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!

Coming soon to Whitley Bay: Pirate Escape

Pirate Escape Whitley Bay logoWhitley Bay is a town near the sea, with sunshine, seagulls and sand. With shops that sell ices and bright-coloured kites that will fly from a string in your hand…” Not quite, though there might well be some cockle shells to find somewhere. (Ask Ken, he’s good at finding things, like this site. Thank you, sir!)

What there definitely is, for sure, is Pirate Escape, an exit game now taking bookings from Saturday 12th December. You’ll find it in Whitley Bay, which is probably the most famous coastal resort village within the Tyneside conurbation, about nine miles north-east of the centre of Newcastle; the game itself is within a short walk of the Whitley Bay stop of the Metro urban rail system, in the centre of town rather than near the seafront.

The site offers one 60-minute game for teams of 2-6; the price is £60 per team, though a code reduces it to £40 for teams of two. The game will be available during weekday evenings and throughout the day at weekends. “In this fully immersive escape room game set in Captain Blackbeard’s pirate ship, one of Blackbeard’s own crew members has turned on him and left a trail of clues, riddles, puzzles and challenges to help you find the treasure. The aim of the game is to find the treasure and get out within 60 minutes before Blackbeard returns.” Gift certificates arrrrrrrrrrgh also available and their envelopes will have a piratical wax seal.

“What’s a pirate’s favourite letter?”
*thinks: mustn't give the obvious answer, mustn't give the obvious answer*
My first love be the C – but without P, I’m irate!

(UPDATED!) Black Friday 2015 Dealwatch: coupons and discounts to play escape games for less

All-black discount starEven the discount starburst has blacked out completely to celebrate the day! As you might be able to tell, the time at which the articles are published reflects the time at which writing started; this article is being started on Thanksgiving Thursday and completed very early on Black Friday, with the benefit of some new information that became available at midnight. Whether you approve of limited timescale deals or not, or the Black Friday phenomenon in particular, today is an unusually good day to purchase play – and it’s worth checking the social media of wherever you’re buying before you do so. All deals may expire quickly, maybe not even lasting the whole of the day.

Escapism of Nuneaton have posted an offer on weekday bookings at 10am or noon in December or January; any number of players, up to eight, can play for just £50, or alternatively you can get 20% off gift coupons to play outside these specific times.

Clue HQ have four locations from Sunderland to Brentwood, but it’s not immediately clear whether or not all of them are participating in today’s special offer. The posted deal suggests that they’ll sell a hundred games at £49 each for up to six players, to be played between the 1st and 2nd of December if you use the code BLACKFRIDAY when you book.

The same BLACKFRIDAY promo code also works at Escape Rooms Scotland of Glasgow. This deal runs from Friday 27th November to Monday 30th November and there’s no time restriction on when your booked game must be played; the code will give you a £10 discount, reducing the 2-6 player Jail Break and Zombie Quarantine rooms to £50 each and the brand new 4-10 player Bank Heist room to £90, from its opening on 9th December.

Escape Live of Birmingham posted their offer on Twitter. That BLACKFRIDAY code will give you 15% off any games for four or five players that you book today. At this point, it might be worth trying the code BLACKFRIDAY pretty much everywhere, just to see what happens!

No codes required in Belfast, where The Gr8 Escape now offer four rooms and are offering gift vouchers valid for the first half of 2016; any room, up to six players for £45. Buy ’em today via PayPal.

((UPDATED, 2:30pm!)) Over to Bristol where Puzzlair (including their new second location, a short walk away from the original) used Twitter to post their Black Friday deal, which offers a handsome 30% discount on weekday bookings.

In north-west London, QuestRoom also tweeted their offer; there’s 20% off the two spaces available this evening but also 20% off games played this weekend.

Ken kindly pointed in the comments to an offer by Trapped In of Bury in Greater Manchester. It was posted on Facebook, which is as ever charmingly intermittent about which stories it shows to people, unless you pay it cold hard cash. The BLACKFRIDAY code used today will get you 20% off your booking. If you know any other deals posted to Facebook that haven’t made it to Exit Games UK, please speak up.

