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The Power of "Play"

Brothers Tony ’08 and Alex Ducklow ’10 embody how games can connect lives and enhance problem solving skills through their escape room in Minneapolis.

By Katie Johnson '19

May 03, 2019 | 3:30 p.m.

Ducklow Bros

Brothers Tony '08 (left) and Alex Ducklow '10 (right)

When you enter the “Quest for Excalibur” escape room found in Lock and Key Escape in Minneapolis, a sudden chill greets you through the excitement of what is to come. As you walk around the throne and into the gray, cinderblock ambiance, you’ll find a row of flickering LED candles and then the sword of Excalibur itself resting firmly in a pile of stones, immovable per the legend. The doors close. Now, your group must solve several puzzles within 60 minutes in order to “escape.”

The only thing that beats the magic of the room is to encounter the brothers who created it. 

Tony ’08 and Alex Ducklow ’10 started Lock and Key Escape in October of 2016 to fully sink into their belief that “games can actually have a positive impact on lives,” according to Tony. He says that while society doesn’t value play, he and his brother do, and their business rewards and acknowledges “having fun” along with problem solving.

This problem solving can also become a thriving team building exercise, especially since groups have to work together in order to solve each puzzle. “The thing I love about this business is that we see a lot of teams that come through for various functions, be that sports teams or business teams or youth groups or teams going on different mission’s trips,” Tony says. “It’s fun watching a group of people play something that you created and for it to have a positive impact on their lives.”

Ducklow Brothers with Map

Their first creation was a three-dimensional game of Clue that they designed while working at Summer Festival Camp. They loved this camp because there was such a place for play. Games were a big part of what consistently brought kids back to camp and the gospel. The Ducklows realized then how effective interacting with life size games could be for building community and breaking down barriers between different types of people with different levels of faith.   

Both Tony and Alex attended Bethel as youth ministry majors—which has since transitioned into the missional ministries degree within the Biblical and Theological Studies Department. Tony had intended to continue working at a camp like Summer Festival, while Alex planned to work more directly within the church. 

After Bethel, Tony actually went on to manage Summer Festival, and his first summer hire was Alex. As their team searched for team-building opportunities that could ignite the connection between new members, they played their first escape room. And it was everything they were waiting for.

“We played as a team, and we all had just an awesome time,” Alex says. “We realized that this is what we were preparing for and had no idea. It was one of those beautiful things.”

Inspired, they brainstormed their first escape room in Tony’s living room. Their Bethel education proved invaluable in this process. They had taken classes that workshopped games and helped them learn how to lead games effectively for groups. Tony worked in Benson Great Hall as well, which equipped him with on-the-spot technical problem solving that would largely enhance his critical thinking skills, while Alex worked in the Bethel Theatre Technical Department to build sets and work lighting as well as other technical aspects of performances. Concerning this drafting process, Alex says, “It was super fun to be able to use a little bit of set design and a little bit of game design to put it all together.” 

Ducklow Brother's Escape Room Wall

A taste of the room you may encounter at Lock and Key Escape in Minneapolis.

A year later, after they had become friends with the owners of the first escape room they played, they tested their creation at the camp. Their new friends offered valuable feedback. “We found out that they really liked some of the stuff that Alex designed, so if we didn’t start, they wanted to get him to work for them,” Tony said. “So, after camp, we sat down with them and asked, ‘Should we do this or not?’ And they said, ‘You should do this or come work for us.’”  

In Fall 2016, they opened Lock and Key Escape, and the business currently functions as Alex’s full-time job. He grows animated as he describes his favorite parts of the job. “It’s fun to watch the worlds come together. I think that’s probably my favorite part. We equate our experiences a little bit like a movie,” he says, his hands moving as quickly as his mouth. “You are the star, you and your team are the star of the movie, so how do you make the magic happen in real life?” He shares some of the technical sides of the magical part of the room, like how the LED candles in the “Quest for Excalibur” room can actually be blown out. Alex continues, “You can see everything come together, and when they have the key that they put in the lock and the shackles come open—you can almost feel the endorphins in your own body when that happens.”

While Alex works on the day to day operations of their business, Tony concentrates on the big-picture planning. “Where we end most days is on strategic thinking, which goes back to the liberal arts education,” Tony says. “I go back to that often. What’s the difference between, like, a Bible school and the liberal arts education? And the big thing is teaching you how to think critically.” Critical thinking and problem solving is crucial to their business as well as the nature of escape rooms, where a team is working together to solve puzzles under pressure.

As Alex and Tony continue moving forward as a successful business within the Twin Cities escape room community, they hope that they can “continue doing interesting and innovative things within our market,” Tony says. He further explains that they want to continue enhancing their business rather than growing it, meaning they hope to maintain a high-quality business that “can be a fun job that has value, that helps us feel like we’re actually making a difference in the world.”

Study Missional Ministries at Bethel

Learn more about how you can advance the mission of God with a variety of resources like the Ducklow brothers within multiple communities through Bethel’s Missional Ministries Major.

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