DASH 6 in London… and across the US!

DASH 6 lemon logoThe sixth DASH puzzle hunt will happen in London from 10 a.m. on Saturday 26th April. DASH stands for “Different Areas, Same Hunt”; part of the attraction is that the same event will also be run in 12 cities across the United States on the same day, so competition is global. Registration is open, but will close soon to permit one big printing run. There are a limited number of slots left and no guarantee that registration won’t close before they’re all filled, so don’t delay.

Teams of 3-5 players solve 8-10 puzzles as quickly as possible over the course of, probably, 5-7 hours. You walk from puzzle location to location, enjoying the journey and hopefully the weather. The travel is not timed, so you can take whatever comfort breaks, meals and other pauses you like between puzzles. The cost in London is, as last year, £25 per team.

One new feature this year is that each team is required to bring a smartphone running either iOS 7 or recent Android; much of the administration will be performed by a new app called ClueKeeper. Bring your own pencils, scissors, tape, Enigma machines and so on, too.

DASH has historically tended to concentrate on word and picture puzzles, rather than logic puzzles, with a focus on pattern recognition and some codebreaking here and there along the way. I bet there’ll be a metapuzzle to tie everything together at the end; last year had a simple but flavoursome story that ran through the event very effectively, too. Take a look at past years’ puzzles from DASHes 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 to get a feel for the form and difficulty level.

DASH tries very hard to be accessible and family-friendly:

  • It’s possible to register for Easier Puzzles at the very start of the hunt;
  • Very funkily, it’s even possible to register for “DASH Junior” puzzles, intended to be solved by a team of (probably 10-16-year-old) kids accompanied around the course by a non-solving chaperone;
  • It’s made clear that it’s always possible to take hints on each puzzle if they’re required, and there’s never a worse punishment than a missed scoring opportunity for not solving a puzzle;
  • The puzzles are often designed so that everybody in the team should be able to contribute to each puzzle, because feeling “we solved this together between us” is fun;
  • In practice, there really is an ethos of offering as many hints as are required in order to get people through as many puzzles as possible and making sure people are having fun at all times.

Last year’s event was superb; I wrote about it at length at the time. One of my teammates also wrote an account, with gorgeous pictures, in two parts. More information at the London Twitter feed, or send questions to the London organisers. Fingers crossed that I get to see many of you there in less than four weeks!

Around the World: two Canadian exit games

Adventure Rooms logoAround The World will be an occasional series in which we release the general restriction that this is a site that focuses upon the UK and Ireland. The aim is to focus on particularly interesting differences in practice from nation to nation; not to say that one site, or even one nation, has everything right and everyone else is wrong, but there might be some interesting lessons to consider. This time, there are two interesting tweaks on the adventure room format, both from sites in the province of Ontario within Canada.

De Code Canada, of Mississauga, is a site with three different exit rooms. (It also has a board game cafe, which is pretty cool!) An unusual gimmick is that you can choose to play any of those adventures at your choice of three levels of difficulty; the “guided” level offers generous hinting, the “challenger” level a single hint and the “insane” level offers no hints at all. The fastest solutions at the “insane” level of difficulty can earn placement on the monthly (wise!) Hall of Fame. Cute!

Adventure Rooms, of Kitchener, is a local version of an originally Swiss operation (also, like MazeBase, offering franchises). The game within their original exit room is a diamond heist, split into four phases, thus giving teams a sense of progression. However, they also offer sufficiently large parties the chance to split into two teams, playing a duel against each other; this splits the story covered in the hour into two half-hour sections. “Team A begins its adventure already at Phase 3, whereas Team B starts at Phase 1. Team A has to search for a hidden diamond and escape before Team B can capture them. After a break, the roles are reversed.” Highly thematic; I can seeing it working well, and competitively, in practice.

I’m not sure that every site would gain from such options or that this necessarily forms global best practice. Nevertheless, fun to think about and interesting to know.

