Reviewing this site’s predictions for the second half of 2014

Crystal ball iconAround half-way through the year, this site made a number of predictions as to what might happen in the second half of the year. It’s time to go back and review those predictions. Expect counterpart predictions for 2015 early in the new year.

There is practically a 0% chance that the whole exit game industry proves a fad that goes as quickly in 2014 as quickly as it came in 2013. Nothing lasts forever, but there’s no reason why the industry – or, at least, its best sites – shouldn’t be in it for the long haul.

Happily, this did not come to fruition.

There is a 10% chance that the UK mass media will catch on to just how cool exit games are and base a series around them with properly integrated puzzle solving, rather than the merely disguised quiz of, say, the US Exit show.

No joy so far on this one, but who can know what the channel commissioners of this world are being offered?

There is a 20% chance that one of the big players in the leisure industry – perhaps a chain of bowling alleys, or cinemas, or maybe even gyms or similar – will get on board and bring a corporate, commodified approach to the exit game business to compete with all the plucky independents this site loves so much.

This site is not aware of any progress on this issue.

There is a 30% chance that there will someone will hide a treasure in the UK with a hunt that really catches the public attention. Perhaps Masquerade must be a one-off in its impact, but there have been plenty of worthy successors. Maybe the clues will be shared in a book, maybe it’ll follow the tradition of Alternate Reality Games promoting mass media works, maybe it’ll be something new.

The biggest hit in this regard, to this site’s knowledge, was Gold Hunt London, and the success of that seems to be more likely to be measured in the hundreds or thousands, rather than the hundreds of thousands.

There is a 40% chance that existing exit game sites continue to grow and grow – as just one example, clueQuest is set to open its second Operation BlackSheep room on August 1st! – and that there is a single site which manages to serve forty teams on the same day. Thirty a day seems like a very unambitious target, forty a day pushes it to the “40% chance” category.

This site clearly didn’t see Escape Hunt coming, which serves forty a day – and the rest! – on a regular basis, and has had many days in which they have sold all seventy slots. Other than that, the next busiest site would appear to be clueQuest, which opened a fifth room and serves thirty-five teams on Saturdays.

There is a 50% chance that the next World Puzzle Championship will be won by Ulrich Voigt of Germany – after all, he’s won two of the last four! (Maybe this is underselling him; the full story is that he’s won 9 of the last 14, but surely the opposition is getting stronger as well.)

Indeed he won. On reflection, saying there is a 50% chance does not really count as a prediction either way.

There is a 60% chance that the monthly party that is Puzzled Pint will keep growing and growing in London, exposing more and more people to the puzzle hobby… at least, once autumn comes around and the nights start to draw back in.

It was attracting 10-11 teams in April-June and 13-14 teams in October-November, though the distributed Puzzled Pint experiment for December was less successful.

There is a 70% chance that at least one existing exit game covered by this site will officially call it a day, in addition to those which just might fade from sight. (And, still, the exit game industry would compare favourably with so many others when you think about startups failing quickly.)

This one is probably more of a miss than a hit. One site has been on a long-term “break between seasons” with no sign of a second season and a second site is up for sale, with bookings suspended, but neither have officially closed down. Could you count the Lock and LOL misfire in the category? Probably not quite.

There is a 80% chance that there will be a day where this site can list at least twenty sites open for business in the UK and Ireland, with at least five in the London area.

You’ll see the stats in a couple of days; this came true and then some to the point that the prediction proved rather conservative.

There is a 90% chance that the 23rd World Puzzle Championship and 9th World Sudoku Championship, scheduled for Croydon here in the UK on the 10th to 17th of August, will go with a bang and be a success to be proud of for years.

Arguably this is difficult to measure, but this site is not aware of ill-feeling towards the event and is aware of high compliments paid to it, which would seem to be a reasonable metric.

There is practically a 100% chance that something incredibly cool, of which this site was not previously aware, will make itself known. Maybe it’ll be… not just any exit game, but the exit game of all exit games; maybe it’ll be a puzzle game like of which nobody has seen before; maybe it’ll be the hottest new puzzle trend since sudoku. Be sure that this site will really, really enjoy telling you about it.

