DASH 6: the podcast

DASH 6 lemon logoUnder normal circumstances, this site would not make a post about, essentially, a single link. However, this single link justifies a post alone.

This site has discussed the DASH puzzle hunt in April fairly extensively, but so far this site hasn’t discussed the puzzles specifically. It’s been over two months now, and the puzzles and answers have both been posted, so surely we’re outside spoiler territory.

With this in mind, this site gives a very strong recommendation to Iain Weaver’s most recent “Outside Broadcast” podcast, where he discussed his team’s extremely successful attempt at the New Player track of DASH 6. The piece is 80 minutes long, but well worth your time. It’s obvious that a great deal of effort has been put into it and the results are spectacular. The event took place in public so there’s a fair bit of authentic background noise, but it’s not at all difficult to follow what’s going on. The podcast is hosted as part of the Fifty 50 show podcast series (mostly about UK game shows) by Puzzled Pint London stalwart Lewis Murphy and co-hosts, which I’ve long enjoyed over the years.

If you played DASH, you can enjoy the puzzles again in a whole different way. If you didn’t play DASH, it’s a good way to get a feel for the event, along with the other reviews and discussions that have happened over time. Whether you come to Exit Games UK from a puzzle contest perspective, a puzzle hunt perspective or an exit games perspective, DASH is one of the highlights of the year.

Whether you have fond memories of DASH or not, if you’re looking for another in-person puzzle hunt in the greater London area to enjoy with your team, the next such event to look forward to is the previously-discussed “Top Secret” one-day Cryptic Treasure Hunt in Essex on August 3rd. The recent interview with game control only makes the prospect more appetising still – so if you don’t want to wait another, presumably, ten months or so to have a great excuse to get a team of friends together for a big team event, then in the words of a currently prominent disembodied head: “You will love it”. Oi, oi!

Changing Rooms

"Changing Rooms" TV show logo and hostsTime for a round-up of exit game news.

The biggest and happiest news is that Clue HQ of Warrington have opened, and thus their dot on the map has turned from coming-soon red to open-now yellow. Their first week has some private bookings and availability over the first month or two is already rather spotty, reflecting both success at selling early slots and also relatively restricted opening hours, following the lead of concentrating opening towards the weekend. This site wishes Clue HQ good fortune and great success and hopes to hear from its players before long.

Excusing the post’s title, Ex(c)iting Game of Oxford have a temporary closure from Monday 4th August to Thursday 7th August, before reopening on Friday 8th August, having changed their original two games, “The Auction” and “Stop The Assassin” for two new ones, “The Warehouse” and “The Mad Scientist”, each of which is set up to take 3-5 players. The site seems popular, especially at weekends, and this will give good reason for people who have played its two games already to go back and enjoy the two new ones.

More good news is that other sites are talking about expansion; Breakout Manchester of Ashby de la Zouch Manchester have announced on Facebook that their third room, Madchester, is set to open on July 12th. There’s also a corking interview with owner Ed Roberts on Gamasutra about the design process. This site likes the way he thinks.

Another expansion announcement on Facebook comes from Escape of Edinburgh, who have announced their third room will be entitled Contagion. Evidently Escape really has brought exit game fever north of the border.

Finally, Escap3d of Belfast have announced a second location, with a teasing “Play in Dublin” page and a map of their presumptive second site. Very exciting, and more news on this as it becomes available!

That’s all the news that this site has permission to publish, for now.

Results from the World Puzzle Federation’s “Puzzle Grand Prix”

World Puzzle Federation logoSomething a little less unusual…

This site has mentioned the World Puzzle Federation‘s Puzzle Grand Prix every few weeks; the sixth leg has now finished, and with it, the online section of the first season. The rules state:

At the end of the Grand Prix, the 10 Sudoku GP solvers and 10 Puzzle GP solvers with the highest cumulative scores will be invited to the next WSC/WPC to play off in person. If there is a tie in the results of the top 10 solvers, the solver with the highest ranking in any individual tournament will win the tiebreaker; if there is still a tie, then the solver with the next-highest ranking in any individual tournament will win, etc. If any of the finalists decides not to attend the WSC/WPC, the next best solver (or solvers) will be invited to take part.