August 3rd: one-day Cryptic Treasure Hunt in Essex

Pyro Puzzles logoExciting news arrives (and thanks to puzzlehuntcalendar.com for this one!) that Sunday 3rd August will see a highly relevant-looking cryptic treasure hunt (heck, it’s a puzzle hunt to you and me!) taking place somewhere in Essex, probably not far from north-east London.

The hunt will be a team event, with each team consisting of up to six participants. The objective for each team will be to escape the puzzle box and locate the prizes once outside. This is similar to the exit games we discuss here, except that here there will be multiple rooms to challenge and confound the participants. Many of the rooms will contain mechanical and physical puzzles, codes and riddles that need to be solved in order to reveal an escape route that the teams can use, but there’ll still be more to do even after you’ve escaped. Apparently the venue was designed to securely contain 300 people away from the outside world, so escaping will be a real challenge!

The hunt is being organised by Stephen Miller, Nick Ball and others, who have been running such puzzle hunts for many years. A full write up of one such hunt can be found here to give you an indication of what goes into them. It’s interesting to see ATHC at the top of the document; this surely refers to the Armchair Treasure Hunt Club, who hold one-day puzzle hunts like this, extended research-based hunts and online competitions. Much more about them some other day.

The whole event will be themed, but this will remain “Top Secret” until the day of the hunt. (Whether this has a double meaning, and that the theme will actually be revealed to be “Top Secret”, rather than being kept as top secret, remains to be seen!) The winning team (and hopefully the runners up) will be able to claim limited edition puzzles as their prizes for being the first to escape and find the treasure.

There’s a little more information about the logistics on the hunt’s web site, as well as an entry form and PayPal link to pay the £25/person fee. The site also has an e-mail link which will surely reach the organisers.

Very exciting! More news about this as it reaches us.

Make A Break in Manchester

Make A Break logoIt’s always exciting to find out about new exit game sites. Today I’ve found out about one which opened in the last two weeks, taking the total number of sites open in the UK and Ireland up to double figures. Well, the number of sites I know about, at least; if you know about others, please send details through!

Make A Break opened in Manchester on Sunday 16th March. Their very evocative web site suggests that they have one game, of an hour in duration. It features two videos that set the mood, though are probably taken as mood-setters only rather than previews of what might be found within the game.

The web site suggests an interesting wrinkle in gameplay: “You might get stuck and ask for some help from the quizmaster – just use your walkie-talkie. As it wisely though – there is no free lunch – help comes at a cost: ouch loose some time“. That sounds like a player-friendly policy and should ensure that people keep having fun throughout the hour; I’m curious to know how well it works in practice and suspect it may well make for some very close finishes.

The site is so new that I haven’t yet found any reviews; it may be worth following the site’s Facebook page. One thing to pay particular attention to is that there is a special offer for bookings made by the end of March; teams of three get a £5/player reduction, teams of 4-5 get a £3/player reduction. It’s possible that the Facebook page may feature further discounts in time, too. Keep watching!

Coming up this weekend

weekly calendarA quick round-up of matters arising:

  • The World Puzzle Federation’s ongoing Puzzle Grand Prix contest has its third round this weekend, with our friends from Japan supplying the puzzles. Choose your own starting time between 11am on Friday and 9:30pm on Monday, UK times, then you have 90 minutes to score as many points as possible by solving puzzles, with the (at least nominally) harder puzzles worth more. Take a look at the latest instruction booklet to see precisely which types of culture-free language-neutral logic puzzles are coming up this time. This round of the contest has more, relatively low-valued, puzzles than the previous rounds; you may well find things to your taste even if this is your first online puzzle contest.
  • If that isn’t enough for you, and you live in the UK, you can get a whole weekend of puzzles at the UK Puzzle Association’s in-person UK Open Puzzle and Sudoku Championships taking place in Croydon this Saturday and Sunday. Further details are available in my preview a couple of weeks ago. The day rate of £25 is very reasonable for what you get, and adding a night’s B&B for another £60 is a good rate for a prestigious venue. The UKPA’s contest page has the instruction books, which are discussed on the UKPA forum. The hardest of the hardcore solvers will likely treat the WPF Grand Prix as just a Friday leg-stretcher for the contests on Saturday and Sunday.
  • If you live in the UK, but rather closer to the West Midlands than to Croydon, you may well be interested in Keyhunter‘s “pop-up discounts” on their Facebook page. A 50% discount code popped up, but tantalisingly, it was only good for bookings made within a few hours. Teases! Keep following their Facebook page to look out for possible further such discounts in the future. Keyhunter have three different games, so perhaps you could use this to play another of their games if you’ve played one already, or perhaps you could try two games for the price of one – if you can find a booking slot in their timetable!

