Introducing the Manchester Puzzle Hunts Meetup

Manchester Puzzle Hunts meetup logoThis is exciting! Curtis from Puzzled Pint recently pointed to the existence of a puzzle hunt meetup in Manchester. If their puzzles are anything like as good as their logo, reproduced above, then this will be an exciting development indeed. Manchester already has its own Puzzled Pint monthly, but local puzzle hunts as well would make this probably a more exciting puzzle community than that of London.

The first event is set to take place on Saturday 6th May, which is an amusing and ironic date. In London, this will be when the DASH 9 puzzle hunt is taking place. The cute thing is that at one point it appeared that there would be a DASH 9 leg in Manchester, presumably on the same day, though it didn’t come to fruition. Happily, it turns out that Manchester puzzle hunters might just get to play on the day after all – just a hunt of their own! (Another way to look at it is that if you wanted to play in London but couldn’t get a ticket before they all sold out, perhaps you have another option…) Going up to Manchester to get to play in a future hunt sounds very tempting, especially if it could be doubled up with a trip to the Manchester Crystal Maze, or any number of other exciting games there or thereabouts.

The Facebook thread is interesting; it suggested that, at the time, there were plans for DASH to take place outside the US in London, Manchester, Vienna, and Mexico City. Of those four, only London has made it to reality, but happily it has been joined by Enschede in the Netherlands. This year’s DASH is expected to take place in 16 locations; notably, Provo in Utah is a happy addition, but Denver is missing as is previously ever-present Portland. Just goes to show that nowhere can assume that someone will step up to make sure that the event will take place.

More reasons than ever to look forward to Saturday 6th May! Of course, if you can’t wait until then, Saturday 29th to Sunday 30th April (i.e., next weekend) sees the next 24 Hour Puzzle Championship in Budapest. I previewed the event in 2014 and the basics haven’t changed much since then. Last year’s event was won by Neil Zussman from the UK!

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?

Tuesday is Puzzled Pint day in London and Manchester

Puzzled Pint London logoPuzzled Pint Manchester logoThe second Tuesday of every month is always Puzzled Pint day! The Pint has been growing around the world and this month there are set to be thirty meetings around the planet, from New Zealand to Europe to the west coast of North America. For the first time, this includes two meetings in different UK cities; London is well into its third year of Puzzled Pint and now Manchester is diving in. As you can see, London’s shades of red and blue are roundel-inspired, whereas Manchester takes its hues from football colours. There’s no reason why other UK cities couldn’t host their own versions; it just needs someone to take responsibility for doing so.

The simplest way to think of Puzzled Pint is to imagine a pub quiz that you solve with a team of your friends, but replace the quiz questions with puzzles: all sorts of puzzles – word puzzles, picture puzzles, maybe codes, perhaps maths or logic puzzles – and usually very good ones. The atmosphere is deliberately very accessible and hints are freely available, so everyone, from first-timers onwards, can have the fun of surprising themselves by solving puzzles that they thought they would never be able to solve. It’s probably more fun if you come with a group, but if you come alone then the organisers will help you find a team and hopefully make new friends. There’s no charge for taking part!

Take a look at this month’s location puzzle; you’re more likely to overthink it than underthink it, and the style may give you a very exciting sense of the theme for the month. As ever, hints are available; once you’ve got the answer, the London and Manchester locations are revealed. In London, there’s a single giant location, but it’s a good one; you need to submit a response because places are limited – and if you do submit a RSVP and cannot attend, please submit a cancellation so that someone else might use the place that you won’t be taking up. (The Manchester location has no RSVP requirement yet.)

The nominal timing of the event is 7pm to 10pm, but there’s some flexibility – and your team’s timing only starts when you get the puzzles, no matter what time you turn up. Please bring a pair of scissors if you can.

For Schools: the 2016 Alan Turing Cryptography Competition

Black-and-white photo of Alan TuringPerhaps this article is a bit of a repeat which makes it a bit of a cheat, but some things do crop up year after year and it has been edited for fact-checking and freshness.

This site previously discussed the National Cipher Challenge, held for teams of full-time students under 18 years of age. Happily, the cryptography season is not just one competition long each year; ever since the University of Manchester’s School of Mathematics celebrated the centenary of the birth of Alan Turing in 2012, each year there has been a cryptography competition for school students. 2016 sees the fifth edition; the first chapter – and thus the first cipher to solve – is released tomorrow, probably at around 4pm or so.

