Upcoming Unconferences

The Great Escape UK topic board

There will be an unconference about exit games and related topics happening in London on the afternoon of Monday 25th April. It’s a sequel to the one in Leeds in January, with further quarterly-ish editions around the country (and maybe beyond, some day?) to follow.

You might have seen the announcement already. This site hasn’t talked about it because only now have the details been absolutely finalised. Some people have registered already only knowing that it’s in central London on Monday 25th April. Those haven’t changed. Other changes have been forced.

The venue has had to be changed. The event now has a basement bar to itself in a lovely pub. (It’s a past Puzzled Pint pub, so it’s easy to vouch for the pub, its staff and its food.)

The time has had to be changed. The event will be happening from 1:30pm to 6:30pm, because the room is only available for certain hours.

The number of places has had to be changed. There is a limit, but it’s rather higher than the limit was in Leeds. (Again, because it’s a past Puzzled Pint pub, it’s clear how many people can fit in in practice, as well as in theory.)

The organisers have had to be changed. The event volunteer team is, well, most of the UK exit game blogging community: Jackie from Exit Games Scotland, Ken from The Logic Escapes Me, Mark from Really Fun and me.

The price has had to be changed…. downwards. A hat will still be passed, and there’ll be a request for a voluntary contribution to pay for the venue and associated costs. What this will be will depend on how many people turn up (if people buy food and/or drinks from our private downstairs bar then this will help considerably) but it’s now possible to put an upper limit of £14 per person on it.

Considering the number of tickets that have gone already, the limited number of tickets may well be reached, in which case there’ll have to be a waiting list. If this sounds like your cup of tea, please register as soon as you can. Site operators and staff are very welcome. People who want to get into the industry are very welcome; there will be few better opportunities to get the chance to pick the brains of many different site operators at the same time. Players who just want the chance to talk all afternoon in good company about these games of ours are also very, very welcome!

The event is on a Monday, mostly because it’s traditionally the quietest day of the week for the industry. Whether you can make it or not, the more general Gamecamp has said that it’ll be running on Saturday 21st May this year, after a year off. That should be spectacular, too!

Tuesday is Puzzled Pint day in London and Manchester

Puzzled Pint London logoPuzzled Pint Manchester logoThe second Tuesday of every month is always Puzzled Pint day! The Pint has been growing around the world and this month there are set to be thirty meetings around the planet, from New Zealand to Europe to the west coast of North America. For the first time, this includes two meetings in different UK cities; London is well into its third year of Puzzled Pint and now Manchester is diving in. As you can see, London’s shades of red and blue are roundel-inspired, whereas Manchester takes its hues from football colours. There’s no reason why other UK cities couldn’t host their own versions; it just needs someone to take responsibility for doing so.

The simplest way to think of Puzzled Pint is to imagine a pub quiz that you solve with a team of your friends, but replace the quiz questions with puzzles: all sorts of puzzles – word puzzles, picture puzzles, maybe codes, perhaps maths or logic puzzles – and usually very good ones. The atmosphere is deliberately very accessible and hints are freely available, so everyone, from first-timers onwards, can have the fun of surprising themselves by solving puzzles that they thought they would never be able to solve. It’s probably more fun if you come with a group, but if you come alone then the organisers will help you find a team and hopefully make new friends. There’s no charge for taking part!

Take a look at this month’s location puzzle; you’re more likely to overthink it than underthink it, and the style may give you a very exciting sense of the theme for the month. As ever, hints are available; once you’ve got the answer, the London and Manchester locations are revealed. In London, there’s a single giant location, but it’s a good one; you need to submit a response because places are limited – and if you do submit a RSVP and cannot attend, please submit a cancellation so that someone else might use the place that you won’t be taking up. (The Manchester location has no RSVP requirement yet.)

The nominal timing of the event is 7pm to 10pm, but there’s some flexibility – and your team’s timing only starts when you get the puzzles, no matter what time you turn up. Please bring a pair of scissors if you can.

Booking opens for DASH 8… oh, wait

DASH 8 logoThe date for DASH 8 has been announced as April 30th and booking has opened in a number of cities across the US. The shape of the logo and the double-0 reference hint at the secret agent theme. The web site is struggling somewhat in parts, as if someone had tried to set the date on the clock back to midnight on 1/1/1970, but individual cities have their own booking systems up and running.

