Where to play Exit Games

Call them exit games, escape games, locked room games or something else, but get together with a team of your friends, solve the clues and get out of the room within the time limit.


View Exit Games UK in a larger map

Yellow pins indicate open centres, red pins indicate centres yet to open. The details page lists the sites alongside their locations, prices and information about the games. If you know about any sites not yet listed, please let us know.

In which I make my escape

"End of Part One" graphicGood news! I will be blogging in future at Ex Exit Games. The URL is the same as this one except with an ex at the start – http://www.exexitgames.co.uk/ – and I hope that you decide to follow me there. Future posts will be like the ones over here since March, except less… rigorous.

Bad news! I do not intend to make any further posts to Exit Games UK.

Good news! I would be delighted to turn exitgames.co.uk over to somebody else. (Ideally it would be someone not associated with any commercial escape game sites. There have already been at least two very good offers.) The only going concerns on exitgames.co.uk are the map, most recently kindly updated by Ken, and the list of exit game locations, which has not been updated since late February. I would advise that you delete everything else on the site to emphasise that it will no longer be updated; I will maintain a complete archive of Exit Games UK at Ex Exit Games.

How’s about that for a news sandwich?

Now open in Brixton… but not for long: Oubliette

Oubliette logoThis site has always been rather… reticent to post about Oubliette, which opened in Brixon, south London, in January. The road to Hell is always paved with good intentions; as hinted at, Exit Games UK knew Oubliette’s proprietors, at least a little, before it opened and even volunteered to sand down some of the floors and walls in the building, which it hasn’t done for any other game. (Yet!) Exit Games UK even has a cracking interview with the proprietors while they were getting started which was, at one point, intended to be the “before” part of a “before and after” piece.

When you begin to play our room escape game, you walk through a door and find yourself plunged into New Pelagia, an Orwellian dystopia full of suspense and suspicion. The people here are watched over by the love and grace of JCN, a huge pervasive computer and CCTV network. The government rations and controls everything to keep things tidy – there are rumours that sometimes people get tidied away too.

You are members of the underground resistance movement who are being sent to infiltrate the ((propaganda office at the)) Ministry of Perception and find out what happened to a double agent who has mysteriously disappeared.

It’s a sixty-minute game for teams of up to eight; teams of six are recommended, but a team of three escaped, once. The price is higher than most at £30/player, but you get more for your money than from most rooms. In its months open, the site has received considerable praise from unusual sources, notably in the (mostly computer) game design and review community. Emily Short‘s review discussed the game in a way that this site doesn’t recall an exit game being discussed before:

…when, as a result of puzzle-solving, a new bit of story occurred — and again I’m being intentionally vague here — it generally ramped up the anxiety and threat level. I’m used to story-as-reward in video games, but here there was story-as-punishment. Solve the puzzle quickly? STORY GETS MORE WORRYING. This felt like a pretty natural and pleasurable extension of the existing principles. And it wasn’t as though we were going to stop trying to escape the room in order to avoid having more story bits happen to us!

If you’ve played and enjoyed exit games before, but never had that sort of experience, and if those sorts of descriptions sound like your cup of tea, then there can be few higher recommendations for the originality, intrigue and interest of this game. (On the other hand, if you know you’re lousy with dystopian stories – *raises hand* – then it might set your expectations as a game that might not be for you, and that’s cool too.) Closer to home, the game was reviewed at The Logic Escapes Me, rushing straight to very near the top of the recommendations; it was discussed in the first episode of the Escape from Reality podcast as well.

So why discuss this site now? The latest news is not good: the site is set to close, in its current form, at the end of Saturday 18th June. The Adventure Society shop, used as a framing device for the staging of the game, may also have to go on its next great adventure.

You may be thinking: ‘But I thought you were a permanent Escape Room?’ and yes, so did we. We were all set to sign paperwork to extend our lease by another year, when suddenly the landlord changed his mind. Now we’re staring at a countdown trying to get as much done as possible in the time remaining – which is kinda apt really. (…)

‘Are you going to open up somewhere else?’ We’d like to, but we don’t know, finding a space to move into and installing everything takes time and money, neither of which we have in spades. We may end up just selling off what we can and junking everything else. If you know somewhere we could move to, store things or someone who would buy things, please let us know!

