Good news for the end of November

"Good News for a change!" - adapted from Rick Warden, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 licence

Adapted from an image by Rick Warden, released under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 licence,
originally created using a Flickr Commons non-copyrighted archival photo

Never enough good news stories. Never, ever enough of them.

  • Congratulations to Sofija and Artur who recently became engaged at Locked In Edinburgh; the story even made it onto STV! If you’re in the UK, you can enjoy the couple’s moment by watching a later part of this episode of The Fountainbridge Show within the next 30 days – and aired on St. Andrew’s Day, no less! This is the ninth UK exit game proposal of which this site is aware; this is the point at which these stories will continue to be joyously celebrated, but perhaps no longer counted.
  • On the subject of TV, Nick Gates of Bother’s Bar passes on a suggestion that Race to Escape is due to be broadcast in the UK, on our version of the Discovery channel, available on Sky and Virgin. A few months ago this site discussed covert ways to watch the show but this will be much more convenient, as well as – ahem – legal. This site considers it a varied, imaginative and entertaining show, though criticisms that it requires (and thus risks encouraging) horrible behaviour from exit game players do have a point.
  • Still on the subject of TV, though here it’s TV inspiring live games rather than the other way around, the live The Crystal Maze attraction is whirring into life with Indiegogo backers being able to select their tickets today and sales surely being opened up to the rest of the world very soon. With so many booking options sold during the campaign and literally thousands of people booking tickets, the booking process appears to have been a little bumpy in patches, but only a little and largely quickly resolved.
  • It’s been a bumper year for Rubik’s cube speed-solving records. Back in May, Collin Burns clocked a 5.25 second solve of a standard 3x3x3 cube to break a World Record that had lasted two years; on 21st November, Keaton Ellis improved on this with a 5.09 second solve, a new World Record. Unfortunately Keaton may go down in history alongside legendarily transient record-holder Olga Rukavishnikova, for his landmark achievement was overshadowed only about an hour or so later when Lucas Etter clocked a 4.904 to break the five-second barrier. Far better to have been the fastest that the world has ever known, even if only briefly, than never to have held the crown at all.
  • On the subject of records and prizes, Escape Manor in Ottawa, the capital of Canada, have announced on their Facebook that they’re holding an exit game design contest with a buxom prize pool of six thousand Canadian dollars; five finalists will be selected to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges. “The top 3 contestants will be awarded a cash prize and a chance to help have their room developed at one of the Escape Manor locations!” This site contacted Escape Manor for comment, which has not yet been returned, as to whether entrants have to be Canadian and whether it might be possible for a finalist to pitch by videoconference should travelling to pitch in person be uneconomic. At the very last, perhaps it’s a model for design contests in the future.
  • A less geographically constrained, less competitive endeavour is the forthcoming Breakout EDU game jam on 9th-10th January 2016. Breakout EDU is a standard collection of equipment intended to help people create classroom games with something of the exit game nature to them – though normally breaking into a box, rather than breaking through a locked exit door. The standardisation of the platform means that if you design a game, anyone around the world will be able to play it; there aren’t many games available in this way yet, but this event will hopefully get people creating – and then using the created games. While the tools may be relatively frequently found, there’s no limit to the puzzles and ingenuity that might surround them; you can create games for four- and six- year olds, or anywhere up the scale to being for adults. Get designing games wherever you like, but the focus on one weekend will inspire physical events at which many people with a common goal can get together to get creating. Exciting times, and – again – perhaps a model for another part of the future!

Racing to Escape

Race to Escape logoExit Games UK has previously looked forward to Race to Escape, a game show with an exit game theme that started on the Science Channel in the US yesterday. Happily, the first episode was very much to this site’s taste; the short series of six episodes promises a different theme each week and if the variety and standard remains this strong then the series will be something really rather remarkable indeed. In the worst-case scenario, later episodes in the series might have little to offer, but the first episode is still something of a must-watch.