The big issue is that there are some cities that traditionally hit heavily at DASH which are not yet represented this year. 13 cities have been announced, including new entrants Atlanta and Missoula, but nobody has yet volunteered to run the event in previously ever-present Boston. More to the point for this site, it’s still all looking very quiet in the UK. If nobody volunteers to run it here, it just won’t happen. (A couple of people are discussing the possibility on Twitter.) At the Exit Games UK end, things are always busy with Puzzled Pint as well as the blogging; it would be nice to play one of these things as well as to help others have fun.

Could you be the superstar to take it on? Last year’s London leader Iain wrote a call to arms last month as to what is required, along with the official guidelines. DASH in London has been blessed with fun routes in previous years, but the official guidelines state explicitly that it’s okay to run DASH in a single location if the route-planning aspect is the trickiest bit of the organisation. Even if DASH were to happen in a single great big pub all day, any DASH would be much better than no DASH.

Of course, there’s no reason why the event has to happen in London; it could happen anywhere in the UK and still be very likely to draw teams of solvers from around the country!

Now open in London: Escape Land

Escape Land graphicHere’s a first, and a welcome one! This site previewed Escape Land a year and three quarters ago, then sadly bade it farewell last September, in one of the more surprising closures. It was a very pleasant surprise, and about as unexpected as they get, to see a reopening announcement posted to Facebook last week. According to that announcement, and to the site’s booking page, Escape Land opened for business once again today! By analogy, this would be like learning that Andy Kaufman had faked his death decades ago after all.

Sites have relocated in the past, but this feels different because this site had stuck a fork into Escape Land and considered it done. Indeed, it was tempting to wonder whether this might be a completely unconnected game that happened to use the same name… but there’s enough evidence to suggest that it really is a revival. The new location is probably the best address for an exit game yet: 37-39 Oxford Street, London, very near the Tottenham Court Road station on the forthcoming Elizabeth line. (Indeed, within the length of a Class 345 train of the station.) Sure, there are other businesses on the same premises, but that’s still a heck of a prestigious place to be.

Within two and a half weeks of reopening, the site will have two games. You can already play the Professor Oxford’s Experiments game: “Why is Professor Oxford doing secret experiments on his own home? What is he up to? And why is he inviting test subjects to analyse a medicine that is not strictly speaking legal? Based on Escape Land’s original game: Escape from the Age of Steampunk. There are a lot of similarities between these two games, please only book if none of the players in the team has played that room in the past“. That clearly establishes the lineage between the two games – and the game from which it is a development was popular with The Logic Escapes Me, with What’s On UK and with Thinking Bob, so this is very welcome.

Soon to arrive is the Da Vinci’s Exploration room, which is “Based on Da Vinci’s life. This escape game requires players to work as a team to solve hidden puzzles, look for clues and to try to escape in an hour. The room gives to the players the opportunity to use their knowledge, teamwork skills to accomplish a unique escape game“. Both games have 60-minute time limits and are recommended for teams of 3-5, though teams of 2 and 6 may be possible by prior arrangement. The Oxford Street price is £78 for a team of three, £96 for a team of four or £110 for a team of five, which is broadly in line with central London rates.

A game so well-loved that nobody could keep it down makes a welcome return! If you go to try it, then be aware that by cute coincidence, another business with the same address is the Escape to London recruitment company; don’t get the two businesses confused!

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.

Coming up on Friday: Geekeasy, Pablo’s Hunt and more Handmade Mysteries

Lady Chastity's Reserve comes to East LondonFriday will be busy! This site talks about exit games most of the time and about puzzle hunts frequently. There’s good reason to talk about something different this Friday: a comedy night. Needless to say, not just any comedy night: one themed around The Crystal Maze. That’s interesting.

Project2 curates Geekeasy ((…)) We populate the bill with emerging and award-winning acts. ((…)) Each month we pick a niche theme and throw some acts at it. Expect musical comedy, stand up, improv, sketch and a Powerpoint competition. This month we’re in The Crystal Maze, with guest comedians, improvisers and musicians competing to win a taxi ride home.