All right. This is very clearly a special game in a busy field, which may very well not be around for long. On the other hand, there may be people for whom a demonstrably, tried-and-tested, game with a unique extent of focus on its story would surely be of interest in a business sense as well as a player sense. The business model for Oubliette is a bit different from that of most other games, and to try to make it fit in a similar box to most other games would be to destroy some of the ways in which it is most attractive. Nevertheless, a game this distinctive and critically acclaimed would be a remarkable addition to any facility, so the countdown is on… in more ways than the usual one.

Can a puzzle contest simulate an escape room?

World Puzzle Federation logoThe World Puzzle Federation‘s rolling Puzzle Grand Prix contest has its fifth round this weekend. It’s a free-to-enter online puzzle contest where you are given an hour and a half to score as many points as you can by solving paper-and-pencil puzzles. You can start at any point after 11am UK time on Friday and must conclude by 11pm UK time on Monday.

This fifth round is particularly interesting to this site because it’s being set by puzzle authors from the US who have chosen to theme some of their puzzles in the “casual” section around what they’re calling “Escape the Grand Prix”. For all intents and purposes, don’t worry about the distinction between the “casual” and “competitive” sections unless you’ve been solving every round and getting almost all the “competitive” puzzles correct; just solve whichever puzzles seem most entertaining, whichever section they’re in.

You are trapped in a room with a stack of puzzles, wondering if you’ll be able ((to)) finish all of them. Between you and the end is one Mastermind puzzle. But it seems to be in code, with twenty different letters corresponding to different digit values from 1 to 9 (e.g., X = 2 or Y = 6). Perhaps solving the other puzzles, some normal in appearance and others with some of the same code letters, will help. Not all puzzles will be useful to crack the code, but you never know where important clues will be found so search everywhere. Can you figure out what digit each letter stands for and ‘Escape the Grand Prix’ before time runs out?

Take a look at the Instruction Booklet which is a 3.3 MB .pdf file; the booklet hints at the sort of tricks it might use to secrete digits’ identities throughout and also shows you what other types of puzzles there will be on offer in the contest. The contest goes out of its way to offer puzzles in a wide range of levels of difficulty, and you know what styles of puzzles will be featured in advance so you can have a good idea whether you’ll enjoy them or not. You can even get some practice in on the types of puzzles that you know you’ll be facing in advance, if you like. The first four rounds were great fun and this one should be even more so!

Can there ever be such a thing as “too many”?

Overloaded brainThis post is far from a claim that there are “too many” exit games in the UK. It is, however, a call to consider whether there can be a meaningful concept of “too many” games, and – if so – what “too many” might look like.

One follow-up question is whose perspective is being used to ask the question. As a player, can there be too many games? If the lack of replay value drives you to seek out more and more games to play, the bar for “too many” would surely be set very high, if it existed at all. If someone were to want to play every game that existed, or play a game at every site that existed, then a quest to keep up with every new opening might exceed the time and resources you have available. However, such a quest without limiting yourself to a relatively small area strikes this site as an inherently pretty extreme task. While it’s a delight that new sites and games continue to advance the state of the art, surely there comes a point where additional games, except the latest and greatest, have relatively little to offer. This may or may not be before your resources run out.

From the perspective of someone trying to make a living either as staff or owner of a game, “too many” may look quite different. Our society is capitalist; no business has an inherent right to survive. (It’s amusing to consider the existence of an exit game in a planned economy; surely a meritorious citizen would have to apply to play and then wait months or years for a space to play.) On the other hand, the extent to which a game thrives or even survives may not reflect the quality of the game in question, so much as other matters like the effectiveness of the way in which it is marketed. It seems sadly likely that there will be some brilliant games which fall by the wayside even when lesser – or merely good – games continue for longer; for those businesses, the raised bar for continued survival might be said to have arisen from too many games.

Another way to look at it might be that “too many” simply reflects more than “the right number” – and presupposes that there could be such a thing as a right number. Someone at last week’s unconference seriously looked forward to the thought of there being 300 or 400 sites in the UK; no names, no pack drill, but it was someone who knew a lot about brand expansion. It’s certainly true that the UK has fewer sites than some other countries – even some other smaller countries – and that, say, London has fewer sites than other major conurbations. Do the UK and London have to be at the top of these charts, though? Is the demand really there? The signs have looked good so far, but there surely has to come a point where things find a natural limit.

