Around the World: a US hunt playable around the world?

South Carolina state map(South Carolina image courtesy of mapsof.net, published under a Creative Commons licence.)

Life gets in the way for a few days and all of a sudden there’s a little backlog of exciting news to post…

The happiest news of the day is good reason to turn two more dots on the map from red to yellow as Breakout Games Aberdeen have announced that they’re taking their first customers today and Crack the Code Sheffield previously suggested that today would be the day on which they will be taking their first customers. (There are TripAdvisor reports for the site already, so perhaps they have had a soft launch already?)

Last year, this site briefly covered the University of South Carolina puzzle hunt, which has been an annual fixture since 2012. Registration is now open; the hunt’s informational page suggests that “Remote teams and members are still welcomed in this Hunt. On the registration form, please indicate that you are playing remotely, and more information will be provided to you“, and an article on last year’s event reported that “Twenty of this year’s teams were composed of USC students, but the remaining teams were remote, and came from as far as China and the United Kingdom.” Fair game, in that case! On each of the five days of the first week of the hunt, a set of puzzles will be released, along with a metapuzzle derived from those puzzles’ answers, with the overall hunt solution derived in turn. You can get a better idea of the hunt’s form from the 2014 puzzles and the 2013 puzzles as well. (Ooh, they had an Only Connect event as part of the 2013 hunt as well! Excellent.)

Lastly, Iain points out that 25 cities across the United States will be having one-day revivals of the old Lobby Lud gimmick this week! To celebrate the start of the second series of NBC’s The Blacklist, lookalikes of the show’s lead character will be deploying themselves across the US between Monday 2nd February and Thursday 5th February then posting clues to their whereabouts to social media. The first three to find each lookalike and whisper the phrase that pays stand to win hundreds of dollars. Sadly South Carolinians will have to travel north and cross the state border to either Charlotte or Raleigh in order to play!

If you’re not in the US but still feel like making some money, don’t forget Quiz The Nation on Sunday evening; download the free app and get tokens letting you play your first few quizzes at no charge. The competition was bigger in week two than week one, but not wildly so, though the standard of top competitors is getting higher. First place pays £1,000, second to tenth and spot prize winners all claim £50 or more, and eleventh to fiftieth win tokens to play further games for free.

January 2015 Dealwatch: coupons and discounts to play exit games for less

"Special Price" stickerDealwatch is an occasional feature which, as the name suggests, looks out for special offers that exit games are promoting. The frequency of the feature depends more on the availability of deals than anything else. Some ground rules apply:

  • Do check voucher companies’ terms, conditions and guarantees and this site takes no responsibility for deals that fall through for whatever reason, which sadly has happened once;
  • Many of these deals only permit a limited number of vouchers to be purchased and then the deal will expire. It’s quite possible that deals may have expired between being published below and your attempt to use them;
  • This non-commercial site does not attract any commission for promoting these deals, or for you using them;
  • These deals are not exclusive in any manner.

As it happens, none of the discounts quoted this time do seem to rely on social buying services, but the principles apply nevertheless.

Mystery Cube of Wimbledon is the most recent new location to open; as is often the case, a location is most likely to offer discounts as, and just after, it opens. Booking using the code Mystery Cube will offer a 50% reduction for teams playing between 24th January, the presumptive opening date, and 7th February. The regular price is also one that might be more likely to be found in the provinces than in London at large.

Another recent opening took place at The Great Escape Game of Sheffield, and they too posted an opening offer to their Facebook page. As described on a linked story at TicketArena, a £20 discount is available for a limited time (though no clear limit is specified, but why wait?) for teams booking using the code GR8TA20.

One more recent opening still happened at The Escape Room of Manchester, who also have a limited-time opening offer with no deadline specified. The site has a total of five different rooms, some that will take teams of sizes two to five, and others that will take teams of up to six. You can get a 20% discount by booking using the code ESCAPE20; another one to take advantage of sooner rather than later.

