Escape room board games at board game cafes? Ludorati’s “Escape the Cube”

Ludorati "Escape the Cube" logoThis will get a little circular, but it’ll make sense in the end. You go to an escape room facility to play an escape room, right? However, you can play board games that aim to bring the thrill of the escape room experience – and, being a board game, you can play it in a great many places. Board game cafes let you play board games that you don’t own. So you could go to a board game cafe, instead of an escape room, to play an escape room in a box rather than to play an escape room! Why would you? Well, the best escape room board games are at least as good as many escape rooms (see Real Escape Artist, The Logic Escapes Me and others…) and the price is very attractive – something like a third the price of a traditional escape room. It also has some appeal through novelty alone.

Ludorati is a board game cafe in Nottingham. It has a small private room called The Cube, for games played quietly away from the rest of the cafe. They offer Escape The Cube as one of the things that can happen there. “Welcome to Ludorati Café’s ‘Escape The Cube’ series of exciting live action team challenges, which takes the traditional Escape Room tasks into a different realm. We currently have over 100 innovative scenarios in design and the first six are now available to play.” Looking at the catalogue, you might recognise some of the games on offer, with slightly different names, as well-known escape room board games. I look forward to seeing what the other “over 100” minus 6 turn out to be in the fullness of time, and quite where they fall on the axis between escape room and escape room board game. Even if there’s nothing added to an escape room board game, the ability to do it in an environment well-suited to placing an emphasis on the hour time limit nature of the game might be particularly appropriate; you might be able to win an escape game board game, but could you do it… in the Cube?

I tend to think that escape room board games and board game cafes are a smart and natural sort of match. There’s always something of an argument about the value proposition of an escape room board game in that (barring exceptions) it can be expected to lose its capacity to surprise once you’ve seen all it has to offer, and thus can only really be played once per group. Accordingly, the chance to get to play such a game without having to buy it would appeal, and that is exactly the sort of game you might want to play at a board game cafe. Conversely, one might imagine that few copies of an escape room board game would get played more than ones situated at just such a cafe. In discussion, the issue of replayability of these games has been raised; several designs are only intended to be played once to the point where you are invited to alter the physical components as part of the play. I’m not quite sure how a board game cafe would cope with that, but it may just be a consequence of selecting the right games to offer. It’s not as if there aren’t many to choose from!

Clever plan, Ludorati. I look forward to seeing where you’re going with this one, and if others follow suit.

A couple of links for late May

A golden chain of linksA pair of fun things to look at, just to keep things ticking over…

Ken of The Logic Escapes Me (etc.) points to Jack Hurst’s puzzle blog. Jack is rightly considered a Countdown legend, winning 16 games on the trot before coming up against Conor Travers – and if you know Countdown at all, you’ll know that while your first eight games can be against anyone and everyone, then the tournament structure starts to throw only the best against you. As Jack says in his first post, “I’ve been spending a lot of my spare time in recent months working on a software project to help me compile different puzzles. I’m now happy to share with you some of the fruits of my labour.” The site features word, number and logic puzzles; the logic puzzles do have something of a computer-generated feel to them, though the word puzzles clearly display the author’s touch more obviously. The highlights, for my money, are some original-feeling hex grid number placement puzzles called Conqueror.

I didn’t cover this at the time, but Intervirals did; after the success of the short puzzle trail that started with a Christmas card in 2015, GCHQ released a puzzle book last Christmas. Royalties from it, so far, have raised practically a quarter of a million pounds for the Heads Together campaign which works in association with a number of mental health charities. Notably, the book featured an eight-puzzles-plus-a-metapuzzle puzzle hunt, which started reasonably accessibly before getting quite abstruse. (This may also be an introduction of the term “puzzle hunt” to thousands, or tens of thousands, of solvers who weren’t familiar with it.) Stephen Peek explains how you use the answer to the metapuzzle, plus the answers to two other ciphers in the book, to reach the final stage of the puzzle, an open-ended optimisation puzzle. Stephen’s site also points to sample mathematics papers used in the GCHQ applications process; happily, these are as rigorous as you would hope for an agency which needs our brightest and best!

