Coming soon to Edinburgh: some local history

Edinburgh CastleThis site is always a fan of exit games that make themselves distinctive by playing up to their local roots. Some cities are better-suited to this than others. Edinburgh is extremely well-suited, with some particularly grisly tales about the Burke and Hare murders where the titular pair were associated with (and one of them confessed to) something like sixteen nineteenth-century killings, supplying the bodies to anatomy lecturer Dr. Robert Knox. Plenty of source material ripe for adaptation.

Dr. Knox’s Enigma is a site coming soon to Edinburgh which will feature two different games based on the same incidents. The site is in a building on a hill; start at the Royal Mile and take a series of steps down the Castle Rock to a lower street, and the location is half-way down the flight of steps. The first game, Wilson’s Revenge, refers specifically to the 1828 murder of an 18-year-old man with a distinctive limp and pronounced mental health issues; two parallel rooms will be made available. Booking is open now for dates from Monday 9th March onwards. Two more rooms will be made available later, entitled The Barclay Collection, referring to the anatomist John Barclay who offered Knox a partnership in his anatomy school. Possibly not one for the squeamish!

However, launching before then, Escape of Edinburgh will be changing one of their Classic Live Escape rooms into a room that they are entitling The Darker Side of Edinburgh, drawing not only upon Burke and Hare but also, according to their recent Facebook post, upon Deacon Brodie, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. There’s surely enough source material to support different interpretations and focuses; this site looks forward to learning how different games interpret different parts of the canon and how the interpretations compare. This game is set to launch on Thursday 26th February.

All of which will make Edinburgh the first city within the UK, outside London, to host four different sites, featuring at least six different games but set to grow to at least nine. It’s an exciting place to be!

Old puzzle, new twist

rsz_paradox-33849_640One of the most familiar logic paradoxes runs along the lines of:

Poaching on the hunting preserves of a powerful prince was punishable by death, but the prince further decreed that anyone caught poaching was to be given the privilege of deciding whether he should be hanged or beheaded. The culprit was permitted to make a statement – if it were false, he was to be hanged; if it were true, he was to be beheaded. One logical rogue availed himself of this dubious prerogative – to be hanged if he didn’t and to be beheaded if he did – by stating: “I shall be hanged.” Here was a dilemma not anticipated. For, as the poacher put it, “If you now hang me, you break the laws made by the prince, for my statement is true, and I ought to be beheaded, but if you behead me, you are also breaking the laws, for then what I said was false and I should therefore be hanged.”

— pages 187-8, Edward Kasner and James Newman, Mathematics and the Imagination, 1940

Suppose, instead, the protocol ran like so:

1) If the statement were false, he was to be hanged;
2) If the statement were true, he was to be beheaded;
3) If the truth or faleshood of the statement could not be determined, he was to be killed in some other equally grisly fashion.

The question is whether this is a complete partition of the entire space, or whether there are still gaps that remain to be exploited. This site has a few examples of the infinity of statements that could reasonably be expected to lead to the man dying of natural causes. (If you’ve ever done any formal study of logic – and this site has not yet had that pleasure – this is probably a topic that gets covered as late as the second half of the first lecture; despite the subject line, there’s surely nothing that new here.)

The follow-up question is: if you can spot the loophole in the protocol above, or some other loophole that this site has not yet thought of, how do you go about amending the protocol so that the loophole no longer exists, or at least some more convoluted loophole has to be used instead?

Expect spoilers in the comments!

Exit games in the news

Newspaper graphicThere have been several interesting news stories recently about exit games, well worth a round-up:

  • Today, The Star (of Sheffield, not the Daily national recently focusing on Big Brother, Channel 5 and the proprietors’ other business interests) had a cheerful piece about The Great Escape Sheffield, which TripAdvisor reviews place as number one activity in the city. It’s fascinating to hear more about the background of the people behind the game and get a sense of their influences. The suggestion that a local university offered considerable assistance is particularly interesting and shows what might be possible.
  • On Sunday, Isle of Man Today discussed a trip to Glasgow and Edinburgh where the Glasgow highlight was a trip to Escape, which TripAdvisor reviews also place as number one activity in the city. It sounds like they had great fun in both cities.
  • A couple of weeks ago, The Daily Telegraph had an enthusiastic and pleasant, though unsurprising, article about a trip to HintHunt, mentioning some of the other fixed-location sites in London at the end. As great as the games that get the lion’s share of coverage are, other games in London are also available.
  • Further afield, The Varsity of Toronto take a slightly wider cross-section of the games available there. The proprietor of LockQuest has interesting things to say (particularly in the context of this Twitter exchange…) – though, as ever, the media is far bigger than the mainstream media and you’ll find far more in-depth coverage from the amazing local bloggers who you’ll find in the blogroll here. For instance, everyone’s drooling over this timeline of the 45 (!!) exit games in the greater Toronto area, which looks so gorgeous as to put the counterpart UK timeline somewhat to shame.
  • The written word is far from the only medium; the IntoConnection series of vlogs had a global top three of the genre, in the opinion of a Dutch site proprietor polite enough not to nominate his own.
  • A really exciting blog post recently has been part of InterviralsBlog February series, with a look at the history of room escapes. It’s got people thinking, talking and researching…