Do you suppose there could be a million players in one year? How about three million? (There aren’t many hobbies who get three million players in a year; an estimate sufficiently credible for the BBC suggested that there were only four or five million people who played tennis at least once in a year, with maybe a tenth of that playing once a week.) Even allowing for people playing multiple games, and enthusiasts bringing the average up, considering real-world typical team sizes, a million players in a year might look like 300,000 games in a year. (Maybe 250,000; maybe 400,000.) That’s 5,000-8,000 teams per week, keeping the numbers simple. When looking at it last year, the figures pointed to a room (not a site) being more successful and popular than most if it was played twenty times a week, with more than half of these at weekends. So a million plays a year might look like roughly 300 rooms, all being pretty busy at weekends. There were more than 230 rooms in the UK and Ireland at the end of 2015, and quite possibly close to 300 rooms in the UK alone by now.

There’s an awful lot of supply out there already. Whether there’s “too much”, and hence “too many” sites, remains to be seen; fingers crossed that demand remains strong and has further to grow.

Coming soon: HIQORA, the High IQ World Championships

High IQ World Championships logoThere’s an interesting and unusual-looking online puzzle contest happening on Saturday 28th May: the first round of the 2016 edition of HIQORA, the High IQ World Championships. It has an interesting structure: there will be two online rounds, with the top scorers from the first advancing to the second and the top 12 scorers from the second winning flights to, and accommodation for, the live world final in San Diego. (No clue if there’s any prize other than the trip and the title, but that’s easily good enough alone.) The first round is set to start at 4pm UK time on Saturday 28th May, and will be held simultaneously around the world, so it starts at 8am in San Francisco, 11am in New York, 6pm in Moscow and so on. (The web site suggests that it starts at 8pm in Beijing, but this may be a typo.) Can’t help feeling that this is even more of an advantage to people operating on European time already, and it does seem a shame that there won’t be many people who get to start at 1pm, 2pm or 3pm, but any time is bound to inconvenience some more than others.

The duration of the first round is yet to be confirmed. “The two Online Rounds will each be up to four hours in length, and held simultaneously around the world. Activities and questions are drawn from the HIQORA Championship Framework which explores multi-disciplinary aspects of high intelligence. Examples of these activities and questions may include: learning to play a new board game; interpreting complex literature and language passages; interactive case studies; mathematics and graphical workouts; spelling bees; memory workouts; knowledge of geographical facts and figures; and various exercises across science, technology, education and maths (STEM).

You may be given the rules to a new board game, or other pre-reading, 72 hours in advance and thus a relatively limited time to master it. That sounds like rather a fun sort of challenge. It’s tempting to wonder whether or not the championships will attempt to be culture-neutral. The signs would seem to point to that not being a top priority, and (at the risk of an interpretation, which this site would love to learn is incorrect) might seem to imply a focus on English language culture. On the other hand, this would appear to be only a small part of the focus of the overall test.

One comment in the FAQ is particularly striking: “(…) it’s important to note that HIQORA is a test of natural intelligence, so study as such is of lesser importance to success in the competition than natural abilities.” This site tends to believe that puzzle contests covered by this site generally tend not to go out of their way to make that sort of distinction, and this is the point at which it’s tempting to get a little cynical about the extent to which a contest truly could separate natural abilities from facility at, and familiarity with, IQ test puzzles. Had this been clearly marketed as, say, “an IQ puzzle championship” then this site would have embraced it with open arms. On the other hand, the wide variety of components to the challenge mean that it seems to be intended to be more than just an IQ puzzle championship. That’s fair enough and probably makes for a more interesting event, but can something culture-specific really be a fair test of natural abilities to people around the world for a true world championship?

By way of full disclosure, I’ve never taken a formal IQ test and Mensa has never seemed appealing to me. That said, the Mensa members I’ve met in person have been thoroughly convivial to a (non-gender-specific) man; when I was taken as a guest by a Mensa member to a Mensa meeting – for that is perfectly possible – I enjoyed my evening there. While I tend to be leery at best when it comes to exclusivity being sold as an inherent virtue, I am thoroughly supportive of the necessarily elitist World Puzzle Championships as adding to the jollity of the world, though much of my favourable opinion comes from the context of the WPF’s outreach and accessibility of its qualification and Grand Prix events.

Whether the trimmings and trappings of the contest appeal, you’ll know whether or not it looks like a fun way to you to spend a few hours. At worst, it would appear to have a lot in common with the sorts of contests and challenges that this site enjoys. While the inflexible timescale may hinder – for instance, I’ll be between night shifts – it’s far from the only contest to have specified a particular timeslot in an attempt to avoid some people getting to see the questions before others. While nominally some people are charged US$40 for participation, several sources online quote HIQORAHighIQ as a code for free entry.

