“City Hunt” treasure hunt in Southwark this week

"City Hunt" logoNot much advance notice of this one, mostly because this site only found out about it very recently, but City Hunt is “a mass-participation treasure hunt that challenges you to explore the rich culture of the Blackfriars area of Southwark in London“. The event started yesterday and runs until Sunday 21st September. ((Edited to add: Thanks very much to Polly Robbins for getting in touch with some clarifications; this article has been updated accordingly.))

Produced by arts organisation 4749 Tanner Street, the event is free to participate in and available to both solo solvers and teams. There are either 30 or 40 (reports vary)quirky secrets hidden in the streets between Blackfriars Bridge and St George’s Circus“. The game can be played either on the web site or with the aid of a printed map distributed by a volunteer.

Tap a marker on the Google Map to reveal the clue.

Go to the location and solve the clue. You’ll need to have a good look around. The answers will be hidden in text, information boards, plaques, shop signs, dates above doors etc.
Select your answer from the multiple choice options.

You’ll be shown your score, and you’ll also be given some interesting information about the clue.

Go back to the map to chose the next clue to answer.

It’s not clear whether there’s any aspect of necessary puzzle-solving in order to find the answers, or whether simple observation is all that’s required. It’s also not clear whether the answers will be available 24/7 or whether you might have to visit during certain hours for reasons of natural light, shop openings and so on. ((Edited to add: There has been clarification provided that if you’re playing by phone on the web site, the hunt should be playable at any time until Sunday night.))

A number of local prizes are on offer, and “…score will be calculated by taking the average of your speed and your correct answers – so race and get as many as you can, or go slowly and solve more.” A hustler might want to go around slowly in order to learn the correct answers, then sign up as a single player, start the clock and Mo Farah it around the course to record an amazing average speed.

This site apologises for the extent to which the live events it reports upon has a very strong London focus. It’s most inconvenient, especially for people who are shift workers 250 miles away. However, that’s where the action is – at least, for now – and the best way to deal with it would be to make interesting things happen all over the rest of the country. It’s also amusing that this is only extremely slightly further west than many of the locations used in the DASH and Girls and Boys, Come Out to Play puzzle hunts that have previously been discussed.

So, trying something a little different, is there anybody out there who might like to take part in a team for this hunt on Thursday, Friday or Saturday this week? This would be at a very gentle pace, more interested in a pleasant day out than trying for the prizes. It could be a fun way to meet up with site readers!

Coming soon to London: Escape Rooms’ “Room 33” and Escape Hunt

Big Ben and its surrounding tower in London(Public domain photo via London Pictures.)

Two very exciting developments are coming soon to London. Escape Rooms opened a little over a month ago and its first room, the Pharoah’s Chamber, is already earning TripAdvisor reviews that are proving first class. The site’s second room, entitled Room 33, is scheduled to open this Thursday, 18th September, and the site is taking bookings already. The site is proving popular, particularly at weekends, with people who have enjoyed the site’s first room likely to come back to try the second, so you may well want to book soon.

The story behind Room 33 is that of a heist. As a guard to the emperor of the 17th century Qing dynasty of China, a valuable porcelain vase (believed to ensure that the dynasty will last forever) is stolen on your watch. Players travel through time to Room 33 of the modern-day British Museum, hence the name, and have to retrieve the priceless artefact and return it while your time machine’s portal remains open. Sounds intriguing and this site looks forward to hearing whether the second room matches up to the first.

A little further ahead, faithful reader Dean has pointed out that London’s Escape Hunt has published its location: 5 George Yard, right at the heart of the City of London, close to Bank station and within a javelin’s throw of some of the most famous old business institutions of the capital. While bookings are not being taken quite yet, The London Sinner have more, tantalising, detail, including a projected opening date: 3rd October.

The article suggests that the location will have ten(!) rooms, offering three different games. (While this site doesn’t yet have sufficient information to claim this as a record, a fortnight ago, The Mindtrap in Thessaloniki was being claimed to be Europe’s largest with only – “only”! – six. There are different ways of measuring “largest”, of course.) Quoting The London Sinner:

Find the murderer of a famous artist, save the life of a kidnap victim and, in a completely new departure for The Escape Hunt, track down the antidote to a deadly poison in an enigma especially created for the London experience(…)

All three games sound exciting, and the sprinkle of stardust is something new and distinctive. It’ll be a lot of fun to find out!