Lastly, the very best of luck to Clue Finders of Liverpool! The last week has seen players taking up trial slots, with the first paying bookings expected in a day or two. Liverpool is the place to be right now, what with Clue Finders opening and Tick Tock Unlock taking its first bookings on Saturday onwards!

Coming soon to London: Mystery Squad

Mystery SquadHere’s another distinctive addition, a game called Mystery Squad that’s not quite like anything this site has seen before, but yet has enough in common with many other things that this site loves that it sounds both unusual and unusually exciting.

If you like murder mysteries, puzzles, escape rooms, treasure hunts, lateral thinking, or just want to stretch those little grey cells and try something unique and different, then the Mystery Squad has a mission for you.

Once your team of 4 – 6 people have booked a case, the Mystery Squad will contact you with a time and a place in central London, once there you will be given your instructions and a mystery to unravel. Will you be able to solve the riddles and stop the villains?

Become a detective and crack the case. The Mystery Squad is counting on you…

Mystery Squad is not a conventional exit game as such. For a start, there isn’t a fixed location; there are a number of pubs in central London which could be used to host the game. To a certain extent, it’s an exit game that comes to you! There isn’t a fixed room from which to escape, but your team act as detectives to resolve the mystery, against a time limit as challenging as any fixed room game has to offer.

The cases do have historical research at their core, though are developed into a fictional narrative, accompanied by authentic-feeling props and surrounded by appropriate puzzles that will link the clues together. In the first case, The Death of Shelby Waters, the story that you face runs like so:

The year is 1931. In the town of Fall River, Massachusetts, Professor Shelby Walters is brutally murdered in his own study. His last act is to post a cryptic letter to one of his former students, it seems that his murder is not as simple as it first appears.

Using only the Professor’s personal effects, books, research, police files, and some items from his study, can you solve this dreadful crime, and prevent those responsible from committing an even more terrible one?

The price is attractive, at a flat rate of £70 for a team of 4, 5 or 6 (or possibly fewer, but this is not recommended) and that first case offers you 90 minutes rather than just the usual hour to pick it apart and discover all there is to learn. Teams compete not on speed of escape but on score, based on accuracy of response. Cases can be booked from Monday 16th February and on.

This is unlikely to be a moderately-to-your-taste game; either you’ll love it more than other exit games because of its focus, leading to the ability to put unusually deep puzzles in, or less than other exit games if you miss the kinetic thrill of a custom-designed room. It might also be more playable than traditional exit games to some with accessibility concerns, particularly where mobility is concerned. Either way it’s a valuable addition to the world of exit games, particularly when you consider the potential for the game to offer later cases which might break other conventions to provide radically different experiences still – and, as much as the game might be staged in a variety of London locations, perhaps it might go on to break free of Zones 1 and 2 (and even spread its wings all around the nation!) some day.

One night in Cambridge

Cambridge's Polar Museum(Image of the Polar Museum at the University of Cambridge, derived from one to which they retain the copyright.)

Back last October, this site reported upon, among other things, Cambridge University’s Polar and Sedgwick Museums hosting one-night exit games as part of the Curating Cambridge festival. It was a delight to read of their existence, though the limited extent (a handful of places only available on each one) meant that very few got to enjoy what they had to offer. Nevertheless, a report details the story of the game and has a charming pic of one of the museums’ winning teams in the remarkable surroundings.

The report also hinted that “If you didn’t get the chance during Curating Cambridge, The Polar Museum will be repeating Museum Escape: The Polar Domes during the Cambridge Science Festival in March 2015.” Sure enough, that has come to pass, and the event has its own page within the Cambridge Science Festival site, suggesting that the game will have a glorious single-night stand on Tuesday 17th March.

Back due to popular demand – Your mission should you choose to accept it, is to escape the museum… The Polar Museum brings you ‘Museum Escape’, an interactive live escape game designed for groups of 3 to 8 people. Find hints and clues, solve puzzles, and crack codes as you race against time in order to escape from a room you are ‘locked in’. The Polar Museum will be open to the public to browse from 5pm – 8.30pm and a bar will be available.

