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The world's first official 'Downton Abbey' escape room opened in Salt Lake City. Here's what to expect

Note: Mystery Escape Room's "Downton Abbey" escape room is temporarily closed.

SALT LAKE CITY — Can't wait for the "Downton Abbey" movie coming out this September? There's an escape room in Salt Lake City that might help hold you over.

The new “Downton Abbey” escape room — the first one NBCUniversal has officially licensed in the world — opened to the public on July 13 at The Gateway's Mystery Escape Room. An agent from NBCUniversal, which owns the company that produced the British drama, actually approached Mystery Escape Room's owner, Leslie Pardew, and asked if he'd be interested in creating the "Downton Abbey"-themed room.

"That's kind of neat considering the magnitude of the license," Pardew told the Deseret News. "'Downton Abbey' is an international phenomenon."

Created by Julian Fellowes and originating on ITV in the U.K., “Downton Abbey” ran on PBS in the United States from 2011-2016. The drama is set in the early 20th century and centers around British aristocratic family the Crawleys and their household of servants, portraying how this turbulent time in British history upended the traditions and conventions surrounding social class.

Krista Waters, right, demonstrates a clue in the new "Downton Abbey" escape room in Mystery Escape Room at The Gateway in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 12, 2019. Mystery Escape Room was approached by NBC Universal International Studios to create the firs
Krista Waters, right, demonstrates a clue in the new "Downton Abbey" escape room in Mystery Escape Room at The Gateway in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 12, 2019. Mystery Escape Room was approached by NBC Universal International Studios to create the first officially licensed escape room based on the show.
Colter Peterson, Deseret News

It was important to NBCUniversal that Mystery Escape Room didn't introduce new characters or add any tangents to the canonized plot of "Downton Abbey."

"It had to be true to the license," Pardew said. "So we had to craft a story that felt like 'Downton Abbey,' with the characters that are actually part of the show."

That detailed task took about a year, and every aspect of the game's design had to be approved by NBCUniversal. The finished product is an escape room that places fans in the heart of “Downton Abbey's” fourth season, just after Lady Grantham's maid, Miss O'Brien, leaves the estate.

The problem? O'Brien left behind a journal in the servants' hall that contains secrets the Crawleys don't want anyone else to know about. Those playing need to break into the housekeeper Mrs. Hughes' office to uncover clues that will lead to the confidential journal.

Like the story, the escape room's setting also stays true to the British drama. To get props that fit with the "Downton Abbey" time period, Pardew said he and his team had to scour thrift stores and build a few things themselves — including the quintessential bell board the Crawleys use to summon their servants that is shown at the beginning of every episode.

Bryan Hill demonstrates a clue while the rest of the team searches the new "Downton Abbey" escape room in Mystery Escape Room at The Gateway in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 12, 2019. Mystery Escape Room was approached by NBC Universal International Stud
Bryan Hill demonstrates a clue while the rest of the team searches the new "Downton Abbey" escape room in Mystery Escape Room at The Gateway in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 12, 2019. Mystery Escape Room was approached by NBC Universal International Studios to create the first officially licensed escape room based on the show.
Colter Peterson, Deseret News

Since the bell board is actually a part of the game, Pardew said he had to make it himself to ensure it worked and was sturdy enough not to fall apart. He's learned the hard way that everything he puts in an escape room has to be unbreakable — in his very first Houdini-themed escape room, he set up a bunch of ceramics on a shelf and the first group that came in broke them all trying to find a clue.

Which is why Pardew set his "Downton Abbey" escape room in the servants' hall and not the Crawley family's grand hall upstairs, where there would be too many fancy items to break. And when he decided to put dishes in the current escape room set, he made sure to glue them into the hutch.

"We did try to find as much furniture as we could that matched what they had (in 'Downton Abbey')," he said. "We want people to feel like they're actually entering the abbey."

Bryan Hill demonstrates a clue in the new "Downton Abbey" escape room in Mystery Escape Room at The Gateway in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 12, 2019. Mystery Escape Room was approached by NBC Universal International Studios to create the first officiall
Bryan Hill demonstrates a clue in the new "Downton Abbey" escape room in Mystery Escape Room at The Gateway in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 12, 2019. Mystery Escape Room was approached by NBC Universal International Studios to create the first officially licensed escape room based on the show.
Colter Peterson, Deseret News

It's a challenge to take something so popular and well-known and put a new spin on it, Pardew said, but an escape room is unique because it adds a sense of touch to a drama millions of people — nearly 10 million people by the end — watched unfold on TV.

"When you come in here, everything is accessible," he said. "It's like you're visiting Downton Abbey as yourself and you're actually a part of the story. It's like being in a movie. It extends the story."

And if the reactions of the beta testers who came in before the game opened are any indication, Pardew believes people in Utah and “Downton Abbey” fans elsewhere who come to try it out are going to enjoy Salt Lake City's new attraction, though maybe not as much as he enjoyed creating it.

"It's a labor of love, really," he said. "Can you think of something that would be more fun to work on?"