A world championship for escape game teams? Red Bull Mind Gamers: Mission Unlock Enoch

Red Bull Mind Gamers: Mission Unlock Enoch, copyright Red Bull GmbH

image copyright Red Bull GmbH

Just over 18 months ago, I reported on a Escape Room Game Jam held at MIT in association with Red Bull and their associated feature film division. Things went quiet and it seemed that the trail had gone cold on this one. The trail has heated back up; it looks like it heated back up a little while ago, but I haven’t seen anyone talking about it, so here goes.

Red Bull Mind Gamers calls itself a “platform for curious minds, with games and challenges to provoke their thinking“, featuring a selection of online puzzles testing strategy, logic, creativity, visual thinking, abstract musical thought and memory to various extents. The “Brain Food” section features articles and interviews on related contemporary mental game topics.

There has been a countdown to the site’s main event, Mission Unlock Enoch, whose self-description of “global competitive mind gaming tournament” is a gussied-up way of saying “sort-of-escape-room world championship”. Hurrah! This is far more exciting and relevant to interests here than anything else recently done by any other purveyor of caffeinated chilled sugary beverages. (Unless you know otherwise…) It’s all tied up with their MindGamers movie, previously referred to in passing as DxM.

25 teams of four will receive paid travel to Budapest in February 2017 to take on the “ultimate mixed reality Escape Room Tournament”, with the overall champions earning a three-day trip to Boston. Wherever you are in the world, you can attempt to win one of four global wild card spaces by attempting to complete this single-player online game as quickly as possible. (Practising the other games on the site might help.) The other 21 spaces are awarded to national champions to parallel national qualifying competitions held in 21 different countries: Singapore, South Korea, the US, Oman, Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, Norway, Switzerland, and a dozen current EU nations, happily including the United Kingdom. Lots of important gaps in the list: Australia, Canada, China, Japan, and so on, but you’ve got to start somewhere.

Accordingly, there is a national qualifying competition in the UK to determine our representative at the world finals. This will take place at Breakout Manchester on December 5th and at Breakout Cardiff on December 7th. “Within 20 minutes, your team of four players will have to connect their mind skills and solve a multi-player mind game in order to ‘unlock’ and leave the room. The fastest team per country gets to enter the final Escape Room in Budapest in 2017.” Each player only gets one try; you’re not allowed to play on more than one team, or to play in more than one location. It’s not clear how the company are planning to avoid spoilers here; procedurally generated puzzles might be one solution that remains reasonably fair in terms of difficulty.

It’s not quite even that simple! In order to get a place at Manchester or Cardiff, you need to rack up a score towards the top of the local chart for the single-player online game. Top scorers there will be invited to pick their team and their time of choice for the qualification day at Manchester and Cardiff. You miiiight be able to get to play in the qualifiers just by turning up on the day even without scoring well at the online game, but this isn’t guaranteed and I wouldn’t risk it.

The overall pattern looks like this: play the online game alone, do well and earn a spot at Manchester or Cardiff, do very well with your team there and win a trip to Budapest, do extremely well with your team in Budapest and win a trip to Boston. (Maybe, just maybe, the prize will be to go to Boston when the MIT Mystery Hunt is on. That would be a neat circle from the location of the original game jam.)

Not much else is known at the moment, except maybe anecdotally from past players. You can read the rules, the FAQ and the terms of participation as .pdf files, but you may get more of an insight by reading the interview with the designers. One open question: who (or, I suppose, what or where) is Enoch and why should Enoch be unlocked?

Inevitably I’ll be hundreds of miles away from anywhere useful, working the day shift on the Manchester qualification day and the night shift on the Cardiff qualification day, but it would be a joy if whoever the UK representatives eventually turn out to be were part of the community. (Or, the other way around, it would be strange if the UK representatives weren’t part of the community, by choice.) We’ll be cheering the UK team on in Budapest in February!

If you do decide to go for it, the very best of luck to you – and please tell all about it on December 8th!

