Red Bull Mind Gamers thoughts

Red Bull Mind Gamers: Mission Unlock Enoch , copyright Red Bull GmbHThe global finals of the Red Bull Mind Gamers promotion took place in Budapest, Hungary last week, tied in with Tuesday’s release of the Mind Gamers movie by the drinks company’s media house.

22 national teams qualified from their countries’ qualifying campaigns, with two other wild card teams made up of solvers from around the world arising from other competitions on the Red Bull Mind Gamers site. These 24 teams, in total, were split up into two sections of 12 depending upon their arrival date in Hungary, which in turn depended upon how far they had had to come. Each section of 12 played an identical semi-final game on the same day, either Thursday or Friday. All 24 teams were brought to a studio on Saturday where the results of the semi-finals were announced, with the best teams taking part in a final. Excerpts of the semi-finals and the final itself were broadcast in a live show on Red Bull TV, still available on demand, and the faster team in the final won the championship, along with a trip to the US and a delightful physical-puzzle trophy.

The rest of this post is a reflection on, and will contain spoilers for, the TV show. Continue reading

Mazes and Crystals

It all started with a big CrystalThere is much more to say about the Red Bull Mind Gamers finals show, much of it very positive. Not tonight. I am still bitter about my Internet access here yesterday, and how resetting a router can make things worse when every other time – including a measly ten minutes after the show finishes – it makes it better. That’s not important right now. (At least I got to see the show, even if I have used up half my mobile phone data for the month.)

The live The Crystal Maze experience is clearly a hit, selling out months in advance in London and sufficient to inspire a second official maze in Manchester. (There are some very positive reviews of the Manchester maze previews at Escape Game Addicts and at Brit of an Escape Addict!) When the show comes back to TV, after the one-off Stand Up To Cancer celebrity special, it will come back further into people’s consciousnesses and be a rising tide to lift all boats further. Hurrah!

Here is a statement which I don’t think reflects any great insight, but I don’t think I’ve seen anybody else yet make. The world of escape games is already enough that there can be reasonably well-established subgenres within it: a zombie game, a prison break game and so on. Aside from the issue of whether the live The Crystal Maze experience “counts” as an escape game or not, I think there is room for the existence of a “The Crystal Maze” subgenre of escape games, and that there will be more escape and related games in the UK that, for want of a good adjective, have some degree of the essential The Crystal Maze nature.

This is a gradual scale, with shades of grey, rather than being a binary distinction. There have long existed scored games, an early example (and probably the most famous?) of which is Clue HQ‘s The Vault. Some use the score element to reflect how quickly you were able to solve the regular puzzles in the game which you must complete before you can get to the scored activities. Others use scores in different ways; I enjoyed reading The Logic Escapes Me‘s reviews of the Ruby Factory at Trapped In and Bad Clown, as was, at Escape Quest. More topically, Time Run’s new The Celestial Game game is a scored game; from what I know about it, I thought it sounded quite crystalline, though Escape Review’s, er, review (which is spoiler-y for format alone, though certainly not for content) tended to differ.

The Bolton News recently wrote about an upcoming site called Crack The Maze, in which “teams between two and six are tested in physical, mental and skill challenges to win time for an ultimate final challenge. There will also be escape the room challenges in the huge complex.” So there are plans for an explicitly labyrinthine game on site and escape rooms as well. Exciting!

I also enjoyed reading about Never Give Up which opened in Newcastle-on-Tyne about a month ago. “Take on various challenges to successfully complete each type of game. 1 or 2 players can play each game while the rest of your team shout instructions through the doors or windows to help. ((…)) Successfully completing a game will earn your team a “clue sphere”. Collect as many of these precious sphere’s as possible to win clues for the epic centre-piece of the game, the escape from King Tut’s Tomb. ((…)) The various Egyptian themed rooms- mental, skill and physical games are up to 3 minutes long and will last for approximately 35-40 minutes in total. The final challenge, the King Tut’s Tomb will last 15-20 minutes.” So it’s two parts The Crystal Maze, one part escape room. Thumbs firmly up from here… and it has a great name, too.