Prizes are available, but only for teams consisting of no more than four pre-Sixth-Form participants, so the limit is year 11 in England and Wales, S4 in Scotland and year 12 in Northern Ireland. There is provision for non-competitive teams to take part without scoring; here there is no restriction on numbers or ages so teams featuring overage students, teachers, parents or members of the general public outside the education system can take part purely for the fun of it. This year also sees the first edition of a sibling team mathematics competition, MathsBombe, which runs along somewhat similar lines and where Sixth Form students are allowed to play.

The competition follows the story of two young cipher sleuths, Mike and Ellie, as they get caught up in an adventure to unravel the Artificial Adventure. Every week or two weeks a new chapter of the story is released, each with a cryptographic puzzle to solve (…) There are six chapters in total (plus an epilogue to conclude the story). Points can be earned by cracking each code and submitting your answer.” The more quickly you crack each code, the more points you win for each of the six chapters. The chapters are released weekly at first but slow down to fortnightly as the chapters get harder and half-terms start to get in the way.

Prizes sponsored by Skyscanner (founded by two former computer scientists from the University of Manchester!) are presented to members of the three top-scoring teams overall, but each chapter also awards additional prizes to the first team to solve it correctly and spot prizes to five correctly-solving teams selected at random.

The really interesting thing is that the top prizes are awarded in person at the annual Alan Turing Cryptography Day. A video was posted of the 2015 day, and here’s a report from 2014: “Schoolchildren who had enjoyed taking part in the online competition were invited to spend an afternoon of code-breaking action in the Alan Turing Building. Nearly 200 children (…) enjoyed a wide range of activities including: interacting with Enigma machine apps running on iPads, a talk entitled `Enigma Variations: Alan Turing and the Enigma Machine’, some maths busking, a Q&A session with the competition organisers, as well as a live cryptography challenge which involved schools having to crack three codes in a one-hour period.

This site really enjoyed the part of the video where the kids at the day emphasised how much they enjoyed the live competition and the factor of time pressure. You can see where this is going! If there’s a self-selecting audience who love cracking codes against the clock, surely – surely – this would be a fantastic opportunity for an exit game (particularly one with a branch in Manchester itself – but, really, anyone anywhere, particularly one which saw itself as a national player) to become involved with sponsorship.

What would be in it for you? Especially if you can arrange a live challenge, there could be the chance to get the word out to hundreds of children who have proved themselves not only sufficiently interested in puzzles to enter a cryptography contest but sufficiently talented to do really well at it. On a very slightly cynical note, you might think of this as a way to reach 200 families, or more, who are likely to be right in the middle of your target audience and likely to want to play again and again. Seems like such a natural fit!

Good news for mid-December 2015

Cartoon of people reading newspapers and a bookToday feels like a day where three cheerful news stories would not go amiss.

The Room of Glasgow are distinctive for reasons including the sizes of the largest games that they offer; their Mansion Room game is designed for teams of 8 to 16 (though there may be some wiggle room) and their Party Room for teams of 10 to 16. Throughout December, there are a number of promotions being launched “by the resident elves”, notably a discount code available for those playing up to December 20th. The most delightful initiative is this one; as discussed on Facebook: “On the 16th of December, we will be hosting a Charity Day. We are offering 3 Party Room games for free for groups of disadvantaged children (from an orphanage, care home, or from poor families). We would like to give the gift of fun to these kids for Christmas, the way we can. We want to give back to the community, and thought it would be great to surprise kids with some caring and fun.” How kind! Exit Games UK commends the site on this thoughtful – and original! – gesture.

