Now open in London: Secret Studio

Secret Studio logoSecret Studio is a new exit game in London, based on Museum Street (where there used to be a fantastic, much-missed board games shop) between Holborn and Tottenham Court Road, at the latter of which the Central line is not stopping until December. The precise address is not released until booking.

The location has one sixty-minute game, designed to be played by teams of three to six. “You and your friends/family are locked inside the headquarters of ‘Secret Studio Films’, a (fictional) down-at-heel schlock movie production office that hasn’t seen a lick of paint since 1979. You have an hour to solve the puzzles inside the room and unlock the mystery to escape! You’ll start by searching, seeing what you can find and how things fit together to make sense. The retro technology will delight you along the way ((…)) There are also spooky scary bits and a few surprises in store…

That said, the site quotes a lower age limit of eleven (though each team must include a 16+ year old) so the frights can be expected to be family-friendly, and can be removed altogether with advance notice. The retro theme is unusual; while stepping back in time is far from unknown, it’s often a century or so, or to the late 20th century’s steampunk alternate reality. Such a short step back in time, likely to be barely within the memory of some of the players, may well put smiles on faces. The game is in previews at the moment; bookings are made by telephone rather than online and the fee is half-price at £15/player (peak) or £12½/player (off-peak) if “you forgive the odd teething problem and give us a bit of feedback for 10 minutes afterwards”. (And they lower the price for that opportunity?)

“But don’t tell anyone. It’s a secret.”

Oh. Whoops.

Now open in London: Lady Chastity’s Reserve

Lady Chastity's Reserve graphicMany thanks to Ken for the tip pointing to today’s post, and tomorrow’s as well. Ken has performed yeoman’s work in finding new games in the London area, both doing the simple stuff that this site gets around to every once in a while and the really smart stuff (checking planning applications and Companies House…) that this site never thought of.

Lady Chastity’s Reserve is the first game by Handmade Mysteries. The web site is exceptionally evocative, with the title graphic having a style all of its own; see what you think, but a starting point might be “Louisiana with a hint of Victoriana”. The tag line “Crystal Maze on Crystal Meth” is about as pithy and witty as it gets, too.

The game is played in a pub, by teams aged strictly 18+. It is being hosted by The Four Thieves in Battersea, a short walk from Clapham Junction, until at least the end of July, with the implication that the show might go on the road after that and/or a new story might come to town. As Handmade Mysteries make the distinction, “While ‘escape rooms’ offer challenging tasks, we offer ‘escapism rooms’. A more immersive experience that tests players wits through twisted tales riddled with lateral thinking puzzles and challenging new inventions. You can escape through the exit anytime you want, with the prize in your hands, or just your head.” Perhaps a little more of this live-action adventure happens in your head than in most. The photos on the site set the tone.

The story runs like so: “This dark and fruity tale revolves around the legendary Chastity vineyard, the most notorious party venue of its time. Chastity’s was considered the finest wine in all the land, an aphrodisiac which fueled the eminent Lady’s lavish orgies. In the years that Lady Chastity found love, the wine flourished like never before, but when she lost her love, she lost her mind. The parties were wilder than ever before and during her final blow-out, the vineyard burned down, bringing Chastity and her strange brew to a bitter end. You and your friends are invited to hunt down the last remaining bottle of this rare and highly coveted prize, so you may wet your whistle, and possibly your pants.” Indeed, there is a bottle of wine to be claimed, if you can release it. (It’s not immediately obvious how The Four Thieves would react if you used their premises to enjoy your prize.)

It’s a game designed to be played by teams of up to five (for a team of more than five would surely end up getting less than a glass of the potent drink each…) and it’s possible that teams of fewer than five might end up sharing their game with others who have booked at the same time. The fee is £18/player.

With so many different games available, can newcomers still be distinctive? Evidently so!

Crossword duel won by a knockout

ACPT 2015 final, care of the Visual Thesaurus YouTube channel

(thanks to the Visual Thesaurus YouTube channel)

Imagine, if you will, a crossword competition held at the TH_ND_RD_ME from Mad Max where two men may enter but one man must leave strictly positioned across and six feet down. Artistic licence is fun; the truth that led to the above genuine video still is, happily, far more prosaic.

The American Crossword Puzzle Tournament is the foremost competition of its type; a bold claim, made less contentious by a weaselly argument that the prestigious Times Crossword Championship here in the UK is a cryptic crossword competition and thus a slightly different type. Mark Goodliffe, eight-time Times champ and undefeated since 2007, as discussed in this brilliant article, has attended the US event in 2011 and 2013 and won transatlantic cryptic crosswords held there.

