Exit games in the media

Newspaper graphicHere’s a collection of stories of exit games making their impression on the public.

Now open in Norwich: History Mystery

History Mystery logoNorwich joins the ranks of cities with two exit games today. This one is in the Norwich Guildhall, which is “the country’s largest surviving medieval civic building outside London, dating back to 1407 and overlooking the 900-year-old market in the heart of the city“. Clearly if you like your games within classy, classical buildings then with Grade I and Grade II* listed buildings hosting them, Norwich is the place to be.

History Mystery launched today with an hour-long game, Archived Alive, for a team of two to six. Games are offered daily at the start of even-numbered hours from 10am onwards; the last game daily starts at 6pm, though Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays see additional games starting at 8pm and 10pm. The price, quoted including V.A.T., is £50 for a team of two plus £10 for each extra player, so the full complement of six costs £90 all told.

The City Historian loves to gaze out of his office window overlooking Norwich’s 900-year-old marketplace while he contemplates what life has been like in the city over so many years. But today there is no face at the window and the historian hasn’t been seen for days, trapped as he is in a secure archive vault. He ate the last fluff-covered boiled sweet from his pocket hours ago and his cup of tea didn’t last beyond the first day!

Crammed full of clues and curios, stories and surprises, the City Historian’s office contains clues to unlock the vault, and only you can save him before he becomes part of history himself.

The site has also announced a second game to be opened around Easter, played within real gaol cells. Authentic, and always a treat to play a game with real local flavour!

Now open in Cardiff: Escape Rooms Cardiff

Escape Rooms Cardiff logoGo half-way between Cardiff Castle and the Millennium Stadium (or the Principality Stadium, as it now apparently must be called), face east and go forward the length of a hefty up-and-under. You’ll be within a drop-kick of the first- and second- floor location of Escape Rooms Cardiff, which opened today. The site has opened with three different rooms, each of which have a one-hour time limit and are designed for teams of two to five. The web site’s graphic design is gorgeous with one of the best logos in the land.

The Finding Sherlock game is rated as the easiest of the three and recommened for teams of three. “This is the private office of the world famous Sherlock Holmes. He’s gone missing during an investigation and you must solve the clues that he’s left for his trusted friend Dr Watson. Can you complete the trail of clues and make it out in time? He’s counting on you.

A shade more difficult, the recommended team size for The Tomb is four players. “Stumbling inside the lost tomb of an Pharaoh, you set off the booby trap and you have 60 minutes before the walls come down around you! All the puzzles are from ancient times, so you have to think like an Egyptian if you want to get out of this one in time.

Also towards the upper end of the spectrum, you’re recommended to have a team of five to take on The Heist and win. “You’ve broken into a museum to steal their prize possession. Split into two, teams will have to work together, work out the clues from the gallery to get through the laser trap and make off with the goods! It’s tricky! You’ve got 60 minutes before the police turn up!

Prices start at £50 for a team of two and go up to £85 for a team of five. The site is set to open daily, with games beginning every 90 minutes between 9am and 9pm. All the nines; this site looks forward to seeing the reviews – hopefully the games turn out to be dressed to the nines!

The latest links

A golden chain of linksRather than contrive a connection, perhaps it’s best to be blunt and just say that this site thinks the subjects of these links are cool and hopefully you may do too. Let’s start with some interactive theatre.