Again, this is so vaguely-defined as to be only subjectively judgeable. However, this site would offer Boda Borg and the CUCaTS puzzle hunt at Cambridge University as extremely strong candidates for the category. This site’s absolute highlight of the half-year was the Girls and Boys, Come Out to Play puzzle hunt; incredibly cool, sure, but this site did have an inkling that it was coming.

Introducing the Exit Games UK inflation rate

Inflation rate graphIt is unclear whether increased competition is dragging the price of playing exit games down, or whether exit game suppliers are facing higher charges and being required to pass them on to consumers in turn. Somebody should track this, and this site doesn’t see anybody else doing so.

The principle behind the tracker aims to emulate the calculation processes behind the actual inflation calculation process. This site will establish a basket of exit game prices, then measure this basket periodically to establish whether there has been a trend in price changes. It may well be that there is no change for a period of several months, so do not expect especially frequent updates. As a policy decision, this basket will consider only UK prices, though will attempt to represent prices from all over the UK; a separate Irish basket may follow in time. (More specific baskets could also be possible – perhaps a Scottish basket or a London basket. These will not be considered in the first instance.)

Now individual exit games do come and will eventually go – hopefully, very, very eventually. Accordingly, it may not be the most appropriate measure to strictly define the basket in terms of specific games that are set in stone forever; a more specific example of a basket item might be “a 4-player game at an established popular site in London, during the afternoon at a weekend, booked 2-3 weeks in advance, not taking advantage of offers”. The identity of the site this refers to will be consistent as far as possible but is not necessarily set in stone forever – indeed, some basket items will deliberately change relatively frequently. For instance, some players delight in trying the latest new site, and this aspect of the experience should be considered, but new sites do not remain new forever! You will forgive this site for not identifying the specific games used.

There are many ways in which exit games and the prices they charge can be categorised: the game might be popular or less popular, the game might be in specific cities (or a generic provincial city, or a generic provincial town), the game might be established or new, the price might refer to a weekday or a weekend, the price might differ if it applies to evening play or afternoon play, the price might differ if it is booked in advance, the price might differ if an offer is used, and the most notable way in which a price will vary depends on the number of players in the team.

Accordingly, the basket considers a variety of team sizes, and uses data from photos of teams posted online (making the reasonable-seeming assumption that they are adequately representative…) to reasonably properly weight different team sizes according to how frequent they seem to be in real life, bearing in mind that some sites cater for larger teams than others – and, indeed, some sites have rooms that deliberately cater for teams of different sizes. Similarly, the basket attempts to reflect the perceived relative popularity of the various options in each categorisation.

This can only be an introduction to the principle, as this site has captured its first average price of basket items. There is no inflation rate to announce as there is no previous data to compare against. However, the next time this site captures the average price, an extremely preliminary inflation rate estimate would be possible.

For Schools: the 2015 Alan Turing Cryptography Competition

Black-and-white photo of Alan TuringThis site previously discussed the National Cipher Challenge, held for teams of full-time students under 18 years of age. Happily, the cryptography season is not just one competition long each year; ever since the University of Manchester’s School of Mathematics celebrated the centenary of the birth of Alan Turing in 2012, each year there has been a cryptography competition for school students. The fourth edition, associated with the year 2015, is under way.

Prizes are available, but only for teams consisting of no more than four participants, none of whom can be in Sixth Form, so the limit is year 11 in England and Wales, S4 in Scotland and year 12 in Northern Ireland. There is provision for non-competitive teams to take part without scoring; here there is no restriction on numbers or ages so teams featuring overage students, teachers, parents or members of the general public outside the education system can take part purely for the fun of it.

The competition follows the story of two young cipher sleuths, Mike and Ellie, as they get caught up in an adventure to unravel the Carbon Conundrum. Every week or two weeks a new chapter of the story is released, each with a cryptographic puzzle to solve (…) There are six chapters in total (plus an epilogue to conclude the story). Points can be earned by cracking each code and submitting your answer.” The more quickly you crack each code, the more points you win for each of the six chapters. This year’s story hints at a grapheme theme.

