Looking ahead to 2015: get ready to go Hunting

"Puzzle Hunt" app from KrayZ Logic
(Graphic from the Puzzle Hunt app by KrayZ Logic. Hi!)

This site continues its look through the items which it has recently added to its 2015 calendar by concentrating on the puzzle hunts that are expected to follow over the course of the year. Best start with what’s in progress and available for you to play in at this moment in time: the Victoria and Albert Museum is the start location for Time Out London and HiddenCity’s The Enchanted Mirror, in progress until 11th January, and the current Pablo’s Armchair Treasure Hunt has a real treasure to find and a deadline for your solutions of 12th January.

Looking further ahead, we can split upcoming hunts into two categories: in-person events and online events.


The highlight of the puzzle hunt year is DASH, an event held in many cities in parallel at about the same time. This year will see the seventh hunt; London has been announced as one of the cities where it will be played, for the third time. This site wrote all about how much fun last year’s event was, and hopes for this year’s event are very high. The global date has been announced as May 30th, but as this clashes with both the FA Cup final, the Premiership rugby final and a world-class triathlon, hosting it in London that day might be… tricky. Watch this space.

The Cambridge University Computing and Technology Society have held an extremely ambitious puzzle hunt in June for each of the past three years; this site will be following, with high hopes, to see if another one follows now that this site knows to look for it. This site wrote about the hunt previously and hopes that the initiative grows and flourishes further over time.

The Armchair Treasure Hunt Club have been holding their annual club meetings, featuring hunts in their habitual style, for years, generally in September. There will be a great many people looking forward to the continuation of that particular tradition. Other than that, 2014 was a particularly fortunate year for featuring both the “Top Secret” hunt in Essex in August and Girls and Boys, Come Out To Play in September. While this site knows of no such counterpart events for 2015, yet, be sure that this site will let you know if there is good news to report. Puzzled Pint and, hopefully, further events from a door in a wall will keep the community ticking over until then.


The biggest online puzzle hunt of the year will be the MIT Mystery Hunt, notorious for featuring teams with scores of players, maybe hundreds, and sufficiently many, sufficiently difficult puzzles to keep them busy for a weekend – some years, a long, long weekend. More about this closer to the time, though as the time is 11 days away, more very soon.

Other universities with an open-access online puzzle hunt tradition are the Australian universities: Melbourne’s event may happen in May and Sydney’s event is a little more movable, taking place in the northern-hemisphere autumn. CiSRA is a business rather than a university, but their event is very similar in form. It wasn’t held in 2014 but fingers crossed for a return in 2015. Other universities around the world also hold hunts and this site is looking forward to see if the University of South Carolina holds another one, possibly as soon as March.

P&A Magazine have hinted that Puzzle Boat 3 will take place this summer, though the date is not fixed; it will be one of the few puzzle hunts to approach the MIT Mystery Hunt in magnitude, with the two previous episodes having each featured around a hundred puzzles to share between your team.

Dr. Bob Schaffer has hosted many events over the years, some online in California and others online. Not only is it reasonably likely that there might be a fourth online holiday puzzle hunt towards the end of the year, most of the puzzles from his third Elevate Tutoring charity hunt should be playable online from February onwards.

So a great deal to look forward to – and this site very much hopes to being pleasantly surprised by more good news over the course of the year!

Looking ahead to 2015: your puzzling New Year Resolution

Lord Kitchener suggests your country needs youAre you from Australia, Austria, Belgium, Ireland, Malaysia, Singapore or Spain? Keep reading to the end…

Yesterday, this site discussed the way the puzzle season culminates with the world championships in sudoku and puzzles each year. The World Puzzle Championships have happened annually since 1992 and the World Sudoku Championships annually since 2006, in a variety of countries around the world. National teams of four compete; countries with fewer than four representatives often team up with each other to form “United Nations” teams. Some particularly productive countries send two teams in some years.