  • The Lowland Clearances has been running at the Camden People’s Theatre daily at weekends for the last two weeks and does so again this weekend; indeed, the Sunday performance is sold out already, so it’s Saturday or bust, hoping for repeats down the line. This is explicitly playable theatre, happy to describe itself as live role-playing, safe in the knowledge that the intended audience knows that live role-playing doesn’t necessarily imply rubber weapons in the woods, as fun as that is. It’s a game about city-building and use of space and this review makes it sound spectacular. Kudos to Hobo Theatre for putting it on and to Camden People’s Theatre for hosting it; more, please!
  • Further down the line, A Door In A Wall Have announced an attractively-priced preview for their next public event. This one is set indoors, rather than being a trail around town as they have used in the past. This preview has no marking of answers and declaration of a winner, which hints that you will effectively be invited to decide whether your interpretation and understanding of the story is sufficient for you as a metric for success. It’s not yet clear whether this non-scoring system is a one-off for the preview or the plan for the final version of this piece.
  • Further still, the Sedos theatre company are putting on Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made On for two weeks in mid-April, billing itself as an “immersive adventure through Shakespeare’s final play“. In this, “The Docklands Shakespeare Society has invited respected Shakespeare historian Dr. Bianca Corbin to speak at an evening of recitation, interpretive dance and song ((…)) Four hundred years after William Shakespeare’s death, his final play, The Tempest, and the Bard himself both come to life on a lost and forgotten island… only, not quite in the way he remembers writing it… ((…)) Sedos’ first immersive theatre production takes 15,000 sq ft of a building in London’s Docklands and brings the world of The Tempest to life in a celebration of Shakespeare’s life and works. Audiences will be able to explore the island unguided, hear its sweet and sinister noises, sit in Prospero’s armchair, drink with Stephano and Trinculo and follow the spirits of the island as they torment and entertain the island’s mysterious inhabitants.” Sounds like this may pack a punch. *blows dog-whistle*

What else is cool right now? This little lot:

  • A Kickstarter campaign that has recently funded but still has a week left to go is Puzzle Your Kids! promoted by Eric Berlin, who has a long and storied track record. Subscribe and receive weekly word puzzles for kids aged nine and up! Might be a little US culture-specific, but that’s the worst thing that’s likely to be said about it. If the campaign reaches a stretch goal, everyone will get weekly logic puzzles as well, and there are occasional kid-friendly puzzle hunts (six to ten thematic puzzles plus a meta-puzzle) planned as well.
  • This site wasn’t aware that there was such a thing as a preview site for crowdfunding projects, but apparently there is and a crowdfunding project called Escape Room in a Box: The Werewolf Experiment is coming soon. (Very soon, depending on time zones and how quickly Kickstarter move.) US$45 plus potentially considerable shipping and you’ll get a box of puzzles sent to you for you to solve with your friends in a self-assessed hour time limit. The makers have anticipated replay concerns and are heading them off at the pass with plans for a refill pack so that multiple teams might each be able to enjoy the same single box. As Liz Cable pointed out, this is something of a renaissance of play-by-mail gaming. Back in The Day, if you wanted to play a game designed to be played by far more people than you could fit around a table, you had to play games postally; it was a little like a MMORPG with a latency measured in days rather than tens of milliseconds and bandwidth measured in… well, in elastic bands. These days games are playing to their strengths by sending through serious physical artefacts that cannot be transmitted electronically. Looks exciting, anyhow. Many thanks to Ken for pointing this out.
  • World of Escapes is another UK exit game directory with the distinguishing feature that you can provide user ratings, not for sites as a whole but for individual rooms at each site. It also looks rather smart. Many thanks to Ken for pointing this out.
  • It would be an exaggeration to suggest that this site has wish-grumbled this into existence, but an entertaining exaggeration. The Logic Escapes Me now has a beta version of a reviews aggregator for London escape games – and, if you’ve played more than a handful of them, you can have your ratings included in the aggregation as well. This is a very exciting development and a suggestion of what the future might look like – perhaps a more critical TripAdvisor where you can have reason to take the reviews without a large pinch of salt. Many thanks to Ken for working this out.
  • Intervirals recently pointed to Somewhere Secret in Fort Collins, Colorado; this pay-what-you-want exit game (cool for the pricing alone!) sees people try to open a treasure chest. Inside the chest is a map; winning teams get to take a copy away and are then invited to follow it to obtain a token hidden somewhere in Colorado that might be exchanged for a real prize. This doesn’t need monetary value; by the height of adventure alone, this is beautifully cool already.

Surely something there to tickle your toes!

