DASH 8 is now booking

((No, this site is not really back yet, and there isn’t any April Fool’s Day whimsy this year. Despite the attribution line above, this piece was very kindly written by Iain who ran DASH 7 in London and has written one of the DASH 8 puzzles.))

The eighth DASH puzzle hunt will happen in London from 10am on Saturday 30th April. DASH stands for “Different Areas, Same Hunt”; part of the attraction is that the same event will also be run in 16 cities across the United States on the same day, so competition is global. Registration is open, but is limited to 25 slots. While booking in the US has closed, it is nominally available in the UK until April 16th – though, in practice, with only 11 of the 25 slots remaining, you probably only really have a few days left.

In DASH, teams of 3-5 players solve 8-10 puzzles as quickly as possible over the course of, probably, 5-8 hours. You walk (or take the tube) from puzzle location to location, enjoying the journey and hopefully the weather. The travel is not timed, so you can take whatever comfort breaks, meals and other pauses you like between puzzles. Thanks to the pound buying fewer dollars (thanks, Brexit referendum) the cost in London has gone up to £29.99 per team, plus a 7% booking fee.

Each team is required to bring a smartphone running iOS or a recent version of Android; much of the administration will be performed by an app called ClueKeeper. Bring your own pencils, scissors, tape, clipboards, lemonade, magic wands, and so on. (Tape and scissors are listed as essential this year.)

DASH has historically tended to concentrate on word and picture puzzles, rather than logic puzzles, with a focus on pattern recognition and some codebreaking here and there along the way. There’ll be a riot if there isn’t a metapuzzle to tie everything together at the end. The DASH style is to have an overarching story running through the event, and we know this year’s has something to do with spies, espionage, and secret agents. Take a look at past years’ puzzles from DASHes 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 to get a feel for the form and difficulty level.

DASH tries very hard to be accessible and family-friendly:

  • It’s possible to register for the more difficult Expert Puzzles at the very start of the hunt, though clear guidance is given as to which level of difficulty will suit you best;
  • It’s always possible to take hints on each puzzle if they’re required (indeed, the software keeps rolling hints along on a timed schedule even if you don’t ask for them) and there’s never a worse punishment than a missed scoring opportunity for not solving a puzzle;
  • The puzzles are often designed so that everybody in the team should be able to contribute to each puzzle, because feeling “we solved this together between us” is fun;
  • In practice, there really is an ethos of offering as many hints as are required in order to get people through as many puzzles as possible and making sure people are having fun at all times.

More information will be posted at the London Twitter feed, or send questions to the London organisers. (If you’re less interested in playing and more interested in helping out, or if all the teams’ places have been filled, you can also volunteer to help, and maybe even playtest the puzzles if you’re really quick – so if the 30th April date doesn’t work for you, this might be your chance.)

If you’re looking to find teammates, you might enjoy turning up at Puzzled Pint on Tuesday 12th and looking for teammates in person. (Assuming there are spaces still left by then, which is a considerable assumption.) If you have teammates, then consider this thread a roll call. Looking forward to seeing lots of you there!

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!

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.

The 2016 MIT Mystery Hunt is in progress

"MIT Mystery Hunt" Indian head pennyThe 2016 edition of the annual MIT Mystery Hunt started at 2pm yesterday, based in and around that famous university, associated with Boston in the USA.

A quick summary is that it’s, arguably, the world’s most extreme open-participation puzzle hunt; a low-four-digit-number of players form a few dozen teams (of maybe as few as five players or as many as 125) and spend up to, perhaps, two-and-a-bit days solving puzzles non-stop, taking as little sleep as they dare. There is no limit to the difficulty of puzzles; many of the world’s very best solvers take part, and many of the puzzles are written with this in mind. It’s a practical assumption that most teams will be able to directly or indirectly be able to contact a postdoctorate academic in virtually every subject under the sun, high-brow or low-brow, whether in person or online. For a longer description of the hunt, see last year’s article on the topic, complete with links to write-ups of what it feels like to participate and to some of the most spectacular puzzles.