Mazebase, the company behind two UK exit rooms

Mazebase game logopuzzlair3
Yesterday’s post, about discovering the existence of Puzzlair, came about as a result of finding out that Mazebase existed. Mazebase are the company who designed HintHunt in London and Puzzlair in Bristol, and also have a room in Debrecen, Hungary and another in Athens, Greece. However, over the years, they have developed seven different rooms in total. Perhaps some of the others will come to the UK or Ireland some day.

If you’ve ever considered starting your own exit room, Mazebase have some packages available. They’re reasonably priced, considering how popular the rooms are, though I imagine the rental costs that cannot be included in a package are likely to be the major part of the expense of running the business. As a player, you might at first think that the price of playing an exit game is high; however, if you consider the rent, business rates and labour expenditures, to name but three expenses, I get the impression that there is no room at all for the operators to cut their prices and that the profit margins may well be very thin as it is, even despite how popular the games are.

A famous advert for a breakfast company says “We don’t make cereal for anybody else”; it is unclear whether any of the other exit room operators would be prepared to offer their services as well as Mazebase. If you’re interested in starting your own exit room, I guess it would be worth talking to the operators of other existing sites already and seeing whether they, too, might also be prepared to provide their services.

I hope to get to interview the people behind Mazebase before long, and any other operators who might be willing to talk about the services they can offer as well as the games that they run.

Puzzlair in Bristol

puzzlair-logoPart of the reason for this web site to exist is that it’s difficult to find all the exit games that are available right now. It took me a couple of months to find out about Puzzlair, an exit game lair of puzzles that opened for business in central Bristol at the start of the year.

The site currently has two games, John Monroe’s Room and the Laboratory of Dr. Lev Pasted. (Rumour found elsewhere suggests that the site will have two more rooms soon; it is not clear whether these will host other games.) Subject to confirmation, it seems likely that the John Monroe’s Room game is the same as one of the games that has proved so popular at HintHunt in London, but the Lev Pasted game is, so far, unique within the UK and Ireland.

Early reviews are extremely positive for both rooms, so the John Monroe room experience is likely to match the one available in London. Bristol is already served by Cryptopia, which is also getting very strong reviews; if the times and availability work out, why not try them both while you’re there? No reason why London should be the only city with two exit games!

Psst! I suspect this won’t hang around forever, but I’ve found a social purchasing web site deal for preferential rates at Puzzlair while the site is new.

ClueQuest open second game

ClueQuest number one ticketClueQuest, of happening Shoreditch in London, opened a third room at the start of March. They now have two rooms available for their original game, “Unit 52”; the third room hosts a new game, “Operation Black Sheep”. If you’ve played ClueQuest in the past and proven your skills to Mr. Q. in their first game, Mr. Q. now faces his archenemy, Professor BlackSheep, and needs your help. The two games are of similar difficulty; there is some storyline progression from Unit 52 to Operation Black Sheep, but they can be played in either order.

While this was available to the public from March 1st, a charity auction was held, for the benefit of the Over The Wall children’s charity; the winners paid £120 to charity in return for the first ticket to play the game the previous night. A lovely touch! ClueQuest have recently had to start adding VAT to ticket prices (current rules require this of businesses with an annual turnover in excess of £79,000) so this represents a very reasonable premium for a very good cause.