The first question – at least to UK readers – is how to watch the series at all. If you’re in the US, then the solution is simple: it’s available to be streamed, free of commercials, on the channel’s own official site. If you’re not in the US, perhaps you might be able to persuade the official site that you actually are by means of a VPN or such – likely this won’t be free, but it’s cheap, can be reasonably simple, and comes recommended. It’s possible that someone might upload an illicit copy of the first episode to a video site; it’s also theoretically possible that, more legally, one of the UK channels over here might pick the show up.

((Edited to add:)) Oh, what the hell – here’s a link to just such an illicit copy of the first episode. As might be expected, there are a few ads to be closed, and there’s no guarantee that the link will last for long. Nevertheless, enjoy.

As previously discussed, the format is simple. Two teams of three strangers compete to escape identical rooms; the first team to escape within 60 minutes wins a cash prize. Escape within 20 minutes and win $25,000; take longer than that and the money starts to tick away at $500 per minute. Optional clues reduce the potential prize by $5,000 each. Based on a sample of a single episode, the actual show lives up well to the considerable potential. There is remarkably little messing about and the show gets straight to the action. The rooms are the true stars and look gorgeous. The puzzles are… not the most original things in the world, but sufficiently well-designed to impress and look like they have had more money spent on them than could be found in (almost all?) escape games’ budgets. The chain of cause-and-effect sometimes isn’t completely logical, but the show proceeds with such speed and spirit that on the few occasions that people might reasonably stop and say “Er, why?” that it gets away with it convincingly.

The host, Jimmy Pardo, plays his role with about as straight a bat as you might ever expect to see from a comedian, with only a couple of arch hamming-it-up moments. He interrupts the action occasionally to demonstrate the teams’ activities demonstrating certain psychological principles, which is a tenuous reason to justify the show’s broadcast on the Science Channel, but works well enough. The contestants are smart and likeable, though seem to be (if not quite over-emoting then perhaps) sugar-rushing their way through; they’re clearly having a great deal of fun playing the game, and this comes through convincingly. Maybe you can’t play the puzzles at home yourself as well as you might, but you can imagine how much fun it must be to get the chance to do so for real. The first episode left this site wanting more and looking forward to future episodes. Congratulations and compliments to everybody involved.

((Edited to add:)) The host recently took questions from the public on Reddit’s “Ask Me Anything” section. Most of the questions were about his Never Not Funny podcast, but there were a few about the show, with some interesting views behind the scenes.

Has there ever been as good a time for watching puzzle shows around the world as this? Series four of The Genius has been sensational, four episodes in; Only Connect is reliably superb, and Race to Escape has got off to a heck of a start. Happy days.

One more other global issue; while Exit Games UK doesn’t habitually cover US site launches, please do keep an eye on the newly-opened Locurio of Seattle. By way of full disclosure, Exit Games UK knows one of the founders a little, but it respects the knowledge and background experience of the founders so much that the site has exceptional potential.

Puzzle TV update

"The Genius" garnet and logoIt’s a joy to have a good excuse to use the above logo again; the fourth series of Korean sensation The Genius is now under way. At time of writing, the first two episodes have been broadcast, translated and covertly reposted with English-language subtitles. The subtitle of this series is GRAND FINAL, and it’s an all-star series; the thirteen contestants have all played one or two of the first three series – and, furthermore, they include the top two finishers from each of the first three series. (Sadly, some of the most entertaining and biggest mouths of the first two series aren’t back.)

This site previously discussed the show; in summary, imagine Big Brother with really smart contestants playing proper clever, puzzly games. You can jump in at the start of the fourth series which stands alone, but you may also get more from being familiar with the personalities if you’ve watched the first three series (highly recommended; the games broadly get more interesting and better-played over time, but the first series has the single most brilliantly-played game to date and the second series has the single most brilliant piece of gameplay, which is not quite the same thing). Links to shows plus translations are at the usual place.

