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!

University challenges

SUMS puzzle hunt logoSeveral universities around the world have their own puzzle traditions. The most famous of them all is probably the MIT Mystery Hunt, with a history almost three dozen years old. This site has also previously discussed the Australian puzzle hunt tradition and reviewed this year’s MUMS Puzzle Hunt put on by Melbourne University’s Mathematics and Statistics Society.

Sydney University’s Mathematics Society have their own puzzle hunt, with a history about half as long as its Melbourne counterpart. The format is reasonably similar to that of the MUMS hunt, though as well as the history being only half as long, the maximum team size permitted is only half as large: 5 rather than 10. Does this mean that the puzzles are any lighter? Well, you’ll have to decide that for yourself. This year’s hunt has its first act of five revealed at noon Sydney time on Monday 27th October… which translates to 1am GMT on Monday 27th October and that the first act is already up and running. The next four acts will be revealed daily, again at 1am GMT, along with hints to previously-revealed acts. Find yourself a team (or start yourself one!) and get stuck in.

There are mathematics societies at UK universities, but none have quite the same sort of puzzle hunt tradition. Warwick’s one has had a local puzzle trail at their end-of-year barbecue, some years, and both Oxford’s and Cambridge’s have had at least one event that they have described as a puzzle hunt in the past. (As ever, if you know of any events that this site should be writing about, please get in touch about them.) Cambridge’s Archimedeans have a long-held tradition of an annual Problems Drive stretching back at least fifty years – and it’s fun to think that 1964’s problem one has at least 25 more answers known now than it did then, courtesy of GIMPS.

In this vein, Oxford’s Invariant Society has a free puzzle drive coming up this Tuesday, with a £200 first prize sponsored by Oxford Asset Management. The event starts at 8:15pm and presumably takes place in Oxford’s still-new Mathematical Institute, the Andrew Wiles building. The puzzles are quite likely to be relatively mathematical; it’s unclear whether or not the Invariants’ puzzles page can be considered representative of what might be asked on the night. It’s also unclear whether it’s a team event or not, but it would seem more likely than not.

Cambridge has other treats to offer, though. As part of the Curating Cambridge programme, the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences is offering a one-night pop-up exit game on Tuesday 18th November, with the Polar Museum Memorial Hall offering a similar one the week beforehand.

Adults only. £30 per group. Booking required.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to escape the museum…

The Polar Museum and the Sedgwick Museum bring you Museum Escape, an interactive live escape game. Find hints and clues, solve puzzles, and crack codes as you race against time to escape from a ‘locked room’.

Designed for groups of 3 to 8 people, this game lasts for 45mins, beginning at set times.

To make a booking for either location

With only a few games being played each night, perhaps the games might have sold out already. However, it’s worth getting in touch with the organisers to congratulate them for their imaginative event and showing them that there’s sufficient demand that they might want to run the event more frequently!

The Australian puzzle hunt tradition

Australian flagNews has reached the site, over time, of three puzzle hunts all set within Australia. All three are primarily organised over the Internet and all three welcome online participants from around the world.

The oldest of the three is the Melbourne University Mathematics and Statistics Society’s Puzzle Hunt, hereafter the MUMS hunt, which has archives dating back to its first year in 2004. A little younger, since 2007, is the CISRA hunt, where CISRA stands for Canon Information Systems Research Australia who promote it, and the archives of the University of Sydney’s counterpart SUMS puzzle hunt date back to 2009. All three have some similarities in format, to the point where it may be useful to consider them (slight variants of) a conventional Australian format.

The Australian format generally has five rounds (known as Acts or Groups) of puzzles leading up to a single metapuzzle relying on all the previous answers. On the first day of the hunt, the first round of (normally four, though sometimes five for CISRA) puzzles is released, and each puzzle can be solved for five points. On the second day, the second round of puzzles is released, along with the first hint for each puzzle in the first round. Each second round puzzle can be solved for five points, but the value of the first round puzzles drops to four points. Similarly, on the third day, a third round of puzzles is released, valued at five points each, along with first hints for the second round of puzzles, now valued at four points each, and with second hints for the first round of puzzles, with a value that drops to three points each.

Day four sees a fourth round of puzzles and extra hints for each of the previous three rounds, and day five sees a fifth round of puzzles and hints similarly. (Each round has a maximum of three sets of hints, and a minimum value of two points per puzzle.) You’ll generally need (almost?) all the puzzles’ solutions to be able to solve the metapuzzle, and the MUMS hunt has a physically hidden object to find as a result of it. That’s the only extent to which a physical presence is required.

The MUMS hunt welcomes teams of up to ten solvers, SUMS limits teams to five and CISRA limits teams to four. I recognise some crossover between the top teams in the MUMS hunt and the top participants in some of the other great online hunts from around the world, though the names are not always the same.

More excitingly, I think I recognise some team names as having UK members; the ManMaths team has Manchester solvers, including the team behind the wonderful Puzzlebomb. Likewise, I get the impression that the PuzzleBrains team may come from the forum, and a little investigation into team “Fifty-Nine Degrees North” points to solvers on Orkney. So a great deal of UK interest, and I’m sure there must be other UK solvers I don’t know about. Good luck to you all, especially in the next MUMS hunt, which starts on Monday 5th May!