Lastly, one site that’s not quite such a recent opening is Can You Escape of Edinburgh, though they have already climbed to number seven in the TripAdvisor attractions charts for the city, a list with three sites all now in the top nine. A recent Facebook announcement suggests that student teams who book a slot on a Thursday using the STU-295-ZMV code receive a 20% discount; “just make sure your team bring their student cards”. Facebook suggests this Thursday discount will be running until mid-February; perhaps it’ll last longer, perhaps not – best not wait to find out the hard way!

((Edited to add:)) Another deal that came a day too late but is far too good to ignore: Room Escape Adventures of London have released a Wowcher for their Trapped In A Room With A Zombie show, reducing the price of one of the twelve tickets for each show from £28 plus booking fee to just £14. More about this exciting development soon, hopefully! This deal will only be able until the end of Friday night; vouchers booked in this way can be used until the end of April.

As ever, if you know of other coupons, deals, vouchers or competitions, please send them through. If your site has a offer not listed above, please assume incompetence rather than ill-intent; get in touch and this site will happily spread the good news. (Alternatively, if you would prefer that this site does not list your coupon, or if the details of the offer are mangled, that’s fine too; again, please get in touch.)

Coming up in March: the UK Open Sudoku and UK Open Puzzle Tournaments

rsz_selsdon-1News reaches this site of the precise details regarding the UK Puzzle Association‘s upcoming UK Open tournaments in sudoku and puzzles.

This year’s UK Open tournaments will take place over the weekend 21-22 March 2015, once again at the Selsdon Park Hotel in Croydon. This is the venue that we used for the 2014 World Championships. This growing annual event is a must for anyone with an interest in puzzles or sudoku. Although there will be a competition element to the weekend, more importantly it is the annual opportunity to mix with others sharing your interests in a relaxing environment.

For the competitively minded, there will be competitions. Each competition will be made up of manageable rounds, much like a mini world championship. There will be a variety of prizes on offer, including best newcomer, and best overseas competitor for each event. These events will be used as part of the selection process for the UK teams, where the top 2 British competitors in each event will earn a place on the A-team to represent the UK at the 2015 World Sudoku Championships (WSC) or World Puzzle Championship (WPC) that will be held in Bulgaria in October. Everyone is welcome to participate, including overseas competitors. Children under the age of 16 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

The sudoku tournament happens on the Saturday between 10:30am and 3pm; the puzzle tournament has its first session between 4pm and 6:30pm on Saturday and its second session between 10am and 4pm on Sunday. There will be a communal meal after the Saturday session and the reports of the catering from the World Championships (and the previous year’s UK Open) were very favourable.

The pricing is based on obtaining a mixture of day and 24-hour passes. What it means is that attending from 4pm to 4pm for the puzzle tournament and meal will cost £90 including bed and breakfast accommodation; if you want to attend both sudoku and puzzle tournaments, attendance will cost £120. Alternatively, if you live sufficiently locally that you just want to turn up for the tournaments only, that can be done for £60 – but when so much of the appeal is the good company and good food, that may be a false economy. (A more expensive, but possibly better still, option might be to stay for additional nights at the start and end, to enjoy more of the company and the venue.)

This site loves online puzzle contests, but getting together for events in person takes things to a whole new level, and attending the counterpart event in 2012 was a highlight of the year. If you have ambitions to represent the UK at the world championships, this event is particularly strongly recommended, though not absolutely essential; there’ll be at least one space on each of the sudoku and puzzle teams given to top performers on the online UK championships. Whether you consider yourself championship class or not, it’s recommended either way!

(Ooh yes, and if you fancy winning some money to help pay for your attendance, the second Quiz The Nation happens tonight from 8pm onwards, as discussed last week. New versions of the apps have been released for both Android and iOS; this site was among the proportion of players who struggled with the tech last week, though most people seem to have been fine, so update now in good time for tonight’s 8pm start. Downloading the app comes with free tokens to play the quiz; the top ten finishers get paid cash prizes of between £50 and £1,000 and there are spot prizes to be won along the way as well. It’s slightly more quizzy than puzzly, but the mental agility and intelligence rounds may well make it to puzzle fans’ tastes.)