If you take part, this site wishes you well – and please come back and tell us all about it!

Challenge Anneka? No, Challenge You

"Challenge Me" logoNot so long ago, on another forum, this site learnt of a casting call for a forthcoming ITV show provisionally entitled Challenge Me. “Do you have an unique skill or unusual party trick or know someone who does? Something that no one else can do? Could you use that skill to take on a huge challenge and win cash in the process?” It sounds something like a monetised version of You Bet!; let us not refer to the end-of-the-pier show that was the BBC’s Epic Win a couple of years ago.

The application page suggest that “We are looking for people with crazy, unique and bizarre skills and talents. These can be absolutely ANYTHING you can imagine! Big, small, serious or downright bonkers – we want you!” It’s not clear whether applicants have to be alone, or whether pairs or larger teams could apply. It’s tempting to wonder whether someone, or some people, could apply claiming “I can get out of any escape room” and then challenge ITV to build a room from which they cannot escape. It could make for some entertaining TV at the very least, though might well be out of the budget of TV these days.

However, if they want something a bit more straightforward, this site would like to see a sudoku champion take on a memory champion to produce a complete grid. The sudoku champion would see the grid with a usual number of digits placed, then would have to fill in all the missing digits. The memory champion would see the completed grid, memorise the position of all 81 digits, then reproduce it from memory. Both are impressive mental feats when done at champions’ speed; it would be possible to devise a sudoku of appropriate difficulty to make it a close, televisual race.

The unaffiliated-to-branded-beer world record for memorising numbers in a minute hasn’t been attempted for a while (different disciplines go in and out of fashion…) but with improvements in the pack-of-cards speed record, the 100m sprint of memory records, it’s tempting to guess that the top memorisers might be able to memorise the 81 digits in about 30-40 seconds or so, plus perhaps another 20-30 seconds to reproduce them from memory. There are plenty of speed sudoku solution videos out there; this one has Jakub Ondroušek (who has made the top three of the World Sudoku Championship five times) solving a 26-given puzzle in barely a minute and a half. Now you can’t calculate a sudoku’s true difficulty from the number of cells given, but it would surely be possible to create a sudoku which looked impressively sparse and difficult but could actually be solved to any given timescale.

There’s an interesting TV show in China whose title translates as The Brain. This has Chinese citizens with remarkable talents compete in domestic competition and the most successful competitors representing their country in international competition against representative teams from other countries. You can see China-Britain matches from last year and the rematch from this year on YouTube.

Clearly they’re all in Chinese, but you can fast-forward through to the challenges in which you can see the stars demonstrate their skills – and the UK team’s introduction videos have the UK team members self-introducing in English with Chinese subtitles and making all manner of exaggerated and aggressive claims at the producers’ request. These are huge fun, not least because British team captain Ben Pridmore (world memory champion in 2004, 2008 and 2009) is actually delightfully sweet and self-effacing in person, when some of his predecessors have been willing to cast themselves as relatives of Charles Big, who married into the Potato family and double-barrelled his surname.

US readers may be interested to know that Fox produced a one-off of a show called SuperHuman in January and are now casting for a full series, which bears a great deal of similarity to the Chinese format and which Wikipedia suggests may be a local US version. US puzzle superstars may be of particular interest to the show and might wish to throw their names into the ring; the trouble (for the show!) is that the best US solvers tend to be just as modest and polite as the aforementioned Ben…

Did DASH 8 leave you wanting more?

whatsnext

This site has always declared its constituency to be Escape games, puzzle hunts and more and the escape games have had to take a back seat for some time. Perhaps you’re coming here for your first time, or one of your first times, as a result of DASH, or perhaps you couldn’t go but thought it sounded great; you don’t have to wait another year for DASH 9 to get your fill of puzzle fun. The idea to try to keep a calendar of such things has rather fallen by the wayside, but there are plenty of exciting-looking things coming up:

  • This site is perhaps more excited about the upcoming Raiders of the Lost Archive than anything else. It’s a version of Citydash by the esteemed Fire Hazard, but has a big twist. It takes place in the Victoria & Albert Museum; the V&A are excited about this, but it’s not an official event of theirs. The difference between this and any other Citydash is “(…)this time there’ll be nobody chasing you (and no running in the museum!). We’ll keep the pressure up with twists & turns, surprise clues and leaderboard updates, but you won’t need your running shoes for this one – and you’ll be inside throughout.
     
