Coming up on Friday: Geekeasy, Pablo’s Hunt and more Handmade Mysteries

Lady Chastity's Reserve comes to East LondonFriday will be busy! This site talks about exit games most of the time and about puzzle hunts frequently. There’s good reason to talk about something different this Friday: a comedy night. Needless to say, not just any comedy night: one themed around The Crystal Maze. That’s interesting.

Project2 curates Geekeasy ((…)) We populate the bill with emerging and award-winning acts. ((…)) Each month we pick a niche theme and throw some acts at it. Expect musical comedy, stand up, improv, sketch and a Powerpoint competition. This month we’re in The Crystal Maze, with guest comedians, improvisers and musicians competing to win a taxi ride home.

Project2’s background is improv comedy with a sci-fi theme; the The Crystal Maze theme was announced three months ago so people will have had considerable preparation time. It would be easy to “punch down” but the genuine fandom and love for the genres that the group have shown, plus good reviews from an improv player that this site trusts, gives this site hope that more acts than not can stay on the right side of the fine line: irreverent good, impudent goo-ooo-oood, insolent bad. The show starts at 8pm at The Miller pub in Southwark, London, between London Bridge and Borough.

Other exciting things happen on Friday, too. Handmade Mysteries open an East London location at The People’s Park Tavern pub in the part of south-east Hackney best served by the 388 bus from Hackney Wick, Cambridge Heath or Bethnal Green. This is a slight remix of their original Lady Chastity’s Reserve game played in South London; the larger location permits teams of up to six, rather than up to five, and some extra gags along the way. This site just likes saying “My! Brother! Knows Karl Marx! He met him in the bushes at The People’s Park!

If you don’t want to leave your house, there’s still fun to be had: as discussed, the 2015 edition of Pablo’s Armchair Treasure Hunt also starts on Friday, though the teaser poster will already get you started. True, there’s a hidden box to be found somewhere in the south of England, but there’s a mighty bundle of research and thinking to be done before you can even start to work out where it is!

Could GCHQ crack Pablo’s Armchair Treasure Hunt?

Pablo's Armchair Treasure Hunt 2015 posterPossibly you have heard that GCHQ have issued a Christmas card with a puzzle. Solving the first puzzle leads to a series of further puzzles (word puzzles, maths puzzles and code-breaking) unless the extremely high interest means that the web server still can’t cope with the demand. This site heard about the hunt from Intervirals, though it was also widely covered in news programmes, not least a Sky News segment featuring BrainedUp.com‘s Dr. Gareth Moore. Excellent way to get tough puzzles back in the public eye.

However, if this isn’t challenge enough for you, then in a week’s time, the 2015 edition of Pablo’s Armchair Treasure Hunt will begin. You can see a low-fi version of the hunt’s poster above; the official version is rather clearer and contains a number of clues and references which will portray some of the themes of this year’s event. The hunt itself will begin in a week’s time and will likely feature several dozen cryptic questions to solve, pictures to identify, connections to make, covert messages to discover and decrypt and doubtless much more, culminating in a physically hidden box in the south of England. The first team to discover the box wins a trophy; the team that best answers and explains all the references and hidden subtleties that have been put in place, within the month-and-a-bit time limit, also win a trophy. To get an appreciation for the form and conventions of the hunt, read through the thirty-year history of the hunt; the past hunts are available online along with their explanations, and make spectacular reading.

An incredible labour of love!

Time to go hunting for the best sort of game

Rolled-up newspaperToday’s biggest news is that the 2014-15 edition of Pablo’s Armchair Treasure Hunt starts at noon, running for 3½ weeks. You don’t need to have figured out hidden clues from within, or even seen, the trailer poster or the trailer video in order to enjoy taking part and maybe even winning. There’s a cracking general-interest article in the Epsom Guardian about the event and the people who set it. (Turns out that a couple of the names are actually a little familiar, in a very good way.) The hunt is trying to expand from its corporate roots, so all are welcome to play, though familiarity with the UK would certainly help – especially if you’re trying to retrieve the hidden prize.

Or perhaps you might be searching for the hidden prize from Gold Hunt: London, which started two days ago! Buy the e-book for £4 and you might be able to follow its clues to find the hidden gold bar. The bar is valued at “over £5,000”, which seems honest because the price of gold fluctuates so much. (There would be some savage amusement in the price of gold following the price of oil down the pan, as it has done in the last month or two, and the value of the prize having to be reassessed.) Gold is so dense and valuable that a standard 250gram (seven-ounce) bar is currently priced at about £6,300, and is perhaps two inches by one inch by a little under half an inch. That’s perhaps the size of the erasers used at school, but worth a small fortune. Finding something that small will take the most eagle of eyes, as well as the sharpest of minds.

Straddling the boundary between puzzle hunt and exit game is Agent November, which does have the outdoor nature and the kinetic nature, but also a time limit familiar from exit games. Tip the right wink to The Man Who Knows in a pub near London’s Euston station and you can now play a choice of two different games. The new game, The Rainbow Syndicate, can feature a team of seven instead of six, with an intriguing story:

The Rainbow Syndicate have just robbed the Bank of England! You have to solve this case and bring them to justice. Dashing from location to location, try and stay one step ahead of the master criminal gang. Their weapons, their loot and their hideouts are all hidden somewhere in the streets of London, it’s up to you to find out where! You must solve fiendish clues in order to gather evidence on the gang’s activities. Your goal is to recover the stolen goods, but can you act quickly enough to prevent them from disappearing forever into the murky criminal underworld?