From the north of Greater Manchester to the south; down to Altrincham for Code to Exit. The Tweeted offer is for a discount of 30% on bookings using promo code BLACK. That said, there has been a suggestion that the code is no longer available – maybe a temporary glitch, maybe a limited offer. It applies to the Blueprint game only, not their new game, “The Test”.

This site knows of at least one other place offering a Black Friday discount for hunt participation, but it’s restricted to members of a mailing list, so the details won’t be shared here. Nevertheless, it’s not impossible that other sites might mail one-day discounts out to their own lists so check your mailboxes carefully.

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 don’t assume the worst; 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.)

Puzzle adventures right now

UK map by Randall Munroe,, Creative Commons licence:

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.

More good news

good newsI’ve had some very bad news. It’s not relevant what it is, for those of you lucky enough not to know it, and it doesn’t affect my ability to continue keeping this going. Instead, time to share some good news.

  • Congratulations to Clue HQ Sunderland for opening their first game! The planned opening was discussed two months ago yesterday and has – very unusually – come ahead of schedule. Bunker 38 is now open, with The Vault set to follow soon. Tyneside has proved a popular location – more news to come on this soon – so hopefully Wearside works just as well. All the very warmest of wishes to them!
  • Also the very warmest of wishes to a couple whose proposal took place at Cryptic Escape of Norwich. This might be the seventh UK couple to propose at an exit game of which this site is aware; let’s hope they all remain locked tightly – no, unbreakably, together.
  • The Escape Room have been welcoming the stars: both stars on two wheels at their Manchester location and stars of the screen at their Preston branch. Their third location, planned for Birmingham, is close to announcing a launch date; who knows what stars they might be able to attract there?
  • Lastly, and further afield, this site very much enjoyed reading about the latest SCRAP Real Escape Game event in Tokyo, this one “a puzzle-solving game played while walking through the streets of Tokyo. To find your next destination, you will need to solve the mysteries you find along the way.” In other words, a self-paced puzzle hunt, running at your convenience until December 27th. Cutely, there’s a tie-up with the Tokyo Metro, and the game kit comes with a one-day travel pass to get you from location to location. “English and Traditional Chinese versions are available for this game so non-Japanese speakers who can understand English or Traditional Chinese are welcome to play the game as well!” To give this claim a try, Escape Room Directory’s Dan Egnor posted his review to Google Plus and was rather impressed. Certainly it’s among the most mainstream puzzle hunts yet!

Mechanics Monday: sprinting for victory

Ball of clocksLots of great things to read from around the exit game blogosphere at the moment, and you don’t have to be specific to any one country to enjoy it: David Spira of Room Escape Artist writes about playing the Contact Light megagame (and the fact that it’s not about exit games is not unwelcome in the least), The Logic Escapes Me features an excellent article about What makes a good host? and dives deeper into Namco and their Nazotomo Cafe games.

Following on from the latter, J at points to the Nazotomo Cafe intro video – which, while it has subtitles in Japanese, is perfectly understandable without them and sets the tone. It confirms that their low-end rooms do have a 765 second time limit, as discussed a couple of days ago, but also that they’re playable by teams of one to four. Another video has the 765-second countdown timer sequence available if you’re a big fan of the background music, which isn’t without its merits. Today’s “Turns out there’s a lot of BLANK videos on YouTube; who knew?” is, apparently, countdown timers.

The title of this piece discusses sprint games, but really it’s all about competing on cost. While this site prefers to explore the places that only exit games can go and admires elegant, deep, thoughtful design, suppose you were a business owner who decided to take the opposite route and decided to compete on cost alone. While business owners don’t generally go out to try to destroy whole industries at some degree of cost to themselves in practice, suppose you decided that you decided that you wanted to run a bargain-basement room and make a great virtue of its price, on the thinking that marginal players might only ever want to play a single game and they might as well choose yours on price grounds – with relatively little care as to whether they’re turned off the whole industry at large, though obviously you would want to encourage repeat custom within your business. How might you do it?