    If the running element of previous Citydash events has been a turn-off (*raises hand*) then this may well fit the bill and the theme is gorgeous. You can play solo, in a pair, or in a team of up to five. Tickets for Sunday afternoons in May are now listed for 15th May, 5th June and possibly 28th May. (Thanks to Ken for the heads-up!) 
     
  • The A Door In A Wall are, happily, continuing to put on their large-scale public events. The next one coming up very soon will be entitled Played to Death. “Each team will need a charged smartphone to hand and we advise you wear comfortable footwear as our story leads you out into the nearby streets in search of puzzles, clues and characters. (…) you’ll have about 45 mins to get settled and work out where to begin your investigation before the game’s opening scene. You’ll be tasked with gathering evidence to crack the case and you’ll then have two hours to explore the area outside: solving puzzles, interacting with characters and collecting clues. Once the time is up, return to the Square Pig ((pub)) where you’ll have some time to make sense of what you’ve found and identify the killer.
     
    The game will be offered on most evenings and some afternoons (particularly at weekends) between mid-May and mid-June; tickets are already available and have sold out on a number of days already. If you don’t get to play, the company are also offering the A Veiled Threat game on the third Tuesday of every month, which The Logic Escaped Me played and loved
     
  • This site’s friends at Treasure Hunts In London are also continuing to run their events; the best way to keep in touch with what’s on offer there is their calendar on Eventbrite. Three events are coming up soon: May sees the Art on the Streets Treasure Hunt at the Chocolate Museum on the 14th and the Trafalgar Square Experience at the National Gallery on the 28th; June sees the Naughty But Nice Afternoon Adventure starting at the Annenberg Courtyard of the Royal Academy on the 18th. Prices vary, depending on whether the event includes no food, a cream tea or a full dinner. 
     
  • The Cambridge University Computing and Technology Society have held a long, ambitious, advanced puzzle hunt annually for the last three or four years, normally in early June after most students have finished their exams. No word whether there’ll be another one this year, but fingers crossed. The logical place to look for more information would be the society’s Facebook page
     
  • The Manorcon board game convention (15th to 18th July at the University of Leicester) is set to feature a puzzle hunt, probably on the Sunday afternoon. This year’s hunt setters are past hunt setting veterans and multiple-time solving champions, as well as some of this site’s favourite people in the world; attend Manorcon because it’s a tremendous board game convention that started running ten or twenty years before the current breed of board games started to become popular again, rather than just for the puzzle hunt. 
     
  • Before all those, there’s dear old Puzzled Pint in London – and now also in Manchester! – on the second Tuesday of each month, so as soon as the Tuesday in half a week’s time. The puzzles here come from a rather more DASH-like background, but are deliberately accessible to all and designed to provide an hour or two’s fun for a team enjoying food, drink and good company. 
     
  • If Tuesday’s too long to wait, or if London and Manchester are both too far to go, there are online puzzle hunts which come to you. The annual Melbourne University Mathematics (and statistics) Society hunt starts at midday, local time, on 9th May. It’s designed for teams of up to ten; you’ll recognise some of the participating teams’ names from the top of the DASH leaderboard, but other teams come from the MIT Mystery Hunt tradition and more. Suffice to say that the MUMS hunt has gained an audience who like to spend hours on deep, research-y, Aha!-y puzzles, though they’re almost always brilliantly constructed. 
     
  • Staying online, if you like logic puzzle contests then the calendar also looks busy. The World Puzzle Federation’s Grand Prix season’s contests take place every four weeks, with the next starting on Friday 13th May. The next contest is set by the US authors and may be of particular interest; more soon. The move to featuring “casual” puzzles as well as the more high-powered traditional fare adds massively to the fun as well as the accessibility. That’s not all from US authors, though; the US Puzzle Championship will be on Sunday 18th June. Before that, HIQORA takes place on Saturday 28th May; more soon on that one, too. Look out (perhaps at @ukpuzzles on Twitter?) for news of the UK Puzzle Championship as well, which has rapidly become this site’s favourite of the year. Previous UKPCs have happened in May, June, July and August, so this year’s event could happen at any moment. Exciting times!