Breakout Manchester have launched a second site within the city centre, on the High Street near the Arndale shopping complex. (It’s about eight minutes’ walk from their first location, which remains open.) The new location will feature another John Monroe’s Detective Office, with a new room entitled Vacancy opening tomorrow – “Exhausted after a long journey, you place your bag down on the freshly made bed, ready to relax. Suddenly, an ominous sixty minute countdown begins. No matter what you try, the door will not open. Welcome to Crimson Lake Motel. You check in, but you NEVER check out…” – and a horror-themed Facility X room for players aged 16+ opening soon. “You arrive at an unknown location for a once in a lifetime opportunity; a conference held by the critically acclaimed, Dr. Andrews. His work is widely known throughout the research circles, but he has remained hidden in the shadows for years. What you don’t know, is that Dr. Andrews has gone mad, creating a string of tests that have gone disastrously wrong. He has brought you here for his final experiment.” A fourth room on the site is promised for January, and that’s not all; this new location is a big old space and there may very well be more to come.

Jackie from Locked In Edinburgh got in touch to enthuse about their second room. “Our theme has stemmed from having Pickering’s Gin Distillery sited directly below our escape rooms.” Exit Games UK loves games with local flavour, no pun intended, so the localism here is hard to beat. “The distillery reported a breakin which is thought to be an inside job. Which employee is plotting the distillery downfall and to where are Pickerings planning to move their gin stock for safe keeping? ((…)) A tour of the distillery can be incorporated, although probably best after players escape as the tour includes gin samples which may cloud people’s thinking heads!

Here’s a bonus cheerful news item, not related to exit games: while the shortest day of the year doesn’t happen for nearly another week, we’ve already reached the point in the year where the sun is starting to set later and later. Indeed, the UK is at a point in the year where both sunrise and sunset are getting later in the day, and which one is moving more quickly determines whether the day is lengthening or shortening. Take it as a sign that we’re already making it through the winter!

Now open in Manchester: Tick Tock Unlock

"Tick Tock Unlock" logoIt seems to be a law that when a new exit game opens in central Manchester, it must be almost exactly half a mile from another exit game that exists. Not half a mile from every other exit game in central Manchester, as that would first have required central Manchester to be tetrahedral, then this new one would require it to be… ((sound effect: searches)) pentatopal, apparently. Such existence in higher dimensions sounds like one of the plotlines from Exit Strategy, but that’s not important right now.

Just to the west of Salford Central railway station, about half a mile or so away from two other games, Tick Tock Unlock opened in (technically, Greater) Manchester on October 15th. In fact, the site is located within an arch of a railway viaduct leading to the station; it is the fourth site within the Tick Tock Unlock brand, and the second to be set in just such a railway arch. The site currently hosts a single room, which has a 60-minute time limit and is designed for teams of three (£16/player, £48 total) to six (£14/player, £84 total). The game itself is a new one for the brand, entitled Project Pandora. Sounds hopeful – but maybe wisest not to open any boxes while you’re in there. No, wait, that’s probably not how it works.

You have come far, you and your team of survivors. Now here you are, where it all started, where it could have ended. Where it will end – if only you are brave enough, if only you are clever enough to put the pieces together of Doctor Maria’s final work.

Yet nothing is ever easy, as you have no doubt discovered on your journey to this almost forgotten laboratory, and the lab itself will be no different – for there with you will be the final test-subject, its chains weakened by the unrelenting strength of the living dead.

Early team photos have the teams posting while carrying prop knives, cleavers and the like. Fingers crossed that you don’t end up needing to use them on the final test subject!

Coming soon to Manchester: Trapped Up North

Trapped Up North logoThe tendency seems to be that an increasing proportion of new locations are launching at the start of the month so it’s going to be a busy few days and this site is a little behind. One step at a time.

Trapped Up North is a brand new exit game opening tomorrow, Saturday 1st August, with an intial run announced up to and including Wednesday 23rd December. The site is being run at the Great Northern Warehouse in Manchester, a short walk from the Deansgate Metrolink station and Manchester Central (which will always be the G-Mex at heart). Coincidentally, it’s a very similar location to the one where Breakout Manchester‘s two Classified rooms are still running for another week, but there’s no connection; Trapped Up North is run by a different company who will be running a walk-through horror attraction called House of the Dead in October.

Trapped Up North will offer two rooms to begin with and add a third later in the month. All three have 60-minute time limits and are available for teams of three to six, aged 12 and up, though parental discretion is advised for those aged under 15. As is often the case, the site will open six days a week, taking a one-day weekend on Mondays.

