Now open in Bournemouth: Cyantist

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This site has a list of UK cities and towns where it expects to see escape games launched at some point down the line; occasionally this site performs a search engine check to see if there are any previously unknown web sites that describe themselves in one of the usual ways, alongside the names of our target locations. This approach brings up hits from time to time, most recently in the south coast resort of Bournemouth. A big Exit Games UK welcome, then, to Cyantist, by far the most turquoise game going. That’s a compliment; turquoise is a lovely colour.

The web site hints at a very chemical sort of atmosphere, bordering on alluding to the very cool Breaking Bad. The location is half a mile or so from the sea. It’s a sixty-minute game for teams of 2-5, with 3-4 recommended, and the theme is based around searching for an antidote. The site’s Facebook page suggests that the first games were played on September 12th. The operators go out of their way to please regarding availability, being willing to run games starting as early as midday or ending close to midnight, seven days a week.

The game costs between £30 for a team of two and £60 for a team of five, but there are various discounts available already: 20% off while an opening discount coupon is in operation, half off for anyone who has ever hosted a guest through Couchsurfing (an excellent way to pay something back to the movement) and an additional discount for someone who buys tickets for their friends. No need to look for vouchers with that line-up of deals is in place!

Definitely one to watch and this site looks forward to following it over time.

Coming soon to Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Escape

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This one came as a surprise! It’s well-known that Escape in Edinburgh is doing very well; the TripAdvisor reviews are extremely good and the site has had some days that more or less match up with the busiest London locations in terms of business. On top of that, the owner has started a second location in Glasgow, where the early signs are just as positive, just over a month ago.

Two sites would keep a great number of operators more than busy, but news has arrived that a third is on its way very shortly. Much as Escape were the first to open in Edinburgh and Glasgow, they’ll be the first to open in another big untapped market, with a third location in Newcastle-on-Tyne.

Bookings are not open yet, though this site has reason to believe that they’ll open before too long with games available from mid-October. The site suggests that the first game to open in the Toon will be the Classic Live Escape Game as found in Edinburgh and Glasgow, though it’s not instantly clear how different the Newcastle game will be from the popular versions north of the border. ((Edited to add: A little investigation reveals that the three games share little more than a setting.))

It’s interesting to note that the Newcastle site is based in a Citibase office building (in an excellent location for those coming in by train or on the Metro) as is the case for the Edinburgh site, suggesting that the location has flexibility and room to grow over time. The games offered in Edinburgh have been changed up from time to time and it’s easy to imagine that the ones offered in other sites are likely to vary as well. (For instance, the Glasgow games page mentions a game called “Contagion” coming soon…)

Exciting times! Both the Edinburgh and Glasgow branches had social buying vouchers offered briefly upon opening, so it seems plausible that Newcastle might just do so as well. More news as it arrives.

Now open in London: Agent November

Agent November logoHere’s something that’s one of a kind: Agent November. Imagine, if you will, a game that uses the sixty-minute-countdown puzzle-solving conventions of an exit game. Then take it out of a single location, and put it into a park. Merge it with the puzzle hunt conventions involving travel from location to location to find the clues and their solutions, then generously sprinkle a “defusing a nuclear device to save London” storyline over the top, and the chance to meet the titular Agent November at the start. This site isn’t quite sure what the result is, except that it sounds extremely cool and completely relevant.

The concept of an outdoor exit game is a logical development from the indoor games we all know, and it’s extremely well-suited to London, where rents can be astronomical. A great part of the atmosphere of an exit game comes from the look and feel of the contents of the room, but an outdoor game might be able to feature several different evocative locations to build up the story over time. It’s tempting to imagine that the scale of observation required might be a little different in an outdoor game, as well; instead of having to look from one side of a room to another, the locations can be as close or as far apart as necessary. The experience might end up being more authentically kinetic as a result. Then there’s the thought that the weather might have an impact on the game, for better or for worse…

The closest thing to compare this to is the detective tours offered by Bath Escape, but these do not obviously have the time pressure that plays such a part of the conventional exit game experience, and may not have the exciting-sounding gadgetry involved as well. An interview with proprietor Nathan Glover reveals his fine exit game pedigree. (This site also really likes the thought of his suggestion that “…there may be the possibility to link similar games together into a network, where complementary businesses can recommend each other. After all, most of these games can only be played once, so it would make sense to pass on customers to each other.“)

The game takes teams of 4-6 and is run at noon, 2pm and (light permitting) 4pm daily. It costs £78 per team to play on weekdays and £84 per team at weekends. The experience starts with a rendezvous with a secret agent in a pub and goes from there. How exciting to see the concept of the exit game spread its wings – and how much further might it fly!