Challenge Anneka? No, Challenge You

"Challenge Me" logoNot so long ago, on another forum, this site learnt of a casting call for a forthcoming ITV show provisionally entitled Challenge Me. “Do you have an unique skill or unusual party trick or know someone who does? Something that no one else can do? Could you use that skill to take on a huge challenge and win cash in the process?” It sounds something like a monetised version of You Bet!; let us not refer to the end-of-the-pier show that was the BBC’s Epic Win a couple of years ago.

The application page suggest that “We are looking for people with crazy, unique and bizarre skills and talents. These can be absolutely ANYTHING you can imagine! Big, small, serious or downright bonkers – we want you!” It’s not clear whether applicants have to be alone, or whether pairs or larger teams could apply. It’s tempting to wonder whether someone, or some people, could apply claiming “I can get out of any escape room” and then challenge ITV to build a room from which they cannot escape. It could make for some entertaining TV at the very least, though might well be out of the budget of TV these days.

However, if they want something a bit more straightforward, this site would like to see a sudoku champion take on a memory champion to produce a complete grid. The sudoku champion would see the grid with a usual number of digits placed, then would have to fill in all the missing digits. The memory champion would see the completed grid, memorise the position of all 81 digits, then reproduce it from memory. Both are impressive mental feats when done at champions’ speed; it would be possible to devise a sudoku of appropriate difficulty to make it a close, televisual race.

The unaffiliated-to-branded-beer world record for memorising numbers in a minute hasn’t been attempted for a while (different disciplines go in and out of fashion…) but with improvements in the pack-of-cards speed record, the 100m sprint of memory records, it’s tempting to guess that the top memorisers might be able to memorise the 81 digits in about 30-40 seconds or so, plus perhaps another 20-30 seconds to reproduce them from memory. There are plenty of speed sudoku solution videos out there; this one has Jakub Ondroušek (who has made the top three of the World Sudoku Championship five times) solving a 26-given puzzle in barely a minute and a half. Now you can’t calculate a sudoku’s true difficulty from the number of cells given, but it would surely be possible to create a sudoku which looked impressively sparse and difficult but could actually be solved to any given timescale.

There’s an interesting TV show in China whose title translates as The Brain. This has Chinese citizens with remarkable talents compete in domestic competition and the most successful competitors representing their country in international competition against representative teams from other countries. You can see China-Britain matches from last year and the rematch from this year on YouTube.

Clearly they’re all in Chinese, but you can fast-forward through to the challenges in which you can see the stars demonstrate their skills – and the UK team’s introduction videos have the UK team members self-introducing in English with Chinese subtitles and making all manner of exaggerated and aggressive claims at the producers’ request. These are huge fun, not least because British team captain Ben Pridmore (world memory champion in 2004, 2008 and 2009) is actually delightfully sweet and self-effacing in person, when some of his predecessors have been willing to cast themselves as relatives of Charles Big, who married into the Potato family and double-barrelled his surname.

US readers may be interested to know that Fox produced a one-off of a show called SuperHuman in January and are now casting for a full series, which bears a great deal of similarity to the Chinese format and which Wikipedia suggests may be a local US version. US puzzle superstars may be of particular interest to the show and might wish to throw their names into the ring; the trouble (for the show!) is that the best US solvers tend to be just as modest and polite as the aforementioned Ben…

The latest links

A golden chain of linksRather than contrive a connection, perhaps it’s best to be blunt and just say that this site thinks the subjects of these links are cool and hopefully you may do too. Let’s start with some interactive theatre.