Now open in London: Mind the Game

Mind The Game logoA lot of work, thought and love has gone into this one; the proprietors have been working on this project for a long time and previously used a different brand name which did not come to fruition. (Mind The Game is a much better name.) The finished article is a new exit game to be found in Kilburn within north-west London; it opens daily between 10am and 9pm and features a single 60-minute experience that is available for groups of two to five.

In their The Crazy Professor game, “For centuries, people all around the World were trying to create the Eternal Life Serum. A well known scientist was working on a project in his secret laboratory to create the most powerful vaccine ever discovered. It would bring youth, immortality and everlasting happiness to mankind. But sadly it all went wrong…

The Prof has disappeared and the serum is unfinished! In this state it is extremely dangerous and can lead to a biological disaster. Only YOU can save the World by solving puzzles, hints and clues to find the serum before it reaches the black market. No doubt, this will be a very entertaining and interesting race against time.

Nobody needs any additional biological disasters and London would be a particularly poor place for one to start. The game costs £40 for teams of two, £57 for teams of three, £72 for teams of four or £80 for teams of five. Will you be the ones to save the world?

London’s DASH needs you!

DASH logo

Even the best puzzle hunts need planning. Someone’s got to register the teams, find pubs, hand out slips of paper, check that the pubs serve good beer, make sure the puzzles work, jolly everyone along, and accept the thanks of many happy puzzlers.

It’s not difficult. A day to check out the route and make bookings, another day to run a playtest, a few hours to process teams, some paper to organise, and performance day. Tinsley, the International Co-Ordinator, has put together this information pack for city leads.

I was last year’s city lead for London, and I will do everything I can to make DASH a success. I pledge to transfer

  • experience about venues and locations
  • advice about team sizes
  • social media accounts
  • details of useful helpers
  • last year’s financial surplus

DASH can only run if someone leads it. Right now, there is no leader for London. And no leader means no DASH.

Can you lead the crew? Will you make 150 puzzlers very happy? Email dashinlondon@gmail.com, and let’s talk.

For Schools: the 2016 Alan Turing Cryptography Competition

Black-and-white photo of Alan TuringPerhaps this article is a bit of a repeat which makes it a bit of a cheat, but some things do crop up year after year and it has been edited for fact-checking and freshness.

This site previously discussed the National Cipher Challenge, held for teams of full-time students under 18 years of age. Happily, the cryptography season is not just one competition long each year; ever since the University of Manchester’s School of Mathematics celebrated the centenary of the birth of Alan Turing in 2012, each year there has been a cryptography competition for school students. 2016 sees the fifth edition; the first chapter – and thus the first cipher to solve – is released tomorrow, probably at around 4pm or so.

Prizes are available, but only for teams consisting of no more than four pre-Sixth-Form participants, so the limit is year 11 in England and Wales, S4 in Scotland and year 12 in Northern Ireland. There is provision for non-competitive teams to take part without scoring; here there is no restriction on numbers or ages so teams featuring overage students, teachers, parents or members of the general public outside the education system can take part purely for the fun of it. This year also sees the first edition of a sibling team mathematics competition, MathsBombe, which runs along somewhat similar lines and where Sixth Form students are allowed to play.

The competition follows the story of two young cipher sleuths, Mike and Ellie, as they get caught up in an adventure to unravel the Artificial Adventure. Every week or two weeks a new chapter of the story is released, each with a cryptographic puzzle to solve (…) There are six chapters in total (plus an epilogue to conclude the story). Points can be earned by cracking each code and submitting your answer.” The more quickly you crack each code, the more points you win for each of the six chapters. The chapters are released weekly at first but slow down to fortnightly as the chapters get harder and half-terms start to get in the way.

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

The really interesting thing is that the top prizes are awarded in person at the annual Alan Turing Cryptography Day. A video was posted of the 2015 day, and here’s a report from 2014: “Schoolchildren who had enjoyed taking part in the online competition were invited to spend an afternoon of code-breaking action in the Alan Turing Building. Nearly 200 children (…) enjoyed a wide range of activities including: interacting with Enigma machine apps running on iPads, a talk entitled `Enigma Variations: Alan Turing and the Enigma Machine’, some maths busking, a Q&A session with the competition organisers, as well as a live cryptography challenge which involved schools having to crack three codes in a one-hour period.