While the UK isn’t cool enough to have The Genius, it does have dear old Only Connect, brilliant in its own right and its own fashion – though this site maintains that the show has, metaphorically, put on a jazzy bow tie ever since it moved to BBC 2, just for a giggle. The new series starts on Monday 13th July. Get in early if you can, because you stand much more chance – though still not much of a chance, unless you’re good! – at being able to play along with the episodes at the start of the series. BBC FOUR starts its brand new show, Hive Minds, on Tuesday 14th July, hiding its tricky quiz answers in word search puzzles with hexagonal grids. The clips suggest that there may well be some play-along-at-home value to it.

Later in the month, with most direct relevance to exit games, the Science Channel in the US is launching Race To Escape, as previously discussed. Some more videos have been posted, one featuring the rules to the game. (Two teams compete to escape identical rooms; the first team to escape within 60 minutes wins a cash prize. Escape within 20 minutes and win $25,000; take longer than that and the money starts to tick away at $500 per minute. Optional clues reduce the potential prize by $5,000 each.) One video suggests that they’re going to use some techniques for the show’s clues which this site would consider a little exotic because real-life exit games cannot have a TV budget; this is good to see, and probably essential because many of the show’s viewers are likely to have played games and seen the relatively simple stuff first-hand. Fingers crossed!

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.

Birthdays and bonus news

Birthday cake with one candleThis site loves it when exit games post about their birthdays, not least because it provides more definitive dates with which to back-populate the Timeline of exit game openings. Happy first birthday for today to Breakout Manchester, for last Saturday to Escape of Edinburgh, and for last Tuesday to Tick Tock Unlock of Leeds, who have a particuarly fun-looking cake.

You may have seen it already, but a few days ago, Buzzfeed posted an amazing oral history of The Crystal Maze with contributions from Richard O’Brien himself, producer David G. Croft, production designer James Dillon, Medieval zone fortune-teller “Mumsy” actor Sandra Caron and first ever team captain Ken Day. Great work.

Here’s a different sort of entertainment, but nevertheless very interesting: Theme Park University reported on the shelving of a theme park project entitled Evermore in which “Instead of the traditional queueing for rides and shows, through wireless technology, guests would be paged via smart phone or other wireless devices to let them know their adventure was about to begin. (…) Each of Evermore’s experiences was to feature a small group that would live out individual adventures filled with live actors, special effects and even some rides along the way.

While this won’t be coming to fruition right now, it seems to have given birth to a mixed reality attraction (and pretty far along the mixed reality spectrum towards the virtual reality end) called The Void. Its trailer video is impressive. That says nothing, but that along with a first-hand report of playing various prototypes sounds extremely promising. Maybe it’s rather lighter on puzzles than would interest this site, but perhaps future games using the system may have more to offer.

Lastly, this site needs to eat some humble pie. You might have detected a little disbelief, or at least hints of sniffiness, that Inverness might support two exit games. This site has drastically underestimated the might and relevance of Inverness, and is delighted to have learned just how wrong it was.

No less a source than the Office of Network Statistics has revealed this data of travel trends for 2014. Take a look at dataset four – and, specifically, table 4.16 within it. It transpires that the ten UK cities that are the biggest destination for holidays specifically (i.e. excluding family visits, business trips and other reasons for visits) are – in descending order – London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Inverness and Liverpool tied for fifth, and only then followed by Brighton, York, Oxford and Birmingham. Even if all trips to the Scottish Highlands are categorised as Inverness, that’s still immensely different to what this site would have expected. While another table in the series suggests that visitors to Inverness skew relatively old, perhaps it’s more appropriate to consider Inverness in terms of its tourist destination profile than just its raw size. Maybe it’ll be able to sustain three or more exit games, not just two!