Prizes sponsored by Skyscanner (founded by two former computer scientists from the University of Manchester!) are presented to members of the three top-scoring teams overall, but each chapter also awards additional prizes to the first team to solve it correctly and spot prizes to five correctly-solving teams selected at random.

The really interesting thing is that the top prizes are awarded in person at the annual Alan Turing Cryptography Day. “Schoolchildren who had enjoyed taking part in the online competition were invited to spend an afternoon of code-breaking action in the Alan Turing Building. Nearly 200 children (…) enjoyed a wide range of activities including: interacting with Enigma machine apps running on iPads, a talk entitled `Enigma Variations: Alan Turing and the Enigma Machine’, some maths busking, a Q&A session with the competition organisers, as well as a live cryptography challenge which involved schools having to crack three codes in a one-hour period.

Surely this would be a fantastic opportunity for an exit game (particularly one based in Manchester itself, but really anyone anywhere) to become involved with sponsorship. What would be in it for you? Especially if you can arrange a live challenge, there could be the chance to get the word out to 200 children who have proved themselves not only sufficiently interested in puzzles to enter a cryptography contest but sufficiently talented to do really well at it. On a very slightly cynical note, you might think of this as a way to reach 200 families, or more, who are likely to be right in the middle of your target audience and likely to want to play again and again. Seems like a natural fit!

Dr. Bob’s Holiday Puzzle Hunt

"Bob Schaffer's puzzles"This site loves puzzle hunts: trails of interconnected puzzles, whether online or in person, commonly solved in teams. If the idea sounds enchanting, even if you have no prior experience, this site thoroughly recommends a free online play-wherever-whenever game called the Order of the Octothorpe as a genuinely accessible starting-point that makes no prior assumptions and starts from first principles.

Once you’ve got your teeth into that (for there’s a lot to explore, especially if you’re a completist!) then a good question is where to look next… and there isn’t nearly such an automatic second step to take, with many of the options assuming far more experience and being much less beginner-friendly. However, an excellent option for a bite-sized second step is Dr. Bob’s Online Holiday Puzzle Hunt. Bob Schaffer is a senior research engineer who, as a sideline, runs Elevate Tutoring. This non-profit public benefit corporation trains small numbers of disadvantaged US college students to become excellent tutors, and requires these tutors to use their training to provide free tutoring to disadvantaged school students. He has run puzzle hunts, both online and in person, partly as a fundraiser for his tutoring organisation.

For the past three years, he has run small such puzzle hunts online from each December 24th. These, too, are deliberately accessible; the 2012 hunt sets expeations with the comment “The puzzles in this hunt are meant to be enjoyed by all. The experience is meant to take 1-2 hours. Those new to these types of puzzles may need to click on the free hints. Experienced puzzlers should get through hint-free in an hour or so.” The 2013 hunt is similar, with the fastest solutions being matters of tens of minutes.

The 2014 hunt was launched on schedule this year, with the comment “This hunt has three main puzzles and a simple meta puzzle. The puzzles are geared toward beginner puzzlers, but were designed to entertain newbies and experts alike. I would say that this hunt is a bit more challenging than the 2012 and 2013 hunts. Beginners can take advantage of the hint system to overcome hurdles while experienced puzzlers can challenge themselves to solve the puzzles as quickly as possible.” There’s an online interface which can provide hints on demand; participation is timed, but scoring is optional. (The scoring system is essentially that of DASH.)

All three hunts can be played on demand. There is no charge for playing, though you are gently invited to tip the tutoring organsiation in return. The 2013 hunt was great fun and is recommended by this site; the 2012 and 2014 hunts will be imminent ports of call when time permits, though the 2014 hunt is attracting attention, so possibly best get in there while it’s still fresh.

From there, where next? There are many options, not least Dr. Bob’s other work. As well as these deliberately very accessible events, he has several longer and more advanced works to his credit, some of which can still be played online. Great work and a great cause!