Escape room news round-up, mid-May

News round-upA slightly unusual post for this blog, but news breaks quickly enough that sometimes a newsflash is required.

The Melbourne 1888 Challenge will be a 15-minute escape room played, replicating the sweltering heat of the Australian desert, on exactly the two nights of Wednesday 24th and Thursday 25th May at the venue of Time Run in London. It’s for players aged 18+ only, for participants “will have the chance to cool-off and unwind afterwards and enjoy a refreshing ice-cold pint of the iconic lager“. It’s only £5 per player, plus a small booking fee, and even that small sum is donated to Mind, the mental health charity. Hurrah!

It’s not clear whether the 15-minute game uses content from either of Time Run’s current missions, but even if it does and you have played both already, the chance to spend another 15 minutes (plus briefing and debriefing) in the Time Run world, and in the company of the sensational Time Run players, is a wonderful opportunity, especially if you like the drink in question. This is rather happier Time Run news than the main headline, which is that their landlords have decided to convert the property into (inevitably) flats and thus the site has declared a closing date. The comment that “We will be back later this year, at an all-new venue with an amazing new game” is reassuring but it’s still hard to see this as anything other than very sad news.

The Melbourne 1888 Challenge is far from the only pop-up game in London at the moment, though it may be the most exciting. London Escapists list the others, as well as discussing tales of the UK SCRAP Zelda’s booking system going horribly wrong and overbooking certain slots. It’s easy to be sniffy here, but other game owners have tales of their own booking systems going wrong, and these booking systems have the theoretically easier-looking job of selling each slot once only, so I have more sympathy than once I did.

Early May was conference season, with the Room Escape Conference in Niagara Falls and Up The Game in the Netherlands. The former did not allow recording of its paid-for seminars, but the Codex forum has textual recaps of some of them and the Unlocked channel by the Trap Door escape room may have vlog recaps. I believe that it has been suggested that at least some of the Up The Game sessions were recorded and fingers crossed that these will be released before long.

Other than that, here are some links which may entertain:

  • Excellent, if ever-so-slightly hipster, tabletop game blog Shut Up and Sit Down reviewed EXIT: The Game and Unlock, two escape-room-at-home card games. Other such games are available; the more, the merrier!
  • A very popular thread on Reddit asks: “Escape The Room Employees, what is the weirdest thing you’ve seen someone do in one of the rooms?” The results are… perhaps mostly what you might guess, especially given the context, but there are some tales well worth seeing in there.
  • Several of these tales concern proposals (or “promposals”, for apparently making a spectacle of asking someone to a dance is now A Thing). It was fun to track these in the early days, but I stopped when I got to ten. It’s so common these days that one site now has their own guide on how to propose at an escape room. Every escape room will be different, but this looks like good practice to me!

Doctor Jones! Jones? Calling Doctor Jones: a DASH 9 recap

Mötley Clüe team photo at DASH 9This blog posts in fits and starts; DASH always inspires a series of posts, and they’re always great fun to write. If you couldn’t attend this year, here’s what you missed; maybe it might make you interested in taking part in a future year. If you played DASH elsewhere and were keen to know how your location’s interpretation of the puzzles differed from that of London, you can get a sense of it here too.

Spoiler warning: now that DASH 9 is over, it’s time to enter spoiler territory. Every previous DASH has had its puzzles posted online reasonably soon afterwards. If you didn’t play DASH, it would still be a lot of fun to get a group of your friends together and try the puzzles for yourself once they’re made available. This post is going to be fairly generic, avoiding the Aha! moments for each puzzle, but the comments may be more specific, and there’s a deliberately spoiler-y picture as well, so if you want to avoid spoilers, I’d recommend skipping this post. Everybody else, dig in using the “Continue Reading” button below. Continue reading

The annual DASH participation statistics post, after DASH 9

Bar chart showing improving performance over timeIf it’s a few days after DASH, it’s time for the annual participation statistics post! Please find below an updated version of a table which details the number of teams on the scoreboard for each city in each edition of the DASH puzzle hunt to date.

