaron do not plan to quit their “real” jobs—though, they do hope to retire someday so they can plan more escape rooms.

In the meantime, Dawn’s son, Greg, works with them to keep things running when they aren’t available. Even though they both admit they are sometimes too busy to even stop and take a breath, Dawn and Aaron say they wouldn’t change a thing.

“Through this whole experience we have never looked at each other and asked, ‘why are we doing this?’” Aaron said. “We are having too much fun.”

WHAT’S WITH THE NAME? “Our granddaughter came up with the name when we were brainstorming ideas,” Aaron said. “It was the perfect fit.”