Project2’s background is improv comedy with a sci-fi theme; the The Crystal Maze theme was announced three months ago so people will have had considerable preparation time. It would be easy to “punch down” but the genuine fandom and love for the genres that the group have shown, plus good reviews from an improv player that this site trusts, gives this site hope that more acts than not can stay on the right side of the fine line: irreverent good, impudent goo-ooo-oood, insolent bad. The show starts at 8pm at The Miller pub in Southwark, London, between London Bridge and Borough.

Other exciting things happen on Friday, too. Handmade Mysteries open an East London location at The People’s Park Tavern pub in the part of south-east Hackney best served by the 388 bus from Hackney Wick, Cambridge Heath or Bethnal Green. This is a slight remix of their original Lady Chastity’s Reserve game played in South London; the larger location permits teams of up to six, rather than up to five, and some extra gags along the way. This site just likes saying “My! Brother! Knows Karl Marx! He met him in the bushes at The People’s Park!

If you don’t want to leave your house, there’s still fun to be had: as discussed, the 2015 edition of Pablo’s Armchair Treasure Hunt also starts on Friday, though the teaser poster will already get you started. True, there’s a hidden box to be found somewhere in the south of England, but there’s a mighty bundle of research and thinking to be done before you can even start to work out where it is!

Now open in London: Sherlock Unlock

Sherlock Unlock logoKen, the great exit game detective, has had his eye on this one for some time but this site opened its doors for real on Tuesday. Sherlock Unlock is a brand new exit game in London; specifically, east London – more specifically still, a short walk from South Quay on the Docklands Light Railway. The site hosts two one-hour exit games for teams of two to six. The site is set to open every day, barring the upcoming Bank Holidays, though some days only one of the two games will be offered. Pairs get to play for £69, teams of three for £89 and adding players from the fourth onwards adds £10 to the price, so a full half-dozen costs £119.

The Chaos game is available already. “You knew something was wrong … Your memory is hazy… Somewhere near the Jurassic you remember a massive collision… Was it an asteroid, a massive T-Rex… Or something even worse? Nobody knows quite where Walter Spiegel has disappeared to… Life on Earth hangs in the balance… It is down to you to solve this knot in the fabric of time, and save life as you know it!” Perhaps finding when Walter Spiegel has disappeared to might be more pressing still.

The Outbreak game is being offered from Monday 21st December. “Governments across the world confirmed this morning that a devastating biological attack of massive proportion could be coming at any moment! Professor Nemrov has created a virus so contagious that a single infected victim could easily start a global pandemic and life as we know it will come to an end. A highly trained team from London has been sent to take down this incredible threat to the whole world. This team of experts, whose identities remain a mystery, are risking exposure to this horrendous disease in a brave bid to save all of mankind!

If you can create order from Chaos or can break out from Outbreak, perhaps Sherlock Unlock will be the site for you!

Puzzle adventures right now

UK map by Randall Munroe, xkcd.com, Creative Commons licence: http://xkcd.com/license.html

Click for larger version

The xkcd comic is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License; let’s hope that the author’s blog, from where the map comes, is too.

