The latest links

Monochrome pumpkin graphicA blessed Samhain to all of you.

Most excitingly, social media updates lead to some new dots on the map! Locked In Games of Leeds confirm that today is their opening day and The Great Escape Game of Sheffield have launched their Facebook presence, revealing their location and thus earning a red “Coming soon” dot.

Puzzlair of Bristol have announced a one-day discount available for bookings placed on Saturday 1st November only. Book that day for a game to be played by the end of January 2015, use the discount code HALLOWEEN and you’ll earn a chunky 30% off the cost of your game. Additionally, their Facebook page is close to a thousand “Like”s; whoever turns the counter to four digits will earn a free game.

The consistently brilliant Snoutcast podcast is putting out monthly episodes this year, featuring interviews with women who make puzzle games of various sorts. This month’s episode is particularly relevant for this site, as it features an interview with two of the six founders of Spark of Resistance, Portland’s first exit game. The people behind it have a remarkable track record in a variety of styles of game and it’s clear that the eight months of effort have led to a great deal of thought. The Oregonian have a write-up with more detail.

Lastly, a quick tip of the hat to the girlgeekupnorth blog, who has written delightful reviews of the three exit games she has played, so far all in north-west England. With the new games opening elsewhere in the north, who knows what else might be reviewed at some point?

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

"SAVE NOW" graphicThe usual Dealwatch rules are in operation:

  • Do check voucher companies’ terms, conditions and guarantees and this site takes no responsibility for deals that fall through for whatever reason, as, sadly, has actually happened;
  • 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 have expired between being published below and your attempt to use them;
  • This non-commercial site does not attract any commission for promoting these deals, or for you using them;
  • These deals are not exclusive in any manner.

The Gr8 Escape of Belfast have a Groupon voucher that will apply for their two Christmas-themed games, Snow Way Out and Santa’s Work (It Out) Shop. Games will be available from the 1st to the 23rd and from the 26th to 28th. Groups of up to six can play for £42 and groups of up to eight for £49 and fancy dress is encouraged.

If you act quickly, you can get a special deal at XIT of Dublin. Their new game, Curse of the Mummy opens very shortly; if you book in October – and there’s not much of it left – to play in November, your group need pay only €59 rather than the usual €79.

Talking of new openings, the opening deals at GR8escape York and Locked In Games of Leeds and are still available, each permitting teams to play for just £30. GR8escape York opened on Monday and limits its opening deal to the first 30 teams to book; Locked In Games opens very shortly and the opening deal will last all November.

Also in the North, Escape Newcastle is set to open on Saturday 1st November, as previously discussed. This site cannot yet find an opening discount for it, but both Escape Edinburgh and Escape Glasgow had them, so keep an eye out. If the site proves as popular and well-reviewed as its Scottish predecessors, it’ll be something quite special.

In other pre-opening news, Escape Quest of Macclesfield have a competition up and running. The site opens on November 19th; if you can help either (or both!) of their social media campaigns out before November 13th then your team might be the one drawn to play a free game!

Cyantist of Bournemouth have a couple of deals ongoing, either for those who have ever hosted guests using the Couchsurfing service or for those who buy tickets for their friends. The site also, unusually, features a free ten-minute online game to give you a feeling for what sort of things might await you. Clever idea!

Introducing a great UK university puzzle hunt: the CUCaTS hunt

CUCaTS logoAfter discussion of puzzle hunts around the world, it’s long been tempting to wonder whether there might be one in the UK that somehow has gone under the radar. Many different countries have their own puzzling traditions, and perhaps the UK is most relatively strong in the armchair treasure hunt tradition. One of the most interesting US puzzling traditions is that of the in-person puzzle hunt, more specifically epic 24-48-hour non-stop team hunts sometimes referred to as The Game. (It’s very inconvenient that a useful generic title can get overloaded with so many different, incompatible meanings… and you may have just lost The Game.)

That particular puzzle hunt tradition began at some of the most prestigious universities in the US; over time, many of the participants went to work for, or found, technology companies. Well-placed rumours suggest that such puzzle hunts were also played by members of technology companies in the UK, though activity came to a halt in 2005, possibly to some extent as a result of the 7th July bombings. This site seeks to research this claim.