Puzzle news in brief

News in BriefNot convinced about that graphic, but it took so much more work than it probably should have done… :-/

Puzzled Pint in London’s “Bubble” location was a smashing success; 79 players took part on 19 teams (not counting 3 GC members and two spectators), of whom 17 finished in full. The puzzles attracted plenty of compliments, with at least one that will last in the memory as probably better suited to being attempted after a couple of pints. As ever, the puzzles will be uploaded within, probably, a few days so that if you couldn’t make it then you can print them out and enjoy them in the comfort of your own home. Feel free to move from “Bubble” to “Squeak” from month to month according to which location suits you better, but this month there was plenty of room at “Squeak” and a bit of a squash at “Bubble”; when booking two rooms requires a certain amount to be spent at both, a more even split would suit rather better.

A new puzzle show – the category being a puzzle-focused subset of game shows – started on BBC 2 at 6:30pm on Monday. Cuddly Uncle John Craven oversees a team of four contestants attempting to solve three examples of two styles of puzzles in each of four “zones”, themed around different sorts of puzzle style. The more puzzles that are answered correctly, the more time the team have to try to win the prize at the end of the show. It’s a bit like a low-budget all-mental-game The Crystal Maze except much less kinetic – practically stationary. The puzzles include some very familiar styles, but the puzzle material is habitually very good and extremely well-suited for playing along at home. The endgame is great fun and rattles through at a good pace. Some videos of the first episodes have been uploaded to YouTube, possibly officially, possibly illicitly, so you may be able to take a look even if you’re outside the UK.

There was a hint at Puzzled Pint of an extremely exciting-sounding event possibly taking place; no specifics, but more news will follow if the event is confirmed and if this site gets permission to share. Fingers crossed, because the suggestion caused literal bouncing with excitement!

Exit game media in early May

Jimmy Pardo, host of Science Channel's "Race to Escape"

(image via The Onion’s A.V. Club, with thanks)

Is this the media face of exit games? (Apart from being, very nearly, the face of an IT director this site knows…) This is the face of podcaster and comedian Jimmy Pardo, who is set to host Race to Escape on the Science channel in the US from July. The press release from channel owner Discovery Communications suggests that “Two teams of three strangers compete in the ultimate test of grace under pressure. Trapped in a locked barber shop, a bar, or a 19th century drawing room, the teams race the clock to solve clues hidden in their room to open the door to freedom and wealth. As the time ticks down, so does the money they stand to win. The first team to escape takes the prize and ultimate bragging rights.

This show could be really to this site’s taste if it has excellent, play-along-at-home puzzles and focuses on them. Alternatively, if it focuses on the interactions between the team members and the host being sour about the same, it could conceivably be, er, much less to this site’s taste. The world can but wait and hope. It’s certainly a lot closer to exit games in the mass media than the UK has got, other than the long-sought holy grail, two contestants competing at identical one-person exit games on episode 3 of Britain’s Brightest, which aired on BBC 1 on 19th January 2013 if you can make miracles happen.

The UK might get closer very soon, though: on May 12th, the latest series of Big Brother will start in the UK. This site has discussed the possibility of turning the show into an exit game; there’s half a thought that this show might turn itself into an exit game – at least for a while – because of its trailer and accompanying article from the Independent suggesting that this series will have a “timebomb” theme. You’d have thought that a time limit plus a confined space would be ideal territory in which to site an exit game, but the Independent speculates that the motif may be taken as an excuse to play with time in other ways.

Another contender for the title, which you’ve very likely already seen, is the exit game clip from Season 8, Episode 16 (“The Intimacy Acceleration“) of The Big Bang Theory, though you might not have seen the excellent Intervirals post about it, which includes Tweets with behind-the-scenes photos. The game bears considerable coincidences to Room Escape AdventuresTrapped in a Room with a Zombie. It’s arguable whether the clip paints exit games in the light of poor value for money, but suggesting that the team escaped in six minutes is a clear hint of the smarts of the team, not a complaint about the game.