One-day game coming to London next month: MOLE

"The Mole logo from Channel 5Two posts in one day after a bit of a gap, but this one is very exciting. It’s not clear whether it’s time-sensitive or not, but perhaps best not to hang around in case it is.

In 1999, the game show De Mol was first broadcast in Belgium. It documented the progress of a team of contestants, solving challenges from week to week in order to earn money for the communal prize pot. However, one of the contestants was secretly the titular Mole and had a secret mission to attempt to stop the challenges from succeeding. At the end of each episode, all the contestants would be set a quiz about the identity, appearance and behaviour of the Mole, with the least successful contestant eliminated from the game. The player who won the final quiz won the communal prize pot.

The show has aired in well over a dozen versions around the world. The UK had a version that ran for two series in 1999 and 2000 and was named the greatest UK game show ever in a poll of UK Game Shows readers, so pretty hardcore game show fans; the show has run for fourteen series, and counting, as Wie is de Mol in the Netherlands. Is it a puzzle show? The central puzzle of identifying the show runs through its heart, and some of the challenges can be spectacular puzzles, such as the first one of this episode of the Australian version.

Gareth Briggs has announced that he will be running a one-day interpretation of the show at a central London location, to be later revealed, on at least Saturday 25th October. (Sufficient demand might inspire a second game on Sunday 26th October as well.) There will be some changes to the format; while it remains an elimination game at its core, there’s a considerable difference between an elimination game as part of a TV show and as part of a fun fan game as a day out.

There have been attempts to run The Mole as a fan game in the past, notably those of Erin Sparks, well worth watching. Given that there have been fourteen series of the show in the Netherlands, it seems virtually certain that there will have been fan versions held there as well. Nevertheless, it’s clear that the game only really works when it’s played with full contact; part of the challenge of some games may involve working out how people will react when they are pushed close to their limits. The fact that there’s a stake (albeit a small one) will help, but it may well be that a ready-for-anything, take-no-prisoners attitude is required as to what you might be required to do during the day. Gareth Briggs‘ track record is pretty aggressive – a high compliment – so this may well not be a walk in the park.

There are some people for whom this will be the game of the year; while the show had the play-along aspect of finding the mole, part of the appeal is wondering how you might cope with the challenges. This is a very rare chance to find out whether you can walk the walk as well as talk the talk. Gareth describes this as a prototype game, and has hinted at a possible repeat, but at this point it’s not clear whether it might not just be a glorious one-off. Accordingly, if you’ve ever thought you’d like to give the game a try, or even be the Mole, can you afford to miss this opportunity? No deadline for the application is listed, but best not find out the hard way!

Interactive theatre coming up

CoLab Theatre's "Fifth Column" logoMuch as there are several different names for the exit games that this site covers – escape games, locked room games and so on – there are several different names for related forms of playable theatre: describe it as interactive, immersive, promenade and so on. Some of it feels relevant to discuss here, some of it doesn’t.

There’s a spectrum between story and game; if there’s some element of result, possibly a score, or at least some sort of deliberate demarcation between explicitly win-ish and lose-ish endings, then it’s more likely to be relevant here. If there’s overt mention of puzzles, again it’s locked-in like Flynn. Here are some events coming up that feel more on-topic than not. Again they’re pretty London-centric; sorry about that, but it’s just where things are happening. (There’s a new Knightmare Live tour coming up, playing nationally between Brighton and Aberdeen, but not so many people get to play per show.)

CoLab Theatre‘s Fifth Column describes itself as an “immersive gaming experience” and that teams will “Discover secret packages, decipher coded messages, track enemy spies and uncover the city’s covert treasures”. These verbs are very relevant to this site’s interest. After a short programme of preview shows, the show is being presented on Wednesdays (and some Tuesdays) to Saturdays at 7:45pm, plus Saturday matinees starting at 3pm until Saturday 15th November; teams of five are charged at £18.50/player. Early playings of the show have attracted reviews from the mainstream theatre review press, with less of a focus on the puzzle-solving activity than readers of this site would be likely to want. Nevertheless, sounds rather cool.

