Instant reaction from the Unconference in Leeds today

Photo by James Curtis

Photo posted to Twitter by James Curtis

I very much enjoyed my time at the latest “The Great Escape UK” Unconference in Leeds today. There were about 27 attendees by the end of the day; I enjoyed catching up with some from previous events and just as much enjoyed meeting others for the first time, some of whom had been on my “it’d be nice to meet some day” list for quite a while. The venue was Dock 29 in the Leeds Dock area, which looks very smart; while there is a water taxi giving free rides from (very near) the train station, there isn’t a good system for letting people know when the water taxi isn’t running, and sadly this contributed towards me only being able to attend the last four and a bit hours or so. (Unconferences are a little stranger when you can’t attend the planning-on-the-day stage at the beginning… though I probably could have stuck a session note onto the board if there was something burning that I had wanted to discuss.) Jason Stroud of Thinking Outside The Box was the only known person to travel from the UK to Chicago for the Room Escape Conference last month and I was disappointed to miss him presenting his findings; the rest of us will have to settle for this review video.

I believe that organiser Liz Cable will be putting together a more formal description of the sessions at some point, as well as co-ordinating the collation of the notes that people took. After a buffet spread that looked as good as it tasted, Liz took eight or nine of us around her Code-X pop-up game, a few doors down, that sadly has to close on Sunday 18th and clear out shortly after. The aesthetic is distinctive and likely very effective, and there are as many surprises as you’d hope for. A tour can never match up to playing the game for real, but this did look like a treat.

In the afternoon, there was a session on potential for interaction between escape rooms and academia; without wanting to get too “one weird trick” about it, there do seem to be revenue streams that might be able to be tapped by escape room creators who can reframe the advantages of what they offer in ways that universities will want to hear, far aside from the obvious one of having students coming and playing your regular open-to-the-public game. There was also a fascinating session comparing academic models proposed over the years for game players’ motivations, discussing the extent to which they may or may not apply, and giving practical applications of the most promising-looking of these models to the escape room context. Escape game web sites often tend to promote their offerings in fairly similar fashions, which may be relatively generic when something more tailored to differently motivated groups of players may speak more directly to them.

Past unconferences have often generated a spirit of “sure, it would be great to work together!” which has not generated practical activity. The end of the day had some attempts to be slightly more concrete about initiatives which seem to have common purpose: a smarter approach to insurance (are some people paying too much? Do companies’ insurance policies really cover you?) as well as potential to investigate group buying where it makes sense, and places where the industry as a whole might promote itself more usefully than individual brands doing so.

Exciting times! Lots to think about; many thanks to Liz and the attendees for putting the day together. The next unconference will be on Tuesday 10th January 2017 at The Steam Room, part of “Drink, Shop and Do” near King’s Cross Station in London; it too should be a treat and booking is already open. Being the second Tuesday of the month, of course, that will be a Puzzled Pint night, so don’t forget about one really good, relevant opportunity to socialise afterwards!

Puzzle hunts and puzzle competitions right about now

Here Comes The Sun! ...from a T-shirt credited to "Pablo Bustos aka Wirdou"
That rather fun image (adapted, without permission, from this shirt credited to “Pablo Bustos aka Wirdou”) sets the tone for some of the things happening at the moment which may be of interest.

It’s Labor Day, without the u, in the United States today. As he has previously done for nine of the ten previous Labor Days, Mark Halpin has posted an extravaganza: a hunt-like collection of puzzles to solve at home. They are principally word and picture puzzles; Mark has a glorious reputation for setting devious cryptic crossword variants. E-mail individual puzzle answers to Mark for verification; one team who solves within the first two and a half weeks, chosen at random, will win a $25 gift certificate prize. (Alternatively, e-mail Mark for hints and tips.) The theme for this year’s hunt inspires the title of this article.

If this hunt doesn’t fit into your schedule, or if you want a hunt designed for a larger team and with possibly a slightly broader style of puzzles, then a good option is the mezzacotta puzzle competition taking place from Monday 10 October, 2016 onwards. This is the direct descendent of the CiSRA puzzle hunt which gave a great deal of fun to many people over the years. The format is expected to be very similar to the CiSRA hunt, as well as the MUMS and SUMS puzzle hunts of the mathematics societies of Australian universities; many people are looking forward to seeing the precise specifics of the form to be taken by this year’s hunt.

Alternatively, there are some competitions which test the ability of a solver – or a team – to set puzzles, as well as to solve them. This post comes too late to feature timely details of Iron Puzzler of Southern California, just over a week ago, but Germany will be hosting the Puzzle Decathlon competition in Wuppertal (just east of Dusseldorf, so not far from the Dutch border) in November. Some rounds feature puzzles to solve; other rounds see you set puzzles for your fellow competitors!