  • Ken pointed to “A puzzle for the UK” earlier today, a two-stage hunt released by Randall Munroe of xkcd comic fame to celebrate the launch of his new book, Thing Explainer. The first stage appears to be a traditional armchair treasure hunt, with hints to locations in five UK cities (London, Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol and Edinburgh); visiting the locations, or sending a location’s details by e-mail to the publisher, reveals the second stage of the hunt, about which less is known. Spoilers have been posted to the first stage locations, but people appear to be keeping the second part secret as requested.
    Prizes will include signed copies of Thing Explainer and limited-edition posters and mobiles. There will also be one very special first prize.” The book is written using only a set of ten hundred frequently-used English language words, notably excluding “thousand”, and some of the text of the hunt is as well. Go quickly, for the results are set to be published in about a week and a half.
  • Ken also pointed to Incredible Midtown: The Game, a live action walking tour hunt taking place through the “Midtown” (Bloomsbury, Holborn and St Giles) section of London.
    To get to the end, you must unravel a series of fiendish clues, solve perplexing puzzles and immerse yourself in three centuries of London history. Roam amid fine Georgian buildings, Jagger and Bowie’s favourite haunts and the sly pickpockets of the St Giles rookery. Teams of friends and strangers must collaborate with you to uncover the drama and fascinating past of this ever-intriguing corner of the capital. ((…)) Characters from Dickens novels will wander around town as you find the clues and try to solve the mystery of Midtown. ((…)) The 90 minute game will run for five weeks from November 9 to December 11. Monday to Friday only. Tickets are £12 per person and must be booked in advance.
    As well as being a live hunt and thus interesting, there is a more direct exit game connection here: Escape in Time, the company behind the very popular Secret Studio London, refer to it as their next adventure. An excellent heritage!
  • An exciting event taking place north of San Francisco is The Headlands Gamble, as discussed on the Puzzle Hunters community on Google+ and the Puzzle Hunters group on Facebook. The game advertises itself as “an extraordinary weekend trip for two with a thrilling storyline woven through it. You and a partner will be the detectives in an immersive mystery story set amidst some of the most beautiful locations in the North Bay. You’ll drive from location to location in a custom car, meeting characters, unearthing clues and following leads while experiencing all that Marin County has to offer.” It’s not cheap at US$1,950 for two players, but that covers the cost of “a beautiful rental car; one bedroom at a homey hotel by the seaside; all your meals, each at a highlight local venue; an itinerary of out-of-the way sights, planned for you; a two-day long theatrical experience just for you“.
    Reports suggest it’s more of a detective experience than a puzzle experience, but if you want a troupe of actors to put on a two-day-long interactive show just for an audience of two, this might be the state of the art. People have hinted at the famous Punchdrunk immersive theatre company putting on travel experiences, but there is not yet evidence of this being widely available; The Headlands Gamble is a game that the well-heeled don’t have to wait to play.

Now open in London: Namco Funscape Escape Room

Namco Funscape Escape Room logoThanks to Ken for passing on details of this one. (It was a pleasure to be able to tell Ken about The Bristol Maze yesterday rather than the other way round, but an increasingly rare pleasure…) It’s a little unusual.

It turns out that there’s an exit game at the Namco Funscape at County Hall in London, on the bank of the Thames very near the London Eye, near Waterloo station. There’s not a great deal of information about it, but here’s what there is.

Fancy embarking on a thrilling, adrenalin-pumping challenge with your friends or colleagues in the heart of London? Our brand new Escape Room gives you and five friends or co-workers just 765 seconds to solve the puzzle, extricate yourselves from your shackles and escape!

The Escape Room is designed for up to six players at one time, and costs just £25 for your group. To find out more or book an event, call our team on 020 7967 1066 or click the button below to request further information.” Or, indeed, you can book at the bar with no notice. There doesn’t seem to be any more specific way to book ahead. It’s very interesting that the site does not consider the exit game a sufficient attraction to promote it further; as Ken put it, it’s now at the level of an impulse purchase – and the price point suggests that too.

The time limit of 765 seconds (12¾ minutes, so the game will be something of a sprint, as you’d expect from a game that cheap) is rather unusual, but there’s something of a story behind it. You’ll see the number 765 get passing mentions in a few different Namco games – for instance, in high-score tables, or as bonus point scores. This is because there’s a sort of numbers-to-syllables Japanese wordplay that relies on the way that Japanese numbers can be read in a couple of different ways. Seven can be read as, roughly, nana, six as mutsu and five (by another, more familiar, scheme) as go. Taking parts of those readings, you get na-mu-go, which is close enough to Namco for jazz. (Hey, what’s the difference between stopped dorsal consonants between friends?) By comparison, Konami can be associated with the number 573 and so on.

One other thing to note is English-language letters spelling nazotomo in the logo. http://nazotomo.com/ is a Japanese-language site. As far as Google Translate can suggest, this might be a site all about exit games in Japan, or one brand of exit games in Japan. This site can get no further; sites which have graphics of the Japanese characters, rather than textual representations, are rather trickier for automatic translators, at least until they merge OCR-like functionality in… Even trying to look for something on Japanese-language Wikipedia, which normally works quite well for online translators, draws a blank.

This English-language review points to a site with ten such sprint exit games at a bargain basement price. Is this, along with the huge stadium events, the way that exit games are played in Japan these days? Is this the rather low-key future of exit games in the UK? Don’t know, but it might be at least part of the future, so is definitely one to watch.