This site has previously covered the a door in a wall horror-themed production of A Stab in the Dark; it’s worth noting that the show is set to run from Friday 3rd October to Sunday 2nd November, and at this time only eight of the 36 scheduled shows in the run have any tickets left at all, which is surely a resounding vote of confidence in the show and the company behind it. If horror is your genre, best not hang around.

Next weekend sees the culmination of the Fun Palaces movement, celebrating the centenary of the birth of theatre director Joan Littlewood. She, with architect Cedric Price, conceived the Fun Palace as a temporary and movable home to the arts and sciences that would welcome all ages, using phrases like “university of the streets” and “laboratory of fun”. There will be well over a hundred such locally curated events, mostly taking place on the 4th and 5th of October. The most relevant-looking one appears to be a murder mystery trail at Birmingham’s Pen Museum; one other playable-looking item (of, quite possibly, many) is Das Spiel: Are You Part Of The Game at the Hammersmith Lyric, with a connection to illusions.

If you know of other relevant-looking events, please let this site know!

September 2014 Dealwatch Special: coupons and discounts to play exit games for less

"On sale" graphic"On sale" graphicNormally this site makes Dealwatch a once-a-month attraction. However, when there are deals to report, particularly ones which may well go quickly, there’s no time to wait. It’s inconvenient that the hosting service that this site uses has been having problems today, though their track record so far has been very satisfactory and today’s communication – to be fair – has been pretty good.

The usual rules are in operation: 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. Many of these deals only permit a limited number of vouchers to be purchased and then the deal will expire; it’s quite possible that deals may expire between being published below and your attempt to use them. This site does not attract any commission, whether you click through and purchase the deals or not.

Lock and LOL of London are set to open on October 10th, as previously discussed, though the first seven days are showing up as unavailable in the booking system. The site has a Wowcher deal available, letting a team of up to five play for £39. Your voucher will be valid between 10th October and 27th March 2015.

Escape Rooms of London are set to have a second Groupon voucher. The deal is being released to Groupon VIP members today and to the general public tomorrow. Be warned that the first time the site had a voucher, the first batch of 100 sold out within four hours. The details are set to be confirmed, and this site will update this entry with a link once they are known if it can. However, this site understands that the vouchers are set to be restricted to use during off-peak hours.

((Edited to add: The deal itself is now available. £49 for three players, £59 for four players and £69 for five players. There are quite a few conditions: the deal is valid for new customers only, for the Pharoah’s Chamber room only, and is only valid all day on Tuesdays and Wednesdays or on games starting by 3:45pm on Mondays and Thursdays, until 30th October 2014.))

In the previous Dealwatch, we noted that Escape Hunt of London, announced as opening on October 3rd, have a 10% discount voucher available. News reaches this site that there is not just a 10% discount but a 25% discount for any booking made by 21st October 2014 with the code EscapeHunt25. It’s not immediately clear if there is a date by which the games purchased through this discounted booking must be played, much in the same style as the previous discount code.

Paying an acknowledgement to the consistently vigilant Intervirals, Escape Quest of Macclesfield have ((Edited for factual correction: opened advance booking and then made a Facebook post suggesting that a 10% discount is available when you use the shopping basket Facebook share button.))

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 assume the worst; get in touch and this site will happily spread the good news. (Alternatively, if you would prefer that this site does not list your coupon, or if I have mangled the details of the offer, that’s fine too; again, please get in touch.)

The importance of safety

Yellow safety helmetThis one is perhaps more intended for people in the industry, rather than those who purely play, but even players might be future industry participants some day!

A recent safety course brings to mind thoughts of how the legislation in place in at least the UK might impact the world of exit games. Of course, legislation and requirements in Ireland and other nations are likely to be completely different, and if you have any sort of business sense you’re likely to know this already – or, at least, know to consult a primary source rather than a non-specialist blogger. Others might enjoy learning a little about the thinking required.

UK businesses with at least five employees are required to document their Health and Safety policy. Smaller businesses (and exit games may start as small as businesses get) still have a statutory requirement to inform their employees – heck, even their singular employee – of health and safety law through either displaying the poster or distributing the equivalent pocket card.