Coming soon to Wimbledon: Mystery Cube

Mystery Cube logoEscaping from an exit game within 60 minutes may sound easy, but can you do it… in the Mystery Cube?

Word reached this site today about a new game under construction, now taking bookings from January 24th, 2015. The site is located near Wimbledon; take Tramlink to Morden Road and it’s five minutes away in a south-easterly direction. (The map on the site acts as a pathfinder.) Games are attractively priced at £50 for a team of two to £70 for a team of five, not a great quantity to charge by exit game standards, particularly in London. (There’s also a half-price coupon code for the first fortnight, so consider making your response with unusual velocity.) Will this game cause a revolution in the field? We shall see.

When people enter the Mystery Cube its energy levels start to fluctuate and we can only keep it stable in space and time for one hour at a time. After that we cannot predict what will happen to the Mystery Cube – with you inside. Therefore you have only 60 minutes to complete your challenge inside the Mystery Cube and escape so good teamwork is essential.

It is not clear whether the game has anything to do with the nine lives – trial run – simplify structure of you-know-what, or whether it’s a more conventional exit game alluding for thematic purposes only. Either would be very cool. There’s nothing to suggest that you won’t face a barrage of puzzles delivered in a quick fire fashion, whereby your team will have to balance their focus between the competing challenges. Surely failure to finish in time will lead to your expulsion without honour through the usual aperture.

As a sidenote, TV music composer Nick Foster has made a cascade of possibly relevant tunes available on this playlist on his Soundcloud, if you can bear the intensity. If you can’t, or if you don’t get the references, go and enjoy the game once it opens and don’t let your unfamiliarity be a barrier!

First Crowdsourced Awards Show

Graphic of a shiny cartoon trophyApparently 3% of the population of the UK will be at work today – mostly in the health profession and other essential service workers, but plenty of chefs as well. A busy day for the clergy, too. This site believes that at least one UK exit game is in business today and wishes workers there well. Have an unbelievably good birthday, Chris Kamara.

This is often the time of year at which award shows are held, reflecting on the nearly-finished year. Time will tell whether this is a good idea or not, but this site suggests it might be a good time to perform its own awards show. However, we’re crowdsourcing it; please post your own categories – whatever you like! – and winners below. Here are some examples:

  • If you’ve played a game which had a particularly good celebration when you won, recognise it below.
  • If one location has a car park that made you feel that your car was especially safe, holler.
  • If someone giving a game briefing did such a good job that you instantly developed a crush on their competence and charm, they’re well worth a shout-out.
  • If you’ve played a puzzle which had a prop that made you squeal with delight… that might actually be a bit spoilery; maybe best to either keep that one to yourself, or award them the prestigious “Best Thing – you know the one, under the thing, with the other thing that did that really cool thing” award.
  • That should give you a sense of what you’re after.

Site proprietors feel free to give credit to other sites where it’s due, and there’s never any harm in being funny, though do please keep it all in the holiday spirit. Oh, and this site doesn’t need to receive any awards – at least, ones which you’d have thought that this site might like to receive. 🙂

Bigger games for bigger companies's "jail break" activityOne way in which some exit games promote themselves is as an unusual team-building activity for corporate entertainment. If Plato is to be believed, “you can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation”; at the very least, there is over two millennia of wisdom in that maxim. However, even the largest exit game centre in the UK at the moment, London’s Escape Hunt, can only deal with ten groups playing at the same time. (They do have a large corporate breakout area, so they can cope with parties of 100; 50 playing the exit games, rotating with 50 involved with other team-building activities.)

Corporate entertainment companies have taken exit games’ popularity on board. While there is a decades-old tradition of corporate team-building, problem-solving and creativity-stretching events, it’s extremely interesting to see the approach that can be taken when you come from a set of corporate assumptions first and foremost, and possibly corporate assumptions about budget, rather than as a public-facing activity where players can be assumed to be paying their own way.

