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!

Coming soon to London: A Door In A Wall presents “Horses for Corpses”

"Horses for Corpses" by A Door In A WallEvery time London interactive theatre company A Door In A Wall (for the company capitalises its words, even if its logo remains lower case) announce a major new work, this site gets excited. Spring and Autumn of the past few years have seen hit after hit, and this site has got excited about them more than a few times. One of those times of year is coming up, and the company will be putting on Horses for Corpses.

The ad didn’t say much: “Investigators wanted. No experience necessary.” Some horse trader apparently. You didn’t know much about riding, but you weren’t going to look this gift in the mouth. If only you’d asked a few more questions out of the gate…

Now you and your friends are finding out that racing is a murky world. It seems like everyone’s got form and the going ain’t easy. Somewhere amid the stalls and stables is the truth, and you’ll have to find it, otherwise it’ll be you who’s in the running… for murder.

There are a couple of slight differences to the usual A Door In A Wall format. Teams of 3-6 are suggested (though teams of 2 or 7+ are OK) and up to ten players (so perhaps 2-3 teams, or maybe even 4 tiny ones) get to start in their own private briefing in one of six 20-minute slots offered each afternoon or each evening. After the briefing, you have 2 hours 40 minutes to investigate, then the same players from the private briefing present their conclusions in a private debriefing and determine whether or not they have cracked the case correctly – so the whole thing lasts 3 hours 20 from start to finish. The event is offered on Tuesday to Sunday evenings from 5th May to 28th May, with weekends having additional afternoon matinee performances and a pair of performances on Bank Holiday Monday 29th May rounding things off. The venue is Camden Market, so plenty of good opportunities (and time within the schedule, too!) to grab something to eat and drink along the way.

This site really loved the review of a previous event at The Logic Escapes Me, which suggests precisely what sort of things might be involved: varied puzzles, highly immersive environments and plenty of characters to interactive with. From a starting-point that readers over here might be more familiar with, start with DASH, dial the interactions, interesting locations, storyline and pun fun up, then dial the puzzles slightly down, but not out altogether. (Ah, the things you can do when you are running an event 30+ times, with a professional budget, rather than once with just volunteers.) Book your tickets soon before the remaining dates sell out!

Register now (no, really, NOW) for DASH 9 in London

DASH 9 logoThis site refers to “one of the highlights of the year” reasonably frequently. We are lucky to live in a time when there are lots of highlights on the calendar. If I had to pick the two very highest of the highlights, they would be the online UK Puzzle Championships and the in-person DASH puzzle hunt. This site has written about DASH extensively in the past, but here’s the short version.

The ninth DASH puzzle hunt will happen in London from 10am on Saturday 6th May. DASH stands for “Different Areas, Same Hunt”; part of the attraction is that the same event will also be run in cities across the United States and Europe on the same day, so competition is somewhat global. This year’s line-up features 14 locations in the US and three in Europe (London, Enschede in the Netherlands and Vienna in Austria) and other locations might yet be added later; Denver and Portland are notable omissions to date.

In DASH, teams of typically 3-5 players solve maybe 8-9 puzzles as quickly as possible over the course of, perhaps, 5-8 hours. You walk (or take the tube) from puzzle location to location, enjoying the journey and hopefully the weather. The travel is not timed, so you can take whatever comfort breaks, meals and other pauses you like between puzzles, though there’s an overall time limit for practicality. The cost in London is, this year, £36 per team. Each team is required to bring a smartphone running iOS or a recent version of Android; much of the administration will be performed by an app called ClueKeeper. Bring your own pencils, scissors, tape, clipboards, lemonade, magic wands, marked decks of cards and so on.

DASH has historically tended to concentrate on word and picture puzzles, rather than logic puzzles, with a focus on pattern recognition and some codebreaking here and there along the way. Bet money on there being a metapuzzle to tie everything together at the end. The DASH style is to have an overarching story running through the event, though there aren’t many clues as to this year’s theme yet. Take a look at past years’ puzzles from DASHes 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 to get a feel for the form and difficulty level.