Initial reports are very favourable! The TripAdvisor reviews are as good as ever; when you look more closely, there’s no discrepancy between those naming one game and those naming the other. It’s particularly reassuring to see this review of Operation Black Sheep from someone who had previously played and reviewed Unit 52 at ClueQuest – and, in fairness, had been just as positive about HintHunt.

This site would be happy to feature news about new rooms from all exit games in the UK and Ireland, whether additional rooms at existing sites or new sites opening their first room.

24 hour Puzzle Championship preview

Two clock facesI have long held a suspicion that Hungary is home to one of the coolest puzzle communities of them all, and this provides yet more evidence why.

Next weekend sees the 14th “24 hour Puzzle Championship” take place in Budapest, Hungary. In recent years this event has been annual in the autumn, but 2013 was a fallow year and the schedule seems to have sprung to spring. Between 10am on Saturday 22nd March and 10am on Sunday 23rd March, participants sit 13 individual 100-minute puzzle contests; the remaining 140 minutes of the 1440 are taken up with ten 10-minute comfort breaks and two 20-minute meal breaks between rounds. The contests are in culture-free language-neutral logic puzzles, and you can see the instruction booklets in advance to see what sorts of puzzles there will be.

In practice, there are 14 different papers sat over the 24-hour period. Many of the participants will have written, or at least co-written, one of them, so everybody skips one of the thirteen (very probably the one that they wrote themself) and solves the fourteenth instead. Each paper will feature typically around 20-25 different puzzles, normally of around 10-15 different types. Scoring is normalised so that unusually hard or easy papers do not have an excessive effect on the overall result.

This year, there look to be at least 31 participants from 12 countries, which is fairly typical. Four of them come from the UK, all veterans of top-level competition at the World Puzzle Championship. Liane Robinson has experienced the extreme exhaustion several times and has written about her experience in 2010. Sounds like a contest and an experience like no other. One for a future year, perhaps.

The other reason why this is particularly cool is that the Hungarian organiser is also a big fan of exit games, and indeed of taking the opportunity to participate in (presumably not all of!) Budapest’s 44 exit games. Gyorgy writesWe’re also please to organise your extended stay in Budapest e.g. if you want to visit some logical live-action games […] So, if you want to do some extra mental games, we’re more than happy to reserve a place in one of the dozen great places – and we can also delegate some Hungarian puzzlers if you don’t have enough friends to form a team for these games.” This might even be a way to get to enjoy the exit games of Budapest without speaking Hungarian, if you’re in the sort of company who would enjoy translating and interpreting the content.

It’s rare to trigger both the “puzzle event” and “exit game” focuses of this site, but the 24 hour Puzzle Championship is one of a kind!

Where in London could the next exit game be?

London skylineLondon plays such a vast role in the UK economy that it comes as no surprise that it can sustain two exit rooms already. The two there already are both very successful, jostling with – of all the things – the Brick Lane Music Hall in the top 3 list of TripAdvisor’s reviewers’ London attractions.

It possibly should also be no surprise that it could well be the location of a third and quite possibly many more exit room sites; compare with Budapest having 44 exit room games and the rest of Hungary 22. Escape Hunt is open in Bangkok and lists London as a location in which it will have opened by June; I like the ambition and look forward to following other locations’ progress along the way.

I did enjoy reading plans to start an underground farm deep below the surface of London, in one of apparently eight deep-level bomb shelters built in the 1940s. That strikes me as potentially an extremely atmospheric location to situate an exit game!

The Wired article suggests that “There have been occasional requests from ambitious club promoters to host parties in the tunnels, but the lack of appropriate fire escapes makes it an unfeasible venue” – and, I fear, that might rule them out for ever hosting exit games. Nevertheless, perhaps this might not be an insurmountable problem after all, and the returns could be spectacular!