The annual DASH participation statistics post

Bar chart showing improving performance over timeIf it’s a few days after DASH, it’s time for the annual participation statistics post! Please find below an updated version of a table which details the number of teams on the scoreboard for each city in each edition of the DASH puzzle hunt to date.

Location DASH 1 DASH 2 DASH 3 DASH 4 DASH 5 DASH 6 DASH 7 DASH 8
Albuquerque, NM 6 6+1 3+2+0 4+0+0
Atlanta, GA 5+7
Austin, TX 2 11 12 13+4 10+4+0 17+6+0 20+4
Bay Area, CA Y(SF)
Y(PA)
7(SR)
59(LA)
16(SR)
74(SM)
73(SF) 34+7(SF)
32+3(HMB)
53+17+0(SF)
39+5+0(C)
46+15+0(SF)
37+7+0(SJ)
48+10(SF)
43+12(PA)
Boston, MA Y 18 26 29 27+2 30+7+1 30+6+0 38+13
Chicago, IL 17 14 10+1 15+9+0 16+24+0 16+16
Davis, CA 16 15 16 13+7 8+7+1 13+7+0 12+8
Denver, CO 3+12+0 6+7
Houston, TX Y
London, UK 6+2 8+13+0 14+9+0 14+8
Los Angeles, CA Y 7 22 21 15+4 15+2+0
(Pasadena)
12+7+0
(Sta Monica)
19+17
Minneapolis, MN 8+7 7+4+0
(recast)
9+7+0 7+9
New York, NY 12 24 25 30+7 26+15+2 29+15+0 24+15
Portland, OR Y 6 17 19 19+2 11+7+0 10+10+0 12+5
San Diego, CA 7
Seattle, WA Y 32 47 49 49+2 58+4+2 60+9+2 63+6
South Bend, IN 1
St. Louis, MO 2 2+3 7+8+1 8+10
Washington, DC Y 14 22 33 31+1 27+5+0 26+9+0 28+12

Here are some initial interpretations:

1) Errors and omissions excepted, with apologies in advance. The Minneapolis DASH 6 recast figures came from the organisers by private e-mail.

2) The numbers are drawn from the scoreboards and may not reflect teams that participate but do not make the scoreboard for whatever reason, or other infelicities. (On the other hand, it does include teams which do make the scoreboard even despite being listed as “not started”.) DASH 1 does not have a public scoreboard on the web site and thus “Y” represents the hunt having happened there with an unknown number of participants. When there are pluses, the number before the first plus reflects the number of teams on the experienced track, the number after the first plus reflects the number of teams on the “new players” track (DASH 5, 6, 7 and 8), and the number after the second plus reflects the number of teams on the junior track (DASH 6 and 7 only).

3) Interpret “Bay Area, CA” using the following key: SF = San Francisco (1, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8), PA = Palo Alto (1 and 8), SR = Santa Rosa (2,3), LA = Los Altos (2), SM = San Mateo (3), HMB = Half Moon Bay (5), C = Cupertino (6), SJ = San Jose (7). (Santa Rosa counts as Bay Area, doesn’t it?)

4) It’s not a competition to see whose DASH can be the largest; all DASH organiser teams are glorious, generous paragons of virtue, whether their event had one team or 70+, and the community at large thanks them all for the time and effort that they put in.

5) Many locations had events that were similar in size or even slightly smaller (perhaps for reasons as simple as a higher number of teams who pay but, for whatever reason, just don’t show on the day) than the previous year. As discussed, there’s no reason why bigger necessarily has to be better and there’s no sense in deliberately trying to emphasise quantity over quality. It’s tempting to wonder how much unmet demand there is in the various cities around the world and whether everyone who wants to play is getting to do so in practice.

6) The line-up of 16 locations participating in DASH 8 was actually very similar to that for DASH 7, representing only a substitution of Atlanta, GA to replace Albequerque, NM. Registration was also offered in Missoula, MT, but the event did not happen in the end. The growth in Puzzled Pint over the year has been explosive with 32 locations in April 2016 against 14 in April 2015; it’s true that some of those were previous DASH cities, but surely it seems likely that some cities will go from Puzzled Pint to DASH – and beyond? – rather than the other way around. PP is currently played in five countries; it also seems plausible at the very least that DASH will start to catch up before much longer.

7) The overall numbers of teams has risen over the last three years from 295 to 307 to 333 to 363 on the “experienced” track and from 53 to 101 to 151 to 159 on the “novice” track, with every location featuring at least one team on each of the two tracks.