The hunt does aim to offer such a variety of not just puzzles but also other activities in order to give as many people as possible the chance to join in the fun and contribute whatever their special expertise is. It’s practically guaranteed that there will be several puzzles which will get people out and about (example), there’s very likely to be a twisted variant on a scavenger hunt (example), and it’s virtually traditional for there to be a “bring some food to the team running the hunt” puzzle – with the gimmick that the larger the team, the more elaborate the requirement for the meal to be supplied (example). There are also live events as part of the hunt, with this year’s “Escape from Mars” event sounding rather like it might be relevant to this site’s interests.

If you aspire to play all in the world’s most remarkable puzzle challenges, the MIT Mystery Hunt is one for your bucket list. Being there in person for it must surely be spectacular, though helping a team remotely is the next best thing. (This site is aware of suggestion of at least one remote cell of solvers in London, and believes there may be cells – or at least individual solvers – in at least Cambridge and Manchester.) For the rest of us – and this site knows, the hard way, that the event is out of its league! – then the puzzles and their answers are usually released fairly soon after the event finishes, so that everyone may enjoy and admire their incredible design and artifice.

On the other hand, if the MIT Mystery Hunt isn’t out of your league, why not consider attending the UK Open Puzzle tournament next month? UK solvers can qualify for the country’s team at the World Puzzle Championship!

Looking ahead to 2016: predictions for the year

Peering into a Crystal Ball

This site has ran predictions features over the second half of 2014 and over the whole of 2015, assessing the accuracy of the predictions each time so that the world can have a giggle at just how wrong the guesses were in the first place. Let’s have another go for 2016, more because it’s fun than for any other reason. (Compare to the 2016 predictions for London by The Logic Escapes Me.)

That said, predictions are only so-o-o-o interesting. It’s more fun to think about plausible edge cases; it’s more fun to predict a long shot than something more obvious, but who’s to say what’s obvious and what isn’t? This list of predictions will also attempt to minimise the extent to which it covers previously-trod ground, as “this was an entertaining long-shot that didn’t happen last year and remains an entertaining long-shot this year” isn’t particularly exciting. A couple of other starting-points for predictions: this site will steer clear of predicting things it believes to be foregone conclusions already, and this site will attempt to make the most ambitious predictions that it feels confident making; this site would set over-under lines for the numerical predictions only a little above the figures quoted.

This site considers each of the following to be at least slightly more likely than not:

  • This site will become aware of more than 51 exit game openings in the UK and Ireland in 2016. (Not part of the prediction, but this site suspects that at least 40% of the openings will come from brands and people already in the business in 2015, with a decreasing number of people starting from scratch. Deliberately short-lived pop-up games are not included in the count.)
  • This site will become aware of more than 13 exit game closures in the UK and Ireland. Not every closure is a catastrophe: some businesses have decided to deliberately run a game with a finite duration, possibly with later sequels in mind.
  • At least one brand will have at least nine locations open in the UK and Ireland in 2016. (This is perhaps the most marginal of predictions, but eight seems just a little too safe to predict.)
  • Crowdfunding will get harder; no reasonably traditional exit game based in the UK or Ireland will attract more than £5,000 in funding in 2016 unless the people behind it have an established track record in this or another closely related industry.
  • Many of the biggest gaps in the market will close. At least one exit game will open in 2016 within eight miles of the main train station in at least four of the seven following locations: Reading, Portsmouth, Milton Keynes, Hull, Middlesbrough, Coventry and Peterborough. (This site has heard people talk about possible sites in two of these, but that’s far from a done deal. Other possible cities have been rejected from the list for being too safe a prediction.)
  • The exit game industry will continue to grow sufficiently quickly that this site’s estimate for the number of unique players in the UK or Ireland by the end of December 2015 reaches or exceeds 750,000.
  • There will be a meeting in the UK or Ireland in 2016 with exit games as its focus which attracts more than 50 attendees.
  • This site will become aware of someone that it does not already know at the time of making this prediction running an exit game for friends and family on an amateur basis within the UK and Ireland in 2016 using something more elaborate than, say, a Breakout EDU kit or similar.
  • London and at least two other UK towns will each hold at least four Puzzled Pint events in 2016. (This site has six possibilities in mind.)
  • There will be a UK DASH event and it will sell at least 25 team spaces – or sell out completely if the organisers choose a lower capacity – within 12 days.
  • There will be at least 18 locations in at least three countries around the world at this year’s DASH.
  • Ulrich Voigt will win the World Puzzle Championship this year for his eleventh victory in seventeen years.
  • David McNeill of Northern Ireland will defend his over-50s title in at least one of the World Sudoku Championship and the World Puzzle Championship; hopefully both!
  • This site will finally predict the WPC winning team after picking second place for the last two years.
  • This site loves stories of marriage proposals taking place at exit games and there have been at least ten customer proposals on record. A more interesting prediction is that by the end of 2016, this site will become aware of at least one proposal between a couple who got to know each other by both working at the same exit game.