The Jigsaw room concerns a grotesque “purity” test of the same name within a makeshift torture chamber in an abandoned mill, set by a serial killer known as The Judge. “If The Judge’s victims were pure, they would pass the test and escape but if they were not, they would die a horrible death at his evil hands. Of all those who took the Jigsaw test, there are no known survivors.” As an exit game, hopefully the survival rate will be at least a little higher.

The Quarantine room has a biological warfare theme. A virus was developed to make enemy forces turn on themselves; this virus has escaped its cryogenic storage and possibly even the compound where it was created. “There is an antidote but it is lost. You are required to enter the contamination zone, locate the antidote and retrieve it so that medical staff and scientists can stop the spread of the deadly virus. If you do not make it within the allocated time, there is a 90% chance that you will have already been infected. In response, you too will be sealed in!

The Cabin Fever room, launched later in the month, is set on a camping trip that has gone badly, badly wrong. One of your friends has been taken hostage by crazy bloodthirsty locals; worse still, they’re the only driver and have the keys to the car. “Determined to find your friend and after walking for almost a full day you come across a dilapidated cabin buried deep within the swamp. Is this where your friend is being held captive? You watch the cabin for a while and it appears that there is no one there. You must enter the cabin and find out what has happened to your friend and retrieve the car keys to escape. It’s getting dark and you know that the crazies will be hunting soon!

The attraction was previewed by the Manchester Evening News; a follow-up article has a number of pictures, and a tantalising hint. “Trapped Up North is not the first game of its kind to come to Manchester, but it does have a twist which others in the city don’t. But we are not going to tell you what it is here, that would spoil the surprise.

Are you made of sufficiently stern stuff to find out what that twist is for yourself? Only three months until Hallowe’en!

Now open in Manchester: Lockin Escape

Lockin Escape logoThis site has been beaten to the punch – and this site loves it!

As hinted at in the most recent League Table update, while searching TripAdvisor for exit games’ rankings, this site discovered that Manchester has four different exit games open, rather than three. This resolves the issue of “which will be the first city outside London to get to four games” once and for all… and it turns out it may have happened a couple of months earlier than expected.

The fourth site to have opened in Manchester actually turns out to have been The Escape Room, for the third site to have opened is Lockin Escape. Fresh from her detailed, must-read write-up of attending The Escape Room’s recent event – with, notably, a suggestion as to where The Escape Room might be expanding that this site hadn’t seen before – Girl Geek Up North yesterday was the first known site to review the Lockin Escape site.

The site opened in early January, though this was something of a soft launch with the official opening only happening on Sunday. The site is launching with three games: Treasure Hunter, Jail Break and Mission 60. There are all sixty-minute games, designed for teams of three to six.

The site has set some instant best practice in terms of helping people find which of its three games is most appropriate for their team by illustrating each of the three games’ demands not just with a single difficulty rating but with more specific radar charts, illustrating the extent to which the challenge each game poses in five different aspects.

  • The tense Jail Break particularly tests co-operation as “You and your fellow team members have carefully devised an escape plan. To execute the escape plan, you are now disguised as an officer and have gained access into the cell where your targets are held. Your goal is to interact with the secret prisoner and ensure that everyone successfully tunnels out of the cell before the alarms sounds and the guards return“.
     
  • The more difficult Mission 60 has an emphasis on observation when “After weeks of intensive investigation, the security forces remain unable to locate the whereabouts of the President’s son, who has been secretly abducted a month ago. […] As time passed with no word from the kidnappers, the President is becoming increasingly nervous and is losing patience. The President has instructed you and the Hostage Rescue Team to take on this rescue mission and to reveal the plot behind it“.
     
  • The last game, Treasure Hunter, has a high emphasis on mathematical and primarily physical ability. (There may be a clue in the graphic as to what sort of physical challenge is to be faced in the graphic.) “Le Espoir is the world’s most valuable piece of jeweling. This magnificent diamond necklace, unknown to others, is said to have mysterious power that could change the fate of the world. Reliable sources have disclosed that a number of top criminal enterprises have plotted to steal this jewel. Concerned for the future of the country, the State has teamed you up with group of treasure hunting talents to steal this extraordinary necklace before it’s too late. Your mission is to break into the chamber where Le Espoir is and to decode the series of high security systems guarding the jewel to find the greatest treasure in history“.