The Crystal Maze at 25

the-crystal-mazeThe first episode of The Crystal Maze was broadcast in the UK on Channel 4 on Thursday 15th February 1990, twenty-five years ago to the day. Happy silver anniversary!

For those who don’t know, in each hour-long episode, teams of six contestants went around the titular maze, visiting each of four zones in turn. In each zone, they would face three or four games, played by a team member of their choice. These games would last between two and three minutes in length, and would be chosen from categories entitled physical, mental, mystery and skill. Each game would see the player have to enter a cell, attempt to retrieve a crystal and exit the cell within the time limit, but (generally) winning the crystal would require successfully completing a test of strength, agility, dexterity, balance, problem-solving, ingenuity, lateral thinking or sometimes just plain following instructions. Failure to escape within the permitted time, or sometimes making sufficiently many errors within a game, would see the player locked into that cell and would require the team to, optionally, relinquish a crystal won from another game in order to rescue the player from the cell. One all four zones had been visited, remaining team members aimed to collect certain foil tokens blown into the air within the Crystal Dome, having a time limit proportionate to the number of crystals they had remaining.

The show was distinctive and gained sufficient cult following to last six series, with much to commend it:

  • The games were frequently brilliantly designed, mostly great fun to watch and their sheer variety of games (typically close to fifty per series) meant that there’s a good chance, unless you’re a dedicated fan, that you’ll frequently be pleasantly surprised by something new.
  • The pace was tremendous; if a game is not to your taste, something different will come along within the next three or four minutes. (There were no artificial pauses, or replays, or contestant asides to camera, or any of the other modern additions which might feel dramatic but really just waste time.)
  • The set and soundtrack were elaborate, atmospheric and gorgeous; it’s fun to watch people enjoying themselves by playing with elaborate toys, and the show had some of the most spectacular vicarious fun to be found on TV.
  • The hosting by Richard O’Brien (in the first four series) was irreverent, witty, fantastic and didn’t take itself seriously. (Ed Tudor-Pole in the last two series? …if you ain’t living it, it ain’t coming out of your horn.)
  • The show had vast play-along-at-home value when you were able to work out what to do more quickly than the contestants; if you’re the sort of person who needs to make yourself feel superior to the contestants on-screen struggling and occasionally slightly suffering as a consequence of their mishaps, there were usually opportunities to do so.

The show has a certain timeless quality to it, by virtue of its time-travelling motif, and the production values were so high that it stands up on its own merits decades later. The show is sufficiently well-loved that the game show-focused Challenge TV channel here in the UK still show repeats from time to time; indeed, they are celebrating the anniversary with eight episodes in a row today – a classy, commendable touch. It would not be at all a surprise if the show were to go on to be repeated for decades further.

The Guardian has a story (from a couple of days ago) about the anniversary. The content is excellent, though the tone of the piece is a little incongruous and strained in places. The show is so well-loved, particularly among the game show fandom, that from time to time people discuss whether it might be remade; remade game shows, no matter how lovingly or accurately recreated, often tend to struggle and be brushed off with “It’s not the same“. Perhaps what people really mean is “I want to feel young again, and the show reminds me of when I was young”; the solution to that is something exciting and new… though possibly evocative of the hits of the past, and drawing upon their strengths. (It’s rare for a second host to match up to the original, and you couldn’t expect an increasingly frail 72-year-old Richard O’Brien to be nearly as kinetic as he was in his late forties and early fifties.)

The piece in The Guardian does perceptively touch upon the link between The Crystal Maze and the explosive growth of exit games; this site completely concurs. The Crystal Maze has become a byword (or, perhaps, a byphrase – a byname?) for any sort of TV challenge where part of the puzzle is to work out exactly what to do, or where the instructions may not be completely obvious. The “collection of minigames” format is not original to the show – see, for instance, the format that the world knows as The Price is Right, dating back at least a couple of decades earlier – but that is another familiar niche that the show has carved out as its own.