The ACPT has been running for nearly forty years; arguably, its high point was the release of the Wordplay film covering the 2005 championship; the attention drew the competition up from habitually drawing nearly 500 contestants to almost 700, though it has fallen back a little to 550 over the years. The 2000s started with four different winners in the millennium’s first five years; since then, Tyler Hinman established a dynasty by winning each year from 2005 to 2009, then Dan Feyer overtook him with a hegemony, winning each year from 2010 to 2014. 2015 would determine “first to six” between the pair, also noting Douglas Hoylman’s six wins over the years and Jon Delfin’s seven. Feyer winning a sixth consecutive event would also be a record.

This year’s event attracted more mainstream attention than usual, not least for its exciting conclusion that led to the photo above. Only a double handful or so of the hundreds of competitors solve all seven main-event puzzles completely correctly, including the legendarily difficult fifth puzzle, and the fastest three of them overall qualify for the overall championship. The second and third fastest suffer a time handicap penalty when solving the championship puzzle, starting this decisive puzzle a few seconds after the fastest solver of the main event. The first person to complete this puzzle, optionally check their answers, then signal their completion wins, if they have solved the puzzle correctly. As it’s a race, deciding whether or not to spend time checking your answers, and how much time to spend checking, is part of the challenge. This year, the video of the crucial three-quarter-second or so between Tyler and Dan finishing – but in what order? – demonstrates quite how big a part of the challenge it is, as shown below:

This year’s event, and its exciting conclusion, have drawn wider attention. have the times and more of the context; the awesome FiveThirtyEight have a brilliant longer piece on it as well, with more of the feel of the event and information on how a computer solver has done as a contestant over the years.

Anyone who has won the ACPT so many times is an outstanding solver. However, this site must declare an interest. One of the two blogs about topics including taking part in puzzle hunts and has tweeted about a trip over here featuring a win at Adventure Rooms in Dublin and 2/2 at Lock’d in London. More than enough reason for us to pick a favourite!

Mechanics Monday: Lost in Translation

Translation around the worldImagine that you’re playing a high-tech-themed room at a local branch of a global chain of exit games. You have seven or eight minutes left. Most of the loose ends that have been generated over the course of the game feel like they’ve been tied up and your gut feeling is that you must be close to the end. You have one crucial piece of information that hasn’t been used and one crucial piece of information that you’re missing. A major piece of furniture in the room is a large screen on a wall; on the opposite wall is your national flag and a clock showing the local time.

Suddenly the screen sparks into life once more and the image is of a room from another exit game, with at least some members of a team looking in your direction. Looking at the image further, the background suggests that the game they’re playing looks an awful lot like your own. However, the flag isn’t yours. Wait a minute, isn’t that the flag of… Poland? No, it’s the other way up. That must make it… Monaco? No, Indonesia makes more sense. Besides, the clock is hours and hours out, so it can’t be anywhere in Europe.

They’re waving at you. You wave back. Does anyone here speak… er… you suppose, Indonesian? You know two more words of Russian (and one more word of Klingon) than you do Indonesian. One of your team suspects Javanese might be more help. The audio feed coming in starts off sounding like human voices, and as you try “hello” in as many languages as you can think of (and is that what they might be doing to you?) before ten or fifteen seconds more, it gets replaced with noises of voices that don’t seem to sync with the image. No chance of trying to find any sort of common tongue and communicate that way. Another linguistically-minded team-mate suggests that international sign language exists, but none of you know it. (Even if you did, do they?)

So it’s down to the global language of mime. (It’s not quite as bad as that – you have all the props in the room you can use, and hopefully when they see you using props, they might think of doing that as well.) So what are you going to mime? Are you going to mime the last stray piece of information you have? Are you going to mime the last piece of information you think you need?

The biggest question of all, and the one that must go unsaid: when one of you gets that last piece of information from the other team, are you going to stick around to make sure they get their information and can get out as well? Are you sure… if you’ve only got a few seconds left on your clock?

Now open in Cork: AK Escape Room

AK Escape Room logoSometimes this site finds out about exit games before they open; sometimes, soon after they open. The exit game discussed below, it transpires, has been open for four months, since the very end of last year! Eek; this site is usually more on the ball than that. Sorry about that.

AK Escape Room is an exit game in Cork – and, indeed, the first known exit game in Ireland outside Dublin. (Part of the joy of running this site is that there’s always the potential for the pleasant surprise of discovering a previously unknown game that might have gone unnoticed for weeks – or, as in this case, months.) The site features two rooms, both with a one-hour time limit, both designed to be played by teams of 2-6.

The Great Diamond Robbery is the first of the rooms, and puts you in place to pull the titular robbery off. Mr. Murphy is an opulent investor and believed to own and hide a giant piece of diamond. One day, when you were cleaning his bedroom you caught a conversation through the walls. Now you only need to select the right persons to team up with, so that you can approach his office room. Not only you need to find but also take and escape with the gem stone in an hour time… or you gonna face with consequences. The door is closing immediately after entering and only the owner knows the secrets and tricks of the room. Are you smart enough to find the hidden place and take the diamond before he returns? Are you able to outwit Mr. Murphy and beat his office room?