Every business needs to perform a risk assessment to spot the hazards where employees, customers, contractors visiting to perform work and other visits stand at risk from injury. Not many exit games are likely to have biological hazards, but some cleaning supplies can reasonably be considered chemical hazards. Environmental hazards might be theoretically possible, especially if the business has any aspect of food service. Particularly cool toys, such as moving machinery, might engender mechanical hazards. Lastly, any business can have physical hazards as simple as the potential for slips, trips and falls, or bumped heads, and any business might bring out organisational hazards in its employees by imposing undue stress. You may find that companies considering corporate entertainment may need to see this risk assessment when deciding whether to visit or not.

Once these hazards have been identified, along with the risk that each one poses, the next step is to consider how to control the risk. If it’s reasonably practicable to eliminate the risk, without introducing further hazards, then do so; if not, considerations must be given to reducing the risk, or applying workplace precautions (such as signage and/or barriers) if neither is possible. The most effective risk controls are those which do not rely on their users; it’s too easy to consider safety to be in terms of protective clothing and equipment – and that’s perhaps the most visual way to represent the issue, hence the graphic above – but in truth that’s the last step, not the first.

Once these are in place, safety performance can be improved over time. Ensuring safe operation is the responsibility of both employer and employee; everyone’s responsible for everyone else. Make plans, ensure everyone is properly trained in knowing how to apply them and that they are followed in practice. Measure your performance against the plans, targets and standards you have set for yourself, by reporting observed hazards and narrowly avoided incidents as well as accidents that occur. (There’s a statutory reporting obligation on the worst accidents, and environmental health officers have considerable powers in law.)

Safety is a process to be continually monitored and improved. Standards in business and public life have improved massively over the years, which is only to be applauded; however, public perception has largely been cynical, with some people choosing only to consider the “compensation culture” aspects of it. At this point, this site is not yet aware of any adverse stories about exit game safety. Fingers crossed that good practice may prevail and that that may long continue.

September 2014 Dealwatch: coupons and discounts to play exit games for less

"On sale" graphicThis site loves it when new sites open and flourish, not least because new sites are the ones most likely to offer discounts; many sites hit the ground running and can do good business at full price before long. 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. This site does not attract any commission, whether you click through and purchase the deals or not.)

Bath Escape have a Groupon deal available, though Groupon deals tend to go pretty quickly so there’s no telling when this one might run out. £39.95 lets your team of 4-6 play one of the site’s two games (doesn’t apply to the outdoor detective hunts). Book within 14 days of getting the voucher, expires 12th December, only valid Tuesday to Friday 11am-9pm rather than weekends. You must arrive 15 minutes before booked game time and bring your printed voucher on arrival.

Escape of Glasgow have a LivingSocial deal available for, it looks like, the next 11 days or so. £24 lets your team of up to five play at this exciting new site. Voucher expires at the end of 2014 and is valid from Wednesday to Sunday 11am-9pm. The Edinburgh site is hugely popular so it seems unlikely that there’ll be too long before the Glasgow site becomes just as much of a hit.

Escape Hunt of London are set to open on October 3rd. The site has opened for booking very recently, with the highlight being an opening offer. Book by 21st October, to play by 30th November, using code ESCAPE10 and you’ll get a 10% discount. There’s a flyer to print out and share. Additionally, Escape Hunt pays vouchers as commission to those who refer companies wanting Christmas party or team-building activities.

Dealwatch is getting more and more difficult, but that’s not bad news in the least. 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 assume the worst; get in touch and this site will happily spread the good news. (Alternatively, if you would prefer that this site does not list your coupon, that’s fine too; again, please get in touch.)

City Hunt: pretty cool!

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A loyal friend and Puzzled Pint teammate, Richard, accompanied me on an attempt at the City Hunt treasure hunt around the Blackfriars area of Southwark last night, as previewed earlier in the week. Recommended; good times, and many thanks to 4749 Tanner Street, the people behind it.

There are thirty clues to find in a box a little bigger than a square kilometre. They are detailed on an optional printed map, distributed for a few hours daily at two locations, or they can be found by using the online map on the City Hunt web site. This seemed to work well for us on both Safari on iOS and Chrome on Android, bearing a distinct resemblance to Google Maps architecture under the hood. Wander to the approximate location of any of the thirty pins on the map, click on the pin, find a question with four multiple-choice answers. Find the answer in real life, click the appropriate answer online and earn the point for that location.