Just a quick question: are there any site operators out there who are willing to talk about their experiences as an operator to potential entrants to the market? Replies by private e-mail are welcome as well as public declarations in the replies to this post. I would imagine that if you were interested in licensing your room, selling a franchise, offering consultancy or otherwise offering professional services then you would be willing to talk, but it would definitely be useful to know if there are operators out there willing to develop their leadership and contacts by talking to potential… well, arguably, future competitors. Then again, a rising tide raises all ships. Responses from people outside the UK and Ireland would be as welcome as from those inside this site’s usual geographical focus.

Six months on, where are the gaps in the UK market?

UK regions mapSix months ago, this site analysed the gaps in the UK market at the time. While this site does not intend to rotate all its content on a twice-a-year basis, this issue is worth revisiting from time to time. Besides, the market is about twice as big now as it was then, so a great many things have changed. (The graphic is much better than the one used then, by virtue of things like getting the Northern Irish border closer.)

It’s possible that some of the first exit game room proprietors might have started business in the closest big city to where they happened to already live. However, if you had a choice as to where to set up business, where are the most obvious gaps in the market? Alternatively, where might people expect to see exit rooms coming soon? In late 2014, now that some of the most successful operations have started second locations in different towns, where remains up for grabs?

The Brookings Institution analysed 300 of the largest metropolitan economies in late 2012 and identified 15 of them as being in the UK. At time of writing, here are the 15 largest metropolitan economies in the UK, alongside the number of exit rooms featured in each one. If there’s a large metropolitan economy without an exit room, there’s arguably a gap in the market there.

1. London: four sites operating (HintHunt, clueQuest, Escape Land and Escape Rooms), four sites under construction (Enigma Escape, Escape Hunt, Lock and LOL and Quest Room)
2. Birmingham: one site operating (Keyhunter), one site under construction (Escape Live)
3. Manchester: two sites operating (Make A Break and Breakout Manchester), one site operating nearby (Clue HQ in Warrington), one site under construction nearby (Escape Quest in Macclesfield) and one site that seems never to have got past being under construction (Puzzlescape)
4. Leeds-Bradford: one site operating (Tick Tock Unlock)
5. Liverpool: no sites operating or under construction known – but one site operating nearby (Clue HQ in Warrington)
6. Glasgow: one site operating (Escape)
7. Nottingham-Derby: one site under construction (Logiclock)
8. Portsmouth-Southampton: no sites operating or under construction known
9. Bristol: one site operating (Puzzlair), one site operating again in 2015 (Cryptopia) and one site operating nearby (Bath Escape in Bath)
10. Newcastle: no sites operating or under construction known
11. Sheffield: no sites operating or under construction known
12. Cardiff-Newport: no sites operating or under construction known
13. Edinburgh: one site operating (Escape), one site under construction (Can You Escape?)
14. Leicester: one site temporarily closed (Cipher)
15. Brighton: two sites under construction (Brighton Escape Room and Live Escape Game)

For reference, while the list of metropolitan areas organised by economy size does not exactly match the list of metropolitan areas organised by population, the other existent sites operating are ESCAP3D and The Gr8 Escape in Belfast (13th by population) and Ex(c)iting Game in Oxford (33rd by population). For comparison, the Dublin metro area (where XIT and ESCAP3D are in operation) would come just below number three in the above list.

Six months ago, this pointed to Manchester, West Yorkshire and Glasgow being big gaps that have been filled extremely successfully over time. The updated data now points to Merseyside, the East Midlands, the South Coast, Tyneside, South Yorkshire and Wales as being the biggest gaps in the market at the moment. Perhaps filling two or three gaps every half-year might be a reasonable rate of progress to expect. The success of so many sites in London goes to show that the biggest areas can support more than one site, as well, so it’s tempting to wonder which markets are served but yet underserved, as well as the ones that are unserved at all.

This site still retains its hunch that seaside resorts might also prove successful markets, though Brighton has been plagued with two attempts, neither of which have yet got as far as opening – and might not ever do so. As a sentimental favourite, Blackpool still has bags of potential…

The world’s bravest and best refund policy

"Pay what you want" logoAt the risk of the graphic conflating two related issues, this site was delighted to learn of the confidence of Mission Sydney of New South Wales, Australia. They have recently instituted a refund policy that roughly runs: play first, pay later, but only if you thought it was worth it. Specifically:

(…)you can pay after playing or even decline to pay if you think it is not fun or doesn’t worth that price.

