Escape Room

By Susan T. Hessel

The four Swenson sisters had one hour to get out of the locked home of their Drug Enforcement Agency partner, Andrew, whose body they just discovered. They knew the crime syndicate was coming back quickly to clean up the scene.

Undaunted by that body, Amy Olson and sisters Ashley, Lindsey and Becky went to work in the CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) room at The Great Escape of La Crosse, located at 203 Fourth St. South in the historic 1890 Tauscher Hardware building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. The four sisters had 60 minutes to solve the puzzles through the scattered evidence. 

Owner Toby Farley was impressed that they solved puzzles many participants miss. “You were so calm and collected with six minutes left,” he told them in the debriefing.

Five days after Amy’s first successful escape room experience with her husband, Alan, in The Great Escape of La Crosse’s Mad Hatter Room, she came back for more family mystery solving. Alan, knowing what they were doing, texted Amy saying they should get a babysitter so they could tackle a third escape room.

“It’s mentally challenging,” Amy said. “It feels good to get that mental challenge.”

The Great Escape of La Crosse is one of three escape businesses in the local area, with interactive adventure games that require participants to keep their wits about them and utilize teamwork in order to solve puzzles and escape from a locked room.

“It was a lot of fun, and a little frustrating that we didn’t win. The math really slowed us down,” Ashley said.

Farley, who previously worked in marketing for Midwest Family Radio, thought about starting an escape business in La Crosse after visiting similar rooms in other cities. “On my deathbed, I didn’t want to wonder why I didn’t do what I really loved. I decided to give it a go,” he said.

Farley, who grew up in Sparta, Wisconsin, created four rooms with the help of escape room designers from Bucharest, Romania. (Yes, that really is such a 21st century career.) All four rooms accommodate up to eight players. More rooms are on the way, including one for Halloween. In addition to the CSI room, the other three rooms are:

  • Bank Robbery—Your bank robbery team decides to take down the local bank where they expect a “big score.” One of the cool things in this room is an old Diebold Safe & Lock that came with the building.
  • Mad Hatter—While on a hike through the woods, you stumble through a long, dark tunnel and fall into a strange place where you interrupt a tea party. You need to find clues and solve puzzles to get out the door and back home.
  • Blackout—You partied so hard while on vacation that you wake up after a blackout experience in a blacked-out stranger’s room. You have to find your lost flight ticket and passport to make your plane that leaves in one hour.

Time ticks down on a monitor in each room. Participants can have up to three clues during the hour if all participants agree on each request. The “game master” watches from another room, giving periodic nudges.

Amy drove from Prairie du Chien to play, while her three sisters came from Sauk City. “I liked it,” Lindsey said of their experience with the CSI room.

“It was fun, but still challenging,” Becky said, adding that she’d like to escape from the bank next, knowing it is the toughest of the four.

The game does require teamwork, something the sisters clearly demonstrated. “We were able to communicate without speaking. We figured out what each other had to do,” Ashley said.

Despite a 15-year age gap between the oldest and youngest sister, their friendship is obvious. “Now that we are adults, we do a lot more together,” Amy said.

The sisters appreciated the time that Farley took afterward to talk about the game. Many players show more and more anxiety as time counts down. The sisters actually had the answer, but didn’t implement it in time.
The Great Escape of La Crosse also offers scavenger hunts and a smash shack, just in case you ever feel like breaking something! Learn more at or call (608) 571-ROOM.

Need More Escape?

Visit two more escape room businesses in La Crosse:

La Crosse Escape Room at 319 Main St. is located in the historic Batavian Bank Building. The Bank Heist room uses an original vault and accommodates up to eight players. The brand new Game Day room was created for smaller groups of two, or up to four by request. By the beginning of October, La Crosse Escape Room also plans to have a creepy serial killer room for up to 10 players—perfectly timed for Halloween hijinks. For more information, visit, email or call (608) 518-3891.

Tactical Escape 101 at 505 King St., Suite 217, in La Crosse is a company with three other Wisconsin locations in Hayward, Rice Lake and Eau Claire. Games include Dine N’ Dash for up to eight players; Family Game Night for up to six players; and Peace, Love and Puzzles for up to eight players. For more information, visit or call (715) 418-0012.