FT Reporters Test 3 Experiential Franchises | Franchise News


From left, Museum of Illusions serves up heads on platters, X-Golf is better for regular golfers and Escapology puzzled this editorial team.

Ever wonder how consumers feel about your franchise? Editorial staffers Matthew Liedke, Emilee Wentland, Megan Glenn, Laura Michaels and Beth Ewen check out three brands in a different genre each issue, and report back. 

You can take a photo of your head on a platter at the Museum of Illusions in Chicago. Or look like a tiny child sitting on a chair while your giant-sized companion pats your head. Or walk on the ceiling, all for the price of $21. Those are just three of the exhibits at the new franchise now expanding in the United States. Started in 2015 by Roko Živkovi and Tomislav Pamukovi, two friends in Zagreb, Croatia, the Museum of Illusions has spread to more than 40 locations in 25 countries around the world, including Paris, Dubai, Toronto, Muscat, Kuala Lumpur, Berlin and Vienna. The pair “curated” optical illusions familiar to many—from “true mirrors” that reflect how others see you to “portrait eyes” that follow your path to “vortex tunnels” that spin around a stationary walkway while you try not to fall off. This location is tiny compared to many around the world, and friends who visited elsewhere (in a castle!) found Chicago’s spot disappointing. That’s a challenge for a franchise, created to provide uniform experiences.

The upshot: Who doesn’t want a picture of their head on a platter? The Museum of Illusions offers an offbeat outing for anyone. —B.E.

While not really into sports, exceptions can be made if drinks, snacks and pals are involved. X-Golf, an indoor golf simulator with 80-plus locations including in the Minneapolis suburb of Woodbury, provided the first two along with advanced simulators and a selection of courses from around the world. Unlike Topgolf, which focuses more on the social aspect of the experience, X-Golf felt geared toward golfers who want to practice their swings in the offseason. Locations offer lessons and league play. Given our group’s general lack of experience teeing up shots, we opted for a scramble format to make the best of our two hours, which at $35 an hour seemed like a good weekday deal. With some cocktails and snacks ordered—the chips and queso were fine but nothing special—we split into two teams to play nine holes. Laughs, along with plenty of double and triple bogeys, abounded. Unsurprisingly, we didn’t finish nine holes.

The upshot: X-Golf is probably more fun if you have some golf experience and are looking to perfect your game inside before heading out to hit the links. For a fun friend outing, I’d probably rather go bowling. —E.W.

A visit to Escapology in a somewhat lonely mall 20 miles south of Minneapolis thrust our group into a world of curses, evil ministers and a dead congregation offering clues to save the next victim before it was too late. Such was the setting for “7 Deadly Sins,” the sinister theme and one of five game options at this escape room franchise. The goal? Kill the immortal minister to end the curse, find the secret amulet and escape. The puzzles were challenging, with a difficulty rating of 8.5/10, some involving plenty of brainpower and others testing dexterity. The game’s progression moved our five-person group through three rooms, each with enough puzzles—or red herrings—to ensure no one ever felt left out. We needed all three hints from the gamemaster, plus a couple of nudges, to get out with less than 2 minutes to spare. Spending an hour locked in a room isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time, but for those who love puzzles and games it’s a fun escape—pun intended.

The upshot: Another Escapology visit? Yes, please. For $32 a person, the price is average for an escape room and accommodating enough for all to enjoy. —M.G.

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