It was a total delight to recently discover that a group within the UK has been running an in-person treasure hunt, very much in the style of those in the US, for at least three years. True to the backgrounds of technologically focused prestigious academia, the group responsible is CUCaTS, the Cambridge University Computing and Technology Society. Their hunts have been 24-30 hours long, featuring heavily technical puzzles, befitting the playing constituency’s background, played between teams of just three.

The 2012 problems are an excellent starting-point, showing not just the structure of the event but the sort of background required to enjoy the puzzles. They tended to be very sparse on flavourtext, and light on clueing, though it’s impossible to know what sort of help the teams received in practice. The results show that in practice they each tended to take many person-hours to solve – and that the hunt may have had depths that no team actually managed to reach. While the event would be considered “conference room style”, several puzzles involved visiting locations around the city.

The 2013 event’s problems follow the form and take it further still, though it may well be that the clues and solution techniques are not yet written up in sufficient detail to judge properly. Certainly these are proper double-black-diamond difficulty puzzles, certainly comparably hard to those in the SUMS hunt in progress this and perhaps bearing comparison to those in the MIT Mystery Hunt.

There was another such event in 2014; the preview makes it clear that there would be an increased degree of focus on relatively accessible puzzles towards the start, working up towards the most difficult ones later. While the puzzles are not available (from context, they may well have been hosted on a private server that is no longer online) the review makes the flavour clear. “The full range of Cambridge inventiveness and ingenuity was exhibited by all the teams, with puzzle topics ranging from dial tones & guitar chords to binary trees & window managers; from discrete cosine transforms & famous engineers to prime numbers & run-length encoding; and from magic bytes & corrupted FAT partitions to postboxes & the Greek alphabet.”

What is known for sure:

  • The hunt has been run for each of the last three years.
  • The review of the 2014 hunt says “Stay tuned for next year!”, despite only four teams participating.
  • One would expect a 2015 event to happen in mid-June and to be announced on the CUCaTS Facebook site, among other locations.
  • The 2014 event suggested that at least one team member required an active cam e-mail address, implying that other team members did not.
  • There is a tradition of feeding the players throughout, which is excellent, sociable practice.

What is not known for sure:

  • It is not clear whether the hunt would welcome players from outside the society, or outside the community.
  • It is not clear whether the participants are interested in a closer tie-up with the puzzle community at large and the other hunts and contests that exist, noting other rumours of puzzle cells at Cambridge.
  • It is not clear whether a hunt requiring such effort can be sustained for the long-term.
  • The extremely technical nature of the puzzles mean that even some avowed puzzle hunt fans may consider this not to be the puzzle hunt for them.

Nevertheless, learning of the existence of this hunt is one of the most exciting developments since this site started way back towards the start of the year. Onwards and upwards, and who knows what other surprises there might be waiting to be discovered?

University challenges

SUMS puzzle hunt logoSeveral universities around the world have their own puzzle traditions. The most famous of them all is probably the MIT Mystery Hunt, with a history almost three dozen years old. This site has also previously discussed the Australian puzzle hunt tradition and reviewed this year’s MUMS Puzzle Hunt put on by Melbourne University’s Mathematics and Statistics Society.

Sydney University’s Mathematics Society have their own puzzle hunt, with a history about half as long as its Melbourne counterpart. The format is reasonably similar to that of the MUMS hunt, though as well as the history being only half as long, the maximum team size permitted is only half as large: 5 rather than 10. Does this mean that the puzzles are any lighter? Well, you’ll have to decide that for yourself. This year’s hunt has its first act of five revealed at noon Sydney time on Monday 27th October… which translates to 1am GMT on Monday 27th October and that the first act is already up and running. The next four acts will be revealed daily, again at 1am GMT, along with hints to previously-revealed acts. Find yourself a team (or start yourself one!) and get stuck in.

