Dates for your diary

weekly calendarThis site has got somewhat slack with updating its events calendar to the point where even linking to it in this article would feel wrong. Nevertheless, there are a few things worth looking ahead to already.

  • The first leg of this year’s WPF Puzzle Grand Prix is in progress already, starting about half a day ago. You have until Monday evening, UK time, to identify a clear block of 90 minutes and earn as many points as possible by solving pencil-and-paper puzzles set by a team from India in the first leg of a metaphorical race around the puzzling world. Some of you may know that the puzzles are always very fine and the contest is reliably great fun; this year’s competition has an added twist to make it more accessible and help more people find their level of fun. More about that very soon, hopefully while the first leg is still in progress.
  • The Coney troupe of interactive theatre makers are holding a Scratch and Salon session at the Camden People’s Theatre from midday on Sunday. The “Scratch and Salon is an open event making play on the line between public space and corporate space, and exploring the ideas around the commons“. At midday, “A map will be unfurled of scratch adventures and other playful experiences to be discovered in the neighbourhood of CPT. You’ll need a mobile phone with credit to send text messages in order to play. From 3pm – We’ll reconvene in the Theatre and host a salon – first curated with provocations from speakers segueing into an open space discussion – on what it means to make play in this space, and the politics of public space and the commons“. Not immediately puzzly, but very likely to be relevant somehow; their shows always inspire interesting thoughts.
  • February 27th and 28th see the UK Open Puzzle and Sudoku Tournaments taking place at the Selsdon Park Hotel in Croydon; since the World Championships were held here a couple of years ago, this has surely become the spiritual home of competition puzzles in this country. The company is always excellent and it’s as close to the World Championship experience as you’re going to get.
  • Closer to the usual core of this site, Can You Escape? of Edinburgh are hosting a Disabled Access Day on Saturday 12th March. “Join us on Disabled Access Day between 10.30 and 12.00 to take a look around Operation Odyssey our space themed mission, giving you a chance to check if the room is suitable and have a go at some puzzles (not the ones in the room – that would be cheating!) ((…)) People taking part in Disabled Access Day can also get 30% off bookings on the day or bookings made on the day.” Clearly Can You Escape? takes accessibility seriously; see the entry in the FAQ, but also the site’s inclusion in Euan’s Guide for disabled access reviews. While it’s far from the only site to do so, Exit Games UK is not aware of anything quite like this Disabled Access Day before and this would appear to be an instant example of best practice, well worth consideration by sites up and down the country. If you want to see whether the site is right for you, e-mail Can You Escape? first because only a limited number of spaces are available.
  • April is set to be busy, busy, busy, though in a very good way. From 1st to 3rd April, Now Play This returns to the New Wing of Somerset House in London. It’s not clear what will be on the line-up this year as the open call is in progress; “This year we’re particularly keen on things with interesting controllers, games which deal with utopias, play in a city context, and work which encourages player creativity – but games outside these themes are also welcome.” The event is part of the larger London Games Festival, “running from 1 to 10 April 2016, the festival includes 15 official events across 10 different locations” – perhaps something exit game-related might be appropriate for the Festival Fringe?
  • The Canadian Caper will be running on April 9th at the Arts & Letters Club in Toronto. “A one-day only escape experience for up to 15 teams of six ((though it’s not immediately clear whether it’s 15 teams per show or 15 teams total over the three shows.)) This is very much an escape game. There will be puzzles to solve. Solving puzzles will allow you to progress through the space into new rooms where you will find new challenges and new puzzles. Ultimately your goal is to physically escape the space. Unlike a traditional escape game though there will also be actors that teams will need to interact with to gain information.” The first episode in the series was put on by a number of bloggers and their very talented friends; us UK types can just dream and be jealous, for it sounds hugely cool and it is delightful that the first episode is not just a one-off.
  • We don’t have it so bad in the UK, though; Saturday 16th April sees the Springtime Hunt in Shrewsbury organised by the Armchair Treasure Hunt Club. “Everyone is welcome to come along and compete, whether you are a member of the club or whether you just enjoy competing in treasure hunts. Gather for the hunt at 10am for an 11am start, and it’ll probably be about tea time when the treasure is unearthed. The £25 entry fee includes lunch as well as the hunt and its prizes. Go to the club’s website for more details of how to book your place.
  • Never enough, never enough; Up The Game happens two days later. “On the 18th of April Amsterdam will host the first international Escape Room & Real Life Gaming Conference.” Their speaker list is extremely exciting with speakers from several countries. While the early bird tickets have sold out, you can still buy Advance tickets at €100 each, plus a small booking fee, plus the Dutch version of VAT, which by the way has the charming acronym of BTW.
  • Last year, this site proposed an industry meeting at the forthcoming live The Crystal Maze attraction; while all 32 tickets have been sold (and there are already names at the top of the waiting list) it’s going to take place on Tuesday 26th April. Maybe something else interesting might be happening around that time too, you never know
  • And that’s not even referring to DASH 8, set to take place in cities around the world on Saturday 30th April!