This site really enjoyed the part of the video where the kids at the day emphasised how much they enjoyed the live competition and the factor of time pressure. You can see where this is going! If there’s a self-selecting audience who love cracking codes against the clock, surely – surely – this would be a fantastic opportunity for an exit game (particularly one with a branch in Manchester itself – but, really, anyone anywhere, particularly one which saw itself as a national player) to become involved with sponsorship.

What would be in it for you? Especially if you can arrange a live challenge, there could be the chance to get the word out to hundreds of children who have proved themselves not only sufficiently interested in puzzles to enter a cryptography contest but sufficiently talented to do really well at it. On a very slightly cynical note, you might think of this as a way to reach 200 families, or more, who are likely to be right in the middle of your target audience and likely to want to play again and again. Seems like such a natural fit!

Grand Prix season is GO!

WPF Grands Prix logoAs hinted at yesterday, the red lights have gone out and the first leg of the Puzzle Grand Prix season promoted by the World Puzzle Federation is now in progress. If you’re sufficiently interested in puzzles to be reading this site, even if you think you only like exit games and have never taken the time to enter a puzzle contest before, you should get excited about this season and think seriously about taking part. The puzzles are fun and there’s no charge for taking part.

The name Grand Prix is an allusion to the tradition of motor races, for there are a series of rounds set by teams of setters from different countries; for instance, this is the Indian round, the next one is the Slovakian round and so on. (There are eight rounds in the competition, each four weeks apart, and your overall score is the sum of your six best round scores.) Each round is available for 3½ days, from 11am UK time on Friday to 11pm UK time on Monday. During that 84-hour window, you can press the “start the timer” button at a point of your choice and then have 1½ hours to score as many points as you can by submitting answers to the puzzles from that round.

The types of puzzles are introduced a couple of days beforehand in an instruction booklet. The big distinction between this year’s contest and that of previous years has been an addition to the types of puzzles that are featured in the contest. Specifically, this year, each round will feature “competitive puzzles” and also “casual puzzles”. Competitive puzzles tend to be grid-based constraint-satisfaction puzzles where, as the name suggests, “the objective is to fill in information on cells in a grid, based on logic or numerical constraints“. The typical form is that there will be 6-8 types of puzzles per round, and usually 3-4 of each of those puzzles; usually the levels of difficulty will vary, but the baseline is pretty tough. However, as you know what sorts of puzzles are on offer in advance, you can get some practice in advance and see if you enjoy solving them.

Specifically, this time round, the competitive puzzle types are Four Winds, Spiral Galaxies (see half-way down the page), Nurikabe, Skyscrapers, Slitherlink, Place by Product and a variant of the Tapa genre. It is expected that the best solvers in the world will be able to finish all 22 of these puzzles with a little time left over.

However, the “casual puzzles” are an innovation by this year’s Puzzle Grand Prix director, four-time World Puzzle Champion and (as personally certified) Generally Smashing Bloke Wei-Hwa Huang. Wei-Hwa writes: “If the WPC is going to be like the Olympics of puzzle-solving, I think this ((the focus on grid-based Constraint Satisfaction puzzles)) is the equivalent of having only one area of Olympic events, maybe Track & Field, and slowly removing all other Olympic events year after year. I find this very sad. I would like to reverse this trend and add a ‘casual’ puzzle section to the Puzzle GP. The puzzles in this section are explicitly allowed to be non-culture-neutral; the main requirement is that the puzzles here be easily understandable and considered fun by most solvers.