  • The Lowland Clearances has been running at the Camden People’s Theatre daily at weekends for the last two weeks and does so again this weekend; indeed, the Sunday performance is sold out already, so it’s Saturday or bust, hoping for repeats down the line. This is explicitly playable theatre, happy to describe itself as live role-playing, safe in the knowledge that the intended audience knows that live role-playing doesn’t necessarily imply rubber weapons in the woods, as fun as that is. It’s a game about city-building and use of space and this review makes it sound spectacular. Kudos to Hobo Theatre for putting it on and to Camden People’s Theatre for hosting it; more, please!
  • Further down the line, A Door In A Wall Have announced an attractively-priced preview for their next public event. This one is set indoors, rather than being a trail around town as they have used in the past. This preview has no marking of answers and declaration of a winner, which hints that you will effectively be invited to decide whether your interpretation and understanding of the story is sufficient for you as a metric for success. It’s not yet clear whether this non-scoring system is a one-off for the preview or the plan for the final version of this piece.
  • Further still, the Sedos theatre company are putting on Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made On for two weeks in mid-April, billing itself as an “immersive adventure through Shakespeare’s final play“. In this, “The Docklands Shakespeare Society has invited respected Shakespeare historian Dr. Bianca Corbin to speak at an evening of recitation, interpretive dance and song ((…)) Four hundred years after William Shakespeare’s death, his final play, The Tempest, and the Bard himself both come to life on a lost and forgotten island… only, not quite in the way he remembers writing it… ((…)) Sedos’ first immersive theatre production takes 15,000 sq ft of a building in London’s Docklands and brings the world of The Tempest to life in a celebration of Shakespeare’s life and works. Audiences will be able to explore the island unguided, hear its sweet and sinister noises, sit in Prospero’s armchair, drink with Stephano and Trinculo and follow the spirits of the island as they torment and entertain the island’s mysterious inhabitants.” Sounds like this may pack a punch. *blows dog-whistle*

What else is cool right now? This little lot:

  • A Kickstarter campaign that has recently funded but still has a week left to go is Puzzle Your Kids! promoted by Eric Berlin, who has a long and storied track record. Subscribe and receive weekly word puzzles for kids aged nine and up! Might be a little US culture-specific, but that’s the worst thing that’s likely to be said about it. If the campaign reaches a stretch goal, everyone will get weekly logic puzzles as well, and there are occasional kid-friendly puzzle hunts (six to ten thematic puzzles plus a meta-puzzle) planned as well.
  • This site wasn’t aware that there was such a thing as a preview site for crowdfunding projects, but apparently there is and a crowdfunding project called Escape Room in a Box: The Werewolf Experiment is coming soon. (Very soon, depending on time zones and how quickly Kickstarter move.) US$45 plus potentially considerable shipping and you’ll get a box of puzzles sent to you for you to solve with your friends in a self-assessed hour time limit. The makers have anticipated replay concerns and are heading them off at the pass with plans for a refill pack so that multiple teams might each be able to enjoy the same single box. As Liz Cable pointed out, this is something of a renaissance of play-by-mail gaming. Back in The Day, if you wanted to play a game designed to be played by far more people than you could fit around a table, you had to play games postally; it was a little like a MMORPG with a latency measured in days rather than tens of milliseconds and bandwidth measured in… well, in elastic bands. These days games are playing to their strengths by sending through serious physical artefacts that cannot be transmitted electronically. Looks exciting, anyhow. Many thanks to Ken for pointing this out.
  • World of Escapes is another UK exit game directory with the distinguishing feature that you can provide user ratings, not for sites as a whole but for individual rooms at each site. It also looks rather smart. Many thanks to Ken for pointing this out.
  • It would be an exaggeration to suggest that this site has wish-grumbled this into existence, but an entertaining exaggeration. The Logic Escapes Me now has a beta version of a reviews aggregator for London escape games – and, if you’ve played more than a handful of them, you can have your ratings included in the aggregation as well. This is a very exciting development and a suggestion of what the future might look like – perhaps a more critical TripAdvisor where you can have reason to take the reviews without a large pinch of salt. Many thanks to Ken for working this out.
  • Intervirals recently pointed to Somewhere Secret in Fort Collins, Colorado; this pay-what-you-want exit game (cool for the pricing alone!) sees people try to open a treasure chest. Inside the chest is a map; winning teams get to take a copy away and are then invited to follow it to obtain a token hidden somewhere in Colorado that might be exchanged for a real prize. This doesn’t need monetary value; by the height of adventure alone, this is beautifully cool already.

Surely something there to tickle your toes!

New year, new Korean exit game TV show

Screen grab of CODE by JTBCHappy New Year! While this site is working on its start-of-the-year features, here’s something exciting and fresh to keep you going. As previewed a couple of weeks ago, Korean broadcaster JTBC have brought a show called CODE to the local airwaves. The first episode was broadcast on January 1st; happily, it does seem to be the exit game TV show that it promised to be. Dubious links to illicit online versions of TV shows do not last forever, so you’re probably better off looking for the magic phrase jtbc code in the search engine of your choice – but, at least for now, you could just try this link with the first half of the show and this link with the second half.