We believe most of our customers are honest, if we can not put exciting and amazing on your face, it would be our fault and you could simply decline to pay us.

The meaning is clear. Different businesses have tried this in the past, with mixed results. There’s always the theory that someone might go in, have a great time, then come out, claim to have had a terrible time and not pay. In practice, if the product is good, it seems to take someone really pretty sociopathic to actually pull that stunt off. Later on they say “Words can lie, but face can’t”, and that gets to the crux of the issue; if the game and service are good enough, then it would take a real piece of work to try to freeload. It’s not as if pieces of work cannot try to freeload as it is, so giving one very obvious freeloading route may not actually make that much difference.

Many locations, when they open, find it difficult to fill their rooms for the first month or two, some rather longer still. While this is probably more about the effectiveness of their marketing than anything else, implementing such a “pay only if you like it” scheme for the first month or two – particularly to an area unfamiliar with quite how much fun exit games can be – might be an amazing, effective publicity stunt to get the word out about your site with a bang. (The word of mouth would surely be brilliant…)

There have been plenty of studies into “Pay What You Want” as a pricing strategy, which is a related but slightly different issue. (Sidenote: in practice, do people ever tip, or alternatively pay above the stated ticket price, if they have had a particularly good time? Does this vary from country to country in line with other tipping practices?) There are some circumstances under which it works well, and others where it doesn’t. There are no obvious conclusions to be drawn, but it’s becoming more popular. Again, the first location with sufficient confidence in their product to give it a try – even if only as an introductory gimmick – would surely cause quite a splash. Even if the theory doesn’t work out and the policy is quickly withdrawn, you’ve got to give immense respect to a company who tried it.

This site lauds Mission Sydney for their chutzpah and looks forward to being able to do the same for a UK site – or several UK sites! – some day.

All the news from the UK’s exit games

Newspaper imageSix months ago today, this site posted its first two posts: one with the by now very familiar map, and one with a quick introduction. Back then, this site was aware of eight sites open in the UK and Ireland, and would later discover two more that were open at the time but not yet known; now, there are at least eighteen.

The Timeline tells the story of the ten openings over the last six months – and, as much as there were two open sites that took a while to make themselves known, who knows how many others there are, already open but waiting to be discovered? On the other hand, some things never change; perhaps Brighton (surely a rich market to be exploited!) will eventually get an open site some day to turn its red map dot yellow. It’s time to take a look around and catch up with some news stories from the sites – as it happens, mostly pretty northern sites.

In Belfast, The Gr8 Escape (website still under construction) have announced to their Facebook page that at the end of this month, they will be closing their two rooms down to replace them with a ninety-minute two-room extravaganza, potentially capable of seeing a dozen players at a time, themed around Hallowe’en and running through October. Sounds like a smart and distinctive move; fingers crossed for the results.

In Leeds, Tick Tock Unlock have similarly hinted at changes to come within months; “Our building has been recently bought out and will be converted to something else next year so sadly no scope to expand there; we will be moving to another one soon.” The site’s reviews are great, so surely this will be a case of onwards and upwards to bigger and better things.

In Warrington, Clue HQ have also posted a Facebook announcement that their second room will be entitled The Dungeon of Doom. (Surely it’s tempting to add a bundle more “o”s to the last word and pronounce it so that it takes two and a half seconds to say… that can’t just be us, can it?) The “Like”s have rolled in apace. No details on timing, other than “coming soon”. The room is also intended to be harder than their first Bunker 38 room, and they’re open about Bunker 38‘s difficulty rate, with only around 10% of teams making it out. Gulp!

In Macclesfield, Escape Quest also post news to their Facebook page, this time construction photos showing them making good progress towards their opening, projected for November. Additionally, they have posted the story behind their first game. The site will have a time travel theme: a smart choice, as different rooms become thematic as representing different journeys. The first room will be set in Victorian England in 1873. It’s not immediately clear whether the atmosphere will tend towards realism, steampunk or some other form of fiction, but all could work well.

Exciting times! If the next six months are nearly as active as the past six months have been, it’s going to be great fun to follow!