He suggests that sorts of puzzles that might feature could include:

  • observation puzzles (find the differences, find pairs)
  • word (or non-word) searches
  • arithmetic puzzles
  • counting puzzles
  • next-in-sequence puzzles
  • brainteasers
  • jigsaw puzzles
  • manipulation/mechanical puzzles
  • logic puzzles (“who owns the zebra?” types)
  • crosswords and variants
  • logistical/operational puzzles
  • insight puzzles (such as seen in an escape room or a puzzle hunt)

…and you can find examples of some of these types at his sample casual puzzles page. In practice, the casual puzzles in this first round are fill in the blank sequences, “Lights Out” puzzles, counting puzzles, arithmetic puzzles, word searches and Battleships puzzles. They won’t be easy, but they may be accessible to more people than the competitive puzzles. (That said, this round’s competitive puzzles are far from the most obscure genres and there are plenty of examples available for almost all of them, so it’s a relatively accessible round all the way through.)

This site commends the decision to add these extra puzzles, looks forward to taking part if time permits (for today is an anniversary and tomorrow is a travel day…) and would recommend the series to all readers. The more people who can find their style and level of competitive puzzling fun, the merrier!

Dates for your diary

weekly calendarThis site has got somewhat slack with updating its events calendar to the point where even linking to it in this article would feel wrong. Nevertheless, there are a few things worth looking ahead to already.

  • The first leg of this year’s WPF Puzzle Grand Prix is in progress already, starting about half a day ago. You have until Monday evening, UK time, to identify a clear block of 90 minutes and earn as many points as possible by solving pencil-and-paper puzzles set by a team from India in the first leg of a metaphorical race around the puzzling world. Some of you may know that the puzzles are always very fine and the contest is reliably great fun; this year’s competition has an added twist to make it more accessible and help more people find their level of fun. More about that very soon, hopefully while the first leg is still in progress.
  • The Coney troupe of interactive theatre makers are holding a Scratch and Salon session at the Camden People’s Theatre from midday on Sunday. The “Scratch and Salon is an open event making play on the line between public space and corporate space, and exploring the ideas around the commons“. At midday, “A map will be unfurled of scratch adventures and other playful experiences to be discovered in the neighbourhood of CPT. You’ll need a mobile phone with credit to send text messages in order to play. From 3pm – We’ll reconvene in the Theatre and host a salon – first curated with provocations from speakers segueing into an open space discussion – on what it means to make play in this space, and the politics of public space and the commons“. Not immediately puzzly, but very likely to be relevant somehow; their shows always inspire interesting thoughts.
  • February 27th and 28th see the UK Open Puzzle and Sudoku Tournaments taking place at the Selsdon Park Hotel in Croydon; since the World Championships were held here a couple of years ago, this has surely become the spiritual home of competition puzzles in this country. The company is always excellent and it’s as close to the World Championship experience as you’re going to get.
  • Closer to the usual core of this site, Can You Escape? of Edinburgh are hosting a Disabled Access Day on Saturday 12th March. “Join us on Disabled Access Day between 10.30 and 12.00 to take a look around Operation Odyssey our space themed mission, giving you a chance to check if the room is suitable and have a go at some puzzles (not the ones in the room – that would be cheating!) ((…)) People taking part in Disabled Access Day can also get 30% off bookings on the day or bookings made on the day.” Clearly Can You Escape? takes accessibility seriously; see the entry in the FAQ, but also the site’s inclusion in Euan’s Guide for disabled access reviews. While it’s far from the only site to do so, Exit Games UK is not aware of anything quite like this Disabled Access Day before and this would appear to be an instant example of best practice, well worth consideration by sites up and down the country. If you want to see whether the site is right for you, e-mail Can You Escape? first because only a limited number of spaces are available.
  • April is set to be busy, busy, busy, though in a very good way. From 1st to 3rd April, Now Play This returns to the New Wing of Somerset House in London. It’s not clear what will be on the line-up this year as the open call is in progress; “This year we’re particularly keen on things with interesting controllers, games which deal with utopias, play in a city context, and work which encourages player creativity – but games outside these themes are also welcome.” The event is part of the larger London Games Festival, “running from 1 to 10 April 2016, the festival includes 15 official events across 10 different locations” – perhaps something exit game-related might be appropriate for the Festival Fringe?
  • The Canadian Caper will be running on April 9th at the Arts & Letters Club in Toronto. “A one-day only escape experience for up to 15 teams of six ((though it’s not immediately clear whether it’s 15 teams per show or 15 teams total over the three shows.)) This is very much an escape game. There will be puzzles to solve. Solving puzzles will allow you to progress through the space into new rooms where you will find new challenges and new puzzles. Ultimately your goal is to physically escape the space. Unlike a traditional escape game though there will also be actors that teams will need to interact with to gain information.” The first episode in the series was put on by a number of bloggers and their very talented friends; us UK types can just dream and be jealous, for it sounds hugely cool and it is delightful that the first episode is not just a one-off.
  • We don’t have it so bad in the UK, though; Saturday 16th April sees the Springtime Hunt in Shrewsbury organised by the Armchair Treasure Hunt Club. “Everyone is welcome to come along and compete, whether you are a member of the club or whether you just enjoy competing in treasure hunts. Gather for the hunt at 10am for an 11am start, and it’ll probably be about tea time when the treasure is unearthed. The £25 entry fee includes lunch as well as the hunt and its prizes. Go to the club’s website for more details of how to book your place.
  • Never enough, never enough; Up The Game happens two days later. “On the 18th of April Amsterdam will host the first international Escape Room & Real Life Gaming Conference.” Their speaker list is extremely exciting with speakers from several countries. While the early bird tickets have sold out, you can still buy Advance tickets at €100 each, plus a small booking fee, plus the Dutch version of VAT, which by the way has the charming acronym of BTW.
  • Last year, this site proposed an industry meeting at the forthcoming live The Crystal Maze attraction; while all 32 tickets have been sold (and there are already names at the top of the waiting list) it’s going to take place on Tuesday 26th April. Maybe something else interesting might be happening around that time too, you never know
  • And that’s not even referring to DASH 8, set to take place in cities around the world on Saturday 30th April!