The second game is, very slightly gruesomely, Rat Invasion. In this, Mutant super rats IMMUNE to poison invade homes and warehouses to escape flooded sewers and underground burrows. The disease- carrying rodents now seek shelters from their flooded lairs. You find yourself trapped in a warehouse without remembering how you got there. The radio broadcast unsettling news… Hordes of the brown rats are coming. Pick up all your courage & unite your team force and & act fast to earn your freedom or face your fate… Mutant rats are known to mean danger to human beings! Definitely somewhere not to hang around.

This site hopes that the location in Cork can stay afloat for a long, long time!

Cheryl and her birthday

Calendar with ten possible birthdays markedProbably this year’s most-talked-about logic puzzle concerns a birthday which is not explicitly revealed, but in that familiar fashion where just sufficiently many hints are given to reveal the information if you think about the clues and their implications.

The puzzle’s Singaporean origin is much discussed, generally making glowing and reverent reference to the nation’s world-renowned education system; at first, the puzzle was claimed to be a question asked of 11-year-olds, but a Singaporean site provides photographic evidence that it’s question 24 out of 25 (and, traditionally, the hardest questions are at the end) of a Singapore and Asian Schools Math Olympiad paper. This is aimed at the top 40% or so of students aged 14 or 15. Does that make you feel less bad about it? Not so much here, either…

The Guardian newspaper reports on the question and inspires over four thousand comments in the answers. They kindly follow up by posting a worked solution. A second answer proves popular in the comments and another post at the Guardian, two days later, argues in its favour.

If you’re curious, the answer I came up with was the second one, but I was convinced by the argument that the first one proves correct. For the argument from the definitive source, see the executive director of the contest’s clarification. Good enough for me; I was wrong.

Other than that, it’s interesting to see the world report on the reporting, as this post does once all the hoo-ha has died down. This site enjoyed the take at with a cute tale at the bottom and also coverage at the aperiodical which is the most comprehensive of the lot, not only with links to discussions in favour of the various arguments, many with videos, but also with links to several other puzzles at a variety of levels of formality and difficulty if you want to explore the field in further detail.

If this leaves you in the mood for more puzzles, the Escape Reviewer site of the Greater Toronto Area is running a contest starting at noon Eastern time (5pm UK time) today, in collaboration with Escape Games Review and Escape Room Addict who produced a puzzle hunt between them last month. There are scores of exit game prizes of interest to people nearby, but the puzzles should entice solvers worldwide. The previous puzzle hunt’s solutions are a work of art and feature ringing endorsements from known puzzle hunt veterans, though when they say “not too hard” there perhaps needs to be some… context applied from who’s being quoted.

Anyway, this leaves the world looking forward to this contest; as all the puzzles are being rolled out at once, rather than on a daily basis, perhaps that’s something to keep the world occupied this weekend!

Now open in Dublin: Escape

Dublin graffitiSo many iconic images of Dublin to choose, but the first law of web site maintenance is that when the owls with laser eyes want something, you don’t argue with them.

The Escape chain is the first to get to four different locations covered by this site, though may not (or may yet!) be the first to get to four different locations within the UK, for this is their first site in the Republic of Ireland. Specifically, their new opening is in Dublin. For completeness: Escape also have two copies of their da Vinci room and one of their Contagion room installed at Escape Yourself in Tours, in France, and their Escape Game Design spin-off may well be involved with other locations around the world.

It may be the case that the process of getting this Dublin location has proved more difficult than any of the three before it, but that’s part of the additional difficulty of becoming a multinational corporation! The location is opening with a brand new game: Espionage, with an unusual story. “Our first game in Dublin is called Espionage. It is set in an everyday apartment. However as you may expect there is a twist. Your team have been challenged with retrieving data that has been obtained by the journalist residing there. The apartment consists of clean lines and minimalistic design to hide a variety of complexities. In rooms containing hidden drawers, locked boxes and other more obscure items you need to try and find where to begin. That could be the biggest puzzle of them all.” There may well be another twist in the tale as well! This brand new game is set to be accompanied by a da Vinci room very soon.

Dublin is becoming better and better served for exit games, with the native Irish XIT and a local representative of the international hit franchise Adventure Rooms. (Sadly the local branch of fellow multinational ESCAP3D is temporarily closed; we hope the return comes swiftly.) Considering the mix of originality and the experience of the game designers, it would be a great trip to try to hit them all at once!

‘What a lucky feller you are!’

Detail of lamppost on Holborn viaduct
DASH in London has sold out.

The worldwide puzzle hunt has no more spaces left in this city. You cannot buy a ticket for love nor money.