Drawing a line from one DASH to the next

DASH 008 in London needed its teams to go underground!

DASH 008 needed its teams to go underground! From @playdashlondon

This is a guest post by David J. Bodycombe, one of the UK’s foremost puzzle authors. You may know his work from The Crystal Maze and Only Connect or perhaps numerous books and periodicals. At the very least you probably know that car park puzzle; to this site’s taste, he’s written easily two thousand much more interesting ones over the years, but you can never tell what’s going to catch the public’s imagination…

Last year, as a participant of DASH 7, something didn’t feel… right. When I got home and had to explain to my wife whatever the heck I’d been doing for the day, I sensed that I hadn’t had that much fun. The company was great, but the frantic time limits, a lack of food, an unfortunate route and a brute of a final puzzle left me thinking “Maybe I won’t do it next year”. But with DASH 8 promising a Brit-friendly theme of James Bond, how could I say no?

Last year, I put down my thoughts on how DASH could improve, both as a podcast and as a summary post in the comments. I make no personal claim for any improvements made but, since it is this site’s frequent milieu, I thought it might be fun to look back and see how much of my wishlist was catered for this year.

(1) DITCH THE TRACKS.
Partially. The Junior track has gone, tailing the tracks from three to two. Frankly, the junior track was never going to be a long-term possibility in London, particularly with its 18+ pub culture being a supplier of many indoor venues. The prospect of expecting a chaperone to guide teenagers around the busy streets of London on a Saturday was a tough ask, and I agreed with a commenter last year who said that there would be better value in making the puzzles available for schools to run their own mini-puzzle drives. I still believe the differences in the Normal/Expert tracks cause more doubt and administration complexity than is worth, and that homogenisation of the tracks wouldn’t affect more than 5% of the teams.

(2) MINI-TASKS SHOULD BE IMPRESSIVE, OR GOOD JOKES, OR OMITTED.
Yes. In past years, it was hard for Londoners not to look on the DASH social media feeds with a feeling of jealousy. Somehow, DASH seemed cooler there – better themed, better spaced and better stunts. Not so, this year. If anything, London may have been *the* place to DASH – particularly with the start point a stone’s throw away from the on-theme MI6 headquarters. Imaginative mini-tasks plus the tremendous innovation of optional ‘HMSAT tests’, some of which required teams to be observant and quick-witted at all times, added immensely to the occasion.

(3) WE NEED TO BELIEVE GAME CONTROL.
and
(4) THE RULES NEED TO BE CONSISTENT FOR EACH LOCATION.
Yes. Last year, the slightly rubber-banded rules, where different locations were allowed to be flexible about when to end the hunt, led to a lot of confusion and disappointment. This particularly applied to my team last year, as we quit early not realising that the advertised “strictly-enforced 8 hour time limit” was actually no such thing. This year, the sensible thing was done – a 10-hour limit was the same for all (AFAIK) and even an overall countdown timer was there on the ClueKeeper to avoid any anxiety.

(5) IMPROVE THE SCORING.
Partially. Still some work to do, here. In particular, the scoring was not explained on an info sheet this year, so lord knows what DASH newbies thought of it. But, again, puzzle 1 was not worth anything. This means that some teams (maybe well-meaning latecomers) are simply typing in the answer that their mates have told them, meaning that ClueKeeper’s stats credit them with solving the puzzle in a world-beating 7 seconds, and thus denying the ‘real’ winning team from getting a little gold cup next to their name. I still think it should be worth something – either a flat score, or a low Par value to indicate that you shouldn’t spend too long on it. Another wish of mine from last year was to allow more opportunities for bonus points. This was indeed achieved, but only in the distinctly cheeky manner of ramping up the total Par time to a little short of 7 hours. Hmm.

(6) MAKE THE PROPS BETTER OR DITCH THEM.
Yes. A big win. You couldn’t say that this year’s DASH was “just Puzzled Pint with walking”. The advantages of DASH’s economies of scale were definitely evident this year and, more to the point, the props had a puzzle purpose to them rather than just delivering a codeword answer.

(7) MAKE THE CONTENT ACHIEVABLE BY MOST.
Yes. Though our team quit on the final puzzle this year due to taking too long on puzzle 9, looking at the general ClueKeeper statistics it’s easy to see that almost all teams had the opportunity to finish within the time allowed.