This site considers each of the following to be less likely than not – maybe something like 30% likely each? – but nevertheless these are interesting possibilities.

  • Some company may bring larger-scale live escape events to the UK, with relatively many teams playing the same game at once. (This is inspired by SCRAP’s Real Escape Game events playing in France and Spain as well as other continents, and is surely slightly more likely than last year.)
  • An exit game brand in the UK and Ireland may take over at least one other existing game, or maybe even another exit game brand altogether.
  • There may be a single-day puzzle hunt in the UK and Ireland that is not the continuation of a series run in previous years and that attracts at least a hundred players.
  • There may be some interactive transmedia storytelling (or an Alternate Reality Game, as people called them a decade and a bit ago) to promote a new exit game or a new room at an exit game.
  • This site may become aware of an Irish exit game community; the rooms do exist, as well as the Boda Borg centre at Lough Key and doubtless other things far too cool to exist in the UK yet, so it would be a delight for someone to start a blog with an Irish focus and maybe even get meetings going as is starting to happen in the UK.

This site considers each of the following to be much less likely than not – maybe something like 15% likely each? – but nevertheless these are entertaining outside possibilities.

  • There might be a TV puzzle show made in the UK or Ireland to match up with the best puzzle shows that we’ve had in the past; if someone were to commission a local version of The Genius and it were to live up to its potential, that would count, or if someone were to make a really good exit game TV show, that would count too.
  • There might be a puzzle competition (as opposed to an armchair treasure hunt or puzzle hunt) launched in the UK or Ireland which is designed to be played in teams – maybe even an inter-town league or an inter-university championship. This site really misses the Croco-League.
  • Someone might start an overtly humorous blog about the genre in the UK and Ireland: two-thirds serious content, one-third shtick.
  • Someone might start an attraction just north of Heathrow called The Crystal Hayes or in South Essex called The Crystal Grays

Some after-dinner fun

Winter scene with a snowmanWhether you have elaborate plans for your lunch or not, there are a few fun things you can do today between the main meal of the day and the last episode of Downton Abbey.

If you live near Preston, or even if you’re just visiting, you can get your exit game fix today at The Escape Room, who are open for business today as they are every other day. Hardcore! Are there any other sites out there who aren’t taking the day off? Will there be enough demand to make opening worthwhile? It’ll be interesting to see.

If Preston is too far to travel at little notice, there are alternatives where puzzles come to you. Dr. Bob Schaffer is running another online Holiday Puzzle Hunt. This is the fourth in the series; previous years’ hunts have been deliberately genuinely accessible and beginner-friendly yet thematic and imaginative. Experienced solvers will probably sprint through the three puzzles and the meta in a very few tens of minutes, but legitimate family fun to be enjoyed.

For a bigger challenge, East Anglia’s mobile pop-up Puzzle Room have put on a virtual Armchair Treasure Hunt to be enjoyed over the next two weeks. Thirteen cryptic questions hint at locations within East Anglia, letters of which can be extracted to reveal the location of the virtual treasure. One submitter of a correct answer will win a voucher for a team to play at the Puzzle Room in 2016; if you’re far from East Anglia and have no plans to visit, perhaps you can still enjoy the puzzles while taking part hors conours.

