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!

Live from the latest Unconference in London!

It’s the biggest unconference in the UK yet! The attendance number is to be confirmed but possibly around ninety. Certainly there is too much fun to contain on a single floor! We have four sessions today, each offering six different options to choose from:


H and S, legal matters

Design for unusual groups

Sourcing

In game Monitoring and clue giving

Sales and marketing tips

Venues

Bad competition and crisis plans

Designing great experiences

Finance: pricing and costs

In-game automation technology

General marketing: what games rooms are

Pop-ups

Insurance

Suppliers and Premade Rooms

Scaling Up

Booking systems

Social media

Non-room games
Copyright information
Cyber security

Franchises

Using client information

Cross Promotion

Future of the industry

An exciting, busy day! ((Edited to add:)) Sadly too exciting and busy for me and I have had to call it a day at lunchtime, but I look forward to hearing more about it for those who could stick around for the whole day.

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!

New year, new unconference

"The Steam Room" at Drink, Shop and Do in London2016 has undoubtedly been a spectacular year for escape games, but it has been such a bad year in terms of the way has gone that I’m looking forward to 2017 already. There’s something very specific to look forward to at the start of 2017.

Start 2017 with a fantastic meetup with like-minded Escape Room owners and enthusiasts. Your lunch and welcome and wrap-up drinks are included. In a gorgeous themed bar just five minutes from Kings Cross we can host up to 70 folks for the latest in our series of escape game unconferences. We will then segue neatly into Happy Hour (which goes on for three hours here, apparently)

The fourth UK escape game unconference, and the second in London, will take place on Tuesday 10th January 2017, at The Steam Room bar within Drink, Shop and Do, which legitimately is about five minutes’ walk from King’s Cross station. (Depends which exit you use; two minutes from the closest exit, seven or eight from the furthest one.) It’s just down the road from ClueQuest, Omescape and doubtless others. It’s also quite an interesting area in its own right, but more of that another day.

Tickets are now on sale. If you book very, very soon (by the end of October?) then there are still a very small number of tickets available for £28 + booking fee, representing a 20% cut on the standard charge of £35 + booking fee. That’s not a trivial sum, but as well as excellent company and incisive discussion that you’re not going to get elsewhere, the sum pays for lunch and drinks. (Take a look at the Drink, Shop and Do web site; the sum pays for pretty pricy lunch and drinks.) If you’re interested enough in the genre to be reading this, you’d very probably have a whale of a time, whether you’re a player or a professional. Take a look at posts about the first three unconferences to get a sense of what to expect.

The other interesting thing about Tuesday 10th January is that it’s the second Tuesday of the month, so it will be a Puzzled Pint night as well, once the unconference has finished. If you’re come from afar for the unconference, why not make a full day of it in London, and see what Puzzled Pint is about as well?

Quick results from the World Championship

World Puzzle ChampionshipThe 25th World Puzzle Championship has been taking place in Senec in the Slovak Republic this week. Considering how many participants there were, the organisers deserve a lot of credit for posting results either as .pdf files or on an automated system as frequently as they have.

The results of this year’s World Puzzle Championship is, to some extent, maybe not a complete reverse but at least something of a counterpart to last year’s. Last year, Germany’s Ulrich Voigt was a convincing leader in the main body of the competition but Japan’s Ken Endo won the play-off to take the championship; this year, Ken Endo scored most points in the main body of the competition – in fact, his dominance over the rest of the field may be one of the biggest that the competition has ever seen – but Ulrich Voigt ended up winner after the play-off. Congratulations to Ulrich on his eleventh championship! Palmer Mebane climbed from third to second in the play-off and Ken Endo finished third.

In the team contest, the Japanese team won the main body of the event by a very healthy margin – but, once again, the play-offs proved decisive and the team podium finished Germany – Japan – USA for the fourth time in five years. (Glad nobody did take me up on my offer of a small bet.) The UK A team finished eleventh, about which I think they have every right to be pleased; Neil Zussman was on red hot form and finished twelfth of the 104 official competitors. Congratulations!

There were play-offs for the Under-18 and Over-50 championships and it’s not immediately clear who won those, but I enjoyed seeing that the US team’s Walker Anderson was not only top ten overall and (presumed) number two under-18, but also best newcomer. I wasn’t aware of Walker previously, but the line of this 2½-year-old news story that’s available to the public implies that he can now only be somewhere between 15½ and 16½ years old, so not just barely under-18. Wow. Future world champion? Perhaps.

In other puzzle competition news, this Tweet suggests that Mark Goodliffe won the Times Crossword Championship today. This is Mark’s tenth title, tying him all-time with John Sykes whose titles came between 1972 and 1990. Congratulations there, too!

