Nowhere to Hyde

hydeHere’s something extremely likely to be of interest to readers, in day two (of two!) of an inadvertent horror games special. The following piece was written by Iain and is reproduced by kind permission; use of the first person refers to the column where it was first published, though this site happens to endorse the sentiments expressed.


Somewhere in London, Next Spring, Maybe

We’re also looking forward to Hyde. It’s a bio-logical maze, from the creative people at Slingshot. Here’s the backstory:

“You’re taking part in experimental trials of a new drug developed by the Jekyll Corporation. It’s designed to modify the capabilities of the human body, giving you the power to control your environment simply by controlling your physical state (your pulse rate, breathing, posture etc).

“Armed with some wearable tech your assignment is to navigate your way though a maze of connected rooms, using your new powers to complete a series of increasingly challenging tasks along the way.

“But this is a smart maze: it knows where you are, and how you’re doing. You begin to realise that someone – or something – is working against you. You’ll need to stay calm to retain control of your surroundings. Because there’s only one way out of this maze, and that’s through it…”

Some of the doors are opened by completing simple tasks: follow a sequence of lights, or find the hidden switch. Other challenges are completed by your own body: open the door by holding your breath, or lowering your heart rate. Ah! Something very new, we’re not going to get that experience elsewhere.

Slingshot describe Hyde as “Crystal Maze meets Portal in the real world”; it’s a challenge to make progress, and an unseen hand is working against you. There may even be cake. {1}

The creators are open about what they know they can do, and what they don’t know. Messrs Evans and Johnson have been working on this idea for some years – an email about their plans for 2013 intrigued us with this idea.

We can be sure that the game will be safe. Slingshot are responsible for 2.8 Hours Later, the zombie sprint game bringing the undead to the streets of your city{2} since 2010. During that time, they’ve scared almost 100,000 players witless. Some of them may actually have completed the game without being caught. Everyone has seen sunrise the next morning.

And we can be sure that the game will be scary. Slingshot’s hallmark is to bring horror tropes to the outside world. This isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and the introductory video gives fair warning. There is nothing like a locked door to make a cat curious about what it is like behind it. Curiosity pursued the cat, shouting loudly and waving something threatening.

Hyde isn’t for everyone. It is experimental, it’s pushing the boundaries, it might be disturbing, it’s likely to break new ground. None of these descriptions apply to The Crystal Maze: from the moment we heard about the idea, we knew roughly what the end product was going to be. We have an inkling about what Hyde will be, but the end result will surprise us.

That’s if we ever get to see the end result. Like The Crystal Maze, Hyde is being crowd-funded. As with all crowdfunding ideas, this column encourages caution. Stop and think for a moment. You may not get value for money, and you may not get anything at all. Can you afford to spend this money and see nothing in return? Especially as the target of £50,000 looks out of reach at the moment; through very unfortunate timing, two projects are drawing from the same well of money at the same time.

As well as advance tickets, it’s possible to be a real-life lab rat and help to develop the game. People with lots of money and an interest in game design might choose the “Mad Professor” option, experiment with body tech and transfer the knowledge to other projects. And if we all have a look behind the sofa, we might find money to hire out the entire maze for a night.

The Crystal Maze plays to nostalgia. Hyde is cutting-edge technology. We dearly want both of them to work.

More ((…including a really evocative trailer video that comes thoroughly recommended.))

{1} Excellent, lucky, or rich players gain access to the “Soho Rooms” at the heart of the maze. Is that a cunning euphemism for “cake shop”? We’ll have to find out.

{2} Except Plymouth, much to the chagrin of everyone involved.

Now open in Birmingham: Panic!

panicConventional wisdom tends to downplay the importance of providing a tangible reward for those who excel when solving an exit game. The prospect of there being a physical prize, rather than just satisfaction, may bring out people’s less enlightened natures and may lead to the risk of bad feeling from players if they feel that they were at all slighted and did not have a fair chance of winning for reasons outside their control.

The great thing about conventional wisdom is that it’s OK to ignore it – and, if you do, better go big or go home. Firmly going big in this regard is Twisted AttractionsPanic! of Birmingham, an exit game with a strictly limited duration; it only opens on Fridays and Saturdays from June 5th to September 19th. They will also be paying out a £1,000 prize to the champion team over the course of their three-and-a-half-month run. That makes it a one-of-a-kind exit game on its own.