Watching shows in languages you don’t understand is always a certain sort of fun; perhaps the world of fan-supplied translation subtitles makes things almost too easy. While you might struggle to get the subtleties of a drama or a love song, gameplay is generally designed to be easy to follow for those who are not paying full attention. If you’re interested enough in exit games to be following this site, you won’t have any great difficulties. Based on a single episode, the game in the show comes closer than that of Race to Escape to the essential exit game experience, though Race to Escape works better as a show with a start, an end and a story to tell along the way.

Race to Escape‘s puzzles are more kinetic and visually interesting; here, the codes risk being a little sterile but are nevertheless watertight. One arguable niggle is that the show occasionally seems to play a little loose with the meaning of mathematical notation; if a and b are digits then does ab represent the product of a and b or does it represent 10a+b – the value of the number formed by a followed by b? Perhaps there are some language subtleties that are lost in translation.

For a fuller description of (what this site interprets to be) the format: Continue reading

Exit game TV

Television setFour quick stories about exit games on television, both past and future:

1) The Bristol Maze, of the City Mazes chain, was recently featured in a short but very positive piece on the genre that was part of the BBC’s Points West local news show.

2) As discussed, the US TV show Race to Escape will be coming to the UK version of the Discovery TV channel. Indeed, you may even have seen some trailers for it. There’s also acknowledgment of it, of a sort on the Discovery channel’s Press Releases page. This site liked the show a lot, though not everybody did, and certainly it’s rather more destructive within exit game rooms than would happen in the real world.

3) However, it’s more fun to look at what’s set to come in the future. This site is bullish about prospects for further exit game TV shows; the lack of references firmly fixing them at a point in time mean that they, like The Crystal Maze, could be repeated for literally decades to come and still entertain someone who hadn’t seen that particular episode before. The ratings for Race to Escape are mentioned in this press release; it’s written in jargon rather than English, but – running it through the translator – those ratings are apparently “boffo”.

Not sure if the success of Race to Escape has been noted as a good thing, but Intervirals pointed (on Facebook) that the US TV channel Pop, half-owned by the CBS Network, are set to feature a show by Zodiak USA, who have quite a track record, with the working title of Celebrity Escape Room. The Deadline web site quotes a press release like so: “Based on the hottest new craze in live-action gaming, CELEBRITY ESCAPE ROOM is a high-intensity, totally immersive pop culture challenge. Two celebrities and their friends compete by getting locked in identical rooms, and the only way out is to use their pop culture knowledge and work together to unlock the exit. With room themes ranging from zombie apocalypse to a totally tubular 80’s teen dream, viewers play along as the two celeb teams hilariously stumble through a series of clues, puzzles and red herrings until they unlock the key to their freedom. The first team to escape wins.

4) As much as exit games are a global phenomenon, there’s no reason why TV exit games couldn’t be global likewise – and being quite visual, the formats might travel well. This site has discussed the outstanding The Genius broadcast on tvN in South Korea, which has won the Best Game/Quiz Program award in the Asian Television Awards and may have had more of an impact still; rival broadcaster JTBC has announced a show which looks like it might just be an exit game. (On the other hand, it might not; compare with Dero!, which inspired the US Syfy channel’s Exit, and is sadly just a dressed-up quiz.) ‘Code – the Secret Chamber’ is a psychological survival program that the casts have to evacuate from the locked down rooms with 4 different concepts by solving secret codes through mission games. Through their deductions, the program will induce the members to union, betrayal, corporation and competitions. ‘Code’ will air its first episode in January 2016.

Not long to wait to find out either way!

Late October news round-up: the Foreign Office

Stylised globe encircled by a bolt of lightCloser each day… Home and Away. Following on from yesterday’s home news, here’s the remaining news from around the world.