Which game best suits you? What sort of game are you in the mood for? There’s so much happening in the North-West; the more reports of just how these games compare to the others out there, the merrier, but the first report is extremely promising!

A class act: Classified comes to Breakout Manchester

Breakout Manchester's "Classified"The exit game scene may be even more exciting in the north-west than it is in London right now, what with this week’s exciting launch at The Escape Room Manchester and expansion forthcoming at Clue HQ. Four weeks ago, Breakout Manchester announced that they would be opening their fifth room, which is coming into the closing stages of construction; that’s not all they’re up to!

Today, they made a bigger announcement that they will be launching their sixth and seventh rooms, which are available for booking on Thursdays to Sundays from Saturday 31st January onwards. “For the first time ever at Breakout Manchester, you can race against friends in an identical game room. You can prove once and for all who is the best at breaking out! If you wish to do this please book two sessions on the website that start at the same time. You do not have to have a team to race against, this game can be played as a stand alone game.

Ever fancied yourself as James Bond, Jack Bauer, Jason Bourne, Lara Croft, Virginia Hall or Mata Hari? This is your chance to see if you are good enough. The Classified room sees players sitting their final entrance exam to become a secret agent. You must escape from the room to pass the exam. This is Breakout’s most explosive and technologically advanced room yet!

The main Breakout Manchester site is full to the brim with five different games; both of the new games will take place a short distance away from the main venue in what might be considered to be, no pun intended, a breakout space. The rooms are referred to as Classified 1 and Classified 2 and differ only in being coded with (City?) blue and (United?) red graphics respectively on the web site.

All game expansions are exciting, but phrases like “most explosive and technologically advanced room yet” really whet the appetite. This site looks forward to seeing how the competitions work out in practice!

For Schools: the 2015 Alan Turing Cryptography Competition

Black-and-white photo of Alan TuringThis site previously discussed the National Cipher Challenge, held for teams of full-time students under 18 years of age. Happily, the cryptography season is not just one competition long each year; ever since the University of Manchester’s School of Mathematics celebrated the centenary of the birth of Alan Turing in 2012, each year there has been a cryptography competition for school students. The fourth edition, associated with the year 2015, is under way.

Prizes are available, but only for teams consisting of no more than four participants, none of whom can be in Sixth Form, so the limit is year 11 in England and Wales, S4 in Scotland and year 12 in Northern Ireland. There is provision for non-competitive teams to take part without scoring; here there is no restriction on numbers or ages so teams featuring overage students, teachers, parents or members of the general public outside the education system can take part purely for the fun of it.

The competition follows the story of two young cipher sleuths, Mike and Ellie, as they get caught up in an adventure to unravel the Carbon Conundrum. Every week or two weeks a new chapter of the story is released, each with a cryptographic puzzle to solve (…) There are six chapters in total (plus an epilogue to conclude the story). Points can be earned by cracking each code and submitting your answer.” The more quickly you crack each code, the more points you win for each of the six chapters. This year’s story hints at a grapheme theme.

Prizes sponsored by Skyscanner (founded by two former computer scientists from the University of Manchester!) are presented to members of the three top-scoring teams overall, but each chapter also awards additional prizes to the first team to solve it correctly and spot prizes to five correctly-solving teams selected at random.

The really interesting thing is that the top prizes are awarded in person at the annual Alan Turing Cryptography Day. “Schoolchildren who had enjoyed taking part in the online competition were invited to spend an afternoon of code-breaking action in the Alan Turing Building. Nearly 200 children (…) enjoyed a wide range of activities including: interacting with Enigma machine apps running on iPads, a talk entitled `Enigma Variations: Alan Turing and the Enigma Machine’, some maths busking, a Q&A session with the competition organisers, as well as a live cryptography challenge which involved schools having to crack three codes in a one-hour period.

Surely this would be a fantastic opportunity for an exit game (particularly one based in Manchester itself, but really anyone anywhere) to become involved with sponsorship. What would be in it for you? Especially if you can arrange a live challenge, there could be the chance to get the word out to 200 children who have proved themselves not only sufficiently interested in puzzles to enter a cryptography contest but sufficiently talented to do really well at it. On a very slightly cynical note, you might think of this as a way to reach 200 families, or more, who are likely to be right in the middle of your target audience and likely to want to play again and again. Seems like a natural fit!