The other way in which it’s completely distinctive is that it is, first and foremost, a scare attraction. “An experience like no other, as you go to investigate a series of missing persons cases which has lead you to this twisted warehouse of traps! Things turn drastically wrong as YOU and YOUR friends fall victim and soon become “The Game”. You have exactly 1 hour to escape. This will take brains and nerve to complete.” Teams are of 6-8, smaller teams may be merged with other, larger ones, and tickets are £18 per player, plus £1 per player booking fee.

You don’t see many exit games where the web site suggests “From the moment you arrive, even before you have presented your ticket, you are a part of the experience. This means that actors MAY/WILL interact with you.” Different horror attractions have different levels of tactility, and another part of the site suggests a rule that “There is to be NO touching of any of the actors, sets or props inside the attraction but actors may touch you.” The terms and conditions also set expectations for what sorts of scares are to be expected. “You will experience intense audio, lighting, automated motion, extremely low visibility, strobe lighting, fog, damp/wet conditions, special effects, sudden actions and overall physically demanding environment.” Official comments on Facebook hint that the wet conditions might go more than ankle deep, so consider bringing spare footwear, socks and maybe more. (Safe storage is available.)

There’s also information about the way the competition will work, and it looks sensible. “Any person/group deemed to be cheating will be INSTANTLY DISQUALIFIED. That also includes informing other groups of the combinations/answers to puzzles. In retrospect to the combinations and answers, these will be changed at regular intervals and the same combinations/answer will not be used twice. ((…)) Guests directly related or associated with staff working in the attraction will not be eligible for the prize fund, however are entitled to experience the attraction at a discounted rate. ((…)) An individual can only compete ONCE. If a team contains one or more contestants who have competed before, the WHOLE team will NOT be eligible for the prize fund“.

You know whether you like scare attractions or not. (Here, that’s a firm “no”.) You may well want to look on scare attraction web sites for reviews and comparisons to other events you might have attended. Nevertheless, the people behind Panic! have a strong track record, as discussed in this article in the Birmingham Mail. That article also has a gallery (as does this follow-up piece) and a video. Lots of big red buttons to push; this site wouldn’t dare.

A very welcome addition to the line-up of exit games in the UK, even if it’s one that this site will appreciate from many ten-foot bargepoles afar.

Coming soon to Edinburgh: Locked In Edinburgh

Locked In Edinburgh logoA couple of pieces of housekeeping first:

  • This weekend sees the UK Puzzle Championship taking place online at no charge; you still have until Monday night to clear a 2½-hour window of your choice and solve the puzzles. The puzzles were great fun and you will probably beat my score. Recommended, even if you don’t normally do puzzle competitions.
  • This site has previously proposed meeting up at The Crystal Maze live attraction; there’s enough interest that this is set to go ahead, and I’m collecting money to guarantee places. If you’ve expressed an interest, you should have received mail about it and should send through money now as described in the mail. (If you haven’t received mail about it, or if you want to jump in, please get in touch and I’ll send the payment details through.) Eight of the 32 places have gone in the first few hours.

On Friday 3rd July, Edinburgh will get its fifth exit game: Locked In Edinburgh. (Tip of the hat to Ken for pointing it out, and this site has no known connection to Locked In Games of Leeds.) The site is “located in the iconic Summerhall complex which originally housed the University of Edinburgh Veterinary College from 1916 until 2011, affectionately known as the Dick Vet. With this history our rooms are created within old labs, operating rooms and theatres which we feel will enhance your experience.” It’s about a mile from Waverley station, just past the University, and buses are extremely frequent.

Continuing the theme, the location is launching with a single game. “Since closing its doors as a Vet School in 2011, Summerhall Complex has become a thriving Arts Hub with many rooms being adapted to accommodate eclectic exhibitions, installations and shows. Some rooms remain empty, unused and abandoned or so we thought… The retired mad Professor, Doctor C. Lion, was never actually seen to hang up his lab coat when the school closed all those years ago. Strange noises are rumoured to be heard late at night, coming from the old operating room. Is the doctor still experimenting? Could there be animals held there against their will?

