Steve and Jessica Sherman fled Palm Coast for Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, when Hurricane Matthew rolled through, and returned with a new way of life.
In a shopping center there, Jessica, a lifelong puzzle enthusiast, convinced Steve, someone she says “hates games,” to come with her to an escape room.
He was enamored.
Since that fateful hurricane season, the Shermans have gone to over 100 escape rooms, and each has given them ideas for their own rooms at Twisted Minds, the location they operate at 1000 Palm Coast Parkway Southwest, Suite 209. They have been open since Super Bowl weekend this year (“Where did everybody go?” Jessica had wondered), and are not part of any franchise or chain — all the games are their own. Despite puzzles having been “her thing” since she was little, Jessica collaborates with Steve closely on each new idea.
“I can be something simple,” she said, “but how do we make it us? How do we make it Twisted?”
“We aspire to be the Disney of escape rooms,” Steve Sherman has said to customers.
There are two rooms open now, Vanished and Camp Calico, along with a spooky Halloween-themed walkthrough on the other side of the suite, occupied by scare actors on Fridays and Saturdays. By early November, that part of Twisted Minds will have been renovated into their third room, with another two arriving by Dec. 15, courtesy of a new partner from Ormond Beach.
The Business Assistance Center, the now-shuttered City Hall location of the Small Business Development Center, was a big help in securing permits and approval for construction, as the crawl spaces and unorthodox structures presented additional problems to solve regarding safety regulations.
“Ray Peter was our saving grace in getting in here,” said Jessica of the BAC’s area manager.
While the Shermans have not needed anything since the BAC closed, they are hoping with crossed fingers that the upcoming construction goes just as smoothly without it.
“It’ll be fine,” Jessica said.
“We keep telling ourselves that,” her 13-year-old son Steven said.
Steven and his 12-year-old brother Joey help with the day-to-day operation of Twisted Minds when not at school, but they have no part in designing the rooms.
“We wanna do them on our own!” Steven said. No spoilers.
There is plenty to spoil, many moving parts for each of the two extant rooms. Each has a backstory to take in, with prologues available to watch on the Twisted Minds website, before a group takes on the challenges of Vanished and Camp Calico.
Vanished, to be solved within an hour with three to seven people, has guests looking for secrets in an Egyptian gallery before the curator returns, trying to solve the mysterious disappearances that have plagued the town since the gallery opened.
Camp Calico, for two to eight players in 75 minutes, has players trying to sneak out of summer camp and recover their lost friend from the woods before the counselors find you’re missing.
Each room boasts a level of detail in its set decoration that would impress a theatre company operating with a similar budget: the miscreants campers at Camp Calico find themselves surrounded by fake foliage and the cries of nightbirds, the investigators in Vanished hunt through a room filled with ancient artifacts, dominated by a pharaoh’s upright sarcophagus.
Twisted Minds has no limit on clues, because most of the clientele has never done an escape room before, but the Shermans are considering a leaderboard available only to customers who restrict themselves only to the customary three clues. All customers, however are forbidden the use of technology.
“Siri and Alexa can’t help you here,” Jessica said.
The record for their rooms is held by a group of eight detectives from the Palm Coast Police Department, who completed Camp Calico with 36 minutes 10 seconds to spare, no clues requested.
“I’ve had people who’ve played dozens or even hundreds of rooms telling me these were the best they’ve been in,” Jessica said. She and Steve dream of additional Twisted Minds locations, or even a freestanding building that can support two-story games complete with chutes and ladders. But for now, their shopping center suite represents a lifetime’s puzzle solved.
“It’s been a long, rocky road to get here,” she said, “but we’re here.”
There was a time, she added, when searching for “attractions in Palm Coast” on Google would return no results. Now it will show you Twisted Minds.
Steve was enormously proud when he found out. Now he can honestly say, “We put Palm Coast on the map.”