It’s World Championship time

World Puzzle ChampionshipThe 25th World Puzzle Championship, and its younger sibling the World Sudoku Championship, will take place next week in Senec in the Slovak Republic. You can find the details at the official web site. It’s a competition featuring rounds and rounds of culture-free, language-neutral (mostly logic) puzzles. The final version of the instruction booklet has been posted, so you can see examples of the sorts of puzzles that are going to be faced.

I’m not quite energetic enough to do as in-depth a preview as I have done in previous years, but here are some quick notes. The World Puzzle Championship this year will have 25 full national “A” teams, one up from last year; welcome to Austria and Belarus, farewell (hopefully briefly!) to Romania. There will also be participants – if not full teams – from Belgium, Canada and Luxembourg, the first two of which have had podium-placed full teams in the WPC’s early years. With the make-up of sundry “United Nations” teams, as well as nations’ “B” teams (and, unusually, five “C” teams and even a “D” team) there will be fifty teams in total. This is hugely impressive, though it’s to be noted that this means teams are split over a number of different hotels, which is a slightly different way of doing it than most years – though a very practical one. It’s a particular thrill for me to see that Berni and Silke of Croco-Puzzle are getting to play on the German “B” and “C” teams.

The UK team retains Neil Zussman and Tom Collyer from last year, though substitutes in Adam Bissett and Thomas Powell for James McGowan and David McNeill. (David can’t make it to defend his over-50 titles in both sudoku and puzzles; a pity, not least because it neatly blows up one of my predictions.) The UK team would be doing very well to finish in the top ten of national “A” teams this year.

For the last two years, this site has tipped Japan to win and they’ve finished second. The German “A” team is missing Florian Kirch, for the saddest of reasons, and Michael Ley (who finished eighth in the main rounds) is on the German “B” team once again. The Japan “A” team has last year’s champ Ken Endo and last year’s fifth-placed Kota Morinshi, but also has Taro Arimatsu and Hideaki Jo who finished 1st and 3rd in 2010. That’s too scary a line-up to ignore, and thus this site tips Japan once again, and would be prepared to back it up with a small bet at even money.

The Crystal Maze is coming to Manchester

The Crystal Maze logoThe one-off revival of The Crystal Maze is being broadcast on Channel 4 at 9pm this Sunday – perhaps this might be a slightly updated logo, perhaps not – and is apparently set to feature a cheeky cameo or two. It’s been filmed at London’s The Crystal Maze live experience and it’ll be a challenge for a set that is designed to see a couple of hundred players per day match up to the demands of a TV set. It also remains to be seen how the games come across on TV.

Whether it’s a hit or a miss, the live experience has proved such a hit in London that, as previously hinted, a second maze will be opening in Manchester. The Manchester Evening News suggests the location will be the “old Granada studios”, as predicted by a detective on the Bother’s Bar forum. Sales opened today; currently, tickets are available for April 2017; the opening date of April 1st is possibly a tad inauspicious.

There are many similarities to the London site, but a few exceedingly curious differences. It’s still a game for teams of eight, and it’s still closed on Mondays (except Bank Holidays). However, instead of four teams starting at the same time, the starts seem to be staggered at five- and ten- minute intervals, so eight teams start every hour. This has me wondering how this will work. (Is it possible that they plan to build two copies of each zone, just to double throughput? Could they even build two different mazes, with different games for replay value, in parallel?) One interpretation is the possibility that all the teams will play the zones in the same order – or, if the “two copies” hypothesis is correct, conceivably there might be different, but fixed, starting points in the two mazes. Another difference is that the experience is suggested to take two hours, which is longer than the London equivalent. There will be differences and it’ll be a treat to find out what they are.

The pricing has been announced, and games on Tuesdays to Thursdays are £45 per player (plus 5% booking fee). That’s pretty tempting. Earlier this year, I organised for 32 people, mostly site owners and staff but also enthusiasts, to take over The Crystal Maze for an hour, the day after the London edition of the unconference. Should we do it all again in Manchester next year?

Instant reaction from the Unconference in Leeds today

Photo by James Curtis

Photo posted to Twitter by James Curtis

I very much enjoyed my time at the latest “The Great Escape UK” Unconference in Leeds today. There were about 27 attendees by the end of the day; I enjoyed catching up with some from previous events and just as much enjoyed meeting others for the first time, some of whom had been on my “it’d be nice to meet some day” list for quite a while. The venue was Dock 29 in the Leeds Dock area, which looks very smart; while there is a water taxi giving free rides from (very near) the train station, there isn’t a good system for letting people know when the water taxi isn’t running, and sadly this contributed towards me only being able to attend the last four and a bit hours or so. (Unconferences are a little stranger when you can’t attend the planning-on-the-day stage at the beginning… though I probably could have stuck a session note onto the board if there was something burning that I had wanted to discuss.) Jason Stroud of Thinking Outside The Box was the only known person to travel from the UK to Chicago for the Room Escape Conference last month and I was disappointed to miss him presenting his findings; the rest of us will have to settle for this review video.