  • Today sees the sold-out Ontario Escape Room Unconference 2015 at Ryerson University in Toronto. It is being chaired by the irrepressible Dr. Scott Nicholson, the foremost academic in the field – but, being an unconference, all fifty ticketholders are expected to actively participate. While unconferences don’t stream well, there’s a Facebook group, the Twitter hashtag #oeru15 and hopefully documentation to follow. If the unconference model proves to work well, perhaps it might be the first of many.
  • Carrying on from yesterday’s discussion of bespoke amateur games (and that’s no insult at all; the word amateur essentially derives from the Latin verb amare and refers to someone who does something for the love of it), while MIT has been famous for its annual global-cutting-edge Mystery Hunt for decades, it was delightful to see that the Next House dorm at the university have their own two-storey pop-up exit game, within a basement, over Hallowe’en for a second year. It could well be fiendish!
  • Speaking of student puzzle hunts, hadn’t previously seen mention that registration is now open for the 2015 SUMS Puzzle Hunt for teams of up to five, run in the traditional five-daily-rounds-of-increasingly-difficult puzzles Australian style with the first round being released on 2nd November.
  • Sanford, FL is a part of the Greater Orlando area possibly best known for its airport. However, they also have an exit game on a cycle limousine. Say what, now? Up to fifteen people bring their own beer and wine (in plastic containers) or soft drinks onto the human-powered vehicle and must pedal with their feet, as if on a bicycle, to propel it along. (A pilot steers the contraption.) While they’re doing that, and drinking, they have two hours to solve the pirate-themed puzzles – and get the clues from the locations to which they will pedal along the way – which will lead them to save their kidnapped captain. Can’t say it’s not original…
  • Finally, many belated congratulations to Lisa Radding and David Spira of the excellent Room Escape Artist blog on their engagement! Mission Escape Games of New York City helped by hiding a custom box made for Lisa as they (and their team!) played the location’s brand new Nemesis game (see their review) – but the fun only started there. Happily, the second half of the story has been impeccably caught in a series of photos. The very best of joy and health to you both!

News round-up for the start of October

News round-upThe usual monthly statistics are being produced at this moment, but some news stories cannot wait:

  • The most time-critical story refers to a competition for a gift voucher to play Locked in Edinburgh. The competition claims to close at “midnight Monday 5th October”; fingers crossed that means “midnight at the end of Monday 5th October”, because if it means midnight at the start of Monday 5th October then you’ve got, what, nearly half an hour to enter. Better hurry either way!
  • Good news: The Great Escape Game of Sheffield have announced their first marriage proposal! It’s not clear whether the photo is a depiction of (a non-spoilery part, obviously, of) the Mad Scientist Room bedecked with a proposal in rose petals, but it’s delightful to imagine that it was. This is the fifth UK exit game proposal that this site knows about and the first time that it has been mentioned that the recipient of the proposal was male. (No clue about the proposer, not that it matters.) Many congratulations to the happy couple and to the site!
  • Bad News: House of Enigma of Leeds’ web site’s booking section says Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances outside of our control, we are no longer able to accept new bookings. Please accept our sincere apologies and we hope to be back soon! The Facebook presence has been taken down as well. That was quick; as the site was open for less than a month, perhaps this might be considered a false start rather than something where you had not to blink to miss it. As over 240 copies of the Groupon voucher were sold, this site dearly hopes that this is a temporary blip; should the worst come to the worst, consult the Groupon FAQ. Fingers firmly crossed that it’s back for good before long.
  • Good news from elsewhere: just over a year ago, this site discussed Boda Borg, a live action puzzle action game with seven branches in Sweden and one in Ireland. Happily, yesterday a branch quietly opened very near Boston in the United States, with the Grand Opening next Saturday. This site enjoyed coverage in the Boston Globe, which suggests that co-owner Chad “Ellis spent close to $4 million renovating the 30,000-square-foot space“. Whoa. No matter what the budget, it sounds spectacular.
  • This site enjoyed the embedded trailer video for GTFO Escape Entertainment of Canada, which obviously stands for “Get The Fun On”, in the TFI Friday style of acronyms and their expansions. Nevertheless, the video is fun because it contains a code to find… and this site thinks it has only found the first two-thirds of it. You can do some quite clever things with YouTube videos, such as interactive rock paper scissors (which has been implemented many other ways on YouTube, too). Can there be a meaningful way to embed a more interactive puzzle within a trailer video for an exit game?

