You open a locked box, only to find another key of a different color. Hidden under a book you find a lock, but that lock is yet another color. At one point, you have three keys and four locks, none of which appear to be related. Then you start finding random letters on objects but don’t know what they mean.

Escape Room 2

B.C. Kowalski/City Pages

Escape Room 2

Amanda Jackson of Edgar examines a clue at the Stevens Point Escape Room.

Well, you’d better figure it out, otherwise you can’t escape from the locked room you voluntarily entered. That’s the premise behind the experience trend to hit Wisconsin cities, now including Stevens Point Escape Room, at 23 Park Ridge Dr.

Launched in December by Justin and Jennifer Fonfara, Stevens Point Escape Room is the fifth location the couple has opened in less than two years. They opened the first in their Rice Lake coffee shop after experiencing an escape room while on vacation in North Carolina. It was so popular they quickly opened locations in Hayward, La Crosse and Eau Claire.

The idea: You’re locked in a room and have one hour to escape. Each room has a theme. Players must search the room for clues that will unlock the door and set them free, and nearly everything is a potential clue. Stevens Point Escape Room currently has two rooms, Murder in Paris and Escape the Salon, and soon will add a third.

Many clues seem impossibly random—a notebook filled with names, a box in a cupboard with a letter. As players progress through the game, something that seemed nonsensical at the beginning suddenly will inspire a flash of brilliance as players figure out how it fits with other clues.

Escape rooms’ popularity is soaring, says owner Justin Fonfara. “I think because it’s something fresh and new, people are drawn to it… It gets your brain thinking, and it gets you outside of the electronic boxes for at least an hour. It teaches you how to think, rather than just use Google.”

Fonfara says the rooms have become popular as both a date night attraction and corporate team building exercise. Fonfara’s dating advice: Go to the escape room, then dinner. That way you’ll have plenty to talk about.