We do have a waiting list, just in case any team has to drop out before the end of the month.

It’s just possible that some teams might find themselves a player short. I would love to point teams at a pool of potential replacements. So if you want to play, don’t have a team, and want to make new friends while solving puzzles on Saturday 30 May, leave a comment here. You never know what might happen. We’ll do some sort of puzzle dating if teams want it.

The only certain way to be part of DASH is from the other side. We welcome additional game controllers: the vital people who give out the puzzles, nudge teams to keep them on track, and keep the day flowing. Drop us an email: and we’ll love you forever.

And keep reading for a bonus challenge, exclusive to Exit Games UK.

Now open in Liverpool: gamEscape

gamEscape logoThe first city to feature five open locations, outside London, turns out to be Liverpool, all five of which have opened in the space of three months.

News reached this site recently of gameEscape, launching “at the end of the month” in Liverpool. However, booking is already open for one of the two rooms; indeed, looking at the booking system, it appears that games are available at 50% off the stated price today. This counts as evidence of opening as far as this site is concerned, and perhaps this news will come early enough in the day that somebody may be able to take advantage of the offer.

gameEscape’s modern-looking web site boasts two games, each with a sixty-minute location, each playable by teams of two to five. The pricing structure is simple: £15 per player, making this extremely attractively priced for teams of two and three who aren’t daunted by the challenge of taking on a room perhaps intended for a larger team.

The first room, The Golden Cage, is open for bookings now, and has a relatively unusual way of framing the time travel theme. “You have been transported back over 300 years, where a mystical wizard has locked you in a mysterious, magical room. You have 60 minutes to escape the Wizards clutches and come back to the present day. Use the clues, solve the puzzles & identify the way to escape or get stuck in a world where you don’t belong.” If the contents of the room are deliberately fantastic, perhaps alchemical, then this would be a very distinctive offering.

The second room, Prison Cell, has bookings opening soon. “You have been locked up for a crime you did not commit! You are in lockdown, where many prisoners of the inescapable prison have tried, and ultimately FAILED to escape, there is a rumour that one inmate has successfully escaped. They left many clues, use the clues, solve the puzzles and become the first (officially) to escape before the warden comes back and shuts you in FOREVER. You have 1 hour!

The north-west gets even more exciting still and this site looks forward to hearing more about just how well these games play!

Late April news

"Daily News" newspaperSo April has 30 days, making the first ten “early”, the second ten “mid-” and the last ten “late”. Seem reasonable enough? Here are some more news stories that have cropped up over recent days.

Many congratulations to Can You Escape? of Edinburgh for winning the Scotland’s Favourite Family Day Out award at the fourth annual Scottish Entertainment & Hospitality Awards on Sunday. (The site’s founder writes about the day.) The masses may have voted them into the final shortlist of five, but it was a visit from the judging panel that propelled them into first place overall! The site has recently launched its second game, Operation Odyssey; looking forward to reading reviews.

Exciting developments at Breakout Liverpool, who have announced their new fourth room: Wanted. The site explains: Wanted is a wild west themed room. Your quest in the room is to escape but you have two choices and ways to escape. Which side will you take, will you save the day as a cowboy or an Indian? Depending on your choice you will face different tasks and puzzles to complete. Which path will you take? Their sister site, Breakout Manchester, already have experience of running a pair of Classified games against each other head-to-head; it’s not clear whether this will have similarities or not. It’s available to book from Friday 15th May.

ESCAP3D of Belfast have a LivingSocial deal available, permitting teams of three to eight players. The vouchers can be used until September 10, 2015, and are available to new ESCAP3D customers only. Terms and conditions, including usual LivingSocial terms and conditions, apply.

Clue HQ Blackpool have also announced an opening date of May 25th for their upcoming second game, Quarantined, with the first 20 groups to book using the special code getting to play for just £50 each, regardless of group size. “With the growing threat of a radiation leak due to the increase in nuclear power, the government seek a solution to radiation poisoning within humans. Deep within a high security facility, a group of scientists work to develop a vaccine to ensure immunity, but to run tests they need subjects. You regain consciousness to find yourself quarantined within the facility. You don’t know how you got here. You don’t know who got you here. Then the screams start. Just when you think your situation cannot get any worse – it does.” Teams of three to six can play; during this game, each team member will be handcuffed, blindfolded, in pitch black darkness and locked in one of three small rooms – so, quite possibly, alone. Not a game for the claustrophobic or those aged under 15.

Lastly, Time Run of London launches its three-and-a-bit-month run on Thursday 23rd April, and already most of the tickets for the first week are gone – and if you want to play in the evening, you’ll need to look rather further down the line. It’s disturbingly easy to develop a slightly untoward crush on the Luna Fox character and even more so on the actress depicting her in the video.