Part of the reason why escape games have done so well in the UK, I am convinced, is the high esteem in which The Crystal Maze is held, even decades after the fact, and the extent to which people can relate to it as an immediate cultural touchpoint. (Escape game owners, raise a toast to Challenge TV. I’m not kidding.) It strikes me as logical to wonder whether Fort Boyard, the French predecessor show, might have a similar effect in countries where it is beloved. For instance, Oslo in Norway has a game called Fangene på Fortet, which is also the name of their local version of Fort Boyard. The game seems slightly more Boda Borg than anything else, but that’s another game that… if not quite along the same axis, is another asteroid in the same cluster.

Flying slightly into fantasy, it’s tempting to wonder whether other game show properties might ever see the light of day. Given the popularity of the Knightmare Live theatrical shows, I find it easy to imagine that there would be people who would pay to play a Knightmare experience – and that certainly could be replayable. (LARP is a whole different topic, but one not at all far away.) Flying considerably into fantasy, I’d rather like to visit the alternate universe in which John Leslie is providing a star guest appearance at the opening of the (1994 ITV one-series smash-miss) Scavengers experience…

A tiny bit more from Budapest

copyright Predrag Vuckovic / Red Bull Content Pool

copyright Predrag Vuckovic / Red Bull Content Pool

A fantastic photo of the UK team, to be referred to as Team United Kingdom, about to start their semi-final. It doesn’t show their best sides but it’s still a great photo!

Red Bull have posted another article with more information from the combined days of the semi-finals. It also features a photo of Team United Kingdom’s Sera in full flow in what appears to be a laser maze or something similar. Here’s an updated quote with progress:

Based on how challenges to various intelligences were solved throughout the Semi-Finals, an ultimate Dream Team pulled from the full two days might include talent from Australia, Canada, France, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey and the USA. But to make the Finals on Saturday night, teams must have combined all those diverse mind skills within their own four teammates, and any one of the 24 contenders could be announced as a Finalist.

At least for a while, there’s also a video clip available with edited highlights from the semi-finals. The quality and speed of the editing by the Red Bull team is hugely impressive, the game looks amazing and it makes me really look forward to tonight’s show. See you back here just before seven!

Edited to add: For technical reasons, liveblogging the show did not happen as had been hoped.

Tonight is World Championship night

Drinks canCompletely generic beverage container pictured there, yeah?

I’ve been trying to cover Red Bull Mind Gamers’ Mission Unlock ENOCH, the first really serious international competition between escape game solving teams. The official Facebook and Twitter are still keeping things fairly firmly locked down, and participants are respecting the privacy embargo impeccably, so this report of what there is to know about things so far is necessarily going to be pretty short. There’s no more inside information than one player having described the room as “really, really cool”.

That said, it has been suggested that the restriction on discussing the games on social media was lifted at dinnertime on Friday night, so here’s what has been mentioned. Teams played a series of seven challenges; solving each one opened a door to try the next. The challenges have been compared to things from The Crystal Maze or The Krypton Factor, except with very heavy focus on co-operation between team members; the challenges were primarily mental, but with heavy physical elements in the implementation of the puzzles, as opposed to testing athletic prowess. They involved unusual equipment rather higher-tech than you would see in most, but perhaps not quite all, escape rooms; it’ll be really fun to see (at least footage of) the teams playing with some very fancy toys on the broadcasts. If I can get permission to suggest what the challenges were before the broadcast then I’ll paste what I’ve heard in.

It is known that Thursday and Friday each saw twelve teams play the same game, with the fastest qualifier of the day qualifying for tonight’s final. The Thursday and Friday games were different from each other, presumably as a spoiler protection measure, so performances can’t be compared exactly from day to day. Thursday saw the UK play, along with eleven other teams who had arrived in Budapest relatively early. The UK faced off against Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Slovakia, Italy, France, Hungary, Norway, Spain, Lithuania and Estonia, so there will be some European interest in the finals.