I was fortunate enough to be part of the UK’s team for the World Puzzle Championships in 2000 and 2001, and the non-playing captain of the UK team in 2004. (As non-playing captain, I made up the numbers on another transnational “United Nations” team.) This was a real privilege and very probably the highlights of my puzzling career. At the time, I wrote up my 2000 experience (thank you, Wayback Machine, for providing permanent archives: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4 and part 5) and my 2004 experience (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8 and part 9). In short, each of the three years, I had a tremendous time despite proving extremely far from world championship class and finishing very close to last.

Is trying out for the world championship right for you? If you’re interested enough to be reading this, almost certainly. The company is stunning, both within your country and from other countries around the world. The puzzles are as exciting and innovative as they get… though as challenging as you would hope world championship puzzles might be. The hospitality varies from year to year, but were three different sorts of great in my three years. Don’t just take my word for it, though; if the idea sounds good at all, go and look up other people’s write-ups of their WSC/WPC experiences. (For instance, Liisa of the Finnish team has written up her five visits, and this site’s WPC 2014 coverage has links to several 2014 commentaries as they were being produced.)

There’s a saying that “everybody likes solving puzzles, and nobody likes not solving puzzles”. If you qualify for the championships, unless you know you’re good, you can expect to spend the vast majority of the (probably) two days in competition not solving puzzles… or, at least, not successfully solving them. However, you’ll never not solve puzzles in better company, or not solve more interesting puzzles! (The Grand Prix series puzzles are an excellent way to practice.) No matter how badly you do, you get a great – and rare – story out of it at the very least; few people ever really get to represent their country at a meaningful world championship where 20+ national teams come to compete.

Unfortunately from an individual perspective, it’s rather harder to qualify to be on a World Puzzle Championship team these days than it was when I did it. Specifically, I qualified for the 2000 team by coming in the top four UK entrants in a qualifying test… when only six tried out. (Of course, I finished fourth.) The UK team is very much stronger than once it was, which is fortunate news from a national perspective, and why we finished sixth out of twenty in 2013, as opposed to much closer to the bottom in earlier years. Whether you stand a realistic chance of competing and representing your country depends at least as much on the strength of competition you face within your own country as anything else.

This year’s event will comprise the 24th World Puzzle Championships and the 10th World Sudoku Championships, and they have been announced as taking place between October 11th and October 18th at the Ramada hotel in Sofia, Bulgaria. The championships were previously held in Bulgaria in 2005, in the city of Borovets; you can find descriptions in the next year’s WPF newsletter.

How do I try to qualify for my country’s World Championship teams?

It depends which country you’d be representing. The World Puzzle Federation follows IOC guidelines about the recognition of countries, and eligibility depends upon citizenship rather than residency. I’m not aware of there having been kerfuffles over people with dual citizenship, or anyone ever changing citizenship for puzzle team representation yet. Here are four specific cases:

a) I would be representing the United Kingdom.

Keep watching the UK Puzzle Association web site for details of team selection. At a guess, selection for the UK teams for 2015 will follow established patterns from recent years, which apply similarly (though maybe not exactly equally?) for puzzle and sudoku teams:

1) The top UK solver at one WPC qualifies for the next WPC team.
2) The top UK solver at the in-person UK Open Championships qualifies for the next WPC team.
3) The top two UK solvers at the online UK Puzzle Championships qualify for the next WPC team.

Various rollover procedures exist for people who qualify for spots but are unable to take them up for whatever reason.

b) I would be representing the United States of America.

Keep watching the Team USA web site for details of team selection. At a guess, the selection procedures will follow established patterns from recent years:

1) The top (some number from 0 to 3) US solvers at one WPC qualify for the next WPC team.
2) The top (some number from 4 to 1) US solvers from the US Puzzle Championship and US Sudoku Team Qualifying Tests qualify for the next WPC team.

c) I would be representing a country that is a World Puzzle Federation member.