The results of the online section have been published; you can see how they break down, event-by-event, though the interface for the detailed results is a little unwieldy. Essentially, the player with the most points in a contest (which will generally be full marks, plus a few bonus points for finishing quickly) earns 100 Grand Prix points for that contest, and everybody else scores between 0 and 100 in proportion to their score for that contest. Players’ five best 0-to-100 scores out of the possible six are added together to give an overall score, out of a possible 500, for the Grand Prix.

The top ten scorers, and thus the first invitees, are as follows:

1. Ulrich Voigt, Germany (471.11/500) – Ulrich has appeared on the podium of the World Puzzle Championship every single year beginning with a “2”, and nine of those 14 appearances were on its top step. A dominant winner online, and surely a strong favourite for the play-off.
2. Ken Endo, Japan (447.66/500) – Ken had the sixth best score in the main body of the 2013 World Puzzle Championship, but as a member of Japan’s B team, did not make it to the play-off. Japan had a super-strong B team that year. See also Tom Collyer’s discussion of B-team members and their participation.
3. Hideaki Jo, Japan (443.95/500) – Japan’s best finisher at the 2013 WPC, third before the play-off but fell to fifth after it. Also has a third-place finish at the 2010 WPC, and is legendarily strong at the Nikoli online puzzle site, appearing several times on their hall of fame.
4. Kota Morinishi, Japan (433.50/500) – eighth at the 2013 WPC, improving further on an eleventh-place finish at the 2012 WPC.
5. Michael Ley, Germany (414.74/500) – fourteenth at the last two WPCs, but has a vast amount of experience having appeared at the WPC since 1996 with four fourth-placed finishes along the way. Also a 5th dan solver at croco-puzzle.
6. Bram de Laat, Netherlands (412.71/500) – fourth at the 2013 WPC, improving further on a seventh-place finish in 2012, earlier WPC appearances stretch back to 2003 and has an excellent puzzle blog on our blogroll.
7. Yuta Nagata, Japan (401.66/500) – another Japanese B-team member at the 2013 WPC, finishing with the 21st highest score. Please forgive how little I have to say about the Japanese solvers, other than admiring the Japanese strength in depth.
8. Nikola Zivanovic, Serbia (392.68/500) – the reverse of Kota Morinshi, an official eleventh-place WPC finish in 2013 and an eighth-place WPC finish in 2012! WPC final appearances stretch back to 2005, with a sixth-place finish in 2009.
9. James McGowan, UK (389.81/500) – sixteenth in the 2013 WPC, nineteenth the year before. Arguably his best result to date is the 2014 UK Puzzle Championship, where he came first not just in the UK but globally, and look at the names he took in doing so.
10. Neil Zussman, UK (386.07/500) – 15th, 25th and 10th (in reverse chronological order!) in the three most recent WPCs, and as dominant in the 2013 UK Puzzle Championship as James was this year.

The play-offs will take place at the 23rd World Puzzle Championship, being held this year at Croydon, here in the UK. It’s certainly a bonus that the UK has two representatives set to be invited to the final ten. Many thanks to the World Puzzle Federation for organising the event, and to all the puzzle authors; it’s great to see a World Puzzle Federation event genuinely accessible to all hobby solvers, rather than just catering for world-class competitors. (Some rounds more so than others! Perhaps there’s scope to ensure that every round has sufficient low-hanging fruit to let the more modest competitors, like me, enjoy the whole of the 90-minute rounds.) 486 competitors took part in at least one Puzzle GP event; let’s look forward to next year’s season.

Around the World: the seamier side of exit games

Hungarian "SexyTi" exit game logoNews reaches this site of an unusual past event from Japan: er, it’s a singles party, held emulating the style of an exit game, entitled “R18 Real Escape Game: Escape from Virginity.” (Japanese-language site, of course.) RocketNews 24 explains:

In the event, participants assume the roles of “virgins” regardless of whether or not they are one in real life. Together they must engage in conversation with members of the opposite sex to solve puzzles and reach the next level.