We do know a little – and I mean little – about how Thursday went, courtesy of an official “surprises and stats” article. The juiciest quote runs like so: The early results are as top-secret as the details of the Escape Room itself. But organizers did reveal that, looking at the strengths showed by the teams in the various intelligences challenged – the dream Mind Gamer team for the day would have been a combination of Spain, Switzerland, Slovenia, Estonia and the United Kingdom. There’s a lovely photo of the UK team just before they go into the room, as well, even if it doesn’t show the team members’ best sides.

While the UK team were only the 17th fastest out of the 22 national champions in the qualifying competition, the actual escape room-based tests of the semi-finals should have played to their massive experience and their strengths. Second place and twelfth place are practically interchangeable so this may not be the most meaningful thing to say, but I have a feeling that the UK team will have acquitted themselves really pretty well. (If I’m going to pick a second tip, the Swiss team were mentioned above, plus had the fastest qualifying time among the European teams.)

Friday’s play featured teams from Singapore, Korea, Russia, Azerbaijan, Romania, USA, Oman, Turkey, Ukraine and Sweden, as well as the two wild card teams. Obviously I’m going to be cheering for UK to qualify from Thursday, but my loyalties on Friday are more heavily divided. I’ve met one person on each of the two wild card teams; both wild card teams and the US team are represented on the Slack, so I’d be happy if the Friday winner were any of those three.

It’ll be a lot of fun to find out. The teams are being kept in suspense as to how well they have done until the big reveal on the live show on Red Bull TV online from 7pm UK time tonight. I’m going to try to provide minute-by-minute liveblogging here at Ex Exit Games, as befits coverage of the world championship final of a mind sports event, and because it was fun when I tried something similar a dozen years ago. See you just before seven!

Second-hand bits and pieces from Budapest

Stylised globe encircled by a bolt of lightAs discussed recently, the de facto escape room world championship that is Red Bull Mind Gamers’ Mission Unlock ENOCH is just about to spark into life. While play hasn’t started yet, there haven’t been a great deal of specifics posted on either the official Facebook or the official Twitter, so time to dig a little further.

This site has made passing mention of the tremendous Room Escape Divas podcast; it’s a running joke that virtually every episode makes prominent mention of the not-at-all-secret escape rooms secret Slack chat. (If you’re not familiar with Slack, it’s rather a lot like old-fashioned IRC text chat, only with a beautifully-designed user interface that’s a joy to use.) There are a couple of hundred people registered for that Slack chat, including site operators and prominent industry participants as well as bloggers and other enthusiasts, and spending time there is a lot of fun. (In particular, the inhabitants of the #uk-general channel are especially dear to me.) It shouldn’t come as a surprise that there’s pretty good representation of English-speaking Mission Unlock ENOCH participants in the chat, and this seems to have been a pretty good source of information.

You can well imagine that one of the potential barriers to running an escape room competition on the up and up is avoiding spoilers. If not all teams can play at the same time, then there have to be measures in place to ensure that players on teams who play the room early cannot give tips to their friends taking part later on. Accordingly, a tight lockdown on communications is about to come into effect, which is why I use “seems to have been” rather than “seems to be” above. People seem to be respecting the intention as well as the letter of the law and are keeping quiet about relatively small details of their experience, for fear of transgressing the lockdown and risking disqualification. It seems likely that we’ll not get to hear too much about the event until it’s all over – but here’s what we do know.

There are 24 teams taking part: 22 national representatives, plus two wild card teams. Twelve teams are playing in one semi-final today and the other twelve tomorrow, with the fastest team from each day (or possibly the two fastest teams overall) facing off in the live final on Saturday night, to be broadcast on Red Bull TV from 7pm UK time. The teams will be sequestered from each other reasonably aggressively for spoiler prevention. It may well be that the twelve teams playing tomorrow are those who have had to come further to get to Budapest and thus might need slightly longer to get over the time zone differences; certainly the UK team are playing at some point today. All the team members have been provided with some very snazzy-looking jackets, complete with national flags sewn onto the forearm, as well as the branding you might expect.

You can find out who’s on which team on the official site. The breakdown is something like 80% male, 20% female. Certainly among the briefing held for the twelve teams playing today, it was observed that a reasonably strong majority of the participants were young, pale and male. Day two looks like it will have rather more diversity, though.