You can find out if your country is a World Puzzle Federation member or not by looking at the official membership list. Each country’s member is listed along with their contact details; get in touch with them and ask what your national qualification route is. Many countries run their own qualification tests; others use the results of other puzzling nations’ qualification tests.

d) I would be representing a country that is not a World Puzzle Federation member.

Again, look at the official WPF membership list and see which countries are missing – not least Australia, Ireland, Malaysia and Singapore, among 150+ others. Hint hint hint.

If you’re fortunate enough to come into this category, participation becomes much easier. You can register for personal membership of the World Puzzle Federation for €50 per year; this gives you the right to to participate in the WPC/WSC if your country is not already represented by a national team, no matter what your standard.

Of course, the barrier to entry is that you have to pay to participate in the championships, and you have to pay to get there. The minutes of the 2014 WPF general assembly suggest that the entry fee was planned to be €500 per player, though this might conceivably have changed a little with the move of the championships to Sofia. This covers not just the cost of entry into the championship, but also several nights’ high-quality accommodation, extensive meals and entertainment; you tend to get a lot for your money, even without taking the cost of the puzzles and their marking into account. There’s also the cost of getting to Bulgaria in the first place to consider.

All told, it might be compared to the price of a short package holiday to an upscale, though far from luxury, destination. You certainly get a lot for your money; it’s not as if people take payment for organising the events. It’s all done out of love!

This might be a very unusual chance of a lifetime for a one-off experience. Do you want to try to go to Bulgaria and feel the love for yourself?

Looking ahead to 2015: the sudoku season starts early this year

Sudoku generated by Simon Tatham's Puzzle PackThis site has been updating its event calendar to celebrate the New Year. There are a great many puzzle contests and puzzle hunt events to look forward to in 2015, which this site will discuss over the coming days. Exit games have not had events as such to look forward to so far, but perhaps someone will find a convincing way to make an interesting event happen such that it might be featured in this site’s calendar for everyone to get excited about.

The puzzle contest season each year peaks with the World Puzzle Championship and World Sudoku Championship, of which more tomorrow. Only the best can qualify for the national teams there, but the puzzle season at large isn’t restricted to the best solvers. For instance, Logic Masters India offer online contests in puzzles and sudoku each month. However, the World Puzzle Federation started their own annual Grand Prix series competitions for puzzles in 2014 and for sudoku in 2013. This provides a predictable, regular, well-organised global season for all fans.

The competitions run on a four-weekly schedule; there’s a weekend with a sudoku competition, then a weekend off, then a weekend with a puzzle competition, then a weekend off, and the schedule starts all over again. Both seasons are eight contests long, starting in January and running through to the end of July – and this is because the first contest has already started. Each contest starts at noon, European time, on Friday and runs through to the end of Monday, again European time. Accordingly, there are just over 48 hours remaining on the clock for you to play this time.

It’s free to participate; just register at the Grand Prix site. Download the Instruction Booklet and take a look at the types of the 15 puzzles, all to be solved within a 90-minute window of your choice. Each puzzle has a point value, so you can get a feeling for the difficulty; the most difficult puzzles will be well and truly World Championship difficulty, and the lowest-value puzzles will be genuinely relatively accessible. (The difficulty levels may well have been tweaked with the evidence of last season in mind, too!) You don’t need to play all either contests in a series; your best six scores will be counted. The top ten scorers are invited to the World Puzzle and Sudoku Championships to compete for the Grand Prix title in person.

The first sudoku contest features six classic sudoku puzzles as well as examples of nine different sudoku variants: some quite familiar, some very innovative. It’s free, it’s fun, it’s familiar and yet with exciting twists; find a spare 90 minutes over the next day or two and give it a go!