What other events is this site missing?

The 2015/2016 Survey and some events coming up

Abstract survey graphicThis site has just sent out 75 e-mails to exit games in the UK, with representing total of 88 locations, inviting them to take part in a survey. If you see this and didn’t get the survey – either because this site might have used the wrong address, or couldn’t find an address at all in a handful of occasions – then this site apologises and invites you still to send in your responses by e-mail. The views of players and other participants would also be interesting and most welcome (perhaps as a comment to this post?) but only site operators will have their responses tallied for the final results.

All responses are anonymous; if you choose not to mention the name of your site in the answer to a question then nobody will know the answer has come from you.

1. How was 2015 for you and for your business?
2. How do you feel 2015 was for the world of exit games in the UK at large?
3. What can you reveal about your plans for 2016?
4. What do you expect to see happen to the UK’s exit games in 2016?
5. What are your biggest concerns for 2016?

This site hopes to have a few dozen responses trickle in over the next week or so (there have been ten responses within about as many hours so far; credit to the proprietor of Puzzle Room for being the quickest off the mark) and will collate and present the results in an article here. The first place to hear the results will be the The Great Escape UK unconference taking place in Leeds on Wednesday 13th January (i.e., a week tomorrow). There have been at least twenty people sign up for the unconference, and the unconference structure is a tried and tested model, so it should be a really good day. There still are spaces available if you haven’t signed up yet and want to come.

However, if you don’t want to have to wait another week, there’s fun on the agenda this weekend. Scott Nicholson is promoting the first BreakoutEDU Game Jam which invites people to use the BreakoutEDU toolkit of generic exit game apparatus to devise educational exit-like games that might be played in the classroom, library, museum or other educational environments. (While the equipment list is a constraint, it’s also a platform; you can rely on other people having the right equipment to replicate your game.) People are invited to meet up in locations around the world to co-operate on their games. This site isn’t yet sure if there are any locations definitely confirmed for the UK this weekend, but the Facebook events page definitely suggests there’s interest here. For some people who might be interested in creating their own room but know that they aren’t well-suited to making it a business venture, this might be an ideal opportunity.

If that’s not your thing, it’s not the only option! The World Puzzle Federation‘s 2016 Grand Prix competitions start this weekend with this year’s first Sudoku Grand Prix, set by the Dutch team. If 90 minutes of hard but interesting sudoku and variants sounds like your cup of tea, register an account at the WPF site (which is free!) and take a look at the instruction booklet. Then carve out a 90-minute slot this weekend (late Friday through to most of Monday) and go wild!

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.

Competition season’s coming

Grid of squares, with a "TEST" buttonIf you’re a competitive sort then there are a few interesting opportunities coming up.

The biggest regular cash prize in the world of puzzles – at least, in this country – is that of the annual Sudoku championship held by The Times. Next week is qualification week, with a puzzle printed in the newspaper every weekday. Solve it and send your time in. You don’t need to be a subscriber to see the competition’s terms and conditions. Incidentally, the regular qualifier is because the world of armchair treasure hunts occasionally pays out bigger purses, as do related prize puzzles; notably, Eternity paid out a cool million pounds back in 2000.

The 20 fastest solvers of each of the five puzzles, plus the eight best solvers from the previous year’s event, qualify to attend the finals. (The 100 qualifiers have to pay £25 per head for the privilege of taking up their place; last year’s top eight get in for free.) Whoever turns up on the day will take part in one of two one-hour, four-puzzle semi-finals; the fastest four from each make this year’s elite eight who shoot it out in one further round to win a top prize of a greasy grand in the hand, with second and third paying £200 and £100 respectively. You can find descriptions of finals day from 2013 and 2014, by Mark Goodliffe, who won the second of the two.