The largest ongoing expenses for an exit game are rent and staff. Rent can’t really be avoided, but a hypothetical simpleEscape (if you get the reference) game might go out to run with as skeleton a staff as possible. Could it be possible to design a game so that a single staff member might oversee many games rather than just one? Normally the relevant implicit question is “could it be possible to design a game worth playing” given the constraint, but that’s less important a criterion here.

Imagine a game with a very short time limit and relatively few puzzles to explore, with the constraint that staff are not expected to be following its progress, because they might be looking over as many as ten games at once, or none at all if they’re busy resetting rooms rather than watching them; if they’re watching a room at all, they’re looking more for damage or dangerous play rather than gameplay considerations. As staff wouldn’t be following progress directly, it’s tempting to imagine that the automated timing mechanic might also dispense hints – or, perhaps, that teams might get to choose between a hard level of difficulty in which no hints were offered and easier levels of difficulty that automatically offered some, or more, hints at timed intervals. (Bonus points for letting people press a button to step down a level of difficulty while they’re playing the game, as a good retort to those who don’t enjoy themselves because of their lack of progress at the hard level of difficulty they chose.)

This site doesn’t suggest that this is inevitable, or even likely; the Japanese experience (as far as the report hints at) points to this being one level that does not seem to drive out the more intricate, deeper experiences that other companies choose to offer in practice. (Either that, or perhaps the price competition aspect of the marketing has not yet been sufficiently brazen.) That said, if part of the future of exit games is as an attraction within somewhere that offers many different forms of entertainment, then the fact that Namco have chosen to go down that route within the Nazotomo cafes, and one Namco Funscape arcade so far – but who knows if they might replicate it at their other UK arcades? – points to this as a possibility.

Sometimes people want to compare the lifespan of the exit game phenomenon to the laser game boom, in the UK, at the start of the ’90s. (To which this site says “could be much worse, the long-term health of the laser game industry has proven low-key but surprisingly robust”.) One direction that the laser game industry went down was as a secondary attraction at bowling alleys and the like. Could the same thing happen for exit games? If it were to, perhaps this low-interactivity, low-staffing approach might be the approach they choose. Not the one that this site would prefer, but…

Pop-up Round-up

Monochromatic Jack-in-the-Box graphicWho knows what you’ll find inside boxes in exit games? Ken does and this site thanks him for the information, as happens so often. Pop-ups are relatively hard to find, so here are two past stories and two future stories.

The University of Reading, for the last two years, have run a competition called Ideafest in which the university’s students pitch business ideas, first by video and then – for the five finalists – in person. This year’s competition awarded cash and mentoring prizes to the best three proposals and a proposal for an exit game claimed third prize. The proposal was for a game called Survivor for two to four players, with the distinctive feature that it would be played in a van. Sounds plausible – and if it were set in a non-roadworthy fixed van with sufficiently long wheelbase, sounds very plausible, though cold.

That was, sadly, months back. However, as recently as a week and a half ago, there was a pop-up exit game at Crawley Library as part of Geek Week. Charming – but, yeah, that’s a cap that happens to be about the right size.

Looking ahead to pop-ups that people might still have a chance of playing, the Game Development Society of the University of Essex, who have a pleasingly catholic purview of media in which they design, are putting up their “first Escape Room event“, known as Winter Escape Room, at their Colchester campus. At time of writing, if this site interprets the event’s ticketing page correctly, spaces are available at noon on Thursday 3rd December and Saturday 5th December only, but perhaps there might be Spring or Summer Escape Rooms to follow?

Lastly, again looking ahead, perhaps the most pop-up sort of game of all is one that moves around: as the URL suggests, Escape Party is an escape game for hire that will come to your party. The game can be set up either indoors or outdoors; a 15m2 space is required, perhaps a smallish back garden. Setup takes half an hour, then the moderator will run the game multiple times for up to five teams of five. If you can book for five groups of five, the price is pretty reasonable, especially if you’re in the Midlands, with groups in the south-east or London attracting a higher fee for a longer journey. The experience can’t be the same as going into a dedicated environment, but there may well be circumstances where people physically can’t get to the exit game and may well be delighted by the exit game coming to them. Thumbs firmly up for the “If You Don’t Like The Game, You Don’t Have To Pay!” guarantee, too!

