Modern Antics Novelty Shoppe owner Art Allen sits in his latest project, Riddle Room: The Starship Credit: Eric Best

Cosmic conundrums

Updated: July 22, 2015 - 8:49 am

A new live puzzle room is taking off in Northeast Minneapolis.

You are a member of a 12-person team that has one hour to find and solve the mysteries of the UESC Enheduanna, a starship leaving from Earth. 

And so begins Riddle Room: The Starship, the newest iteration of the live puzzle and room escape game from Modern Antics Novelty Shoppe, a Northeast Minneapolis-based purveyor of all things novelty.

At the captain’s chair of this starship is proprietor Art Allen, a mastermind of Twin Cities novelty events. Behind shelves of rubber chickens and used vinyl of Steve Martin stand-up inside the shop at 507 Hennepin Ave., the UESC Enheduanna — named for an ancient Sumerian high priestess — is getting ready to take off with the help of a successful $20,000 Kickstarter campaign.

If all this sounds a bit weird, then you’re beginning to understand Allen.

“If you go back to when I was 16, and ask everyone who knew me, Art’s going to own a store, what’s going to be in it? ‘Oh he’ll sell comedy things and there’s going to be a starship in the back? Yeah, that’s about right,’” he said.

Allen wasn’t always in the starship construction business. He quit his nonprofit communications job two years ago to create Modern Antics, the umbrella company of his nationwide pun competition Pundamonium, local facial hair challenge the Minnesota Beard-Off and Riddle Room, now in its second year. He also started GOOFDA! last year, a concert series of local bands covering novelty songs from “Weird Al” Yankovic, Monty Python and more. 

Though the business is new, each novelty event is clearly a part of Allen, who rocks a lengthy beard and a love for the weird. 

“It was always there,” he said. “I don’t remember a time when I didn’t like things that were just sort of weird.”

Allen launched Riddle Room last year with “Bunker,” a post-apocalyptic puzzle game where teams between six and 12 people solved a room full of puzzles. The game was a huge success, he said, but will close at the end of the month as “Starship” begins May 1. 

With one room under his belt, Allen sought out to create a much more ambitious puzzle game and assembled a team of designers, gamers and artists to make it a reality. 

The concept of the UESC Enheduanna shows a starship-themed room outfitted with “brain-meltingly” hard puzzles. 


The ship, an amalgam of “Star Trek,” “Star Wars” and “Firefly” ships and lore, is really a room designed by staff from Bedlam Design Center, a for-hire arm of the local theater. Spencer Wirth-Davis, a Minneapolis-based hip-hop producer and musician under the name Big Cats, is bringing the ship to life with sounds effects.

Allen hired game designers from a Twin Cities game center to help build the Riddle Room’s puzzles and integrate them to the starship. 

One of the puzzle masters, Sam Bailey, said escape room games have been around in the digital world for decades, but in the past few years physical, more analog room games like Allen’s starship have appeared.

When Allen started “Bunker” there were no other live puzzle rooms in the Twin Cities, but several have popped up in the past year. 

Part of the appeal is that people can’t find these games anywhere else. Allen said the puzzles are tactile and are part of the room itself, so would-be space cadets won’t be able to find the same experience online or even at home. 

“You don’t want it to feel like something you could do at home,” Allen said. “If it’s of the room and integrated to the room it differentiates it that much more from a board game.”

And with this new genre comes a new challenge for gamers, puzzle lovers or simply those curious enough to try.

“People always want it more difficult,” Bailey said. “We’d rather people lose 75 percent of the time than win 75 percent of the time.”

Allen said “Starship” is brain-meltingly hard, but there’s fun to be had regardless if teams solve the final puzzle. Each game consists of up to 12 people with a minimum of six, but individuals or smaller groups can sign up for a timeslot with others and work together with strangers to solve each of the ship’s puzzles over the course of an hour.

“We haven’t had any marriage proposals yet,” he said.

The public will have the first chance to see the completed starship at a grand opening on April 25. Attendees shouldn’t worry about spoiling any of Riddle Room’s puzzles — Allen said any clues or puzzles are inconspicuous.

Riddle Room will begin to host guests beginning on May 1 and will continue as long as there is still an interest. “Starship” will also have two scenarios with more coming every few months for fans who want another go. 

Riddle Room has been a labor of love for Allen, who between spending 13-hour days building the room and running his business, also recently welcomed a new baby. 

“I have put my new event ideas all on hiatus because this is taking up so much of my brain space,” he said. “This is something that I really want to do.”