Eventus host Escape! for 6 to 200 people. The scenario takes place onboard an orbiting space-station. Each participant is a space officer candidate about to embark on the final stage of their officer training. […] As decisions are made the team will gradually learn more about their surroundings. In every “room” they enter they find something good (or maybe not so good!), plus a whole more doors leading deeper into the maze. The challenge is to find a way to the space portal (exit), negotiating all hazards en-route. Teams need to ensure their “life-clock” does not run out. There are radiation hazards, predators, and tough decisions to reach as the team builds up a picture of the space-station. And what about The Oracle? Surely every team will choose to pay The Oracle a visit to unearth some sage advice. Or maybe not? This is a table-based activity rather than having a physical maze to explore, but the company also have problem-solving activities that are rather more kinetic in Eliminator for 7-24 and Labyrinth for 15-200. That would be an unusually precious and gem-like labyrinth, if you get the reference.

Escaping from prison is a frequent exit game theme; the photo atop this article comes from, whose Jail Break event can be run in genuine gaols at either Wicklow or Cork. Parties of 20+ split into smaller teams. After an initial briefing each team is allocated their challenge book. This contains information on the 3 parts of their mission. The first part of the Jail Break event is a series of photos which the teams must find the location of and then answer the relevant questions. Part two of the Jail Break sees the teams solve a number of clues which will lead them to various parts of the jail to find the solution to the riddle. For the final part the teams must complete a number of fun challenges in the jail, these are all fun and non-strenuous. Bonus keys are also scattered around the gaol. The same company also offer treasure hunts and smartphone GPS-guided hunts in locations around Ireland.

Finally, with a tip of the hat to Sam from the forthcoming Enigma Escape, more about which before too long, there are a couple of hours left to book (and no time limit to enjoy thinking about) this already completely funded Kickstarter project, an escape game set in a prison in Rotterdam in the Netherlands. The prison is out of use and will be redeveloped in March, so there are a couple of months in which to use it for exciting projects. Up to 120 players will interact with the 20+ actors who inhabit the prison. We have cast of the best improvisational actors in the Netherlands playing different roles, from warden, priest, gang leaders, and many (corrupt?) guards. Maybe your interactions with them will give you the clues you need to find your way out! Some tickets are left for Real Life Gaming‘s public Dutch-language games in the middle of January, but a company that could pay €6,800 (just over £5,000 at current rates) and to pay to get 120 players to Rotterdam could get a private English-language game of their own.

Exciting possibilities! Even if you don’t work for a company progressive enough to take advantage of them, it’s fun and inspiring to wonder what more there might be over time.

Now open in Sheffield: The Great Escape Game

The Great Escape game logoThis is the fourth new location that this site has had to report on in the last two weeks, yet December may well not be done! There was a rush of openings in December 2013 as well. Good time of year for it.

Very new in Sheffield – indeed, the substantive web site was only published in the last day or two – is The Great Escape Game. The location is reasonably central; it’s well under ten minutes’ walk from the Granville Road / Sheffield College Supertram stop, which is the next one south from the city’s main railway station.

So far, the first room has been launched: You have been captured by mad scientists, who are planning to use you as part of their research, to test a new secret experiment. They are planning to depopulate the world and it is your mission to save mankind before they do so. Your time is limited, as the scientists will be back shortly. Hope you make it out in time, you only have 45mins! Two more rooms are promised in the new year.

Indeed, this is the first game in the country with a short time limit, though 45 minute games are not uncommon in Canada and other countries as well. (For instance, the Escape Room international brand has 45 minute games as standard.) The early photos on their Facebook page spoil nothing, but do suggest that at least the guinea-pig testers have been having a great deal of fun.

The first room takes 2-5 players; 5-player teams can play for £15/player, 4-player teams for £16/player, 3-player teams for £17/player and 2-player teams for £20/player. (The booking service also applies a 3½% fee.) West Yorkshire has really taken to exit games with the very popular Tick Tock Unlock (apparently serving three groups even on Christmas Day itself – that’s hardcore!) and Locked In Games and North Yorkshire has the rapidly-filling GR8escape York, so South Yorkshire may well be the next growth area. Now, East Riding: how about you?