Coming soon to Liverpool: Clue Finders

Clue FindersAfter remarking three days ago that Liverpool has long been one of the biggest gaps in the market waiting to be filled, this site is happy to report that the city may not have long at all to wait for its first game to open. While Tick Tock Unlock have announced that it will be the location of their second site, Clue Finders just might beat them to opening as their new site has launched; bookings are already being taken between Thursdays and Sundays from Thursday 12th February. The location is in Liverpool’s docklands, so an easy walk from the Mersey and most of the other famous attractions that the city has to offer.

The site has a distinctive “paper cut-out” style of depicting Victorian detectives and looks extremely smart. Beyond that, not very much is known. To begin with, there will be two rooms; from context, these are set to be identical to permit popular head-to-head races. The game is 60 minutes long with an extra briefing at the start. It’s intended for teams of three to five. Prices are reasonably typical; £19 per player for teams of three, £17 per player for teams of four and £15 per player for teams of five. “Clue Finders is a real-life escape game where teams of 3-5 people are locked into a custom built, challenging and entertaining environment to solve the many mysteries, puzzles and challenges. You need to unlock the final code and escape the room.

Perhaps this preview is taking place a little too early; perhaps others will appreciate the extra challenge of going into a room “cold”, knowing nothing about it. Either way, Liverpool has been waiting for too long and this site looks forward to reading more from those lucky enough to get to experience the game first-hand.

You blogging bloggers, you

Blogs and bloggingThe blogroll to the left has had a major upgrade with the section about exit games more or less tripling in size. It’s almost as difficult to keep up with as following the new locations that launch, though neither challenge is anything less than delightful, and it’s definitely a case of “the more, the merrier”. In conclusion, people seem to be reasonably evenly split between referring to the genre as escape games and escape rooms, so exit game used here is, at least, distinctive. Please forgive these descriptions being short, out of practicality rather than dismissiveness.

Starting close to home, Escape Rooms London has a single page about the titular subject that goes into rather more detail than this site’s list of locations and the new UK-wide Escape Game Addicts is so exciting that it’s bound to get many more mentions on this site over time. Definitely room for more and more UK blogs, though.

That final sentiment is borne by the experience in the Greater Toronto area, which is approaching Budapest-like levels in its magnitude. The first site to cover the field was Toronto Room Escapes, with Escape Games Review the second. New additions are Escape Reviewer, which takes an entirely welcome South East Asian approach by rating individual rooms at a facility separately and providing a variety of categorised marks for each room as well as an overall single figure, and Escape Room Addict, which writes up its reasoning for its individual scores in considerable detail. One of the Escape Room Addict reviewers has serious form; he used to do a really, really good series of Flash videos about his board gaming group, a decade or so ago, back when Flash videos were a thing. (What you say !!) I cannot read what he has to say without one of the videos and its tune (from Guitar Freaks) coming into my head, and I don’t mind a bit. With four perspectives on each room, or more, there’s much more of a chance that the best rooms will shine through and overall opinions can be less clouded by particularly good or bad experiences when either the reviewers or the site were having an unusually good or bad day.

On another site of the world, Scott of Escape Rooms in Sydney reviews his local games, with detailed and persuasive analyses of each game’s high and low points. The Escape Room Directory lists exit games in over fifty countries, so it should come as no surprise that there are sites in other languages as well; Hemos Salido have been covering Spain (in Spanish) with a highlight being a preview and review of when Real Escape Game came to Barcelona for its first European event. Escape Game France details France (in French) with interviews as well as reviews, Escape Game Authority surveys Germany (in German) and has an excellent collection of German language links to media stories about exit games, All Escape Rooms discusses the Netherlands (in Dutch) with a map that clusters multiple exit games in a location brilliantly and makes this site jealous and Gerçek Kaçış Oyunları overlooks Turkey (in Turkish) with a Wiki format that should be extremely easy to keep very much up to the minute.