That’s not the only way to win a thousand pounds with your puzzle-solving ability; Twisted Attractions have launched an exit game called Panic! in Birmingham with a thousand pounds being paid to the fastest team of 6-8 players to complete the game over the course of the four months or so that it’s open. More on this to follow.

Alternatively, a contest that you can play against worldwide competition from the comfort of your own – but just for fun! – is the current (sixth of eight) round of the WPF Puzzle Grand Prix. This has been running all weekend, but you have until 11pm UK time on Monday night to complete the 90-minute paper, starting at a point in time of your choice. There are 24 puzzles: six different styles, four examples of varying difficulties in each. This round is produced by German authors; the Instruction Booklet reveals the six styles this time, and there are some corkers. You can practice Spiral Galaxies as part of the essential freeware Simon Tatham’s Portable Puzzle Collection, you can practice Skyscrapers, Snake, Japanese Sums (without zeroes) and ABC-Box at the wonderful Croco-Puzzle and Battleships has several sites devoted to it alone. Looks sure to be a lot of fun; if you can carve out 90 minutes, give it a try!

Coming up the weekend: the first round of the Puzzle Grand Prix

A chequered flagPerhaps a set of starting lights would be more appropriate for a preview of a first round than a chequered flag, but somehow they feel much less iconic…

The first round of the World Puzzle Federation‘s Puzzle Grand Prix competition takes place this weekend, starting at 11am UK time on Friday and running through to 11pm on Monday night. During that time, you can choose the 1½ hour window of your choice in which to attempt the 24 puzzles in the first round’s booklet. Register for the contest, log in, download the encrypted .pdf file containing the puzzles, use the web page to confirm you want to start your clock and then you will be provided with the password to decrypt the puzzle file. (You may want to print the puzzles out, but it’s not obligatory.) You can then submit answers to as many puzzles as you have solved as many times as you like before the 90 minutes expire.

The instruction booklet for the first round has been made available; the first round contains three examples of each of eight styles of puzzle. The puzzles attract different numbers of points according to their perceived difficulty. This year’s contest seems to be favouring relatively many, relatively light puzzles over last year’s assortment of relatively few, relatively hard ones, making the contest more accessible than ever before. There are three examples of each of:

  • Minesweeper, well-known as the puzzle in earlier versions of Windows (or online), except that many of the numbers of adjacent mines are given in advance without having to click around;
  • Nurikabe, a path-colouring puzzle where you deliberately aim to leave certain patterns of cells uncovered. The best way to get started is the Nikoli tutorial; Nikoli have sample puzzles to solve, as do other sites;
  • Tents, in which you are presented with a grid of trees, which must be filled with tents according to certain rules. Brainbashers has a tutorial and sample puzzles, as does Maths Is Fun;
  • non-specific word grid puzzles where letters must be placed into cells in order to spell out given words, in the style of an unfinished crossword without any black spaces. This sort of puzzle has appeared before on US Puzzle Championship tests;
  • Different Neighbors [sic] puzzles whose entire description is Put a digit from 1-4 into each cell so that adjacent cells never contain the same digit, not even diagonally. Some cells have already been filled for you, as exemplified here and briefly discussed at LMI;
  • Fillomino, a puzzle involving filling a part-filled grid with digits so that it can be split into regions of identical numbers, with size equal to the number in question. Brainbashers again has a tutorial and sample puzzles, as does Math In English;
  • Slitherlink Out-Liars is a variant on the well-known Slitherlink (Fences, Rundweg, Loopy, etc.) loop-forming puzzle in which all numbers outside the loop are liars, and all numbers inside the loop tell the truth and
  • Shikaku Liars is a variant on the well-known Shikaku (Rectangles, etc.) puzzle in which a grid must be split into rectangles with given areas.

At least one example in each of the eight types has been set with a deliberately low tariff, so you may well be able to get to grips with at least one puzzle of each type. If you ever want to try one of these middle-distance puzzle contests, and participate in a global puzzle contest with likely hundreds of competitors from dozens of countries, this will be a genuinely accessible example of the form, and one where you can get familiar with at least most of the puzzle styles in advance. Simon Tatham’s Portable Puzzle Collection is a good way to practice, available at no cost on a wide variety of operating systems.