The Slack chat referred to above means that I at least vaguely know people on at least four of the teams, so I’m hopeful of having someone to cheer for on Saturday night. The best of luck to them all… but mainly, from my perspective, to the UK team!

It’s World Championship week with Red Bull Mind Gamers: Mission Unlock ENOCH

Red Bull Mind Gamers: Mission Unlock Enoch, copyright Red Bull GmbHMonths ago, this site posted about the then-upcoming UK qualification rounds for Red Bull Mind GamersMission Unlock ENOCH campaign. National qualification championships were held in 22 countries around the world, though mostly in Europe, which each qualified a national representative team for the finals, along with two wildcard teams, each of which featured four players earning their places via additional online competitions. These 24 teams are making their way to Budapest in Hungary this week for the world championship.

As I understand it, the 24 teams will take on the same room, one at a time, over Thursday 23rd and Friday 24th March. The two fastest teams face each other in the overall final, set to be broadcast online on Red Bull TV live from 7pm UK time on Saturday 25th March. (It’s not clear how, or if, we’ll be able to follow the action on Thursday and Friday, but Red Bull’s social media would seem like a good place to start. There have even been some suggestions that everything will be kept pretty much locked down until the start of the live show on Saturday; we’ll see.) What else do we know about the room? “It’s the first escape room based on quantum logic, and is designed to challenge 4 problem-solving skills: creativity, logic, visual thinking and strategy“, the titular ENOCH to be unlocked is a quantum computer, and you can see a six-part vlog series about the design of the event.

The UK team looks very strong to me. It is made up of Ken Ferguson, of The Logic Escapes Me fame as well as a little blog called Exit Games UK, Mark Greenhalgh of Really Fun as well as Sera Dodd and Sharon Gill. The team is hugely experienced, having played a total of 1,000 escape games between them – possibly not far from 1,100 by the time of the finals. Ken wrote about the qualification experience in detail and I look forward to seeing and reading more about the finals in the fullness of time. Ken admits that they weren’t as well-prepared for the qualification event as they could have been, and some amazing qualification times came from teams who analysed videos frame-by-frame in preparation. However, this week will test raw escape game skills; it would seem unlikely that the UK team will be out-experienced in this regard.

While this is the first event of its type and so there cannot be a form guide, there are some very familiar names on the other teams. The US qualifiers include a US Sudoku champion, ahead of some very stiff competition, and if you search for the other names on that team, it’s clear that they have some extremely serious puzzle chops as well. Speaking of which, the wildcard winners team includes four-time World Puzzle Champion Wei-Hwa Huang and ClueKeeper co-founder Rich Bragg; I’m sure the other two members are likely to have very considerable skills as well. Long-time US Puzzle team captain Nick Baxter is on the DxM wildcard team, as well. And those are just the names I recognise! I’m sure that representatives of other countries are just as accomplished in their own ways, too.

There’s so much that we don’t know, but it’s going to be great fun following the week and finding out!

Remember: Galactic Puzzle Hunt starts today

Galactic Puzzle Hunt 2017 logoAs a reminder, this site previously posted about topics including the Galactic Puzzle Hunt, which derives its spacefaring name from the puzzle hunt team who are running it. The first hunt starts today! It’s an Australian-style hunt, which means that new puzzles will be released every day; this hunt will release five puzzles today and then five more daily for each of the next five days.

There is an unusual hinting scheme which will permit teams to ask their own yes-or-no questions, and a player-friendly policy that states “In addition to a “Yes” or “No” answer, we may provide additional clarification/help depending on the circumstances. Roughly one week into the hunt, we will start giving out additional hints, and we may be more generous with clarifications; we want teams to be able to solve most or all of the puzzles by the end!” Thrilled to read it and looking forward to how it works out in practice!

The puzzles will be released at 1:59 pm PDT daily. Note that that is Daylight time, for most of North America has sprung forward already, a couple of weeks before Europe; this works out as 8:59 pm UK time. (And did you see me make this post yesterday, getting the first day of the hunt completely wrong? No, no. Not at all. I’m just styling it out, as they say.)