Each slot is 45 minutes starting at 4.30pm, 5.30pm, 6.30pm 7.30pm & 8.30pm. With only five slots available, book fast for your group. Bookings will only be reserved once payment is made. Each slot costs £30 no matter how many people are in the group.” The page also quotes an e-mail address to check for booking enquiries. Elsewhere on the site, it is suggested that “Bookings open Monday 9 February 2015 at 10.30am” – i.e., tomorrow – so follow the advice about booking fast to the letter.

Perhaps continued popular demand might inspire the museum to host the game again, further down the line! Cambridge sounds like the sort of place where exit games should flourish.

This weekend’s competitions

"In the Navy"(Image derived from a Casablanca Records property.)

This site has previously written about a couple of cryptography competitions, more specifically involving the decryption of ciphers, aimed at UK school students of various ages. Starting yesterday, the US Navy have launched a second story-heavy game which “will once again challenge followers on ((Facebook)) with puzzles to help stop a fictitious opposition group“.

More specifically, this photo leads to a very weakly hidden message (easy to decipher, though the community tend to point hints – or even outright spoilers – in the comments for each puzzle) which acts as a “location puzzle”, if you will, to another location online where the actual game’s puzzles will be posted on a daily basis. The first ten solvers to e-mail the answer to the final puzzle to the given e-mail address will be declared winners and certificated accordingly.

If you prefer sudoku to ciphers, you have about another week to solve the Sudoku Excavation 2015 competition. This has puzzles in each of fifteen sudoku types – neatly, six 6×6 and nine 9×9 – and a meta-puzzle where the clues are unlocked by correct answers to the first fifteen outer puzzles. These first fifteen are in a range of difficulties and come highly recommended by someone with a very strong track record for sudoku solving.

Also coming up this week: Sunday is Quiz The Nation once more; the standard may be getting higher, but the number of competitors is not yet too vast so you might well be able to pump some cash out of it. Additionally, Tuesday 10th sees Puzzled Pint, which this month expands to fourteen locations in thirteen cities in three countries, not least in London. (There’s no reason why it couldn’t happen elsewhere in the UK as well; all it needs is a bar, maybe 1-3 people to act as Game Control by checking answers and handing out hints, and at least a couple of teams of players.) This month’s location puzzle has now been posted, so go and see if you can find your way through it.

Hold Fire

Illustrated London NewsThis site is delighted to see both QMSM and Escape Game Addicts get off to such strong starts. Both sites have written about good trips to Breakout Manchester; QMSM also wrote about won-one-lost-one trips to Clue HQ, where any entry in the W column is a hard-won feat, as well as a take on Toronto Room Escapes‘ mighty Themed Thursday strand, spreading like wildfire from blog to blog. Dear old Intervirals is also posting daily through February, a month which will feature their first birthday, an achievement to celebrate – and the quality is well up there with the quantity.

Closer to home, what’s going on? The bad-news-good-news department reports that the limited engagement of Jailbreak! at Oxford Castle has had to come to an end for now, but an unconfirmed report from a friend who really enjoyed playing suggests that it has proved sufficiently popular that it might come back in a bigger, better form at some point before too long.

The biggest London news is that this weekend sees Test Fire, a “regular session of playing games, making games, talking about games, and drinking. High-energy and action-packed throughout“. This particular session is of unusual interest because it will feature Mink Ette, part of the team behind Portland’s 60 Minutes To Escape (where this site cannot praise the design concepts video enough) speaking on the topic and also Gareth Briggs who ran the extremely well-received MOLE game last year. Who knows what other exciting people there will be in attendance? (Sadly travelling will get in the way here this time, but maybe some other month soon!)

Going head-to-head

"Head to head" graphicA part of the exit game experience that some people particularly like is the ability for your team to compete against another team. This survey only considers sites where two teams can play (practically) identical copies of the same room at the same time; there are several other sites with two or more rooms where two teams can start different games at the same time, though the result must always be in doubt as the “our room was harder” excuse can always be in play. In alphabetical order:

  • Agent November of London: the FAQ suggests that two teams of up to seven can play the Rainbow Syndicate game against each other.
  • Breakout Games Aberdeen: this brand new site has two identical units of Lock and Key.
  • Breakout Manchester: two identical Classified rooms have very recently been opened.
  • clueQuest of London: there are currently two Operation Blacksheep rooms and three PLAN52 rooms. One exciting development is that this famous site is moving in early March to a new location near King’s Cross St. Pancras; the new location will open with two of each of the games, but who knows how this might change over time?
  • Escape of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Newcastle: each location has two copies of their classic Live Escape Game room. The booking page might suggest that games start with a 15-minute stagger, but the sites are happy to set both teams going at the same time.
  • Escape Hour of Edinburgh: there are two identical Major Plott’s Revenge rooms. The man evidently gets around.
  • The Escape Hunt Experience of London: this site takes this to another level, permitting head-to-head-to-head-to-head play for Kidnapping in the Living Room and Murder in the Artist’s Bedroom, and head-to-head play for Theft from the Lab.
  • ESCAP3D of Dublin: the Dublin location has two identical rooms, though the Belfast location has only a single room.
  • HintHunt of London: here there are John Monroe’s Office games (one of which has a slightly staggered start time) and two Zen Room games for you to compete on.