In this game the levels consist of Gokon; After-Party; After-After-Party; and Love Hotel in which a final puzzle must be unlock so that participants may escape their virginity. However, this “virginity” is entirely symbolic and the event organizers are not promising any actual sexual encounters.

The reason this event is restricted to anyone over 18 is that it’s both held late at night and consists of riddles that can be “little kinky” at times. The organizers thought that this style of party may help singles loosen up and promote a healthier attitude towards sexual topics between genders in Japan, which could well be a good thing as a recent survey suggested that 40.6% of Japanese males in their 20s are virgins.

It’s difficult to comment on this without applying Western standards to a non-Western situation in the context of a local culture. Nevertheless, if people want to live in a world with an enlightened attitude to sex, which has to be considered in terms of identity as well as particular actions (and living in a country with such an attitude would be a good start; still, baby steps, mostly along the way) then this approach does not seem desperately… constructive; the whole notion of focusing upon virginity is something of an irrelevant red herring in the first place. It seems reasonable to criticise the event further for, apparently, awarding a souvenir that can only be used by one sort of plumbing.

Really, the only part of this story with a feature to commend it is that it provides evidence that Japan is sufficiently familiar with the exit game format, at large, that events of other types appear to consider it helpful to use an exit game as a metaphor.

The other half of this two-stop tour is signposted by the logo above. Our friends at exitgames.hu, the definitive site for Hungarian exit games, suggest that Budapest alone is now up to 51 exit games. One of them is called SexyTi and (as far as machine translation can tell) promises to present the normal exit game investigation and puzzle-solving activities with a theme of eroticism. Further than that, it’s not immediately clear whether the site attempts to properly represent the breadth of the human condition in this regard, or whether it chooses to focus more tightly. Certainly the site’s Facebook page depicts a range of parties, made up of various combinations of presented gender, appearing to enjoy themselves. Nice basement.

Interview with Stephen Miller, proprietor of Pyro Puzzles

Pyro Puzzles logoThis site has previously discussed the upcoming Pyro Puzzles series of mechanical puzzles and the Top Secret cryptic treasure hunt being run near London on Sunday 3rd August 2014. It’s a privilege to be able to feature an interview with Stephen Miller, the devisor of these puzzles. The questions asked by Exit Games are tagged with EG and Stephen’s responses with SM below.

  • EG: How did you get into puzzles, Stephen?
  • SM: I’ve always liked puzzle boxes; the idea of having something on display that hides a secret inside, is something magical. However, until quite recently I didn’t own any such boxes, as I had no clue where to get them from. Now however, I have a decent little collection thanks to the guys at MPP – the Midlands Puzzle Party. I joined this group and have attended all of their recent gatherings, even going to the Netherlands for the Dutch Cube Day where there was a puzzle market, which resulted in me going home with an empty wallet, but a very full backpack.
  • EG: What from your background led you towards puzzles?
  • SM: I was an inquisative child and when I was nine years old (1979) my Uncle showed me a book called ‘Masquerade’, by Kit Williams. My Uncle was an nature artist and did lots of paintings of birds, animals and the countryside. He’d bought the book because Kit Williams had done some fabulous paintings of similar subjects to illustrate the book and had hidden a hare in each painting, my Uncle challenged me to find the hare in each – I found all but the first hare (which was hidden inside a hill in the picture!). Kit Williams had buried a golden hare somewhere in Britain and had hidden the clues for finding it in his book and I got hooked on the idea of buried treasure, avidly following the subject until the hare was dug up in 1982.

    About eight years ago, the memory of ‘Masquerade’ surfaced, after being forgotten for some 25 years, and I went on-line to look it up and found several communities dedicated to it and similar treasure hunts. I joined the communities (Q4T – Quest for Treasure and TATHC – The Armchair Treasure Hunt Club) I took part in a few hunts and then started running them for these groups, which was great fun.