Likewise, there are ever more lists of exit games, many with maps. The Escapist Society has an elegant design and a single (though very interesting!) blog post so far; it focuses on Dutch exit games, but is also starting to cover ones in England, having reached some as far north as Macclesfield, and is all in the English language. Escape Room Hub has a global focus, accepts public reviews and features another one of those brilliant clustering maps, Escape Game Guide seems a little like a work in progress but might turn into something spectacular if it can fulfil its considerable potential and Find a Room Escape has a US focus and is the only site so far to make the obvious and logical step towards helping you (at least, a US reader!) find their nearest location.

So many different people doing so many different things, generally to such a high standard. It’s an exciting time… and it’s only going to get bigger and better from here!

Coming soon to Sheffield: Crack The Code Sheffield

Crack the Code SheffieldSheffield is set to get its first 60-minute exit game very soon! Crack The Code Sheffield is set to open in the centre of the city, near the City Hall and barely a hundred metres from the Supertram stop of the same name. The site is set to cater for teams of up to five; prices are £51 for a team of three (or, unusually, two), £64 for a team of four and £70 for a team of five. The first game has the theme of The Cold War Room.

The year is 1973, over a decade on from the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban missile crisis that followed… but the cold war rages on. Espionage and counter espionage between the east and western intelligence agencies continues to dominate political power and any opportunity to seize the upper hand is pounced upon.

General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party Leonid Brezhnev has informed all agents that the balance of power needs to swing back towards the Eastern Bloc. K.G.B. officer Yaakov Malenkov has managed to intercept a file naming all the senior C.I.A. double agents currently operating within the Politbureau. It is his intention to meet his handler within the Kremlin and pass this file on later today. If this file is passed on it will result in the death of hundreds of agents currently operating behind the Iron Curtain and the resulting power shift may never be fully recovered.

Further games are promised soon. This period piece is all the more distinctive for not taking a jokey approach to its source material, which makes it a valuable addition to the variety of games available. It sounds intriguing and this site looks forward to first-hand reports of how well it lives up to its very considerable promise. Bookings are open now; correspondence suggests that you will be made extremely welcome if you book to play from the 31st of January onwards.

Five exciting news stories make a post

"Top News" newspaperLittle or no connection between these, but they’re all good news. In no order:

  • Tick Tock Unlock have been rocking Leeds for most of 2014, and after the gentlest of wild goose chases, they have announced that they will be opening a second location, this time in Liverpool. Liverpool has long been one of the biggest gaps in the market waiting to be filled (though certainly partly served by a short train ride to Warrington for Clue HQ) and if Tick Tock Unlock can serve up something that gets as good reviews at the other end of the M62 as they have done in Leeds then Merseyside is in for a treat. More news as soon as it becomes available.
  • One of the “more likely than not” predictions for 2015 has come true already with the tremendous development that Asa and friends have started the Escape Game Addicts weblog, which has got off to an enticing start. One day and two posts old, this looks extremely promising. It’s clear that the team are having great fun and this site looks forward to them putting it into words. They’ll be doing something slightly more hands-on than this blog can do at the moment, by necessity, and are based in a really happening part of the country. See the above post! The site goes straight into the blogroll and further posts are awaited with bated breath.
  • Speaking of blogs, Toronto Room Escapes has been absolutely crushing it for a while. The Year In Review post is an excellent place to start and the Themed Thursday series of really in-depth (and well-thought-out, and showing the benefit of considerable experience, and just plain smart) theoretical game ideas (with, even better still, occasional feedback from others in the industry) is already a highlight of the week. Tomorrow is Thursday; excellent!
  • This weekend’s MIT Mystery Hunt was won in just under 40 hours by team Luck, I Am Your Father, the evolution of the Beginner’s Luck team who won in 2009. (57 teams took part, possibly with as many as 11 getting through the metapuzzles and having the fun of finding the hidden coin.) Initial reports suggest that this year’s event is likely to be remembered favourably even by the MIT Mystery Hunt’s off-the-charts standards. The theme was, loosely, “20,000 Leagues under the Sea”, and some wit noted that the promised 20,000 puzzles were exactly delivered… if you take 20,000 in base 3! Many thanks to the setters, team One Fish Two Fish Random Fish Blue Fish, principally associated with MIT’s small Random Hall dormitory. If you want more familiarity with the MIT Mystery Hunt and its conventions, this presentation is as good as it gets and is far too good to save for another 359 days.
  • Finally, coming up later in 2015, BBC Two will be launching Beat The Brain, where dear old Uncle John Craven will give teams of four contestants “logical problems, visual puzzles and memory challenges, rather than trivia questions“. Some puzzle TV shows in the past have been spectacular; others have relatively missed the mark. Fingers crossed that this one proves another critical and popular hit!