Errors and omissions excepted, as ever, and corrections and additions are most welcome. It’s tempting to wonder whether rooms might ever be able to customise head-to-head rooms’ contents to something brand new to try to create some sort of elimination tournament, though it’s difficult to be surprised by the contents of the same room more than once!

The League Table: end of January 2015

Bar chart heading upwardsThis is the tenth 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 38 2
Exit game sites known to be open 35 2
Exit game sites where the Sword of Damocles is poised to fall 1 0
Exit game sites known to have closed permanently 2 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.

You may observe that a second site has moved into the “closed permanently” category; farewell to Cryptopia of Bristol. The last game played here might actually have taken place as long ago as May 2014, but the site has only recently been updated to say “Please note we are no longer available for bookings. Cryptopia is for sale!“, sufficiently convincing for this site to declare it no more. Perhaps there might be a second incarnation at some point, but with sufficient water under the bridge that it might be considered a sequel.

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 21 20 100% 122
Bath Escape 2 2 52 44 97% 10
Breakout Games Aberdeen 3 2
Breakout Manchester 7 6 239 215 97% 3
Can You Escape 1 1 51 51 100% 4
Cipher 1 1
Clue HQ 2 2 267 251 99% 1
clueQuest 5 2 924 861 99% 15
Crack The Code Sheffield 1 1 7 6 12
Cryptopia 1 1 26 23 100% 12
Cyantist 1 1 6 5 100% 21
Escape Edinburgh 3 2 290 262 99% 7
Escape Glasgow 3 2 75 73 100% 1
Escape Hour 2 1 53 51 100% 9
Escape Hunt 10 3 70 55 92% 152
Escape Land 1 1 92 80 100% 61
Escape Live 2 2 6 6 100% 24
Escape Newcastle 2 1 19 17 100% 5
Escape Quest 1 1 21 20 100% 1
Escape Rooms 2 2 109 79 93% 162
Escape Rooms Plymouth 1 1 9 8 49(*)
ESCAP3D Belfast 1 1 111 84 87% 35
ESCAP3D Dublin 2 1 13 6 76% 192
Ex(c)iting Game 2 2 57 39 94% 11(*)
GR8escape York 1 1 26 26 100% 5
HintHunt 5 2 1175 1087 98% 22
Jailbreak! 1 1
Keyhunter 3 3 56 30 83% 28
Locked In Games 2 2 109 103 98% 2
Logiclock 1 1 7 7 100% 12
Make A Break 1 1 55 36 86% 30
Mystery Cube 1 1 1 1 530(*)
Puzzlair 2 2 108 104 99% 1
Room Escape Adventures 1 1 1 1 662
The Escape Room Manchester 5 5 10 10 100% 18
The Great Escape Game 1 1 15 14 100% 6
The Gr8 Escape 2 2 31 27 96% 20
Tick Tock Unlock 1 1 314 302 99% 1
XIT 4 4 10 6 100% 142

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. Rankings are highly volatile, possibly to a fault; imagine a site with 99 5/5 ratings and 1 1/5 rating – the ranking is likely to be rather different if the 1/5 rating is the most recent one, posted today, than if it is the first one and the site has been on a long perfect streak ever since. (Oh, and there was one site which managed to get every single review with a 5/5 rating but TripAdvisor somehow decided it had only got 96% thumbs up.)

Please do 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, though three sites (marked with asterisks above) are somehow being ranked as attractions rather than as activities, which might yet change over time.

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 January 2015, is 135,000. (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.

An unusual month for exit games in the UK. On the plus side, new openings as far north-east as Aberdeen and as far south-west as Plymouth show the spread of the genre all around Great Britain; on the minus side, many well-established sites may be seeing that activity may be a little down on that of previous months as people recover from what will have been in many cases an expensive Christmas. Offers and promotions over the festive period were infrequent, but the country is starting to see them again towards the end of January. There was a very slight trend towards marginally less excellent reviews in London than was previously the case; perhaps London is becoming a tougher market than once it was.