Albuquerque, NM 6 6+1 3+2+0 4+0+0
Atlanta, GA 5+7 8+5
Austin, TX 2 11 12 13+4 10+4+0 17+6+0 20+4 18+4
Bay Area, CA Y(SF)
73(SF) 34+7(SF)
Boston, MA Y 18 26 29 27+2 30+7+1 30+6+0 38+13 33+10
Chicago, IL 17 14 10+1 15+9+0 16+24+0 16+16 20+19
Davis, CA 16 15 16 13+7 8+7+1 13+7+0 12+8 15+5
Denver, CO 3+12+0 6+7
Enschede, NL 9+2
Houston, TX Y
London, UK 6+2 8+13+0 14+9+0 14+8 18+6
Los Angeles, CA Y 7 22 21 15+4 15+2+0
(Sta Monica)
19+17 16+6
Minneapolis, MN 8+7 7+4+0
9+7+0 7+9 6+17
New York, NY 12 24 25 30+7 26+15+2 29+15+0 24+15 37+13
Portland, OR Y 6 17 19 19+2 11+7+0 10+10+0 12+5
Provo, UT 1+1
San Diego, CA 7
Seattle, WA Y 32 47 49 49+2 58+4+2 60+9+2 63+6 46+3
South Bend, IN 1
St. Louis, MO 2 2+3 7+8+1 8+10 7+11
Washington, DC Y 14 22 33 31+1 27+5+0 26+9+0 28+12 27+13
Number of locations 8 10 12 13 15 14 16 16 16

Here are some initial interpretations:

1) Errors and omissions excepted, with apologies in advance. The Minneapolis DASH 6 recast figures came from the organisers by private e-mail.

2) The numbers are drawn from the scoreboards and may not reflect teams that participate but do not make the scoreboard for whatever reason, or other infelicities. (On the other hand, it does include teams which do make the scoreboard even despite being listed as “not started”.) DASH 1 does not have a public scoreboard on the web site and thus “Y” represents the hunt having happened there with an unknown number of participants. When there are pluses, the number before the first plus reflects the number of teams on the experienced track, the number after the first plus reflects the number of teams on the “new players”/”novice” track (DASH 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9), and the number after the second plus reflects the number of teams on the junior track (DASH 6 and 7 only).

3) Interpret “Bay Area, CA” using the following key: SF = San Francisco (1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9), PA = Palo Alto (1 and 8), SR = Santa Rosa (2,3), LA = Los Altos (2), SM = San Mateo (3), HMB = Half Moon Bay (5), C = Cupertino (6), SJ = San Jose (7), F = Fremont (9).

4) I’ve been thinking for a while about knocking single-entry cities (Houston in DASH 1, San Diego in DASH 3 and South Bend in DASH 4) out of their own individual rows of the table and into a single combined row, a bit like the Bay Area, CA row. This might make the table easier to deal with. Fingers very firmly crossed that Provo, UT and Enschede don’t prove similar one-offs.

5) The line-up of 16 locations participating in DASH 9 was not too different from that for DASH 8; we lost Denver and previously ever-present Portland, each hopefully for only a year, and instead gained Enschede in the Netherlands and Provo in Utah. Fingers crossed for the return of Albuquerque at some point, too, so I can know where to turn left. (See also this comment from DASH about there having been some interest, that didn’t come to fruition, from Manchester, Mexico City and Vienna.)

6) It’s not a competition to see whose DASH can be the largest; all DASH organiser teams are glorious, generous paragons of virtue, whether their event had one team or 70+, and the community at large thanks them all for the time and effort that they put in. The two-track solution proved its worth again, with each location seeing at least one team on each track.

7) Numbers do appear to be slightly down in several of the larger locations. It’s tempting to wonder to what extent this is a result of demand being down and to what extent this is a result of a lack of availability of supply. Could some of the locations, if they had wanted to, have held bigger events if they had had more GC available? Could some of the locations, if they had wanted to, have held bigger events if they had larger sites for their individual puzzles? Were there many teams who wanted to get the chance to play but didn’t get to play in practice? (As ever, there’s no reason why bigger necessarily has to be better and there’s no sense in deliberately trying to emphasise quantity over quality.)