Many of the locations are slightly quirkier and lower-key than you might find on a typical Blackfriars attractions guide, but you’d hope to find them on a really good local guide. (To say more would be to spoil the event.) The hunt has sponsored prizes and some of the locations relate to the sponsors, but this is done reasonably tastefully in practice. We started the hunt at around twenty past eight at night, giving the endeavour an enjoyably intimate undercurrent of adventure – and yet it felt less likely to get arouse police attention than, say, going geocaching.

We attempted to solve fifteen of the clues and found fourteen answers by streetlight. This took us a little over two hours, though there may have been a stop for liquid refreshment along the way. (We stopped due to the late hour, an early start the next day and phones running out of battery. Consider this a recommendation for bringing a spare.) A few of the clues might have been found by Wikipedia or Google Maps, or by intersecting the wrong answers to leave an obvious right answer; however, most of them couldn’t, and enough of the locations we found put smiles on our face to make it well worth our time and effort.

Earlier, reader Dean has pointed to Quest Coventry, which bears some similarities but might be technologically more complex. (There’s no telling how the end results compare, not least because of the delights on offer on the two locations.) Well done to any local tourism groups far-sighted and fun enough to promote such events. Be warned that they often tend to have restricted lifespans, or at least their central competitions have finite closing dates; Quest Coventry’s current round has finished, and City Hunt is only accepting entries towards the prize until 10pm on Sunday 21st September.

All aboard a puzzle train, departing 2017

Abstract graphic of a passenger trainDoing a dangerous thing and thinking out aloud here…

The Prague Chess Society have a very cool event, called the Chess Train. It’s a four-night touring holiday, starting from Prague and taking a circular route around central Europe. There is a chess tournament held on the train over the course of the five days: rapid chess, 1-3 rounds per day. This year’s route is Prague (Czech Republic) – Vienna (Austria) – Budapest (Hungary) – Trencin (Slovakia) – Krakow (Poland) – Prague.

If that can happen for chess, there’s no reason – in theory – why it couldn’t happen for puzzles. Apart from the fact that it could be a great chance to take a tour in the company of scores of puzzle fans, there could well be puzzle contests filling up (at least parts of) the train journeys from location to location rather than chess matches. There could be events in the various cities overnight. If exit games are set up to deal with a great many teams at once, they might be part of the fun. The possibilities are very considerable.

The Chess Train is remarkably inexpensive; last year’s event cost €120 per person for the fare, €60 per player on top for the tournament fees and accommodation at cost. (A three-star, four-star and five-star hotel were lined up in each city, and it was possible to book for a shared or single room in each one. Shared rooms in three-star hotels were €120 per person for four nights, including breakfasts and wifi; higher up the scale, single rooms in three-star hotels or shared rooms in four-star hotels were €190 per person for four nights – and, at the top end, single rooms in five-star hotels were €740 per person for four nights.) I don’t suppose that a puzzle train holiday could be quite that cheap, plus there’s the cost of getting to wherever the tour started and ended from, but it would still compare favourably with the cost of – say – a cruise.

The chess train was set up to feature up to a hundred entrants to the chess tournament, so that’s the order of magnitude that might be required to make a counterpart puzzle train happen. Could there be a hundred people willing to travel from around the world to make a similar thing happen for puzzles? Don’t know, but with – say – a year to think about it and a couple of years to make it happen: maybe, just maybe. (If somebody wants to take this idea and run with it, please go ahead!)

This is far from an original thought, of course, and if you’re so taken with the concept of competitive travelling then, happily, there are a couple of established ventures that already exist, on a somewhat grander scale. Both have several years’ history and this site isn’t familiar with anyone criticising either of them.

It’s hopefully not too unfamiliar a reference to suggest that there is something of a The Amazing Race vibe about Competitours, a 10-day more-challenge-y-than-puzzle-y event in 4/5 locations across Western Europe (where the 2014 event was priced at US$3375 per person, plus meals, incidentals and the cost of flying to the start). If you have a good US$25,000 per person, then there’s a 23-day 6-8-leg global rally called The Global Scavenger Hunt. Both are great to read about, and to dream.

Might a puzzle train holiday be more realistic and practicable? Perhaps.