DASH tries very hard to be accessible and family-friendly:

  • It’s possible to register for the more difficult Expert Puzzles at the very start of the hunt, though clear guidance is given as to which level of difficulty will suit you best;
  • It’s always possible to take hints on each puzzle if they’re required (indeed, the software keeps rolling hints along on a timed schedule even if you don’t ask for them) and there’s never a worse punishment than a missed scoring opportunity for not solving a puzzle;
  • The puzzles are often designed so that everybody in the team should be able to contribute to each puzzle, because feeling “we solved this together between us” is fun;
  • In practice, there really is an ethos of offering as many hints as are required in order to get people through as many puzzles as possible and making sure people are having fun at all times.

This year’s registration process has… rather crept up on me. Late on March 3rd, there was a note that registration would open in several cities on May 4th. Registration did indeed open at noon (Eastern US time, I think) on March 4th. About a dozen hours later, there appear to be 3 (three) slots remaining in London. Whooooaaaa. I’m not sure if this was just an initial wave of tickets with more to be released, or reflective of the capacity of the event, or something else. Suffice to say that if the hunt sounds exciting at all, you really need to get moving straight away in order to book your place.

More information will be posted at the London Twitter feed, or send questions to the London organisers. (If you’re less interested in playing and more interested in helping out, or if all the teams’ places have been filled, you can also volunteer to help, and maybe even playtest the puzzles if you’re really quick – so if the 6th May date doesn’t work for you, this might be your chance.)

Coming up this spring

a series of metal springs making up the word "love"In springs, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love“, as Lord Tennyson absolutely definitely meant to write. Over here, I’ll be attempting to convince myself that winter might be about to be coming to a conclusion, perhaps, by listing some events and insisting that they’re happening this spring.

This weekend, it’s the second round of the WPF’s free-to-enter online Puzzle Grand Prix competition, this time hosted by Slovakia. Once again, there will be three separate one-hour papers available, and the instruction booklets are already available. The Class C booklet is set to be an absolute old-school beauty, with puzzles in seven different styles and three examples of each, with varying levels of difficulty. The Class B and A booklets contain puzzles in five different styles; the class B booklet has two examples of each, one longer than the other, and the class A booklet has a single very difficult example of each. Do whichever paper or papers take your fancy. Last time I did about half of Class C in one hour and tackled a few of Class A in another, leaving Class B completely alone, which felt rebellious. Start your hour(s) whenever you like from half-past Friday, finishing by the end of Monday.

As kindly pointed out in a comment last time but also seen elsewhere, the first Galactic Puzzle Hunt is being organised by the wow-I-hope-this-copies-and-pastes ✈✈✈ Galactic Trendsetters ✈✈✈ MIT Mystery Hunt team. This is an online puzzle hunt in what previously would have been called the Australian style but now should perhaps be considered the Australian/Cantabrigian style. Teams of up to ten will be given five online puzzles each day for six days from (reasonably late UK time on) Tuesday 14th March to Sunday 19th March, and have until Thursday 23rd March to submit the answers. The hint system is different to the standardised hints of the Australian hunts, with teams being able to ask limited numbers of yes/no questions of their choice for the help they need, but “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!” This sounds very public-spirited and gets me very excited about taking part.

So that’s something to look forward to in March. For April there will be the third Now Play This games festival. The site is succinct: “Now Play This is a festival of experimental game design, showcasing some of the most interesting games and playful work being made around the UK and the world. It will run for the third time at Somerset House in London from 7-9 April, 2017, as part of the London Games Festival. There’ll be an exhibition of games running throughout, plus special events including a board games afternoon, a strange controllers showcase, and, on Friday, a day for discussion between practitioners. Tickets will be available from February 2017.” Admittedly I’m not aware of anything puzzle- or escape- specific on this year’s agenda quite yet, but the programme is yet to be announced and surely should be up before long; the people behind it are the very best of eggs and the weekend is a very safe bet to be an excellent one whether there is or not.

