“That didn’t work,” said the voice through Trista Simonton’s walkie-talkie.
Simonton and several other zoo keepers were gathered around a large wooden box with the words “Top Secret” stamped on it at Riverside Discovery Center. She held a few trading cards picturing Asian animals; each had a number written on it.
Simonton spoke the numbers into her walkie-talkie. On the other side of the zoo, head zookeeper Nancee Hutchinson listened and attempted using different combinations of the number to unlock a box she’d found.
The team was working to solve a mystery, getting a sneak peek of Riverside’s upcoming escape room experience.
“Escape rooms are really popular and I always thought it would be fun to write one,” said Alexandra Mason, the zoo’s education coordinator.
On Monday, Sept. 16, she watched as the zoo staff tried to beat her “Wild, Wild, Wildlife Investigation” puzzle, one of three that she created. They searched for clue after clue in an effort to track down a tiger pelt hidden in the zoo by a poacher who was trying to escape authorities.
That puzzle and a second called “The Great Animal Art Heist,” were put together with those over the age of 13 in mind. A third, called “The Eggs-trordinary Egg Escapade,” was written for younger children.
“I think I’m looking forward to that one the most,” said Mason.
The two more complicated escape rooms will be open to participants on Sept. 18-20. The cost is $20 per person. Sessions start at 6 p.m. each day and participants will work together to solve the puzzle in an hour and a half.
“You’ll get to meet new people,” said Mason.
The Wildlife Investigation and the Art Heist will run simultaneously, with each taking place in half of the zoo. Mason said the two groups won’t cross each other’s paths.
Each group is limited to 15 participants and Wednesday night’s Art Heist experience is already sold out so Mason is encouraging reservations.
“We would hate for them to stand in line and then the groups be full,” said Mason.
On Sept. 21-22, younger detectives can try their hand at finding clues during the Eggs-trodinary Egg Escapade. Unlike the other two escape experiences, there is no time limit and participants can search for answers from 9 a.m. until 4 pm. The cost is regular zoo admission; members get in for free.
In addition to the escape rooms, zoo staff has also been preparing for the launch of a new program called the Grandparents Club. The first meeting will be on Sept. 18 at 11:30 am.
“It’ll be a meet and greet,” said Mason.
She said the idea for the program was cooked up by a volunteer with the aim of bringing like-minded people together to be part of the zoo. Mason said there will be a number of volunteer opportunities discussed during the meeting.
Despite the group’s name, being a grandparent is optional and there is no age requirement.
For more information about the Grandparents Club or the escape room experiences, call 630-6236 or stop by the zoo gift shop.