  • EG: How is the market for physical puzzles, such as your past Isis Adventure puzzles and your upcoming Elemental puzzles?
  • SM: That’s a very good question, I had very little to do with the marketing or sales of the Tessarisis or Tarka puzzles that I designs as the fourth puzzle in the Isis series. I can only go by the fact that the Isis series pays a living wage to the company director and also pays for one or two employees, so they must be selling. I’m lucky to have a full time job away from puzzles, which pays my mortgage, so it gives me the freedom to do what I want to do with the Elemental Puzzle Series, without the pressures of having to earn a living from it – this means I can afford to ‘Do It Right’ which is the overwhelming principle behind Pyro Puzzles and The Elemental Series, the main visible manifestation of this is that I refuse to take pre-payments from people for puzzles that are not assembled, packaged and ready to ship.
  • EG: Of which physical puzzles do you have the fondest memories?
  • SM: It has to be the Barcode Burr by Lee Kraznow from Pacific Puzzle World, I’ve never owned or even held one of Lee’s creations, but I saw a YouTube clip of him demonstrating one and fell in love with it – a cube made up of six identical shapes that took 128 moves (64 if you know the short-cut!) just to get the first piece out. Just the thought of it blew me away.
    I’d been trained in 3D CAD at work, so I decided to try and draw up a Barcode Burr during my lunch breaks, using the photographs on Lee’s website – it took me three years! But eventually I figured it out (the experience and skills I gained by doing this made me a bit of a 3D CAD guru at work). I then had a Barcode Burr 3D printed and contacted Lee with some photographs of my creation – He said that other than him, I was the only person ever to make one. He was impressed with my work and has given me permission to make up to one hundred Bar Code Burrs – which is very kind of him. I’ve looked into getting them machined from aluminium and anodised, but the complexity of the design means they would cost far too much.
    (See also a video review of the Barcode Burr.)
  • EG: You have a background of co-setting some of the Armchair Treasure Hunt Club’s in-person events. What aspects of armchair treasure hunts and in-person events do you particularly enjoy?
  • SM: I enjoy dreaming up the challenges and then formulating them and linking all the elements together to make a cohesive whole (so the interconnections hold the theme together – as I did for the Avebury hunt where everything appeared to have been waiting to be discovered for 3,000 years), where everything fits together properly. It’s also very important to vary the challenges so some are easy and some a bit more difficult, so everyone feels that they are contributing to their team and that their team is making progress. On the day, I enjoy seeing how people react to the challenges I’ve set, it’s great watching people sweat and then see the light bulb come on when they discover the key element that solves the problem.
  • EG: Are there any armchair treasure hunts of which you have particuarly fond memories?
  • SM: Well, obviously ‘Masquerade’ was the genesis of armchair treasure hunting and I have memories of that (I have 16 picture frames hung on my wall which show the 15 beautiful paintings and title page from the book – cost me £26 for the two copies of the book and £171 in picture frames!), as far as hunts I’ve taken part in, those would have to be my first one which was at Ampthill with Q4T in 2008 and then Olney in 2011 with TATHC (the only one that I’ve actually won). The most memorable moment from one that I’ve run was at Bourton-on-the-Water in 2010 when someone who’d claimed that they were not competitive, solved the final clue, ran about 500 yards and jumped into the river, without taking their shoes off, in order to recover the treasure (we had waders available for them to use, but they didn’t bother to stop for them)!
  • EG: How are preparations going for your “Top Secret” treasure hunt in Essex on Sunday 3rd August?
  • SM: We’ve got all the plans in place, just need to write everything up and laminate various pages, so they don’t get trashed too easily – I’m having to get it all sorted well in advance, as I’m planning to launch ‘Fire’ the first challenge from the Elemental Puzzle Series at the beginning of August, so most of July is going to be taken up with assembling, engraving and packaging ‘Fire’ ready for August.
  • EG: You have said that your event will be “similar to ‘escape the room’ type events, except that here there will be multiple rooms to challenge and confound the participants. What have you learnt from such games that you will be applying in your hunt?
  • SM: That would give too much away at this stage, I don’t want to let the players into my head or they’ll figure out how I think!
    But I can say that the ‘Top Secret’ event is similar to ‘Escape The Room’ games, in that the teams have to escape. There will be multiple rooms, each containing codes and riddles that need to be decyphered and solved to reveal how a team can escape the venue and recover the treasure once outside.
  • EG: You have previously suggested that you expect to be able to accept teams until the end of June. Are you still taking entries?
  • SM: Actually, we can accept individual and team bookings up until the end of July – the more the merrier. However, we’ll be sending out final instructions and details for where to meet a week or two before the event, so everyone knows where to be and at what time. We have had a few full team entries, but most are individuals, we’re happy to shuffle people around at the start of the day, so everyone is in a team, so don’t worry if you don’t know anyone else who wants to come, we’ll sort you out with a team and you’ll probably make some good friends that you’ll keep in contact with.
  • EG: Can you reveal anything about the hunt that has not yet been made public?
  • SM: There is a teaser hidden within the electronic flyer for the hunt (.pdf file).
  • EG: Why are you making your puzzles under the name ‘Pyro Puzzles’?”
  • SM: I have always worked with explosives and pyrotechnics (I was a qualified bomb disposal engineer before I left school!) and have used the ‘Pyromancer’ name in pretty much every forum I’ve ever joined. So when it came to finding a suitable name for a puzzle concern ‘Pyro Puzzles’ just fitted the bill – It also appealed to me through the links and interconnections that I love so much, in as much as my first solo puzzle will be called ‘Fire’, the Greek for fire is pyro and of course ‘Greek Fire’ is considered one of the first pyrotechnic/explosives used by man.
  • EG: Is your upcoming treasure hunt completely self-contained or is there useful preparation or background reading that players might do in advance, particularly in terms of the theme of the event?
  • SM: It is completely self contained, as we don’t want anyone having an unfair advantage, so we’ve included elements for puzzlers, treasure hunters and mere mortals.It is completely self contained, as we don’t want anyone having an unfair advantage, so we’ve included elements for puzzlers, treasure hunters and mere mortals.