As for May, the ninth instalment of the DASH puzzle hunt is set to happen on Saturday 6th May. Now there hasn’t been anything absolutely explicit saying “yes, DASH is happening in London” this year, but there are two very strong clues: first, one of this month’s London Puzzled Pint teams was called “Play DASH on 6th May”; second, an exciting and authoritative Facebook comment suggests that much as both London and Manchester in the UK enjoy Puzzled Pint, both London and Manchester may get to enjoy DASH this year. Definitely one for your diary – and, perhaps, you won’t have so far to travel!

On podcasts

A microphone by a computerI recently very much enjoyed an old podcast about escape rooms and haunt attractions. (Haunt attractions are the generic name for haunted houses, noting that they’re not necessarily restricted to houses, whereas the term “escape room” seems to have won out over “escape game”, despite a related issue.) It’s episode 11 of No Proscenium, and one of the reasons it’s delightful is because it dates back to July 2015 and yet people who don’t seem to be in the escape room community seem, even then, to have independently reached the same conclusions as the rest of us.

It also has some really exciting ideas at the end, which I’m reasonably sure haven’t caught on in the UK and I’m not sure have caught on elsewhere. If you own a game, or series of games, and pride yourself on a continuous narrative, or set of characters, or game world in which they take place, there are interesting things that could be done to provide what this podcast refers to as “additive narrative”; your games would still stand alone, but there could be optional extras for people who want to dive further into the game world if they wanted to. The podcast suggests the possibility of an optional scavenger hunt beforehand, visiting a series of local businesses or locations, with the promise of extra information about the game world. It also points to the different escape-room-like-boxes-by-mail / puzzle-crate games that exist, and suggests that this could be a good way to extend a game world and hence a brand. There’s at least one game world where I’d love people to try this and surely others as well.

No Proscenium covers all manner of immersive entertainment, thus features escape rooms, their creators and their bloggers reasonably frequently, though the other topics they cover – while less familiar – are often at least as enticing. I discovered the podcast first through episode 73, an interview with Lisa and David from Room Escape Artist; they go in-depth on a particularly interesting room which I’ll never get the chance to play. They’ve cropped up on other podcasts in the past and are always worth listening to, notably the most recent episode (at time of writing) of Room Escape Divas.

Speaking of which, the previous episode of Room Escape Divas features an interview with Ken, who runs The Logic Escapes Me and also runs Exit Games UK much better than I ever did, and me. There are points in it where I give Ken quite a hard time for no good reason whatsoever. Sorry about that!

Dyson with death

Dyson "Smart Rooms"Dyson, manufacturer of remarkable cyclone-generating motors and devices in which they might be found such as vacuum cleaners, have been involved in some unusually interesting projects over the past few months. The first was a deliberately short-lived ARG called Rethinkers and the credit list contains some of the most celebrated names when it comes to integrating stories and games, one of whom was responsible for a very highly celebrated escape room. While the game is now history, probably the best place to find out about it is the appropriate subreddit.

This isn’t Dyson’s only adventure, though. At least some of the people involved in that campaign are also involved in a follow-up campaign called The Smart Rooms. This saw Dyson release a video featuring snippets of code that could be assembled (both literally and figuratively) to generate a password which might earn you access to visit The Smart Rooms themselves. These rooms will be in place in Brixton over the coming two days and every place has been booked. In context, these rooms are set to bear some similarities to a traditional escape game, but there will be an “Internet of things” / “connected house” theme and an unusually heavy focus on software engineering challenges. Indeed, the presumed reason why Dyson are going to these lengths is to capture the attention of talented software engineers and inviting them to apply to work for them. Success in either game does not guarantee employment but would surely be a feather in the cap.

This weekend’s play has another twist – and, very unusually, the best place to find out more is an article in The Sun. The players’ progress will be streamed live on Twitch as they take part; struggling players may ask viewers for help, indirectly, by indicating four words or four objects and inviting the world to vote on which appears the most relevant in the situation. Hopefully the world will decide to be helpful.

So even if you aren’t getting to play in person this weekend, perhaps you can still get to play along. Follow Dyson and their social media this weekend for the action as it happens!