Girls and Boys Came Out to Play

"Girls and Boys Come Out to Play" bannerThe “Girls and Boys, Come Out to Play” hunt in central London today was a smash hit! Two little teams merged at the last minute, so all told there were seven teams of six-ish walking around London and solving puzzles, mostly within an assortment of pubs and cafés. The hunt started just outside the Tower of London, went as far west as the Southwark Bridge, then back as far as south as the Borough Market and completing the loop by finishing with a tour of the St. Katharine Docks. There was a good four miles walking over the course of the day, maybe more.

Apart from the conclusion, there were nine locations among the way. Most of the nine locations had an extremely mild, though highly thematic, physical challenge that had to be conquered in order to earn your team the location puzzle. The puzzles were all of a very high standard, in the usual puzzle hunt answer extraction format. The hunt followed the “leisurely mini-game” tradition, with no scoring and hints provided generously, which led to a really relaxed, happy atmosphere, and no formal comparison between team performances.

I get the impression that our team were probably the fourth finishers of the seven, though this is fairly meaningless as we don’t know how many hints teams took, or how long teams took to break for lunch and so on. That said, for most of the puzzles, we often missed some of the deliberately included subtleties which would have led to a really clean-feeling, precise solution… and ended up feeling that it was our imperfection, not that of the puzzle. It doesn’t really matter, as the goal was to have fun, and that was achieved in spades.

It’s not clear whether the hunt will ever be repeated, but it could be; if there’s an arguably negative criticism of the hunt, it’s that the puzzles were not especially exactly tailored to the locations used. This is far from an inherently negative judgement, as it would permit the hunt to be run again elsewhere around the UK, which could be an excellent thing for the national puzzle hobby. (There was some pretty strongly British content, though, so rerunning it overseas would take more work… though it wouldn’t be impossible by any means.) Accordingly, there might not be too many specifics about the precise ways in which the puzzles were spectacular, just in case. With only 40-ish players, there were a great many people who missed a real treat, but it’s nice to consider the possibility that you might not necessarily have missed this treat forever.

Outstanding fun and superb company. Many, many thanks to the organisers who have worked long, hard and extremely successfully to create a wonderful day for all the players.

Coming up in London this week

"Puzzled Pint" logoThere are a couple of very exciting events coming up in London over coming days. Tomorrow sees the Girls and Boys, Come Out to Play puzzle hunt, starting in central London. This site has previously discussed the event and registration is long closed, so if you’re interested but don’t have firm plans then your only hope is to try to find a team looking for another member. (Perhaps posting to the Facebook page might do the trick, but it’s mighty close to the event already.) If you’re reading this and will be there tomorrow, do make yourself known to me at the event; the weather looks fair enough that I’ll likely be wearing a purple T-shirt and jeans.

Whether you’re there or not, there’s also Puzzled Pint on Tuesday, also in London. No registration is necessary for this, though a simple but thematic location puzzle has been posted, which needs to be solved in order to find the location of the pub at which the event will be held. Recent months have seen about ten teams take part at the London event, so the pub has been chosen to easily deal with an additional 50-ish-ish visitors drinking and solving.

Puzzled Pint is a free-wheeling, deliberately accessible contest held between teams of three(ish)-to-six(ish). Either turn up with a ready-made team or turn up and form a team on the night. The organisers will be there between about 7pm and about 11pm and will hand each team, when they are ready to begin, probably four or five puzzles to solve. Hints are freely and readily available, with the emphasis being on fun and every team having getting as much help as they want. The puzzles are free; the pints aren’t.

One of the excitements of Puzzled Pint is that the same event is taking place in cities throughout the English-speaking world. For the longest time the event took place only in Portland, then spread to Seattle. Over the last ten months, the number of cities has risen from two to three to five to six, but there’s never been a jump quite like this month’s as there will be ten locations – London and nine in the US, with new entries being Boston, Washington DC, Austin (all of which have strong DASH traditions, so surely should be quick to pick up the Pint habit) and a second Seattle loation, “Seattle Eastside”, as the first has grown big enough to split in two.

I’ll be at this Puzzled Pint and it’ll only be my second London event, though my wife is a regular. Again, I can’t wait – and, again, if you’ll be there, do let me know. It should be great!

All the news: hunts, contests and more

NewspaperThe site has been slow recently due to a nasty case of moving house. If you can stay put somewhere for a long time, it’s a wonderful thing. Still, these are decisions that have to be taken as a family, and you’ve got to go where the work is. Nobody came here for ranting on renting, either, so on to the news.