This site is convinced that The Crystal Maze‘s popularity and familiarity have contributed to the rapid public acceptance of exit games in the UK and Ireland. (It’s far from essential, though, looking at the success of the genre in countries which have never been exposed to the show.) Every country has its own favourite sort of intellectual game, but the phrase “it’s a bit like The Crystal Maze” has so immediate and familiar as to convey the key message of “go into a room, work out what the puzzles therein want you to do, solve the puzzles and get out within the time limit” in concise shorthand. Some sites refer to it explicitly when describing how their game works; even when they don’t, those who have played it will often make the comparison when describing the game to their friends – and it’s a comparison that is often so well-received as to make people want to play.

If that weren’t sufficiently connected to exit games enough, the first five series of the show each had one game that drew upon the murder mystery party games that had come to popularity in the 1980s – and, indeed, which some exit games can still be compared to. Enter the cell, there’s a dead body on the floor, it’s probably clutching an instruction, the instruction determines where to look within the intricately decorated cell and how to interact with the scenery, follow the chain of clues and eventually you’ll reach the last one which is rewarded with success – and hopefully you’ll do it before the time limit expires.

The show was popular enough to develop its own fan following, with Marc Gerrish’s site an excellent, database-like repository of information about each episode and every game played therein. It has screen grabs and statistics of these murder mystery games as played on the show in series one, two, three, four and five. (There wasn’t one in the sixth series, possibly because by that point each zone had hosted a murder mystery once and a sixth would’ve retrod old ground.) You can find a great many illicit videos of episodes of the series on YouTube; if you don’t want to spend the time looking up particular episodes and then finding particular games within them, you can just look at this wobble-vision off-screen recording of a contestant playing the murder mystery from series four.

If you were sufficiently keen on The Crystal Maze to watch more than a couple of episodes of it, there’s a good chance that you wanted to play the game and feel it for yourself. For years in (mostly) the early- and mid-’90s, there were a number of The Cyberdrome Crystal Maze attractions at bowling alleys and other family entertainment centres in the UK. This site has long planned to try to compose the paean to them that they deserve; their fading suggests that they may have been ahead of their time, or perhaps that they used unreliable technology that proved too hard to maintain, or perhaps they did not have the degree of repeat play value in practice necessary to pay their considerable way, or perhaps – just perhaps – The Crystal Maze might, sadly, have been just a bit too niche an interest after all. Nevertheless, this site is really impressed by Boda Borg, which would seem to have independently developed many of the same essentials. It has several sites in Sweden, one in Ireland and at least one is coming to the US within a few months.

Could the brand still have value in a participation experience in the UK these days? Perhaps, just perhaps. The particular challenges would include the need to establish dozens of different challenges, at a much greater physical location / rent cost than a typical exit game, the potential for much greater need to reset the games between plays (though the Cyberdrome games broadly handled that well) and either an intensive labour requirement for people leading the teams around the maze or an intensive tech requirement to direct people from game to game. There would certainly be some retro chic value to it, if ever it were to happen. We can but hope and dream… and improvise our own games until it happens, if ever it does. Tooooooooo the Crystal Dooooome!

Also happening this weekend: the second, Slovakian-authored, round of the WPF’s Puzzle Grand Prix series runs until the end of Monday, Central European Time. 90 minutes to earn points by solving puzzles of varying difficulty, with four puzzles of each of six different styles available. Take a look at the instruction booklet and see if any of the six types tickle your fancy. Also, if it’s Sunday night, it’s Quiz The Nation night, buuuuuut the official results from last week have not yet been posted and the official results from the week before have not had their prize payouts confirmed, so while these teething troubles are being sorted out, maybe play this one for fun (and, happily, it is fun) with the free credits supplied and more in hope than in expectation of the cash prizes.

Looking ahead to 2015: predictions for the year

Crystal ballThis site ran a predictions feature over the second half of 2014 then assessed the accuracy of its predictions. More strictly, the piece was a series of probability estimates, which is not quite the same thing. This year, to make things more explicit, this site will split its estimates into challenges, which represent interesting predictions that have an outside chance of happening but this site considers to be less likely than not to happen in 2015, and actual predictions, which this site considers to be more likely than not to happen in 2015.