Now open in London: Namco Funscape Escape Room

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now open in Bristol: the Bristol Maze

The Bristol Maze logoThe Bristol Maze clearly has one of the best names in the land for an exit game. The location in an abandoned warehouse located below the iconic Clifton Suspension Bridge, about five minutes’ drive from the centre of the city. The site features two rooms, each of which offers a 60-minute game for a team of two to eight players. The site is open daily during the evenings (possibly earlier by arrangement?) and all day at weekends.

The Abandoned Office is a game in which “You and some friends discover an old abandoned office. After you enter, the door locks behind you and you find you are trapped with no obvious way to escape. You have 60 minutes to find way out.” In The Hostage Hostel, you don’t have much more luck; “After a long road trip you and friends are desperate to find somewhere to stay. You come across an old, creepy looking hostel and decide to enter. What a mistake that was – you’ve now been taken hostage! You now find yourself locked in, and have 60 minutes to escape.

Pricing is £20 per player, but a Wowcher deal, surely not available for long though the precise expiry date does seem to be something of a movable feast, lets you have four players for £39, six for £49 or eight for £59 (or even book both rooms out and let up to sixteen play for £114). The four-player deal is a 51% discount as claimed, but the bigger deals offer even larger percentage discounts still – up to 64% or so!

The company behind it has an interesting background, being responsible for It’s A Knockout inflatable-game sports days and stag and hen party entertainment. There are a few corporate entertainment / team-building companies who have taken that route into the exit game market, as (slightly) distinct from people who have set up exit games and later marketed it as corporate team-building entertainment. This site has been looking for an excuse to post this link about KDM Events’ exit-game-derived contest for a while; in the schools’ market, the Robinwood activity centres’ Dungeon of Dooooooooooooooooooom looks like it has similarities as well. It may be the case that any corporate entertainment company worth its salt has its own sort-of-entry into the market by now!

Now open in South Yorkshire: Lock Down Zone

Lock Down Zone logoA remarkable proportion of posts on this site include both the words “thanks” and “Ken”, and this one has yet another good reason to do so, for the man himself pointed out Lock Down Zone in the village of Thurnscoe, which opened recently. You’ve got to be doing pretty well to know where Thurnscoe is; the best description is “towards the north of South Yorkshire”. The post town for the village is Rotherham, but that’s actually about nine miles to the south; the village itself is about half-way between Barnsley and Doncaster. (Or about half-way between Manchester and Hull, but that’s probably less help.) See, the fun with this one starts with just finding the place, before you even get through the door.

The site advertises two rooms, both for 2-5 players and each with a one-hour time limit, each only open at weekends for now. In The Bank Heist, there’s a fictional million dollars to be won! “A plan has been developed for the biggest heist in history! The alarms have been deactivated for 50 minutes, the police response time is 10 minutes, so you have 1 hour to get as much loot as you can and get out! Do you have what it takes to get the money and escape unnoticed? The plan is there… The safes are waiting to be cracked… What are you waiting for?” If you escape in time, the amount you break free with is your score.

The Hostel Hostages offers a creepier challenge. “Why didn’t you see it, Detective? The call you just received regarding the notorious killer you have been chasing for months was a hoax. You have now been lured into his trap; sure, the hostages are real, but now you have 1 hour to escape or you will face becoming their next victim. He is turning your fate into a game! Perhaps with the help of the hostages you can escape… 1 hour, Detective, the clock is ticking…

The price is attractive; teams of two pay £16 per player or £32 total, teams of five pay just £13 each or £65 total, and bookings this month are half off even those slim prices. The site is only open at weekends; find it half-way between Leeds and Worksop and enjoy!