One more discount that arrived too late to make the previous post: Exit Games Scotland pointed to The Room of Glasgow’s deals page which has a code for a third off when you book before the end of the year to play before the middle of Feburary 2016.

Whatever you’re up to today, enjoy yourselves!

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!

Could GCHQ crack Pablo’s Armchair Treasure Hunt?

Pablo's Armchair Treasure Hunt 2015 posterPossibly you have heard that GCHQ have issued a Christmas card with a puzzle. Solving the first puzzle leads to a series of further puzzles (word puzzles, maths puzzles and code-breaking) unless the extremely high interest means that the web server still can’t cope with the demand. This site heard about the hunt from Intervirals, though it was also widely covered in news programmes, not least a Sky News segment featuring BrainedUp.com‘s Dr. Gareth Moore. Excellent way to get tough puzzles back in the public eye.

However, if this isn’t challenge enough for you, then in a week’s time, the 2015 edition of Pablo’s Armchair Treasure Hunt will begin. You can see a low-fi version of the hunt’s poster above; the official version is rather clearer and contains a number of clues and references which will portray some of the themes of this year’s event. The hunt itself will begin in a week’s time and will likely feature several dozen cryptic questions to solve, pictures to identify, connections to make, covert messages to discover and decrypt and doubtless much more, culminating in a physically hidden box in the south of England. The first team to discover the box wins a trophy; the team that best answers and explains all the references and hidden subtleties that have been put in place, within the month-and-a-bit time limit, also win a trophy. To get an appreciation for the form and conventions of the hunt, read through the thirty-year history of the hunt; the past hunts are available online along with their explanations, and make spectacular reading.

An incredible labour of love!

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.

Late October news round-up: the Foreign Office

Stylised globe encircled by a bolt of lightCloser each day… Home and Away. Following on from yesterday’s home news, here’s the remaining news from around the world.

  • Today sees the sold-out Ontario Escape Room Unconference 2015 at Ryerson University in Toronto. It is being chaired by the irrepressible Dr. Scott Nicholson, the foremost academic in the field – but, being an unconference, all fifty ticketholders are expected to actively participate. While unconferences don’t stream well, there’s a Facebook group, the Twitter hashtag #oeru15 and hopefully documentation to follow. If the unconference model proves to work well, perhaps it might be the first of many.
  • Carrying on from yesterday’s discussion of bespoke amateur games (and that’s no insult at all; the word amateur essentially derives from the Latin verb amare and refers to someone who does something for the love of it), while MIT has been famous for its annual global-cutting-edge Mystery Hunt for decades, it was delightful to see that the Next House dorm at the university have their own two-storey pop-up exit game, within a basement, over Hallowe’en for a second year. It could well be fiendish!
  • Speaking of student puzzle hunts, hadn’t previously seen mention that registration is now open for the 2015 SUMS Puzzle Hunt for teams of up to five, run in the traditional five-daily-rounds-of-increasingly-difficult puzzles Australian style with the first round being released on 2nd November.
  • Sanford, FL is a part of the Greater Orlando area possibly best known for its airport. However, they also have an exit game on a cycle limousine. Say what, now? Up to fifteen people bring their own beer and wine (in plastic containers) or soft drinks onto the human-powered vehicle and must pedal with their feet, as if on a bicycle, to propel it along. (A pilot steers the contraption.) While they’re doing that, and drinking, they have two hours to solve the pirate-themed puzzles – and get the clues from the locations to which they will pedal along the way – which will lead them to save their kidnapped captain. Can’t say it’s not original…
  • Finally, many belated congratulations to Lisa Radding and David Spira of the excellent Room Escape Artist blog on their engagement! Mission Escape Games of New York City helped by hiding a custom box made for Lisa as they (and their team!) played the location’s brand new Nemesis game (see their review) – but the fun only started there. Happily, the second half of the story has been impeccably caught in a series of photos. The very best of joy and health to you both!