CHALLENGES

There is a 5% chance that an exit game business sufficiently motivates and enthuses its staff to vote it into the top twenty of the next Sunday Times “Best Small Company to Work For” list.

There is a 10% chance that the newspapers will find a new style of puzzle that attracts half as much public attention as sudoku. There is a 80% chance that the newspapers will claim they have done, but only a 10% chance that it will actually stick in close to the way that sudoku has.

There is a 15% chance that the world will gain a second global monthly puzzle event. There’s a definite reason for one to exist: the wonderful Puzzled Pint is for the benefit of the community, which (generally) goes to visit a different venue each month in each city. Suppose there were a second event run for the benefit of the venues; individual bars (etc.) could adopt the event, pledging to host a puzzle night in their location each month. There are places that would find that a compelling attraction!

There is a 20% chance that some company brings larger-scale live escape events to the UK, with relatively many teams playing the same game at once. (For those who get the distinction, think Real Escape Game as opposed to Real Escape Room.)

There is a 25% chance that the 25th anniversary of The Crystal Maze, which will happen on 15th February this year, will see a reawakening of interest and the show will catch the public mood once more.

There is a 30% chance that one of the big players in the leisure industry starts a chain of exit games within its own facilities, or teams up with an existing exit game business which wants to expand rapidly by opening in a number of facilities. For instance, if you’re going to go to either of the branches of the real-snow indoor ski slope Xscape, you know you’re prepared to spend money, and the chance to play “Escape at Xscape” would surely be irresistible…

There is a 35% chance that the UK team produces its best performance in the next World Puzzle Championship, beating its previous best of sixth from the twenty national “A” teams in Beijing in 2013.

There is a 40% chance that another UK city develops a puzzle community like that of London, with at least one regular monthly event and at least one larger annual event – maybe as simply as hosting its own Puzzled Pint and DASH events, maybe something of its own. All it takes is someone willing to be the first onto the dancefloor.

There is a 45% chance that the UK mass media will catch on to just how cool exit games are. Maybe the “The One Show” team will go and play, or someone will take the idea to Dragon’s Den, or The Apprentice might consider them to be sufficiently zeitgeist-y to take an interest. At the top end, this site might dream of a revival of The Adventure Game, which effectively featured (among other things) room escape games a good thirty years ahead of the time.

PREDICTIONS

There is a 55% chance that at least one exit game will earn the Living Wage Employer mark. Perhaps there is at least one out there which pays the stipulated wage already. This site doesn’t believe that every exit game can afford to pay the stipulated level; indeed, many owners, especially of very new games, will be some way from covering costs, and consistent wage rises might force them out of business outright. However, perhaps there’s a business out there who would take pride from going down this route.

There is a 60% chance that the next World Puzzle Championship will be won by Ulrich Voigt of Germany, which would be his eleventh overall and the first time anyone has ever won four in a row.

There is a 65% chance that the exit game industry continues 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 half a million… and this site will not attempt to fix the figures just for the sake of proving this relatively weakly-held prediction correct.

There is a 70% chance that at least one exit game will start to advertise itself using a formal endorsement from a reasonably well-known, mainstream national or international celebrity.

There is a 75% chance that the Puzzled Pint community of London will continue to grow, flourish, with teams getting to know each other ever more closely and look forward to meeting each other at the other puzzle events that exist through the course of the year.

There is a 80% chance that eleven or twelve of the calendar months of the year will see at least one new site open for business in the UK or Ireland.

There is a 85% chance that there will be a UK-based exit game review blog set up this year, to which this site will very happily link. There are many different sites out there who want the publicity from the reviews that they might get; be any good (goodness knows, this site doesn’t set the bar high) and proprietors will be climbing over themselves to invite you to play!