With these feedback points largely addressed, I offer up another set for discussion:

(A) EASE UP ON THE CONSTRUCTION?
This is one area that really hurts smaller teams. While DASH has never claimed to be any fairer to teams of 3 than 5, nevertheless the fairly extensive nature of some puzzles that required the teams to build paper or wooden models would have added minutes (maybe tens of minutes) to the scores. The news near the end that *every* team member was *required* to have scissors really took me aback. And, I say this slightly seriously, if I ever make it to DASH 38, I wonder how my arthritic fingers would cope with things like folding paper cranes. Does against-the-clock building further discriminate against the less physically able? As other commenters have noted, the time difference in time taken for construction often made the ClueKeeper out-of-sync with the team’s progress.

(B) CHOKE BACK ON THE PUZZLE LENGTHS
Although the average solve times seem much more in line with previous years this time around, and the overall event pacing was better too, there did seem to be an expectation that teams would have to spend 9 hours overall this time rather than 8. I would like to see the par time come back down to nearer 6 hours. This, plus an hour for eating and 90 minutes for travelling, still adds up to a pretty packed 8.5 hours. How could this be done in practice? I would say: by keeping the starter puzzle shorter (it was quite a Googling-heavy brute this year), by keeping most puzzles sub-45 minutes, and by having a slightly more robust attitude to starting on time. Puzzle 5 (par: 75 minutes) was way too long for a lunchtime activity – my usual team usually finishes an entire evening of Puzzled Pint (four puzzles and a meta) within 75 minutes!

(C) TO PREP OR NOT TO PREP?
Despite following DASH on Facebook and Twitter, somehow I missed the “Advanced Training” which gave information on two things: how to solve cryptic crossword clues, and how to fold paper cranes. If you’ve never solved a cryptic crossword, to somehow learn this skill in the week before DASH is asking a lot. What next? You have a week to speak fluent Klingon, or learn to juggle? I’ve seen some people suggest the rules to Baccarat should have been made available beforehand, to which I heartily disagree: it would have put even more advantage to the teams that have spotted the pre-game information.

(D) GIVE SOME INDICATION OF ‘DWELL TIME’
It would be appreciated if the route information could more heavily hint if teams are likely to stay in a location for a long period of time – particularly where locations ‘double up’ for two puzzles. For instance, at the morning meeting point there was a heavy sense of “Do I bother to buy a coffee or not?”. You don’t want to be mid-croissant when ClueKeeper cheerily guides you to your next location 2 miles away. No-one wants that.

(E) BEAR THE BRITS IN MIND…
DASH GC have a little more way to go to make it feel like a global-inclusive event, rather than London being a “+1”. For instance, I winced when – given the event’s British/James Bond theme – we had to release puzzle 1 on ClueKeeper by spelling the word LICENCE the “wrong” way…

Overall, my team rated this year’s DASH as a ‘solid 8/10’ which should be interpreted as a very good score for such a complex event, and a definite improvement from last year. Particular thanks should go to London’s GC who stepped in to help when all others stepped back, and added notable innovations and flair that I hope future GCs will emulate. I very much look forward to DASH 9.

(Full disclosure: due to a family medical emergency, I had to pull out half-way. As a result, some of this post uses feedback from my teammates or other third-hand information.)

Mission accomplished – DASH 8 described

DASH 8 deck of cardsThis site makes no apology for writing a considerable quantity about DASH with just as considerable delight; it’s always one of the highlights of the year. If you couldn’t attend this year, here’s what you missed… and perhaps, just perhaps, it might make you interested in taking part in a future year. If you played DASH elsewhere and were keen to know how London interpreted this year’s puzzles, you can find out here as well.

Fair warning: now that DASH has finished, we’re into potential spoiler territory. Every previous DASH has had its puzzles posted online reasonably soon afterwards. If you didn’t play DASH, it would still be a lot of fun to get a group of your friends together and try the puzzles for yourself once they’re made available. This post is going to be fairly generic, avoiding the Aha! moments for each puzzle, but the comments may be more specific. Nevertheless, if you want to avoid spoilers altogether, it may be wise to skip this post and it may be very wise to skip the comments. However, if you played and want to relive the experience, if you played elsewhere and want to compare stories or if you know you’ll never play this year’s puzzles and just want to find out what you missed, then to get to the detail you can click on the mission dossier that is the “Continue Reading” button below. Continue reading