avete atque valete

ave atque vale

Don’t worry, nobody has died, nor is this to be taken as a suggestion that this site is going anywhere. However, people move on, and now seems like an excellent time to salute those who have earned glory through puzzle projects in the recent past and then moved elsewhere.

Thank you to DeeAnn Sole and Curtis Chen for 213 episodes, over five years, of the Snoutcast podcast, the last of which was posted today. 90% of the episodes considered puzzle games they had played, or run, or thought about, and the other 10% were also very entertaining simply because they seem like lovely people with a jokey but respectful relationship that works well for them. Just over a third of the episodes had interviews with people involved in running puzzle games, including the twelve monthly episodes through 2014, which attempted to remedy subconscious bias by focusing on women who run games. Loads to think about, masses to learn, and a wonderful source of inspiration if you want to dream about puzzle games that have been played and might be played in the future. Their play in the field carries on, even if the podcast has cast its last.

Thank you to Lisa Long and Jordan Smith, who were the first people to get up and dance on the metaphorical dancefloor of the modern London puzzle hunt community. The two of them were foremost, among the friends and volunteers they raised, in running DASH 5 and DASH 6 in London in 2013 and 2014, and also the Girls and Boys, Come Out to Play one-day puzzle hunt as well. Their stories and reasons for moving on are happy ones; Lisa is off to the continent where she has an extremely exciting-sounding job (and a climate that suits her better… in the way that you’re probably not expecting!) and Jordan is off to further the forefront of original research as he is off to complete a post-doc in Japan. If they go on do to even nearly as much for the local game and puzzle communities there as they have done in London, London’s loss will be very much the world’s gain; fingers crossed that their paths will give them good reason to come back to London some day.

Thank you to Daniel Peake, who started and co-ran (with Lisa Long, as discussed above) the London branch of Puzzled Pint. Dan oversaw the first month with just five teams; over time, it has more than doubled in size – more than tripled on the last occasion, and the steady growth over Dan’s year plus in charge is down not just to the fun puzzles but very much to Dan’s friendliness, accessibility, charm and charisma. Puzzled Pint in London rolls on, with Charmie and (full disclosure: my wife) Meg carrying on Dan and Lisa’s sensational start.

These good people may have gone for now, but – if London is lucky – they may not be gone for good. They are gone but not forgotten in the best way; they deserve to be praised, thanked and fondly remembered for the fun they brought and the excellent and inspirational examples they set. Onwards and upwards!

Quiz The Nation

Quiz The Nation(Logo copyright The Challenge Factor IPTV Ltd.)

Sunday night saw the first episode of Quiz The Nation; as previously discussed, this is a nationwide quiz show where the questions are broadcast over satellite TV (or streamed online) to players at home or in a pub, who can respond to the questions through special apps on their phone or tablets. The player with most correct reponses, with response speed taken as a tie-breaker, wins the quiz. Scores and positions (both in your particular location and nationally) are displayed at the end of each round.

The app is free to download and comes with five tokens at no charge. Playing the quiz costs two credits; there are four additional optional “spot prize” one-question shootouts per show, as an additional optional extra between rounds (if you don’t need to go to the bar or the loo?) where the fastest correct answer nationally earns a £50 bonus prize. The overall quiz winner is promised a £1,000 cash prize, with players in positions 2 to 50 also sharing another £1,000 of prizes; possibly cash, possibly paid as tokens – the specifics have not yet been confirmed but are expected imminently.