There are mathematics societies at UK universities, but none have quite the same sort of puzzle hunt tradition. Warwick’s one has had a local puzzle trail at their end-of-year barbecue, some years, and both Oxford’s and Cambridge’s have had at least one event that they have described as a puzzle hunt in the past. (As ever, if you know of any events that this site should be writing about, please get in touch about them.) Cambridge’s Archimedeans have a long-held tradition of an annual Problems Drive stretching back at least fifty years – and it’s fun to think that 1964’s problem one has at least 25 more answers known now than it did then, courtesy of GIMPS.

In this vein, Oxford’s Invariant Society has a free puzzle drive coming up this Tuesday, with a £200 first prize sponsored by Oxford Asset Management. The event starts at 8:15pm and presumably takes place in Oxford’s still-new Mathematical Institute, the Andrew Wiles building. The puzzles are quite likely to be relatively mathematical; it’s unclear whether or not the Invariants’ puzzles page can be considered representative of what might be asked on the night. It’s also unclear whether it’s a team event or not, but it would seem more likely than not.

Cambridge has other treats to offer, though. As part of the Curating Cambridge programme, the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences is offering a one-night pop-up exit game on Tuesday 18th November, with the Polar Museum Memorial Hall offering a similar one the week beforehand.

Adults only. £30 per group. Booking required.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to escape the museum…

The Polar Museum and the Sedgwick Museum bring you Museum Escape, an interactive live escape game. Find hints and clues, solve puzzles, and crack codes as you race against time to escape from a ‘locked room’.

Designed for groups of 3 to 8 people, this game lasts for 45mins, beginning at set times.

To make a booking for either location

With only a few games being played each night, perhaps the games might have sold out already. However, it’s worth getting in touch with the organisers to congratulate them for their imaginative event and showing them that there’s sufficient demand that they might want to run the event more frequently!

Coming soon to York: GR8escape York

GR8escape YorkRushing, rushing, rushing, can’t give this exciting announcement the coverage it deserves. Back onto the horse after the sad news of a couple of days ago; as one door closes, another opens.

On Monday (as in tomorrow, Monday 27th October) a new exit game called GR8escape York is set to open right in the centre of the titular city, a few doors down from the sneakily very good York’s Chocolate Story attraction. The site has no connection to The Gr8 Escape in Belfast, or the forthcoming The Great Escape Game in Sheffield. It will open with one room, entitled the Spy School Room:

So you think your team has done well to get this far, well think again. It’s time to take your final challenge. Hidden somewhere within the room is your spy school graduation diploma. You will need to work as a team and take nothing for granted. Make sure that you search everywhere and don’t miss any clues or hints. You only have one hour to find the combination to the safe that contains your teams final graduation diploma.

Is your team good enough to graduate from spy school or will you fail at the final hurdle.

It’s a little distinctive that the target is to find the diploma within the hour rather than to escape, but certainly distinctive in a good way. It’s a one-hour game for a team of 3-5 (though the site suggests 2-6 on the FAQ page…?) with the regular price being £48 for three players, £58 for four and £68 for five. However, the first thirty teams to book using promotion code “Time is Key” get to play one by the end of November for £30 all in.

Lots of exciting things happening in the North at the moment; delighted to know about them!

Lock and LOL go out of business

Lock and LOL graphicThis morning, this site has received three separate reports that people have received the following e-mail:

Dear Sir/Madam!

We are very sorry to inform you, that due to unforeseeable events, Lock and Lol went out of business, and we must cancel all bookings.

Please accept our sincerest apologies for the inconvenience.

The Lock and Lol Team

This is the worst news that this site has yet received since it opened 7½ months ago. Supporting this, the Lock and LOL web site has been taken offline as has the page at the booking service they were using. The proprietor has been contacted for comment but has not immediately replied. Edited to add: The proprietor has confirmed this in a Facebook message to this site. Lock and LOL’s pin has been removed from this site’s map.

Jason points out this item from the Wowcher FAQ:

Q: What if the merchant for my wowcher closes down?
A: If the merchant closes down and your wowcher has not expired, we’ll refund your money.

Accordingly, if you bought a Wowcher to play the room, you may be able to get Wowcher to refund your money, as they say.