8) I’m about to do something quite unfair, for the barriers to entry are so vastly different, but here’s a table comparing the growth of DASH with the growth of Puzzled Pint over the last few years, courtesy in part of data from Puzzled Pint’s Matt Cleinman:

Month Puzzled Pint
Puzzled Pint
2012 13 300 April 2012 1 50
2013 15 295 + 53 April 2013 2 (N/A)
2014 14 307 + 101 April 2014 5 255
2015 16 333 + 151 April 2015 17 922
2016 16 363 + 159 April 2016 32 1461
2017 16 342 + 138 April 2017 39 1956

Did DASH 9 leave you wanting more?


The sidebar says it all; Ex Exit Games is a web site about Puzzle hunts, puzzle games, escape rooms and more, and it works out to be roughly in that order. It’s all pretty seasonal; many of the hunts take place once a year at similar times, and so do many of the puzzle competitions, so that’s when the posts most naturally tend to happen. Happily these days there are many excellent blogs that will tell you all the latest news and reviews about escape rooms, so I don’t feel bad about downplaying that aspect of things.

Perhaps you’re coming here for your first time, or one of your first times, as a result of DASH, or perhaps you couldn’t go but thought it sounded great; you don’t have to wait another year for DASH 10 to get your fill of puzzle fun, for there are plenty of exciting-looking things coming up:

  • The most distinctive and unusual sort of game coming up is probably Defenders of the Triforce put on by SCRAP’s Real Escape Game brand in mid-July. “This is not an escape room, it is more than that. Solve puzzles together with other teams, in a huge area, all within a set time limit. Interact with classic items and characters seen in The Legend of Zelda series like the Goron, Zora and Kokiri tribes.” I get the impression that it’ll be somewhere between a puzzle hunt and a night at Puzzled Pint. The game is on a tour of North America and Europe, and North American reviews suggest this is as good a SCRAP game as there ahs yet been, though that’s not quite as ringing an endorsement as it might sound. My post on the game has links to these reviews. 
  • A Door In A Wall have just started their latest public murder mystery game, Horses for Corpses, on Friday and it will be running for (at least) just over a month. Turn up at your assigned time at a location in Camden Market, with at least one smartphone per team; you then “have 2 hours and 40 minutes to explore the area and gather evidence: solving puzzles, interacting with characters and collecting clues“, before returning to make your accusation as to who the killer was. In some ways, this is as close to another DASH as you’ll get, dialing the story strongly up and the puzzles slightly down, and it may be closer to the canonical puzzle hunt experience than DASH actually can be. Ken from The Logic Escapes Me swears by them, and sometimes at them. 
  • Fire Hazard‘s stock in trade is High-Energy Immersive Games; top of their list is the five games they are running in July of their new design, Evasion, which asks “Can you search a room without leaving a trace? Can you defuse an explosive situation? Can you impersonate an enemy agent without blowing your cover? ((…)) You’ll race against the clock completing special missions, cracking cryptic messages, and keeping your cool while the enemy is in hot pursuit” and promises “added escape-room style puzzle-solving tasks“. Take a look at this interview for further details. Other than that, they still offer the high-speed City Dash in various locations around London (and, this Saturday, in Odense), and the low-speed Raiders of the Lost Archive that walks all around the Victoria and Albert Museum. There’s also a pop-up second Raiders game, Raiders: the Sunken Tea Set, that takes place on other levels of the museum – so if you enjoyed the original then a rare second helping may be on offer! 
  • I don’t thiiiink our friends at Treasure Hunts In London have anything lined up, but checking the meetup groups, there’s plenty going on elsewhere. The Cultural Treasure Hunt Meetup group are hosting a hunt around the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge on May 20th, and another one around the National Maritime Museum and Historic Greenwich on July 29th. The latter of these might seem a little ironic considering that’s where we were for DASH, but I get the impression that there may be less crossover between the two than you might expect. 
  • ((Edited to add:)) Rich Bragg from ClueKeeper points out that there are self-guided hunts available using the ClueKeeper platform, and some of these are based in London! Treasure Hunts in London have hunts in Chingford, in Brixton and around Spitalfields, and Urban Hunts have hunts around the City of London and in the Museum of London. Perhaps the puzzles will be easier than DASH, but this is by far the most authentic way to get some of the DASH experience whenever you want some. 
  • Further North, all are welcome at The Armchair Treasure Hunt Club‘s Spring one-day hunt in Hebden Bridge, also on May 20th, and the Manchester Puzzle Hunts Meetup have a report from their first event, with the implication that there should be a second event in about a month’s time; follow the Meetup group to see more details of when it’s going to happen. 
  • Slightly more speculatively, the Cambridge University Computing and Technology Society have organised a 24-hour in-person puzzle hunt in Cambridge for each of the last five years, and while nothing appears to have been announced yet, I would bet small money that the next one will happen on Friday 16th June running into Saturday 17th June – i.e., the last day of Full Term – and that the site’s Facebook page would be the best place to look for an announcement. 
  • The Manorcon board games convention takes place at one of the halls of the University of Leicester, and for each of the last sixteen years, there has been a puzzly Treasure Hunt on each of the Sunday afternoons. 
  • Before all those, there’s dear old Puzzled Pint in London – and now also in Manchester! – on the second Tuesday of each month, also known as “tomorrow”. The puzzles here come from a rather more DASH-like background, but are deliberately accessible to all and designed to provide an hour or two’s fun for a team enjoying food, drink and good company. 
  • It’s not clear when the next big online puzzle hunt is going to be, for the Melbourne University Maths and Statistics Society‘s event that normally takes place around this time of year isn’t happening in 2017, and the Puzzle Hunt Calendar doesn’t really have much either. On the other hand, if you like logic puzzle contests then the calendar looks busy. The World Puzzle Federation’s Grand Prix season’s contests take place every four weeks, with the next starting on Friday 19th May. The next contest is set by the US authors, who ran an event with a loose escape room theme last year. That’s not all from US authors, though; the US Puzzle Championship will be on Saturday 17th June. Look out (perhaps at @ukpuzzles on Twitter?) for news of the UK Puzzle Championship as well, with the last two having been in late June; if DASH is my in-person highlight of the year, the UKPC is my online contest highlight, so I’m really looking forward to it!