Thanks so much for that, Stephen! While that week will be a tricky one for the webmaster of the site, this site very much hopes to be able to feature coverage from the event. If you enjoyed DASH in April, or if you’ve played and enjoyed a few exit games, while nothing can be guaranteed, this sounds like it has the potential to be spectacular, and you can investigate the considerable strength of Stephen’s track record for yourself. At the very least, it sounds like a good excuse to get your team back together and have a puzzle-filled day out.

While Stephen suggests above that individual applications are welcome as well as team applications, if readers of this site happened to want to organise a team for this hunt between themselves, there’s a comment box below which would do the job admirably.

in memoriam ludorum: Entros

Cartoon gravestone pictureThis site announces a new, infrequent, irregular series about some of the most interesting games of yesteryear, for fear that they are forgotten for good. The title in memoriam ludorum hopefully works better than the alternative Game but not forgotten.

Entros was a restaurant in Seattle, and later San Francisco, for most of the 1990s. It was distinctive for offering imaginative games along with the food, on a scale sufficiently grand and with equipment sufficiently advanced that a dedicated centre was necessary to house them. At a basic level, you could pull up to the bar and have some fairly familiar fare accompany your food and drink: Boggle, backgammon, card games, or pen-and-paper puzzles. However, for a few dollars more, you could get a sticker to get you access to the six or so big games, rotated once or twice a year, and these big games were about as imaginitve and exciting as it got – arguably, among the most progressive games made available to the public of all time.

Peter Sarrett, a fixture of the Seattle game and puzzle community, wrote a juicy, love-laden tribute to the big games on offer in his wonderful old board game printed ‘zine. Sadly the publication is no more and the URL (gamereport.com) of the archive site was far too good not to be snapped up, but happily archive.org has a saved copy. The article is a must-read, but here are some of the most interesting parts to whet your appetite:

“The office is quiet – perhaps too quiet. My companion and I quickly speak into our headsets, describing our surroundings to our partners tucked away in a remote control booth. Cross-checking our descriptions with their information, they tell us to search the bookcase. Sure enough, we find a hidden latch and open a secret door to a darkened room. There, on an illuminated pedestal in the far corner, is our prize- a valuable statue stolen from the art museum. My companion starts to move for it, but I hold him back just in time and point to the floor, an ominous black grid of unusual symbols. Sure enough, our partners tell us it’s rigged to an alarm, but they can guide us through it safely.