If you bought a Wowcher to play the room but had not yet redeemed it then, subject to confirmation, you may be able to redeem it for Wowcher Wallet Credit instead.

If you paid for a game on a credit card, rather than a debit card, and spent more than £100 (unlikely, but not impossible – perhaps you paid full price, perhaps you bought more than one voucher?) then your credit card company may be jointly responsible under Section 75 laws. A page at Money Saving Expert describes the process.

If you paid for a game on either a credit card or a debit card, even if you spent less than £100, you may be able to apply for a refund via the chargeback procedure. Again, a different page at Money Saving Expert describes the process. Do note that banks do not have a legal responsibility to provide refunds here, but it might still be a possibility.

Other than that, the Citizens Advice Bureau have advice as to how to proceed and whether you might still be able to get redress. Feel free to use the comment box below to discuss the progress of any attempts you make to get a refund. If this site gets any further news, be sure that it will report it. (Did anybody get to play the game before it closed? Was it good?)

While nothing lasts forever, the first game to fold so dirtily makes today a grim day and one that deals collateral damage to the reputation of every exit game.

All the news and deals from the local exit games

NewspaperPlenty of exciting good news stories at the moment, including a few discounts available for at least a short while, so let’s run through them quickly:

  • Lock and LOL of London has now definitely opened in London; subject to confirmation, this site believes that the first teams played yesterday on Friday 17th October. There are some spaces left to book next week, and the booking code SHERLOCKED is in operation until the end of the month, enabling play for a flat fee of £49 per group. The week after next is busier – perhaps due to half-term?
  • Can You Escape? of Edinburgh have revealed their location; more specifically, it was guessed after just three clues in their pre-launch treasure hunt promotion. No opening date is yet available, but this site gets the impression that it won’t be long at all before this site has a lot more to say. With great joy, they have been pinned onto the map, much as the Lock and LOL pin has been turned yellow to indicate an open site.
  • Locked In Games of Leeds used their Facebook page to announce their opening offer: the site opens on Hallowe’en and all November bookings are just £30 for a group of 3-5. With such a good price available, perhaps players from a little further afield might be able to soak up the travel costs in order to come and play!
  • The Gr8 Escape of Belfast have similarly used their Facebook page to announce a Groupon deal for the festive room they have lined up for December. The vouchers reveal that games are available from the 1st to the 23rd and from the 26th to 28th – perhaps they could be a Boxing Day treat? Groups of up to six can play for £42 and groups of up to eight for £49, a reduction of (just!) over 50%. Fancy dress is encouraged! These social buying deals tend not to last too long so get busy.
  • XIT of Dublin used Facebook to announce their new room, “The Curse of the Mummy”. Locked inside a dark and spooky archaeological site with twisted tales of cryptic pyramids and forgotten tombs. Can you decipher the ancient wisdom or will you perish like all those who have attempted to escape? There’s a competition for a free voucher for the game if you can like and share the message as well.
  • Clue HQ of Warrington similarly Facebooked their announcement that their ghastly new game, The Dungeon of Doom, is now open for booking; these previews are only available on Fridays and Saturdays before a wider release later. They have released quite a few images to their Facebook already so you can get a feel for whether this game is for you or not… and if you don’t like big spiders (even cute cuddly toy ones!) then this might be the very rare situation where this site might advocate giving a brilliant-looking game a miss.
  • Breakout Manchester of Breakout bucked the trend and used Twitter for their recent announcement; it’s not a new room, but it’s definitely a new twist on one of their favourites: 24th Oct – 3rd Nov our #Virus room takes on a sinister #Halloween twist! Dare you enter? Well, dare you? The results might just be frighteningly good!

A publicity stunt waiting to happen

"Free the Waterstones One"Last night, an American tourist managed to get himself trapped in the Trafalgar Square branch of Waterstones. He posted a photo, with the description “This is me locked inside a waterstones bookstore in London. I was upstairs for 15 minutes and came down to all the lights out and door locked. Been here over an hour now. Supposedly someone is on their way.