The prizes are funded, in part, by selling additional tokens after the first five; it’s cheaper if you buy them in bulk, but roughly each one costs a little over a pound. The spot prizes do have something of the feel of a premium rate phone number quiz, but two tokens for a full hour’s interactive quiz seems like a very reasonable price, especially in light of the prizes on offer. It is believed that only something like 160 players took part in week one, so with prizes paid out exceeding the cost of tokens purchased, even if people were purchasing tokens in the first place, in poker terminology there is quite a handsome overlay. As the old jopke goes, Plus EV!

The quiz itself consists of five rounds: “odd one out” (a cute take on a picture quiz), mental agility, intelligence (which will definitely be grist to puzzle fans’ mills), observation and general knowledge (again, inspired by pictures). The older among you may recognise resemblances to The Krypton Factor on TV, and there is crossover in the personnel as well, most notably with the questions being read out by Granadaland TV journalism legend Gordon Burns. The questions neatly ramp up in difficulty within each round; while they never become unsociably difficult for pub play, the questions towards the end of each stanza do start to tickle.

The main question: how well does it work? Sadly, listening to the show over the online stream, the app wouldn’t sync with the audio from the stream here and thus it’s not possible to judge. That said, at least one friend of mine did manage to make the streamed version sync with the app, and I’m not aware of people watching the satellite broadcast (as intended) having problems. Similar technology has been used on other TV shows, notably Ludus. Minor server-side bug fixes are promised from one week to the next; the strength and reliability of the tech will make the venture sink or swim overall.

The closest comparison will not sound very flattering, but is intended as a high compliment. Back in 1995, a service called Two Way TV started, promising the ability to play along with shows (principally quiz shows!) on live TV. The service started regionally in 1996, though it’s not clear whether the national rollout ever really made it. (A single viewing of a TV ad for the service still looms large in the mind.) Perhaps the system was two decades ahead of its time and the world is ready for it now. Playing this feels somewhat like how that might have been. (The company responsible survived and evolved to, effectively, app developers long before there were ubiquitous app platforms.)

Fingers crossed that Quiz The Nation proves a hit and can grow from strength to strength… though if it takes a little longer and some more lovely puzzle people can take advantage of the relatively small crowds to take the early prizes, so much the better. 😉 If the tech continues to work well and prove popular, there’s no reason why it couldn’t be used for more specialist sorts of games. Music quizzes and sports quizzes are well-established – but how about broadcasting play-along-at-home puzzles to the nation at large? Why not?

Coming soon to Blackpool: Clue HQ

Clue HQ BlackpoolClue HQ has long been one of the more creative and well-regarded exit games since it opened in Warrington last year. In this site’s interview with proprietor Stuart Rowlands, he hinted at a second location; this has turned from theory into impending practice, surely more quickly than most had expected. You can see a hint to its location in the background of the second site’s logo above, as well as explicit confirmation of this in the text. Blackpool is such a strong tourist destination that it has long seemed to be an excellent fit for whichever exit game turned out to be first to set up there.

The facility will be located some distance from Blackpool’s famous Golden Mile, but it will share premises with the Impact Blackpool entertainment facility, offering an indoor counterpart to the site’s outdoor activities: air rifle shooting, archery, human table football, mini Highland Games, laser tag, paintball and various Segway races. It’s probably not sharing any secrets to suggest that Stuart Rowlands was able to strike up a deal with the site based on having supplied their Segway racing services through his Ride Segway business, so it looks like an intuitively natural match.

The site doesn’t suggest which the first game will be played at the Blackpool location; investigation suggests that a brand new game may be installed there, with potential for a second to follow at the same location; Clue HQ have been known for their originality (as well as their difficulty!) so whatever ends up being installed is likely to be a cracker. There may also be a month or so before the games are available for booking, as well. The prices are set to match those charged in the original Warrington location.

The site is within a short walk of four bus routes, but the site have also arranged a deal with a local taxi company which may work out to be about as cheap for a large party as well as somewhat quicker. The original Warrington site’s How to Find Us page gently requested people not to arrive by hot-air balloon; in Blackpool, all the page says is “ If you plan to arrive by hot air balloon please give us notice before the day of your game“. That would be a way to arrive in style!