The DASH data, after DASH 9

D.A.S.H. logoThere’s no editorial here, and definitely no intent to suggest there is such a thing as an optimal set of values, but this might still be of interest to set some context for comparison purposes. The times refer to puzzles offered in the most popular (i.e. expert/experienced) track from DASH 5 onwards.

Edition Par time Fast* time Usual* time Teams Structure
2 5:00 1:51 4:32 173 8+M
3 6:00 2:57 6:42 298 8+M
4 6:00 1:53 4:48 300 8+M
5 4:30 2:14 5:32 295+N IB+7+M
6 5:50 2:33 5:10 307+N IB+8+M
7 5:45 3:38 6:55 333+N IB+8+M
8 6:40 2:33 4:35 363+N IB+7+M
9 6:05 1:55 3:54 341+N 9
* median,
* median,
N = normal track M = metapuzzle,
IB = icebreaker

Data remains available for DASH 2, DASH 3, DASH 4, DASH 5, DASH 6, DASH 7, DASH 8 and DASH 9. Note that the usual time was calculated from the median time quoted for either the middle-scoring 8 or 9 teams, depending on whether the overall number of teams was even or odd, and may not represent every puzzle being solved without a hint or even every puzzle being solved at all. The times quoted do not include the par or solving times for the unscored co-operative icebreaker puzzle from DASH 5, 6, 7 and 8.

DASH 9 was very, very fine

Shake Shack signAfter DASH 9 finished, we went to Shake Shack for dinner, and found this native Iotan extract on one of the walls. I don’t think it translates to M, though; I think it translates to WC.