There are a couple of new hunts listed in the calendar, as Treasure Hunts in London have announced a hunt in historic Chingford and a second with the title “Drink to me only”, both coming up in September.

Past events are not lost to the mists of time but are stored in the calendar archive, and it’s worth following up a couple of events listed there. Mark Goodliffe did the double of winning the puzzles (sudoku and Kenken) competition at this year’s Mind Sports Olympiad and also the recent finals of the Times Sudoku championship, putting him commandingly atop the hypothetical money list for 2014. All three podium positions in both events were taken by UK Puzzle Association members; congratulations all round!

Previously this site also covered the recent puzzle hunt at the Manorcon board games convention; further to that, this site thoroughly recemmends the recent Snoutcast episode that featured an interview with hunt organiser Annie Percik. Snoutcast episodes are habitually excellent, and about 85% of them focus on puzzle hunts; in previous years, the podcast racked up 200 near enough weekly episodes, and this year the podcast has gone to a focus on monthly(-ish) interviews, focusing on women who make puzzles. Strongly recommended.

Lastly, you might notice a revamping of the blogroll at the right, for this site is in the fortunate position of having so many great blogs to link to that it’s worth categorising them for ease of use. A new Toronto Room Escape blog has got off to an excellent start, and Intervirals has added some forums, of a type that the hobby does not currently have, that may well take off over time.

The League Table: end of August 2014

3-dimensional bar chartThis is the fifth instalment of an occasional feature to act as a status report on the exit games in the UK. On its own it means little, but repeated sufficiently many times it could be the basis of a survey of growth over time.

The Census

Category Number in the UK Number in Ireland
Exit game sites known to have opened 18 2
Exit game sites known to be open 16 2
Exit game sites known to have closed temporarily 1 0
Exit game sites strongly suspected to have closed, at least temporarily, in the UK/Ireland 1 0
Exit game sites known to have closed permanently 0 0
Exit game sites known to be under construction 5 0
Exit game sites less confidently known to be under construction 4 0
Exit game sites that once talked about being under construction but… 2 0

The Report Card

Site name Number of exit rooms Number of different games Number of TripAdvisor reviews Number of 5/5 TripAdvisor reviews Local TripAdvisor ranking
Bath Escape 2 2
Breakout Manchester 3 3 92 86 1
Cipher 1 1
Clue HQ 1 1 86 80 1
clueQuest 4 2 654 618 1
Cryptopia 1 1 25 22 9
Escape Edinburgh 3 2 111 102 2
Escape Glasgow 1 1
Escape Land 1 1 39 34 27
Escape Rooms 1 1 11 11 100
ESCAP3D Belfast 1 1 104 82 11
ESCAP3D Dublin 2 1
Ex(c)iting Game 2 2 30 20 17
HintHunt 5 2 953 879 3
Keyhunter 3 3 45 27 9
Make A Break 1 1 33 22 20
Puzzlair 2 2 63 60 5
The Gr8 Escape 2 2 7 7 22
Tick Tock Unlock 1 1 95 89 1
XIT 4 4 4 3 103

This needs to be taken with a heavy pinch of salt. This site supports all the exit games that exist and will not make claims that any particular one is superior to any other particular one. Please note that the TripAdvisor rankings represent a wide variety of locations and cannot be directly compared against each other. In fact, it’s probably pushing it even to compare the TripAdvisor rankings of two exit game sites in the same city. In general: look at how many different exit games have got roughly 90% of their reviews being 5/5, which is perhaps a benchmark for being hugely impressive and allows for some reviewers casting grudge votes, or just being people having a bad day.

This month, this site makes an estimate with its usual level of confidence (i.e., not especially high, though it should be correct to within a factor of three) that the number of people who have played an exit game in the UK or Ireland by the end of July was 55,000, rather than the previous estimate of 54,000, and by the end of August is now 64,000. Do note that all of this can only be based on sites this site knows about; Bath Escape went under the radar for six weeks before Intervirals made this site aware of it, and it would be a delight to learn of others in the UK still.

Looking further afield, a couple of months ago this site referenced the SCRAP Entertainment “Real Escape Game” site‘s estimate that Over 3,000,000 participants have played this game in Japan, China, Taiwan, Singapore, and the United States. Looking further, “Real Escape Game” Canada now quote: Today, over 10,000,000 participants have played this game in Japan, China, Taiwan, Singapore, and the United States. Only 3% of participants have made their way out. The estimates are growing!