A little later, he tweeted “Hi @Waterstones I’ve been locked inside of your Trafalgar Square bookstore for 2 hours now. Please let me out.” His Tweet has been favourited over nine and a half thousand times, and retweeted over fourteen thousand times. He called the police, eventually a keyholder was summoned and he was released from the bookshop. The story has been reported in over a hundred newspapers, news sites and so on, so it’s the sort of quirky story that has caught people’s attention.

So the publicity stunt waiting to happen: while he’s still in the country and used to being locked in unexpectedly, why hasn’t an exit game invited him to be a celebrity player? (…Or has it?) The story has probably a dozen hours or so more to run before it goes completely cold, so perhaps strike while the iron is hot!

Coming soon to Leeds: Locked In Games

"Locked In Games" logoAnother pleasant surprise reached this site earlier today as Locked In Games got in touch, discussing the site that they are opening in Leeds. It looks like they’ve got a long way through the process.

Their site details the two hour-long games with which they will open, and they both frankly look a little creepy. (Not necessarily outright scary.) The teacher overseeing the Classroom of Doom game has a smile so wide she could eat you in two bites, if her hairdo were not unsettling enough, and the little girl sat on a tuffet, or at least a chair, looks like she is taking the name of the Nursery Nightmares game rather literally. The photos of what else might be found in the room hint at things being ever so slightly awry.

In e-mail, the site suggest that they are hoping to open for Hallowe’en, appropriately enough, and indeed their booking system is set up to take bookings from the 31st onwards. The pricing is a very reasonable £15/player for 3-player teams, £14/player for 4-player teams and £13/player for 5-player teams; it’s not yet clear whether that’s an introductory price, or whether there might be further promotional opening offers as well. (Rest assured that if news arrives, there will be a post with great delight.)

The game is set on the first floor of an old mill, which sounds like a very atmospheric location, though this may make the game inaccessible for the less mobile. If you can take advantage, though, this may well be an unsettling treat!

Around the World: blogs from South-East Asia

Public domain map of Malaysia and SingaporeMalaysia is pictured in white above, and Singapore in red. This site is not yet aware of any exit games in Brunei (green, towards the East), though it’s amusing to imagine that the Sultan might have a private one in what is recognised by Guinness as the world’s largest palace.

Another exciting consequence of the new Escape Room Directory is that it lets the world know about some very cool blogs on the topic of which this site was not previously aware. The more people talking about the genre, the merrier. There are two covering Singapore and two covering Malaysia, both of which are heavy hitters in the world of exit games. is a crisply-presented, very well-written review blog about games in Singapore with a laser focus on consumer guidance. Well over thirty games have been reviewed so far, along with overall impression pieces about the sites in which the games can be found. The site is particularly strong in terms of detailing for whom each game is most suitable and how the game might best be enjoyed. Accordingly, this blog has a very valuable role to play in the important job of helping people find the game that is right for them and their team, recognising that not one size fits all.

S-capegoats is the elder of the two Singaporean blogs. Not only does it have neatly rainbow-coded reviews scoring different exit games in each of six categories published weekly, it also has some more discursive pieces focusing on specific aspects of exit games. In part this is to explain the philosophy behind their rating system, and in part this can be taken as a set of tips to help you think about the way you play these games.

Escman League is a site with real escape game reviews from Malaysia and beyond; it’s very interesting to see additional perspectives on some of the Singaporean sites, and also a review of a game in Hong Kong. Some posts also have polls asking people whether they were successful or not at the game in the review, providing a real-time independently-measured difficulty report for each game. The site is written by four friends who clearly have enjoy what they do, and that shines through in their writing.

Enigmatic Escape is a primarily Malaysian site and the longest-running of these blogs, probably making it the original English-language exit game blog, unless you know otherwise. Posts date back to January, but cover reviews of games played both last year and this year. They also review events put on by exit game companies; the particularly interesting Escape Run 2014 event bears similarities to what might be considered a short (and physical!) puzzle hunt elsewhere. Your authors are dPace and Dscry, the latter a mainstay of the Intervirals forums.

This site has chosen not to go down the review route, but there is definitely plenty of room for further UK exit game blogs. Be sure that the exit games themselves would be keen to see them, and that this site would love to link to them!