It’s a sixty-minute game for teams of two to six, accessed through the “Blake 7” tunnel above the courtyard. A second game at the same location is promised soon. Teams of two are charged £45, with additional players increasing the team price to £55, £60, £70 or £75 for the full six.

No animals were harmed in the making of this post.

Keeping clues in London

ClueKeeper logoThis site has previously previewed the hunts run by Treasure Hunts in London, though the stars have not yet aligned to permit a chance to play any of them. This is going to get rather easier from now on.

ClueKeeper has long been used not only to keep score and handle the administration for time-dependent puzzle hunts; it has also enabled people to play self-guided hunts, at your own convenience; a good way to learn about an area through the medium of play. However, these hunts have so far been only available in the United States – and only a dozen or so places there. Happily, this is no longer the case, as a recent update to ClueKeeper has enabled the pricing of hunts in currencies other than the greenback, and Treasure Hunts in London have launched Fairytale in the City, in which you can “Discover hidden heritage around the Spitalfields area of London“.

Start at Liverpool Street station and expect to cover perhaps a mile and a half over three hours or so. “Little Red Hen has weaved her way around London, from Liverpool Street to Brick Lane. As she travelled, she placed virtual eggs covering various items of heritage. The items hidden all have a Fairy Tale or nursery rhyme connection. Your task is to follow Little Red Hen’s route and uncover the fairy-tale and nursery rhyme connections as you hunt for virtual eggs.

This hunt is priced at US$14.99 per team, so just under £10 – cheap entertainment indeed for an afternoon’s fun for a team of up to five. There are several self-guided treasure hunt providers out there in the UK; perhaps it was just a matter of time before at least one of them started to find out what ClueKeeper might do. Fingers crossed that this is just the start and that London, and the rest of the UK, may soon see many more such hunts!

The Crystal Maze has funded! Meet you there?

The Crystal Maze liveJust over a week ago, this site reported on the start of the crowdfunding campaign for a proposed The Crystal Maze Live experience. In about a week, it reached its £500,000 funding target, and has released some stretch goals. Exciting times!

This site also proposed an industry-wide meeting there. There’s been quite a bit of interest, but there’s plenty of room for more, and the project is at the stage where it needs to go from “yes, I’m interested” to “yes, I’m willing to take the risk and plunk down money for it” – bearing in mind that, as with all crowdfunding projects, the project might not happen, or it might happen late, or the meeting might happen at a point where you can’t attend, or so on, and refunds may not be available.

So far, there has been interest expressed by 22 representatives from exit games and 6 exit game players. Sites that have expressed an interest in attending include: Escape (Edinburgh, etc.), Clue Finders, Escape Hour, Breakout (Manchester, etc.), Escape Quest, Agent November, Escape Live, Locked In Games, Can You Escape, Tick Tock Unlock and The Escape Room. These names are still at the “expressed an interest” stage rather than the “definitely will be there” stage, so there’s no guarantee that they will turn up.

Given that some attendees will have a very long way to travel for the event, I don’t think it’s worth holding it unless there are 32 confirmed attendees – plus having 32 attendees will mean that we could book out the whole of the maze for a couple of hours, and the cost of booking 32 spaces is rather lower, per player, than the cost of booking fewer spaces.

There’s a difference between people who have expressed an interest and people who have confirmed their booking. If this can get up to – say – forty or so people expressing an interest, I’ll confirm that the event is happening and then actually guarantee spaces for the first 32 people to pay for their spots. If it’s a struggle to get past 28 “possible”s, then there isn’t the interest. Please tell your friends and tell other site owners!

Some questions have been asked:

Why meet at The Crystal Maze rather than at an existing exit game?

1) So many site operators have posted excitedly that they want to play it, whether the meeting happens or not.
2) It’s not an exit game as such, making it neutral territory in a sense, but it’s something likely to be of interest to exit game companies and players.
3) At least one of the people behind The Crystal Maze also is involved with the Time Run exit game, so the hosts are likely to be interested as well.

When would it happen?

