Contrary to what you might be imagining, getting out of a dairy-based escape room has nothing to do with gnawing your way through a gargantuan block of cheese.
Instead it’s about learning about life on a dairy, and valley agriculture in general, while racing to save an imaginary herd of cows. The new AgXscape in the Hilmar Cheese Company Visitor Center is being touted as the nation’s first dairy-based escape room.
The escape room concept, which started in Asia in the late 2000s and has since grown in popularity worldwide, challenges people to get out of a room by finding clues, solving puzzles and deciphering riddles. Modesto has a couple escape rooms with themed rooms already. But the new room at Hilmar Cheese takes theme to a whole other level.
The intimate room is set up like a dairy farmer’s office. Inside you’ll find a desk, pictures of prize cows, dairy equipment, feed samples, microscope and more. Your job is to pore over everything inside in 30 minutes to find all the clues to unlock the cure to a fictional virus threatening the herd.
Denise Skidmore, Hilmar Cheese director of education and public relations, came up with the idea of adding an escape room to the visitor center after checking some out herself with her family.
“We’re always looking for fun and creative ways to show the story of agriculture in the valley,” she said.
Unlike some other more adult-themed escape rooms, the AgXscape is fully family friendly. Nothing scary lurks inside, unless the the thought of hypothetical sick cows gets you down. And, unlike other rooms, you won’t actually be locked in and can enter and exit at will.
While the room is best for children 9 and older, so they can understand the concept and help explore, Skidmore said kids as young as 5 can still enjoy the activity. The room is best for groups of four to six, and can be reserved entirely for parties.
Atwater teacher Scott Johnson tried it with staff from Shaffer Elementary recently. He has used similar kinds of “break out challenges” for his classroom, which get kids to solve puzzles. What sets the Hilmar room apart is you learn about the subject in the process, he said.
“The dairy aspect is what made it so unique. Even if you aren’t successful getting out you learn a lot about how the dairy industry works. It’s educational and entertaining, and as an educator I know how difficult that is,” he said.
The room, just off the main Visitor Center cafe, used to be a small office. But now it has been transformed. A video greets you once you are inside the room and then the countdown begins.
Skidmore said the room will be a permanent feature in the visitor center, which already has a market and cafe and conducts regular tours. She said it’s just another way for Hilmar Cheese to engage people with ag in the area.
“People are always curious about farming, so short of going out for the day with a farmer, this lets them see what farmers do,” Skidmore said.
Admission is $15 or $60 for a family of four or more. And, if you want to, you can still snag yourself some cheese — a whole block even — in the cafe market afterward.