Around the world: Koezio

Koezio indicative site mapA while back, the good people at escapegame.Paris posted a link with a URL hinting at something with a mixture of Fort Boyard and Total Wipeout… except drier. This sounds highly relevant to this site’s interests. Possibly not so puzzly, but very interesting nevertheless.

The game in question is Koezio. There are two sites, both in France: one in Lille, one in Paris, so both convenient for the Eurostar. It’s a game where teams of two to five don Agent outfits including suits with electronic bracelets and specially tagged shoes) and travel through five zones, searching for clues to solve the Final Enigma and maximise the team’s score.

There’s no lower age limit, though there’s a lower height limit of 1.4 metres (4’7″). Games last about two hours, or maybe a little less. The site opens six days a week (not Mondays!) and pricing is reasonable. On Saturdays, everyone pays €25 at Lille or one more at Paris; on other days, those 13-17 (or students!) pay €18 and those 12 and under pay just €13.

Keymaze describes itself as a giant futuristic labyrinth. “Track down and memorize symbols in order to discover clues allowing your team to enter the next world.” In Speedspot, teams must “cross our giant game elements, as well as our ability and agility challenges, in order to find and activate as many ELECTROSPOTs as possible within the set time limit. Crazy dance floor, giant ball pit, slide, obstacle course, spy-training… Climb, jump, slide and crawl your team to victory!

A more explicitly mental game, Knowzone, invited you into “a knowledge capsule, answer as many questions as you can on varied topics (general knowledge, sports, cinema, music, celebrities, TV series etc.) or write your own mission and test your friends, family and colleagues with a tailored quiz on the topics of your choice: a fun and constructive way to personalise your Mission!” If you’re wondering, you can play in French, English or Dutch throughout.

The Wingway game returns to the mmental-game-twist-on-a-familiar-physical-activity approach: “Exceed your limits as a team across a high ropes course unique to the world. Completely secured by a continuous, switching safety line, you will reach up to 12 meters high on a course of varying levels, suspension bridges, climbing nets, via ferrata, suspended skateboard, Nepalese bridges etc…. But pay attention, you must also face observation tasks and memorise symbols throughout your aerial Mission; in order to obtain the final clue!

Gaining height to take on Wingway is not a trivial challenge; in Paris, there is a fifth mission called Lasercross, a 12-meter tower to climb with a laser maze to traverse. Once you’ve got up, you have to get back down; Paris has a giant slide, but Lille (lacking the Lasercross) has an optional fifth mission called Vertical Drop. This will get you down those 12 metres rather quickly; it looks more like a fan descender than a teeny tiny bungee jump or a SCAD jump.

It’s hard to know how much mental challenge the game offers. Nevertheless, even if it were just – “just”! – a superior, automatically scored gamified adventure playground, a very interesting proposition indeed.

Not an exit game, sure, but this site has always had a thing for other sorts of really interesting mixed-mental-and-physical live adventures…

Around the world: Getting together

Hands around the worldIt’s definitely possible to draw parallels between the development of the exit game hobbies in different countries around the world. People start exit games, there become enough of them to inspire people to want to talk about them, eventually players and operators think about meeting up. Doubtless there will be other parallels still that develop in different places independently over time as well.

1) “National character” is lazy shorthand for prejudice, but it’s a compliment – and an amusing one – that the first country sufficiently organised to run an Escape Games convention is Germany. The line-up looks exciting, though more likely to be of interest to site owners than anybody else – but when you get enough people interested in the genre in the same place at the same time, magic will happen pretty organically. There’s a reduced price for bloggers; if there’s anyone out there who wants to represent Exit Games UK who isn’t working the night shift on September 4th and either speaks German or just doesn’t mind requiring people to translate for them all day, please get in touch.

2) Talking of bloggers, that’s not quite how it works in Canada. Some of the exit game bloggers of the Greater Toronto area, and their talented theatrical friends, will be putting on three sittings of a one-night 100-player stadium-style exit game. In your Night at the Speakeasy (a Prohibition-era illegal drinking den), explore the rooms, solve puzzles, interact with the actors, don’t get whacked by da wise guys and find the exit on September 19th in the Canadian Caper. This is horribly impressive, they’re going to have such fun, they have such accomplished track records that this site firmly hopes that the event is as huge a hit as it deserves to be.

