There it was, plain as day: a capital letter “S” screaming out at me from my eldest daughter’s 3rd-grade progress report. It had been a long and difficult month setting up our new business, LockQuest, and my daughter was the first casualty of war. An “S” stood for “Satisfactory,” and it was the only blemish on her report card, the one black sheep amongst all the G’s (“Good”) and E’s (“Excellent”). In this day and age where absolutely everything is “amazing,” even the most average output, i knew well enough what “S” meant.
Our time together as a family while setting up LockQuest was strained, to say the least. LockQuest is an escape game company. You and your friends buy tickets online, and show up at a themed room, where you’re physically locked inside for an hour. The game is to collect clues and solve puzzles to eventually find the front door key and escape.
Escape game companies are proliferating, especially in Toronto, because of their comparatively low startup cost, and the fact that they appear to be “fun” to plan and run. The whole family enjoyed the planning phase. My two daughters, aged 6 and 8, would constantly chirp to my wife and me about their new (and often implausible) puzzle ideas.
“Maybe there’s a shoe, and when you look inside the shoe, there’s a message?”
“What if you have something to drink, and when you drink it, you get the answer to a secret?”
It’s days like these that i‘m thankful i don’t drink looking for answers to “secrets,” or else i’d have spent the month doing a whole lotta searching.
Instead, we spent the month setting up the business and WISHING we drank. Days would consist of me picking up the girls from school, and then trekking up to our space in Summerhill with my little innocent bystanders in tow. We don’t own a car, so my eldest daughter would schlep it with me on foot, while my youngest would perch precariously on my guy-sized bicycle. We’d be laden with coats and backpacks, slung across my handlebars like saddlebags.
Once at the venue, work would run the gamut from cleaning and painting, to re-tiling a busted tiled floor and clearing out the ropy underbrush of snipped cables which were completely unusable, but were left stapled to the walls by the previous tenant who had left in a huff. (It was such a huff that the place bore many scars of an angry exodus: smashed light switches, deep channels ripped through the drywall where cords had been pulled straight out of the wall … they had even taken the back door dead bolt with them, leaving the rear entrance yawning open!)
Small People, Small Help
Whether it was my failure to instil a good Protestant work ethic in them, or their own unwillingness to help out – or even the fact that primary school students are inept with a staple gun – my daughters were left to languish in the unfurnished, drywall-dusty space, often overnight on air mattresses, while my wife and i toiled away at the place. We were all the while mindful that the building was slated for demolition in a year, that the business might fail, and that we were risking everything on this. “All because i refuse to get a full-time job,” i’d say wryly about my entrepreneurial intractability. My wife would twist her mouth in a knot and continue sanding the door frame.
The obvious things slid. We’d wake up on air mattresses in the middle of our private little war zone, toothbrushes and extra socks hastily crammed into my wife’s backpack. She’d make herself as presentable as possible for a day at her full-time job, while i’d patch up my little ragamuffins and cart them to school, their hair looking like they had entered a Lord of the Flies fashion show. i wrote clearly on my daughter’s agenda:
THIS MONTH IS VERY BUSY FOR US AS WE’RE STARTING A NEW BUSINESS. DAUGHTER MAY NOT ALWAYS BE ABLE TO COMPLETE HER HOMEWORK FOR CLASS.
It was no lie: countless trips back and forth to Canadian Tire had our heads spinning with the number of things we needed to ferry up to LockQuest – paint, brushes, rollers, switch plates, concrete screws, garbage bags, and a new vacuum cleaner when the old one committed suicide while choking back drilled-out brick dust. Where were our daughters’ backpacks again? At LockQuest, or at home? And what was their homework tonight? i can’t focus on that now, because i just discovered that the radiators in the entire back half of the building won’t turn on.
When i’d pick up my kids from school while wearing paint-splattered jeans with cannonball-sized holes torn through the thighs, my eldest would complain that she’d been in trouble for not completing her homework that day.
“B…but i wrote that note in your agenda for your teacher” i’d stammer.
“Yeah, and she got upset with me and said ‘no excuses!’”
No excuses indeed. We spent four straight days and eight trips to a distant Home Depot buying electrical conduit and wire to repair the radiators, which had been wired cartoonishly incorrectly when the venue’s extension was built, to the point that not only did they not currently work … they had NEVER worked. My father-in-law would finish a full day of work in a garage, and then drive to LockQuest all the way from Oshawa, staying until 2:30 in the morning running cable with my wife and me. The next morning, he was back to work a full day at the garage. Rinse, repeat.
And – what? Something about sorting the bunnies on page 1 into groups of ten? i can’t focus on that right now, sweetie.
i scrawled another message in my eldest daughter’s agenda, like Robinson Crusoe cramming a message into a bottle:
PLEASE UNDERSTAND CAN’T HOMEWORK BECAUSE BUSINESS
The next day, same story. “My teacher got upset with me again and said ‘no excuses!’”
“Then … can you be responsible for yourself here? Can you please do your homework every night while Mommy and Daddy and Grandpa are running cable and installing EXIT signs?”
“But you told me to leave my backpack at school so we’d have room on the bike for that giant box of Ethernet cable.”
“Right, right. (Yawn.) Right.” Things, i knew, would one day be better.
We Have Liftoff
And they are, now. LockQuest has launched. Our first game, Escape the Book Club Killer, has opened to rave reviews. In it, you’re trapped in the apartment of a serial killer. He’s threatened to return in one hour to have everyone killed if you don’t solve his puzzles and escape.
If my daughter grows to adulthood and becomes a serial killer herself, the police and state psychologists may go back to her early report cards to discover more about what made her tick as a little girl. How did she become such an inhuman monster? They’ll pull out that 3rd grade interim progress report, and there it will be, glaring angrily up at them from the bottom of the first page.
“An S,” the psychologist will say. The two police officers in attendance, both of them models of perfect parenthood, will exchange knowing, judgmental glances.
“A ‘Satisfactory’ grade for poor organization skills and not consistently completing her homework. Hmm. That explains everything.”
Tickets are available now for Escape the Book Club Killer at LockQuest.
Photos by Ryan Creighton – All Rights Reserved
Guest Author Bio
Ryan Henson Creighton is a professional game developer, author, TEDxToronto speaker, and father of two girls. Ryan is the founder and President of Untold Entertainment Inc., a boutique game development studio, and the founder and Creative Director of LockQuest, a real escape game company. His life’s mission is to facilitate fun and playfulness in a world that desperately needs both.