Coming soon to Salisbury: Salisbury Escape Room

Salisbury Escape RoomPerhaps “soon” is pushing it a little with this one, for the projected opening date is “Easter 2015”. Nevertheless, based on the description of the first room, it should be well and truly worth waiting for.

Remember how Escape Hour‘s Steve Nicoll said, of his game’s Edinburgh location: Tourists come from all over the world to experience our culture and immerse themselves in our history. Why not play an escape game and learn a wee bit about of the local history too?… Tick off that dose of culture instead of going to the museum! Something very similar could be said about the first game at Salisbury Escape Room and the consequences look spectacular.

The first game, Magna Carta Challenge, is based on “…the intrigue and disputes between King John, his half brother The Earl of Salisbury and Pope Innocent II”. Regarded as England’s most ruthless monarch, King John was forced to sign the Magna Carta to stave off civil war with the country’s barons. Now 800 years later the secrets it has hidden are about to be revealed by Professor Smith. The Professor and the the greatest copy of the Magna Carta have gone. Your task is to find them and save yourself by using your skill to decipher the clues left during the past 800 years.

The Magna Carta was originally signed on 15th June 1215 and there are great plans to celebrate the 800th anniversary. The effects of the protection of personal liberties that it sought to give can be felt through the centuries, to a greater or lesser extent. Why Salisbury? Well, the Cathedral there has has one of the four remaining exemplified copies. The game neatly evokes a sense of mild temporal progression by moving from medieval to modern times using physical and multi-media clues.

This sounds distinctive and delightful. This site looks forward to following the progress in Salisbury and seeing if it can fulfil its tremendous potential.

Around the World: what’s going on in North America

Room Escape Artist's map of North American exit gamesThe above map is a snapshot of Room Escape Artist’s North American exit game map. (Hi! Thank you!)

Speaking of exit game maps, Live Escape Games‘ Shaun points Exit Games UK to the Puzzalarium newsletter, from the site of the same name of San Diego. This site has quickly made a name for itself from some of its unique approaches, as detailed in Toronto Room Escapes‘ brilliant, must-read interview. Puzzalarium have announced an approach which is brilliant, simple, lucrative, zero-cost and worthy of recognition as instant global best practice.

Simply, they offer the chance to play their room in “Zen mode”. You book, and pay for, one room for two adjacent time slots. You then get to play the room in no rush whatsoever over the duration of both timeslots… and the time in between them, normally filled in by the room being reset. (So if a game takes an hour, and there’s an hour reset time between games, this would give you up to three hours in total in the room.) This means that people can take the room as slowly as they like, possibly even taking no hints in a room where hints might usually be liberally supplied, and come out feeling that they can be pretty sure that they haven’t missed a single thing. At a guess, only a few percent of groups would feel that this is the right approach for them, and probably only for rooms known to be relatively difficult – but those who do, and who are willing to pay double money, would really appreciate the option. Puzzalarium also offer teams who have played their game the chance to watch other teams playing the game from behind the scenes.

Escape Room Directory‘s Dan Egnor points to Dr. Bryan Clair‘s amazing, detailed account of an intricate-looking exit game he set up and ran for 36 teams at St. Louis University. (He’s also volunteering to run DASH 7 in St. Louis, where it’ll be making a return after being present for DASHes 4 and 5, and absent for number 6. What a guy!) Amateur exit rooms like this are definitely part of the future of the genre and might be right for some people who love the idea of devising and running their own exit game but don’t feel well-suited to the business aspect of things. (Plus who have the resources to sink into such a project, without getting an obvious financial return from it.) Dr. Clair, this site salutes you!

Talking of interviews and taking looks behind the scenes, the latest (and last, at least for the year… and maybe longer?) episode of the consistently beloved and heroic Snoutcast podcast features an interview with Lindsay Morse and Nate Martin of Puzzle Break of Seattle and San Francisco. Nate also previously wrote this Reddit post with his reflections on his first year in business.

Lastly, this site just loves the theme behind Omescape of Markham, Ontario’s new room: the Kingdom of Cats. It opened yesterday; obviously, on a Caturday!