Coming soon to, once more, London: Now Play This

"Now Play This" logoAll the exciting things seem to be happening in London – or, at least, I’m rather less aware of the exciting things happening outside London.

Now Play This describes itself as “a festival of experimental game design, showcasing some of the most interesting games and playful work being made around the UK and the world“. This was briefly touched on in a previous post, and a post back in 2015 discussed the first installment of the three to date.

So why cover it again? First, I loved the 2015 event; second, details have been announced of the games in the exhibition and the three days of special events. Lots of exciting possibilities and you’ll surely pick your own favourites, but I was drawn to “Of Plagues, Deceptions and Other Things”, being run on Sunday.

An international enemy plans to release a specimen of the Bubonic Plague in London and destroy the only antidote. While it is too late to retrieve the specimen, there is a unique opportunity to steal the antidote and save the thousands of lives currently at risk. You and your closest friends have been chosen to complete this dangerous, but heroic, quest. Success won’t be easy. There’s information to uncover, codes to find, places to be and people to trick. To make matters worse, the evil enemy have slyly sent four moles into the mix. Can you successfully retrieve the antidote, avoid detection and reveal the enemies hidden among you?

This game is put on by Block Stop, who have a variety of exciting-looking public and private games, but this seems to be one of their puzzliest. Tickets for Now Play This are now on sale; daily tickets are £8, or £6½ for concessions, and a three-day ticket carries a slight discount. Sadly I’ll be away busy on shift work and missing the event, as in 2016, but it’s likely to be packed to the brim with exciting ideas!

David Cooper

This site regrets to report the passing of David Cooper, also known as the Wandering Puzzler. David was fascinated not only by puzzles of various sorts but also by puzzly game shows; he wrote about both topics in his blog with skill and original thought, and was passionate enough about his interests to find work in television. I knew David mostly from the Bother’s Bar web site, where he is much missed. David enjoyed taking part in the site’s traditions, not least setting questions in the style of Only Connect – and, with only minor adjustment, here is my favourite of them. What image, with a pleasing slight surprise, would come fourth in this series?
Picture puzzle by the late David Cooper

Also coming soon to London: GameCamp 9

GameCamp logoGood news! Hear ye, hear ye!

GameCamp will return for 2017! Tickets for GameCamp 9 are on sale now. ((…)) This will be the 9th London GameCamp Unconference, where we invite all doers, makers and thinkers from the broad community of “games” to gather into a freely organised series of talks, discussions and activities under the same roof for a day.

The secret ingredient is YOU; come along with a topic about which you’re personally passionate, write your session’s title on an index card and place it on the living schedule in a time slot and a room, then host the activity with your audience of fellow Unconference participants. Or spend the early parts of your day visiting other sessions and schedule your own when the inspiration strikes you! Other not-so-secret ingredients include lunch, a special giveaway, and after-hours drinks at a local pub.

The venue is London’s South Bank University, the time is 9:30am to 5:30pm (and then onwards), and the price is somewhere between £13 and £19 depending on how soon you book or whether you are eligible for a concessionary rate. Further details are available at the official site. I went to GameCamp 8 last year and had a corking time; indeed, I’m still kicking myself over missing one particular session whose existence I didn’t know about until too late. This year’s event has every reason to be at least as good and quite possibly better. So will I be going this year? Ah, well; there’s a bit of a problem.

The problem happens to be the date: Saturday 6th May. Not only is that one of the dates for Horses for Corpses, as discussed in the previous post, it also happens to be the date for a certain puzzle hunt called DASH 9. There are few events for which I would throw GameCamp over, but DASH is one of them. Pity, really, but there must be something exciting of some different sort or another on every single week and the organisers would never practically be able to find a perfect date, not least because they must work around their venue’s schedule.

Admittedly tickets for DASH are not currently available, which might make your decision easier, but do bear in mind the well-placed suggestion that further DASH tickets may well be made available closer to the time. Whether you go to the ninth DASH or the ninth GameCamp, I’d bet good money at short odds that you’ll have a whale of a time!