We scan franticly for the safe symbols they describe, using them as our stepping stones toward the statue. Halfway through we seem stranded, unable to find a nearby safe square. We shout into our headsets, panic rising, until my companion shouts triumphantly and points to a safe spot. But we’ve taken too long now and we’re out of time. A klaxon wails and the room floods with light, and we’re escorted politely but firmly from the room. Caught. Undaunted, we get back in line for another try.


After dinner a tantalizing array of activities await. Designed by on-staff gamemakers, these activities aren’t about virtual reality or man vs. machine. They’re about people interacting with each other cooperatively and competitively. Take Interface, for example – Entros’ longest-running game. One player wears a blinding helmet with a front-mounted video camera which sends an image to her monitoring partner. That partner talks the “operative” through a series of activities through a two-way radio link, racing against the clock in a high-tech trust walk. Three different sets of activities exist so players can swap roles and still get a fresh experience.


The first time I visited Entros they were running a multimedia odyssey called The Forever Formula which contained a puzzle sequence which remains my favorite. As we entered the building, we passed by a telescope mounted on a tripod in the lobby. It seemed an usual bit of decoration, but we forgot all about it as we entered the restaurant through the fake phone booths, humming the Get Smart theme song. During the game, a clue suggested that we look between the pillars of Stonehenge. We remembered that a stone arch was painted on the glass of the building’s front door, so we returned to the lobby. Sure enough, when we aimed at the painted icon we could see through the telescope the magnified image of a small sign mounted on a building across the street. The sign said something like, “For your next clue, call the Kremlin.” As it happened, a pay phone sat just a few feet from the telescope. Dropping a quarter, we dialed K-R-E-M-L-I-N and got a recording of a man with a Russian accent directing us to our next stop.”

It’s not clear why Entros went under (and the eight or so years it had are far from a bad run) though this site notes that a 1998 review noted that “Given the heady nature and price tag of an Entros visit – about $75 per person – Entros tends to attract a well-educated clientele” and that the closure happened at about the same time as the first dotcom crash. Or perhaps the games were great but the restaurant half of the business didn’t pull its weight; the food is discussed in this 1994 review. Maybe the whole prospect was just ahead of its time and the mainstream nature of exit games shows that the market is prepared to accept brainier, gamier fare now than it was half a generation ago.

The games are still offered by Forrest-Pruzan Creative, a company with many former Entros employees working for it, and were seen in the wild at the Pacific Science Center in late 2010, and perhaps since. This list has details of all the games on offer, and we can but dream about playing them. To show just how old-school the list is, most of the games have videos available… but to see them, you’ll need to dig out RealPlayer!

(Reminiscences from people who were actually there at the time would be most welcome, especially if people can place them in the context of the games and puzzles that have followed it. This site’s writers live eight timezones away, as well as years too late, but can tell when they’ve missed a treat.)

Dealwatch: coupons and discounts to play exit games for less

"Sale" stickerOne frequently-used technique to help brand new exit games to fill their rooms early before the word has got out too far is to offer discounts for a while after the site opens. It’s probably no bad thing for advertising purposes that the coupons are still easy to find online even after the validity deadline has expired, and you can see how many sites that are now booked up almost completely weeks in advance started off by offering social buying deals. Here’s a quick run-through of the deals that this site could find that are still valid. (Ground rules: terms and conditions doubtless apply and this site takes no responsibility for deals that fall through for whatever reason. These are not exclusive in any shape or form.)

  • Keyhunter of Birmingham have a Groupon deal active. £15 for two players, £19 for three, £24 for four or £29 for six. Codes are activated 48 hours after purchase and are valid for 90 days after purchase.
  • Tick Tock Unlock of Leeds have a Groupon deal active. £22.50 for three players, £30 for four or £35 for five, restricted to new customers only. You must book by e-mail, including a contact phone number. Codes expire 90 days after purchase. There’s also a similar deal at Dealmonster where tickets are a flat £30 and expiry is a constant date of 9th January 2015 rather than 90 days after purchase; terms and conditions are presumably different to the Groupon ones.
  • Cipher Entertainment of Leicester are currently closed in preparation for their second season, but they have a Groupon deal active all the same. Deals are only available for the one-hour version of the game. £19 for four players, £24 for six or £29 for eight. You must book by phone and arrive 10 minutes early. Codes expire 90 days after purchase and exclude public holidays.
  • Ex(c)iting Game of Oxford have a Groupon deal active. £24 for five people or £47 for six to nine people, restricted to new customers only. You must book by phone. Coupons listed as valid until 8pm, so presumably are not valid for the 8pm-10pm game available daily, and expire 90 days after purchase.
  • Clue HQ of Warrington officially open a week today, but already have a Groupon deal active already. £29 for three or four people, £32.50 for five or £36 for six. You must book online. Coupons are valid from 28 June-28 September 2014. There’s also a similar deal at kgb deals, though this charges £39 for six and terms and conditions are presumably slightly different.
  • XIT of Dublin have a LivingSocial deal available on their BOXit room. €35 for four people. You must book online. Coupons are valid until 27 October.