The semester report for late 2014

Calendar for second half of 2014This site was looking for an image of half a calendar, covering only the last six months, and thus searched for JASOND. Perhaps it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to get pictures of a R&B singer-songwriter…

The single months’ worth of TripAdvisor that are tracked in the League Table feature are only really meaningful as snapshots in time. However, with sufficiently many of them, it is possible to draw slightly more meaningful trends – or, at least, to reflect on how far the industry has come. The Timeline shows that the number of open exit games in the UK more than doubled over the first half of 2013, more than doubled again over the second half of 2013, doubled over the first half of 2014 and more than doubled once more over the second half of 2014. (Those numbers: 1 to 3 to 7 to 14 to 30.) Past performance is not an indicator of future results, as you may have previously been told, which is just as well or the metaphorical king’s chessboard will become swamped with rice.

So, for the sites that have stood the test of time, it’s worth looking back to where they were six months ago and compare that to how they are doing now. Here’s the situation from six months ago:

Site name Number of exit rooms Number of different games Number of TripAdvisor reviews Number of 5/5 TripAdvisor reviews Proportion of 5/5 ratings
Breakout Manchester 2 2 30 28 97%
Cipher 1 1
Clue HQ 1 1 1 1 (*)
clueQuest 3 2 493 472 96%
Cryptopia 1 1 25 22 88%
Escape 2 2 29 29 100%
Escape Land 1 1 1 1 (*)
ESCAP3D 1 1 81 68 84%
Ex(c)iting Game 2 2 21 15 71%
HintHunt 5 2 846 783 93%
Keyhunter 3 3 39 25 64%
Make A Break 1 1 25 16 64%
Puzzlair 2 2 45 44 98%
Tick Tock Unlock 1 1 25 25 100%
XIT 4 4 4 3 (*)

Across the population, that’s 1,532 5/5 reviews out of 1,665, a proportion of 92%. The (*) symbol represents a population of fewer than ten reviews, where a proportion is not particularly meaningful. Now let’s consider the same sites again, but only those reviews posted in the second half of 2014:

Site name Number of exit rooms Number of different games Number of recent TripAdvisor reviews Number of recent 5/5 TripAdvisor reviews Proportion of recent 5/5 ratings
Breakout Manchester 4 4 150 133 89%
Cipher 1 1
Clue HQ 2 2 232 217 94%
clueQuest 5 2 381 348 91%
Cryptopia 1 1 1 1 (*)
Escape (Edinburgh) 3 2 226 204 90%
Escape Land 1 1 80 68 85%
ESCAP3D (Belfast) 1 1 28 16 57%
Ex(c)iting Game 2 2 32 21 66%
HintHunt 5 2 292 270 92%
Keyhunter 3 3 16 5 31%
Make A Break 1 1 25 16 64%
Puzzlair 2 2 53 50 94%
Tick Tock Unlock 1 1 221 210 95%
XIT 4 4 4 2 (*)

Across the population, that’s 1,578 5/5 reviews out of 1,741, a proportion of 90½%. Again, the (*) symbol represents a population of fewer than ten reviews, where a proportion is not particularly meaningful.

There is nothing to suggest that the market has decreased in quality over the last six months; surely the opposite is true. It might be tempting to suggest that the novelty of exit games among the reviewing has faded, resulting in a fall of 5/5 scores across the population from 92% to 90½%, but that difference is so small that it might well arise through the noise of random chance and is not statistically significant to a particularly meaningful level. (OK, a χ2 test suggests it might be approaching significance, but if you accept that level of significance then you’re going to go on a lot of wild goose chases.)

If one particular site had been getting 100 reviews with 90% 5/5s previous to one half-year and then another 100 reviews with only 75% 5/5s in a half-year then there might be cause for alarm, but the sample sizes here are generally so small that there are only a very few cases in which the observed lowering of the percentage for a particular site is at all meaningfully significant. Run your own tests!

In conclusion: exit games were awesome up until the first half of 2014, and have been just as awesome in the second half of 2014 as well.