Hard to say. The site hopes to open in October. Already the Indiegogo campaign has sold tickets for approximately 1,600 teams, which will fill the maze for something like a hundred days. It is unclear when people will start picking their dates. It would seem likely that more people would want to play in the evening than during the day, and it would seem likely that more people would want to play at weekends than on weekdays.

It has been suggested that Monday would be a good day to aim for, as it’s traditionally relatively quiet for exit games – and it might be wise to aim for Monday afternoon, so that people might continue to meet afterwards (and possibly visit exit games or other London attractions, who knows?) I would hope that it would be possible to get a Monday afternoon spot at some point this year.

I would welcome people’s input and suggestions in this regard.

Where would it happen?

The location has not yet been published, other than a suggestion of “central London”.

How much would it cost?

If we can get 32 people playing, it would be £32.50 per player, plus your travel expenses.

What happens next?

Please confirm if you would definitely be ready to send money through, and – if so – for how many places. There could be no guarantee that sending money through will result in anything; sometimes crowdfunding campaigns take the money and run, though there’s no evidence of that in this case. There could also be no refunds if the only date that we can get is a date that you couldn’t make, though you could privately resell your spot to someone else.

Race to Escape

Race to Escape logoThis site has previously mentioned Race to Escape, a forthcoming game show set to be broadcast on the Science Channel within the US. More details have emerged and are good to share. The biggest headline is the date: the first episode is set for 10pm Eastern time on Saturday 25th July. The media organisations of the world have more or less accepted that they have lost the battle to restrict their programming to the country of their choice; expect the episode to be up on streaming sites within another 24-48 hours of broadcast. (If the world is lucky, the upload will be official, easy-to-find and officially available to the world. If the world is unlucky, it will be necessary to delve into the murky waters of BitTorrent.)

You can find the trailer at an article in Entertainment Weekly on the show with some more details of the format: two teams of three strangers race against each other in identical rooms. Each room has five codes to find and solve. The first team out shares the jackpot, which starts at US$25,000 but decreases over time. “There will be a variety of rooms with all sorts of unique decorations, including an old-timey barbershop, a Chinese restaurant, and a 19th century study (which is the location of the premiere episode).” The graphics suggest that at least the first code will be numeric; fingers crossed for the degree of variety, and focus upon tasks, that the world already knows from the best real-life exit games.

For a deeper view behind the scenes, see the article at the Pacific Standard‘s magazine; this features an interview with show creator Riaz Patel. The article reveals that the episodes are an hour long and – in the best news of the lot – every episode will have a completely different room. (An excellent reason to come back from one show to the next; always something new to see!) The piece also contains more background information about exit games at large, discussing them with an operator from California.

This site hopes that the show is a huge success. The Escape Room Directory points to 58 countries that feature exit games; let’s hope that the show’s creators, and initial broadcaster, are well rewarded for taking a chance on the format and that local versions of the show are made in countries around the world.

Your country needs you

Latest UK Puzzle Association logoNext weekend, the UK Puzzle Association will be holding its annual UK Puzzle Championship. This takes place online, it’s free to enter and it’s open to everyone in the world. You should enter.

Clear yourself a 2½ hour window at a time of your choosing between noon on Friday 26th June and 2am on Tuesday 30th June. (Both times are quoted as British Summer Time; you can start at any point up to 11:30pm on Monday 29th June, so you have 3½ days.) During that time, you aim to score as many points as possible by solving the 28 puzzles, submitting your answers on a web form as you go.

The puzzles are a mixture of logic puzzles, arithmetic puzzles and word puzzles. Go to the contest page and download the instruction booklet which tells you what sorts of puzzles that there are on offer this year. Maybe you can find ways to practice some of them, or puzzles like the ones in the contest, but some are original and working out how to solve them is part of the fun.

There are plenty of online puzzle contests in the calendar; however, the UK Puzzle Championship has been my favourite or second favourite of the year for several years running. It’s deliberately accessible, so as many people as possible can enjoy the thrill of proving to themselves that they really can solve puzzles that looked impossible at first. Normally I finish about three or four places from the bottom (which used to be good when there were only half a dozen UK entrants at the start, but these days there are something like two dozen, so it’s rather less good) but even so I have had a great deal of fun along the way – and you can too, no matter how little you rate your own puzzle solving skills.