What other events is this site missing?

Now open in Cardiff: City Mazes Cardiff

The Cardiff Maze: Fall-In logoThe Cardiff Maze: Ice Breaker logoWales finally had its first exit game open on Friday 15th January! City Mazes are the company behind the wonderfully-named The Bristol Maze; sadly there are no other UK cities with names that will facilitate an exit game with nearly as good a name – though could there be a gun-themed game called The Pistol Maze some day? – so the company’s other branches will have rather more intuitive names. The site suggests that the company’s expansion plans might be characterised as “the M4 corridor”, noting that they also plan to open in Dubai in 2016. However, to get to Dubai, you have to drive along the M4 to Heathrow, right? Perhaps.

City Mazes Cardiff has opened with two different games, though the site’s “About Us” page suggests that “Our Cardiff centre, which is of the first of its kind in the local area, is now open with two complexes – Fall In and Ice breaker with a further two giant complexes to open shortly.” The site refers to its games as complexes, which hints that you shouldn’t expect an easy ride from either of them. Both games are set up to cater for larger-than-average teams and have themes that are rather unusual for exit games, though their inspirations are obvious and popular.

The Ice Breaker game is for teams of two to eight. “You have been lucky enough to secure a ticket for the first (and possibly last) voyage upon the Titanic! You are staying next door to a rather well known couple Jack and Rose. Your objective is to beat Jack and Rose to the top deck. Do you think you have what it takes?

The Fall-In game takes teams of four to ten. “It’s the 1950s and life couldn’t be better for your family in the most cliche American dream home. Or at least it was until the Nuclear Fall Out 2025! Your objective is to get in contact with your past/future self and find out what is going on… and shoot some aliens of course!

The site will be open daily. On Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, it will open during the evenings only; on Thursdays and Fridays, it will open during afternoons and evenings. Weekend days will offer games all day. The price is £25/player. Here’s hoping that Wales takes to the world of exit games like England, Scotland and Northern Ireland have done!