There is a 90% chance that the London leg of DASH 7 will expand from 8 teams in 2013 and 21 teams in 2014 to at least 25 teams for 2015. The London capacity for 2013 and 2014 was 25 teams, so it’s quite possible that London DASH might well sell out.

There is a 95% chance that at least two existing exit games covered by this site will officially call it a day. These don’t have to be unhappy endings; for instance, Oxford Castle are listing their Jailbreak event as happening until the end of January only, then presumably they will put the game cleanly back in its box. Fingers crossed that they choose to get it back out again at some point.

Around the World: The Genius

"The Genius" garnet and logoThis site contends that the most interesting new TV show of the last couple of years or so comes from South Korea, is broadcast on the Total Variety Network, tvN and is generally referred to in English as the Genius. Summarising it in one short sentence, it’s “like Big Brother except with properly interesting, puzzly games”. To substantiate the claims of its brilliance, this site would point to the results of the global category of the 2013 Poll of the Year voted upon by ukgameshows.com readers, who ought to know a thing or two.

Each season, thirteen contestants start the first of twelve shows. Each show has a Main Match, which generates at least one winner and exactly two elimination candidates who play in the Death Match. (Usually, this will be the loser of the Main Match plus an opponent of their choice, though the winner or winners of the Main Match are immune from selection.) The loser of the Death Match is eliminated, and all the contestants but that eliminee survive to play the next week’s show. The final show starts with only two contestants, so just consists of a single match, playing best-of-three different games, to find an overall winner of the series.

Each contestant starts with one garnet, the main scoring mechanism of the show, and may earn additional garnets through winning, or performing well in, the Main Matches along the way. In the first two seasons, the survivor of the Death Match also inherits the eliminee’s garnets. The overall winner is paid a million won (currently nearly £600) per garnet, which will add up to enough to buy, say, a low-end but brand new sports car.

The true star of the show is the variety, quality and originality of games that are played. Not every single game sings, but at their best, they redefine how accomplished and sophisticated game-playing on television can ever become. Some of the games are principally social, sometimes with groupthink and group dynamics being key. Others have the puzzle nature even more directly, with hidden depths and even solutions, or tricks, that the best players might find. (The best players sometimes do, and it’s glorious when it happens. It’s as satisfying as seeing someone work out how to perform a magic trick, or as glorious an Aha! as you get from solving a particularly ingenious puzzle.)

There are many other reasons why the show is spectacular, too. The presentation is world class: the sets atmospheric, the graphics exceptional, the soundtrack (particularly in the first season) frequently superb. The soundtrack heavily features electronica, both Western and K-pop. (The band Idiotape is heavily represented and work splendidly in context.) The contestants are entertaining, usually very likeable and often genuinely talented at solving the games – though in a “choose who to eliminate” game, standing out from the crowd can be a bad tactic. When the show is good, it’s as good as puzzle TV ever gets, and even the relatively weak episodes are entertaining.

The one downside is that it’s a Korean show, almost entirely in the Korean language. A fan has ensured their place in legend by producing subtitled translations that are extremely easy to follow; with immense thanks to Bumdidlyumptious, you can covertly download the shows, with translations, from links provided at their Tumblr. It’s worth starting with season one; it starts a little slowly, but when it hits the ground running, it really hits the heights. This site is posting about the show now because a translation has just been posted for the first show of the third series, and it’s the best start to a series yet.

The show gets this site’s highest recommendation. If you’re not yet convinced, you can see what the tremendous, if sporadic, Clavis Cryptica had to say about the first series, posted just before the second series started, and a preview of the third season. Another excellent place to discuss the show is Bother’s Bar, probably the de facto hangout of choice; see old discussions of the first and second seasons, then the brand new third season; comments for each episode start after the subtitled version of each episode is released.

It would be lovely for there to be an English-language version of this some day, but the subtitled show is easily enough to enjoy as it is.