3) Talking of bloggers and stadium-style games, EscapeGame.Paris announced that The Real Escape Game came, and are coming, to France; three of the four sessions of the SCRAP-derived mass-participation event have happened already, the fourth is set to follow soon. Given that Real Escape Game have brought their games to France and also to Spain, this site is very positive about the chance of it coming to the UK at some point as well.

4) So what does the UK have? Well, the UK will have The Crystal Maze, and this site is organising an industry meetup there. 14 tickets have gone, 18 tickets remain. If you’ve vaguely expressed interest in the past – even if just as a comment to a post – then please convert it into actual interest now; you should have received details by e-mail about how to send money and guarantee your place, but please get in touch if you haven’t.

5) However, all of these rely not just on being in certain countries, but also on being in certain cities within those countries. If you’re not in the right city, you can get together remotely this weekend by taking part in the seventh (“Swiss”) round of the World Puzzle Federation’s Grand Prix puzzle competition; 90 minutes to score points by solving 23 puzzles of seven different types. The download the Instruction Booklet page will let you find if this contest is the right one for you.

Crossword duel won by a knockout

ACPT 2015 final, care of the Visual Thesaurus YouTube channel

(thanks to the Visual Thesaurus YouTube channel)

Imagine, if you will, a crossword competition held at the TH_ND_RD_ME from Mad Max where two men may enter but one man must leave strictly positioned across and six feet down. Artistic licence is fun; the truth that led to the above genuine video still is, happily, far more prosaic.

The American Crossword Puzzle Tournament is the foremost competition of its type; a bold claim, made less contentious by a weaselly argument that the prestigious Times Crossword Championship here in the UK is a cryptic crossword competition and thus a slightly different type. Mark Goodliffe, eight-time Times champ and undefeated since 2007, as discussed in this brilliant article, has attended the US event in 2011 and 2013 and won transatlantic cryptic crosswords held there.

The ACPT has been running for nearly forty years; arguably, its high point was the release of the Wordplay film covering the 2005 championship; the attention drew the competition up from habitually drawing nearly 500 contestants to almost 700, though it has fallen back a little to 550 over the years. The 2000s started with four different winners in the millennium’s first five years; since then, Tyler Hinman established a dynasty by winning each year from 2005 to 2009, then Dan Feyer overtook him with a hegemony, winning each year from 2010 to 2014. 2015 would determine “first to six” between the pair, also noting Douglas Hoylman’s six wins over the years and Jon Delfin’s seven. Feyer winning a sixth consecutive event would also be a record.

This year’s event attracted more mainstream attention than usual, not least for its exciting conclusion that led to the photo above. Only a double handful or so of the hundreds of competitors solve all seven main-event puzzles completely correctly, including the legendarily difficult fifth puzzle, and the fastest three of them overall qualify for the overall championship. The second and third fastest suffer a time handicap penalty when solving the championship puzzle, starting this decisive puzzle a few seconds after the fastest solver of the main event. The first person to complete this puzzle, optionally check their answers, then signal their completion wins, if they have solved the puzzle correctly. As it’s a race, deciding whether or not to spend time checking your answers, and how much time to spend checking, is part of the challenge. This year, the video of the crucial three-quarter-second or so between Tyler and Dan finishing – but in what order? – demonstrates quite how big a part of the challenge it is, as shown below:

This year’s event, and its exciting conclusion, have drawn wider attention. Vocabulary.com have the times and more of the context; the awesome FiveThirtyEight have a brilliant longer piece on it as well, with more of the feel of the event and information on how a computer solver has done as a contestant over the years.

Anyone who has won the ACPT so many times is an outstanding solver. However, this site must declare an interest. One of the two blogs about topics including taking part in puzzle hunts and has tweeted about a trip over here featuring a win at Adventure Rooms in Dublin and 2/2 at Lock’d in London. More than enough reason for us to pick a favourite!