The League Table: end of December 2014

Bar chart showing improving performance over time

This is the ninth instalment of an occasional feature to act as a status report on the exit games in the UK and Ireland. 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 33 2
Exit game sites known to be open 30 2
Exit game sites where the lights are on but nobody’s home 2 0
Exit game sites known to have closed permanently 1 0
Exit game sites showing convincing evidence of being under construction 4 0
Exit game sites showing unconvincing evidence of being under construction 4 0
Exit game projects abandoned before opening 2 0

The term opened should be understood to include “sold tickets”, even when it is unclear whether any of those tickets may have been redeemed for played games; the definition of site should be understood to include outdoor sites and component parts of larger attractions that are played in the same way as conventional exit games.

The Report Card

Site name Number of exit rooms Number of different games Number of TripAdvisor reviews Number of 5/5 TripAdvisor reviews TripAdvisor’s “thumbs up” percentage Local TripAdvisor ranking
Agent November 2 2 20 19 100% 120
Bath Escape 2 2 49 41 97% 10
Breakout Manchester 4 4 180 161 97% 3
Can You Escape 1 1 21 21 100% 25
Cipher 1 1
Clue HQ 2 2 233 218 99% 1
clueQuest 5 2 874 820 99% 14
Cryptopia 1 1 26 23 100% 12
Cyantist 1 1 3 3 21
Escape Edinburgh 3 2 255 233 99% 4
Escape Glasgow 3 2 68 66 100% 1
Escape Hour 2 1 36 35 100% 11
Escape Hunt 10 3 61 48 91% 148
Escape Land 1 1 81 69 100% 72
Escape Live 2 2
Escape Newcastle 2 1 8 7 10
Escape Quest 1 1 14 14 1
Escape Rooms 2 2 92 70 97% 117
ESCAP3D Belfast 1 1 109 84 89% 32
ESCAP3D Dublin 2 1 13 6 76% 162
Ex(c)iting Game 2 2 53 36 94% 12
GR8escape York 1 1 16 16 100% 8
HintHunt 5 2 1138 1053 98% 21
Jailbreak! 1 1
Keyhunter 3 3 55 30 86% 22
Locked In Games 2 2 66 63 98% 2
Logiclock 1 1 4 4 18
Make A Break 1 1 50 32 86% 21
Puzzlair 2 2 98 94 98% 1
Room Escape Adventures 1 1
The Great Escape Game 1 1
The Gr8 Escape 2 2 28 24 96% 21
Tick Tock Unlock 1 1 246 235 99% 1
XIT 4 4 8 5 100% 115

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. Remember that TripAdvisor have reclassified exit games from being attractions to being activities so positions cannot be directly compared to those from before November 2014.

Things are starting to settle down in the activity era. Some sites are making good progress; a salute to Escape Glasgow for getting to number one on a second chart. This site is especially delighted to see the developments in Leeds, where the activities chart has exit games at both number one and number two. The highest of fives to both Tick Tock Unlock and the fast-rising Locked In Games, and it’ll be interesting to see whether exit games in West Yorkshire continue to grow further still. (There’s a spa in Huddersfield stopping the West Yorkshire one-two, which perhaps should watch out!)

This site makes an estimate that the number of people who have played at least one exit game in the UK or Ireland, at any point in time up to the end of December 2014, is 120,000. (This estimate is quoted to the nearest 5,000, but the site would not like to claim more confidence than “…to within an order of three either way”.) As ever, if someone plays more than one game at the same site, this figure still only counts them once, and this number is only really meaningful in the context of this site’s previous estimates. The other usual caveat is that this figure may exclude data from locations about which this site is ignorant; for instance, last month’s figures should have covered Escape Hour which opened in November, but didn’t.

Another way of looking at it is that this site believes that exit games in the UK and Ireland were, perhaps, a two-million-pound industry in 2014. This might represent an increase on 2013 by a factor of somewhere in the reason of 5-8. Another similar increase again in 2015 would seem ambitious, but you never know!