Those are all the active deals, discounts and coupons this site could find; if you know of others, please send them through – and if your site has a offer not listed above, please don’t take it as a deliberate attempt to disrespect and this site will happily spread the good news.

Could the World Puzzle Championship make your company a star?

"Walk of fame" star marked "your name here"The 23rd World Puzzle Championship and 9th World Sudoku Championship are happening in the UK this year – specifically, in Croydon between the 10th and 17th of August. They are looking for sponsors.

Sponsoring the championship offers very particular targeted publicity to an audience who are sufficiently interested in puzzles to travel around the world to solve them. There is expected to be between 200 and 250 attendees from 25 to 40 nations, representing six continents, of which probably two-thirds will be competing in one contest, the other or both.

Aside from the contestants, most of the other attendees will be representatives of national puzzle bodies but also there will also be people from various aspects of the puzzle business in attendance. The World Puzzle Federation has a list of members so you can see the sorts of publishing companies and other organisations that run national puzzle bodies, and what sort of people you might reach through the World Puzzle Federation members. The connection is particularly strong in China; Beijing Media Network are sponsors of the Chinese team, and provided wide coverage of the events last year. There was also a piece in the Guardian about the 2006 event which may give you a better feel of who turns up and what goes on.

The commonality is that everyone who turns up is massively interested in puzzles, and the competitors are extremely able – at the top end, definitively world class. Many of them are very successful in their outside lives, whether they are competitors or not. Because so many people there have demonstrated a massive commitment to puzzles, they could well have the combination of resources and wherewithal to be considered potential investors or at least making extremely valuable contacts.

Additionally, because there are so many representatives from national governing bodies present, you would have the chance to get your message out to the puzzle communities of dozens of nations at once, and in turn they would pass it on to their own members and local puzzle contacts. It would be likely to be possible for a sponsor to negotiate access and introductions to the people involved, if this were of interest.

In terms of publicity, there are plenty of solutions possible. A lightweight solution could be distributing flyers to contestants for both championships in the arrival packs. More intensively, there could be the scope to brand a logo on question packs, event banners, web sites or to sponsor evening events. At the top end, a title sponsorship of the event could be possible; imagine having the championship trophy presentations in front of a banner with your company’s logo!

If this is of interest, the best person to contact is the chairman of the UK Puzzle Association, Alan O’Donnell. (His phone number is available on request, but it seems unwise to post it out in the open!) He’d be the person able to answer any questions you might have.

Sudoku and Kenken contest at the 2014 Mind Sports Olympiad

Mind Sports Olympiad medalsThe puzzle contest calendar rolls on; this weekend sees the sixth and final online leg of the World Puzzle Federation’s Puzzle GP, this one being the Turkish round. The instruction booklet is available; 15 puzzles to solve in your chosen 90-minute slot this weekend, with a suggestion that these may be rather easier to solve than some of the earlier rounds of the contest. (Thumbs up for that!)

The overall contest leaderboard has Hideaki Jo of Japan leading, with Japanese and German solvers taking the top six places. As only the best five scores from the six legs count, there’s still plenty of time for things to change; while the top five can only hope to replace their weakest score with a better one, nine-time World Champion Ulrich Voigt has only played four legs so far and may well replace a zero with another very high score. In any case, the top ten names on the leaderboard will be invited to the 23rd World Puzzle Championship, in London in August, to play off in a live final for the overall Grand Prix championship.