I believe that organiser Liz Cable will be putting together a more formal description of the sessions at some point, as well as co-ordinating the collation of the notes that people took. After a buffet spread that looked as good as it tasted, Liz took eight or nine of us around her Code-X pop-up game, a few doors down, that sadly has to close on Sunday 18th and clear out shortly after. The aesthetic is distinctive and likely very effective, and there are as many surprises as you’d hope for. A tour can never match up to playing the game for real, but this did look like a treat.

In the afternoon, there was a session on potential for interaction between escape rooms and academia; without wanting to get too “one weird trick” about it, there do seem to be revenue streams that might be able to be tapped by escape room creators who can reframe the advantages of what they offer in ways that universities will want to hear, far aside from the obvious one of having students coming and playing your regular open-to-the-public game. There was also a fascinating session comparing academic models proposed over the years for game players’ motivations, discussing the extent to which they may or may not apply, and giving practical applications of the most promising-looking of these models to the escape room context. Escape game web sites often tend to promote their offerings in fairly similar fashions, which may be relatively generic when something more tailored to differently motivated groups of players may speak more directly to them.

Past unconferences have often generated a spirit of “sure, it would be great to work together!” which has not generated practical activity. The end of the day had some attempts to be slightly more concrete about initiatives which seem to have common purpose: a smarter approach to insurance (are some people paying too much? Do companies’ insurance policies really cover you?) as well as potential to investigate group buying where it makes sense, and places where the industry as a whole might promote itself more usefully than individual brands doing so.

Exciting times! Lots to think about; many thanks to Liz and the attendees for putting the day together. The next unconference will be on Tuesday 10th January 2017 at The Steam Room, part of “Drink, Shop and Do” near King’s Cross Station in London; it too should be a treat and booking is already open. Being the second Tuesday of the month, of course, that will be a Puzzled Pint night, so don’t forget about one really good, relevant opportunity to socialise afterwards!

Unconferences past and future

unconferenceJust quickly:

The second “The Great Escape UK” unconference took place in London on April 25th. People took notes from many of the sessions at the time. A few sessions remain unscribed and attempts to chase the sessions’ scribes have proved fruitless. However, as something is much better than nothing, please enjoy the notes that have survived from most of the sessions; if you are in a position to add to them, please do so.

The third “The Great Escape UK” conference will take place in Leeds on September 6th, also known as next Tuesday; specifically, it will take place at Dock 29 between 11am and 7pm. Take a look at previous unconference coverage on this site to see whether it sounds like your cup of tea; if so, book your ticket now. You’ll need to pay for your ticket at the time of booking because (a) booking includes lunch and (b) there were many people who booked free tickets and didn’t turn up last time, so there were plenty of other people on the waiting list who wanted to go but couldn’t.

This third meet-up for the UK Escape Room Industry welcomes anyone involved in running, designing, or creating Escape Room Games in the UK, or associated industries. We also welcome keen players, as long as they promise not to rip out the fixtures and fittings in search of clues. We also allow suppliers to attend in the spirit of sharing not selling. ((…))

Our quarterly Unconference returns to Leeds. Everyone can propose a session on the day, on anything they like, people signup for whatever tickles their fancy, then the agenda is decided as we go along. ((…))

Some offerings include a report back from the first Chicago Escape Room Conference, and an offering (from me) on Curiosity and Player Motivation and how it impacts Room Design – a summary of a week-long symposium on Game Design at Utrecht University (actually more fun than it sounds).

Unrelatedly, but still excitingly, on the day after the London unconference, 32 escape room owners, staff and players visited the The Crystal Maze attraction in London. Yesterday The Sun suggested (and, today, reports have reached as far as the BBC) that there will be a one-off revival of the show on Channel 4 for their Stand Up To Cancer night on October 21st. There won’t be a full-scale maze made for a single show; Buzzfeed report that the event will be filmed at the attraction in London. This is an extremely spectacular setting for an event you’ve paid tens of pounds to play in person and a somewhat unspectacular setting for a TV show featuring a team of celebrities. We shall see, and hope that it proves a prelude to a full-scale, big-budget soup-to-nuts revival of the series at a later date.

2 The Crystal Dome

A pentakis dodecahedronVery quickly:

This Saturday afternoon, my better half and I will be going to the The Crystal Maze attraction in London with a team of four lovely people, three of whom you might know from past puzzle hunts. As the game is designed to be played by teams of eight, this leaves two places on the team spare and the tickets are available at cost price.

The Crystal Maze is essentially booked out for months and months, barring stray cancellation places. For instance, there’s a rare space for five at 3pm tomorrow as I type, then nothing until three individual spaces dotted around August. Accordingly, this is a pretty unusual opportunity, and the company should be rather good as well.

Are you interested? If so, please get in touch ASAP. The places might have gone by the time you do!

P.S. Too late!