DASH 9 was a joy today. Every puzzle worked, the story was fun, the hunt was well-matched to its route and there were a couple of breathtaking surprises along the way. The administration of the Expert track was spotless; everything flowed really well. Our Expert-track team were really pleased with how we did; we finished fourth out of 18 in London and probably in the top 15% globally.

Congratulations to Misremembered Apple for once again being clear winners of the Expert track in London, and to Team Rebellion for being clear winners of the Normal track in London. After the hunt finished, it was fun to watch the live ClueKeeper scoreboard; one of my team members compared it to watching the voting coming in at the Eurovision Song Contest. Subject to ratification, it looks like the Burninators, who played in Fremont on the east side of the Bay Area in California, have got the best global score, two points ahead of a team named )((), which I choose to pronounce “fish”. Congratulations to them as well!

Thank you to all the staff, volunteers and people behind the scenes in the organisation; you’ve made a lot of people around the world very, very happy. The pub at the end of the London route was extremely well-chosen; people were happy to stick around and it worked well as a social event too, with quite a few interesting connections being made. What a day; it’s going to be no fun to have to wait for the next one!

Tomorrow is DASH 9 day

DASH 9 logoTonight is DASHmas Eve! It’s the night of the year where a good night’s sleep is most valuable and yet simultaneously most unlikely, for tomorrow sees the DASH 9 puzzle hunt take place in London, in the Netherlands and across the United States.

I very much hope to see you there – and, if you are there, do say “Hi”! My team is the same as the one in the photo last year; I’m the guy with spectacles at back right, indicating that somebody’s hit a six. Every year, I threaten to announce my arrival at the start location with a rebel yell and a round of high-fives as if I were a pro basketballer arriving on court, and every year so far sense and good taste have prevailed. We’ll see if this is the year.

Tomorrow’s weather forecast is for a dry, cloudy day. For at least three of the last four years, the forecast on DASH day has been for a risk of rain which has manifested as the lightest of sprinklings at the very worst, so a dry forecast really has me worried. In comparison with the trends I drew from previous installments of DASH, the feeling I get in my water is for there to be an icebreaker, eight scored puzzles (mostly on the shortish side) and a metapuzzle, with a combined par time of six hours, a median solving time of five hours, a worldwide total of 385 teams on the expert track and 165 teams on the novice track.

I’ll predict that London will be narrowly overrepresented in the top third of the Expert standings, though that wasn’t actually true last year. Misremembered Apple and The Magpie have been showing their chops in puzzle hunts through the year, both being world class teams on their day, and I understand that Moore and Lesk have at least one strong addition this year. The joy of this is that there could well be an amazing team that comes from nowhere and storms the event, much like Misremembered Apple did. (There are some usual suspects here, who I’d love to see in a team some day.) I’m on a team that’s plenty strong, too, though my contribution will be the enthusiasm, the comic relief and maybe, just maybe, having seen something before years ago that the other team members haven’t.

Lastly, set your expectations for a come-down at the end of the day, once the final meta is over and you have to end your day-trip to Planet Puzzle. That said, why not stay around for a drink and a chat with your fellow solvers at the end, if you can? (Especially you brilliantly quick front-running teams, though I know you’re busy people who might not be able to hang around to let us catch up!)

Many thanks to all the people who have put together the hunt: the global co-ordinators, all those who helped playtest and test-solve and the London volunteers on the day. Really looking forward to what’s very likely to be a fantastic event!

How would we get puzzles at the Olympic Games… or something like it?

International Mind Sports Association logo (presumably their copyright)This is a post I’ve been working on in the background, on and off, for a while; every time we discuss competitions, especially international championships, it comes back to mind.

The direct answer to the question is that it would seem vanishingly unlikely to ever get puzzles at the Olympic Games before other mind sports: games like chess, bridge, go and so on. It’s a subject that has been raised in the past by these mind sports’ governing bodies, but there has never been substantial progress on this front. (The highest-profile examples of mind sports at a festival of otherwise physical sports that I can find is that chess has had a couple of appearances at the Asian Games and the Universiade.) So let’s focus on the “…or something like it” instead, where there may be more to consider than you think.

(This is a long old piece; not far off three thousand words, hence the cut.) Continue reading