News reaches this site that there will be a contest in Sudoku and KenKen at the 18th annual Mind Sports Olympiad. “This year’s Mind Sports Olympiad will be hosted at JW3, a brand new premises in London situated on Finchley Road close to Swiss Cottage and Hampstead Village.” The puzzle contest takes place in its traditional Friday morning slot: this year, that is 22nd August, from 10:15am to 1:45pm. (The Olympiad at large takes place from Sunday 17th to Monday 25th August, respecting the Jewish Sabbath of Saturday 23rd.)

There is a three-year tradition of this particular format of contest, with Roderick Grafton winning the 2011 event, David Collison the 2012 event and Mark Goodliffe the 2013 event. Discussion of the event at the UK Puzzle Association forums suggest that the attendees generally have a good time. Entries are just £10, or £5 for concessions, and you can register at the JW3 web site.

Some years, the Mind Sports Olympiad has prize money; other years, it does not. This year is one of the better ones, with over £6,000 guaranteed in the prize pool, of which £225 will be split between the three overall medal-winners in the puzzle contest, with prizes of £100, £75 and £50. Well done, and thanks, to this year’s sponsors, Mitsubishi Electric UK and Winton Capital Management.

And speaking of sponsors…

Twists in the tale

Mobius strip graphicA little research last night pointed to one of the more interesting and controversial events in English-language exit game history: the ending of Real Escape Game 3: Real Escape Game x Evangelion in San Francisco in September 2012. This was a one-time event held over the course of a weekend. While the company behind it, SCRAP Entertainment Inc., have rerun some of their games in different cities across North America – not just San Francisco, but Los Angeles, New York City and Toronto – there are no signs of this one being repeated, so it’s probably fair game for discussion. (As well as interesting.)

A quick distinction: the same company have run these limited-duration event games several times, usually each lasting a few days or a week, but they also run Real Escape Room games at weekends and on weekday evenings on a long-term basis, which take the usual exit game format. The Real Escape Game can be much looser in scope, with many teams occupying the same physical space at once, working in parallel. In Real Escape Game x Evangelion, as the “Unwinnable” report puts it,

Sunday’s EVA event was “Mystery Hunt Style,” meaning the game’s already cryptic clues had been scattered all over Japantown. As players, we had to split our time between mentally arriving at solutions and physically arriving at solutions, and an hour of that can take a lot out of you.

Reaction to the majority of the game appears to be generally pretty positive, and certainly the company has gone on to run many more, similarly popular, English-language games after it; they’ve run games in so many countries, too, that I hold out hope that they might come to the UK some day, which would likely be a real treat.

Now the big twist came at the end of the game. People have been kind enough not to spoil the specifics, but the report linked to above later goes on to describe it, taking a similar tone to this report on an Evangelion fan site and Tyler Hinman’s no-punches-pulled report. Essentially, while only around 10% of teams solved all the puzzles over the course of the hour, the game had an extra step that was necessary for official victory, knocking the success rate down to around 2%. Some otherwise victorious teams considered this extra step to be unfair, or not properly clued, or otherwise not in the expected spirit. Some have made comparisons to the Japanese video game ethic of games having multiple endings; arguably this is fairer game if it is expected.

So here’s another thought. Suppose you and your team went to play an exit game. You had played a few before – won some, lost others, but were particularly attracted by this one, which happened to be clearly marked as being intended for those who had played other games before, rather than as an introduction to the genre.

You enjoy solving your way through many steps and reach what appears to be the final puzzle… then, at the last minute, there’s one unexpected step, and instead of the team winning or losing as a team, it becomes clear that the game will only permit one person to win, with all the rest of the team losing. Perhaps there is a single competitive puzzle to be completed individually to determine who gets the honour among the team. (Any metaphor is possible – perhaps you’re trying to land a spaceship safely before it runs out of its last hour of fuel, but no matter how close you get to a safe landing, you’re going to have to bail out… and there’s only room for one in the escape pod. Something like that.) You’re requested not to spoil this twist ending to other players, and the player photos don’t give it away.

Would that be fun, or would that leave a sour taste in the mouth?