Why does your country need you? Well, the UK Puzzle Association uses this as a qualifying tournament for its team at the World Puzzle Championship, which this year will be held in Sofia in Bulgaria in mid-October. Last year’s event was in Croydon here in the UK; this site covered the event extensively. Opportunities to represent your country in meaningful global competition come rarely; puzzle fans, there are no better ones!

News round-up

News round-up1) Exciting news from Can You Escape? of Edinburgh; they’ll be launching their first outdoor game in time for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. “…we need agents to defeat the evil Nick Knock, after a disastrous appearance at the Fringe last year that saw him heckled off stage, he is back to seek his revenge and ensure no one else gets the limelight. How you may ask? Well Mr Knock has planted an Electro Magnetic Pulse device somewhere in Edinburgh which will cut the power to the city and prevent all future performances. #WTFringe?” The location originally planned to open in time for last year’s Edinburgh Fringe; hopefully the Fringe will boost all four thriving locations in the city.

2) Also delighted to see Time Run of London Tweet that Jonathan Ross, no less, played their game recently. The lad Ross is known as a board gamer and a video gamer (remember his references to Sonic the Hedgehog on They Think It’s All Over years ago? …Just this site?) so it’s logical that he’d be interested in playing live action games as well. Looking forward, hopefully, to a photo being posted. Best celeb spot yet… unless you know otherwise?

3) This site started to discuss a potential industry meetup at the forthcoming The Crystal Maze Live attraction in a recent post, and perhaps there’s the interest. So far, nine sites and six individual players have expressed interest. This is probably only worth doing if we can get to 32 definite takers, not just people who have expressed an interest, so there is more room. All welcome. If you’re interested in starting your own room and want to pick lots of brains at once then this would be a particularly good opportunity.

4) Bother’s Bar are tracking the crowdfunding for The Crystal Maze Live and recently had an amusing twist on a poll about whether it would meet its £500,000 funding target or not. Poll responses were 79% yes and 21% no. It’s already reached about 75% of the target, courtesy of very strong days two, three and four, and – perhaps due to the sums involved? – has been a slightly slower burner of a crowdfunding campaign than most. £500,000 is a target, not a limit; how far can they go? Will there be stretch goals?

5) In more general puzzle news, some links that this site enjoyed:

  • this BBC report upon a marriage proposal hidden within The Times cryptic crossword;
  • the latest monthly Puzzlebomb (.pdf) features a mashup of the two most recent mainstream maths puzzle sensations – Cheryl’s birthday and Hannah’s sweets – and offers quite a challenge; and
  • a review of DASH 7 as it was played in Denver, from a team with a fantastic name that this site called out at the time.

6) Great to see another blogger still from the greater Toronto area, now making six; when an area gets up to forty-plus-to-sixtyish different sites, perhaps six blogs is about right. When there are so many reviewers out there, perhaps the logical next step would be a review aggregator – a sort of metacritic for exit games? TripAdvisor performs this to some extent, but a review aggregator which compares opinions of not just many players but of many players all of whom have broad experiences in the field would be a powerful tool – and one, perhaps, that need not be restricted to one area.

DASH 7 by the numbers

DASH logoIt’s the annual DASH stats post! Please find below an updated version of a table which details the number of teams on the scoreboard for each city in each edition of the DASH puzzle hunt to date.

Albuquerque, NM 6 6+1 3+2+0 4+0+0
Austin, TX 2 11 12 13+4 10+4+0 17+6+0
Bay Area, CA Y(SF)
73(SF) 34+7(SF)
Boston, MA Y 18 26 29 27+2 30+7+1 30+6+0
Chicago, IL 17 14 10+1 15+9+0 16+24+0
Davis, CA 16 15 16 13+7 8+7+1 13+7+0
Denver, CO 3+12+0
Houston, TX Y
London, UK 6+2 8+13+0 14+9+0
Los Angeles, CA Y 7 22 21 15+4 15+2+0
(Sta Monica)
Minneapolis, MN 8+7 7+4+0
New York, NY 12 24 25 30+7 26+15+2 29+15+0
Portland, OR Y 6 17 19 19+2 11+7+0 10+10+0
San Diego, CA 7
Seattle, WA Y 32 47 49 49+2 58+4+2 60+9+2
South Bend, IN 1
St. Louis, MO 2 2+3 7+8+1
Washington, DC Y 14 22 33 31+1 27+5+0 26+9+0

Here are some initial interpretations:

1) Errors and omissions excepted, with apologies in advance. The Minneapolis DASH 6 recast figures came from the organisers by private e-mail.

2) The numbers are drawn from the scoreboards and may not reflect teams that participate but do not make the scoreboard for whatever reason, or other infelicities. DASH 1 does not have a public scoreboard on the web site and thus “Y” represents the hunt having happened there with an unknown number of participants. When there are pluses, the number before the first plus reflects the number of teams on the experienced track, the number after the first plus reflects the number of teams on the “new players” track (DASH 5, 6 and 7), and the number after the second plus reflects the number of teams on the junior track (DASH 6 and 7).

3) Interpret “Bay Area, CA” using the following key: SF = San Francisco (1, 4, 5, 6), PA = Palo Alto (1), SR = Santa Rosa (2,3), LA = Los Altos (2), SM = San Mateo (3), HMB = Half Moon Bay (5), C = Cupertino (6), SJ = San Jose (7). (Santa Rosa counts as Bay Area, doesn’t it?)

4) It’s not a competition to see whose DASH can be the largest; all DASH organiser teams are glorious, generous paragons of virtue, whether their event had one team or 70+, and the community at large thanks them all for the time and effort that they put in.

5) Phoenix, AZ and Pittsburgh, PA both talked about having locations at DASH 6, but it didn’t happen; however, both cities now host Puzzled Pint, so they aren’t doing too badly and surely their DASH time will come when someone there steps up to the plate. Toronto and Montreal seem likely expansions as well. Where else? Who knows! (This site is rooting for Australia and south-east Asia, but other countries are certainly possible as well…)

6) The overall numbers of teams has risen over the last two years from 295 to 307 to 333 on the “experienced” track and from 53 to 101 to 151 on the “novice” track, with every city but one featuring at least one team on each of the two tracks. The junior track dropped from 6 to 3 but it’ll get there and it’s great that there’s an event that’s proactive in this regard.

Get-together at The Crystal Maze?

The Crystal Maze liveThe crowdfunding campaign for the proposed The Crystal Maze Live experience started at midnight. It uses the “flexible funding” model, so donations are collected whether the goal is reached or not. As ever, crowdfunding is inherently risky and there’s no guarantee that the project will reach fruition, let alone be on time. You will have to judge the credibility of the people behind it for yourself; you can imply this site’s opinion by the considerable quantity of jumping up and down going on here. (The Buzzfeed article yesterday is making all the right noises, too.)

The project has a nominal £500,000 goal; the first 20 minutes of the campaign saw half of the 750 “early bird” reduced-price tickets sold, and the rest went within about another twenty. There are a number of enticing options available in the campaign, generally rather more attractive than the proposed full price of £50 per player, plus booking fee. Even once the early bird tickets sold out, the campaign has been continuing to make very strong progress. Crowdfunding campaigns generally seem to need to make a large chunk of their running on the first day and this one has got off to the sort of start that you might hope for it.

The game will be played by teams that start with size eight, not six; four teams will compete at once, one per zone, then the teams will rotate from zone to zone afterwards. As the whole introduction-video-four-zones-and-the-dome experience is expected to take around an hour and 45 minutes, you might care to speculate for yourself how many games each player might be likely to get to play for the money – though watching others play and shouting advice is very much part of the experience.

There are a range of price points available. £25 gets you the chance to be a tester – which sounds great, and potentially gets you a lot of game for your money, but with 500 such tickets on sale, it might be less intimate than you hope. Regular tickets sold in the campaign are £45, or £85 for two. Better values are available if you can get together en masse: £300 for a team of eight (£37.50/player) or £1,000 for a full booking with four teams of eight (£32.50/player).

That’s a very interesting option. Would there be the interest in trying to get a big party of exit game proprietors and players together, with the excuse of a trip around The Crystal Maze at its focus? This is just a call for interest at this point (trying to work out a date might be tricky) rather than a binding commitment – but if enough people go “yes, this is something I want to do, and the right company in which to do it” then perhaps it should be made to happen.