Playing The Rainbow Syndicate will see you cover a mile by foot. The Agent November team is expanding apace as demand has grown for their services; if you had twenty who wanted to play, it could be arranged to play two Rainbow Syndicate games and a Major X game at the same time so everyone was kept busy. The price of both games is the same, and early reviews for the Rainbow Syndicate are very strong. As the games are played outdoors, they are taking a break for the end of December and the start of January, but will surely come back with a bang. (At least, if the time limits run out…)

Hunting for Hunts

Open pink treasure chestThere are a number of very intriguing-looking puzzle hunt competitions of various scales either in progress or coming up soon. Will you break any of the metaphorical treasure chests to be found?

The @MrHydeAndSeek account on Twitter has a series of picture-driven treasure hunt competitions, just for fun. You can get a sense of the game’s conventions by looking over past hunts; in an example of excellent practice, each previous hunt is explained, with full descriptions of the precise subtleties in each of the clues. The clue-writing seems very precise and as imaginative as you would hope.

This site has written about this year’s Pablo’s Armchair Treasure Hunt previously, but more information has very recently been made available; specifically, the poster has been released, with further pointers towards a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy theme. Plenty to start work on already: what looks like some braille, some binary, a DNA strand, several pictures and quite possibly some other encrypted information as well. The actual full body of the hunt is released on December 19th and you’ll have three and a half weeks to put your answer together.

If you’d like a hunt with a prize, and if you live in London, then perhaps Gold Hunt London might be for you. A specially-engraved gold bar currently valued at over £5,000 has been (or, perhaps, is about to be) hidden somewhere in London. Buy an e-book for £3.99 and maybe you will be the one to decode its clues and find the gold bar’s whereabouts. The book suggests that it may provide suggestions for interesting and little-known places to visit in London even if the competition doesn’t catch your eye. You can pre-order the e-book now; the game goes afoot on December 17th.

Arguably bigger still is the one event where the world’s puzzle hunters focus on the enigma of all enigmas for a single weekend. Teams of handfuls-to-hundreds (well, the biggest teams number more than a hundred) attack the 100-150-ish double-black-diamond-difficulty no-holds-barred puzzles of what will be the 35th annual MIT Mystery Hunt, and this year’s event is set to take place, as tradition dictates, on the weekend starting with the Friday before Martin Luther King day, so the 2015 hunt starts on January 16th. More about this to follow.

Further ahead, for your diary, one of this site’s 2014 highlights was playing in the London leg of the DASH puzzle hunt and writing alllll about it, both before and afterwards. The DASH Facebook page has confirmed that 2015’s date will be May 30th, so there are precisely 26 weeks to go. No cities have yet been announced, but rest assured if a city anywhere in the UK is running a leg then this site will announce it at such great volume that you won’t need to visit the site in order to hear the DASH alarm.

Finally, there will be some fiddling with this site’s servers reasonably imminently. It’s possible that this might cause ghosts of articles half-written in May and June to make a reappearance. Fingers crossed for no poltergeists…

Introducing Pablo’s Armchair Treasure Hunt

LogicaCMG logoA little too late for the above logo, one of the UK’s longest-running hunt traditions is gearing up for its annual Christmastime conundrum. In 1985, an IT consultant at Logica, Paul Coombs, had the idea for an armchair treasure hunt, vaguely comparable in style to that of the Masquerade book from a few years previously, complete with treasure buried somewhere in the south of England. He co-ran the first four year’s hunts and ran more in later years. Every year but once since then, an annual hunt has been set for members of Logica and their friends.

Historically, Logica have provided some backing for prizes (moderate cash prizes, but often many of them). After Logica’s merger with CGI a couple of years ago, this year the cash prizes have been eliminated and the ties with the company have been severed. From now on these will be referred to as Pablo’s Armchair Treasure Hunts, after the crossword compiler-style nom de guerre by which Coombs was known. This year sees the hunt open to allcomers and a renewed push to attract first-time players with a resources section, so perhaps it’s a good year to get into the habit. The hunt is to be respected for its tradition as well as its creativity.

Happily, a full archive of 28 hunts, plus solutions and setter’s notes exists, often with tales from those who played each year. This is the best way to pick up the form. Taking the 2012 hunt as an example, it’s not uncommon that there are pictures to identify, cryptic questions (usually about the year’s events – though, historically, there have been references to Logica and Sean Bean in many years) to answer, anagrams to crack, some hidden messages and a final code. Answering the questions gives you the source material to crack the code which will give you the directions to the physical hidden treasure.

While there is glory in being the first to find the treasure, there’s also a prize awarded for the most complete solutions, measured through a scoring system. Question answers, decoded references, solved directions and more each earn points. If there are, say, thirty teams submitting answers to a year’s hunt, then a question that is solved by 29 teams and missed by one team will earn one point for the 29 teams that solve it. A harder question that is solved by two teams and missed by 28 will earn 28 points for the two teams that solve it, and so on. In this way, you can make meaningful, measurable partial progress even without finding the treasure outright.

That’s the basic form; the hunt varies from year to year. For instance, the 2013 hunt features a mighty jigsaw, but this is only the starting-point; further clues were wound around the rest of the Web, including three Facebook accounts, an assortment of virtual treasure sites and more. Possibly the most impressive of all was (Coombs’, naturally) 1992 hunt which dispensed with overt questions altogether; instead, there were dozens of images, which came from sets of images with one missing. Identifying the missing item from each set sent you on your way. Brilliant!

This post is happening today because the “poster” (actually, an online video) for the 2014 hunt has been released. Form suggests there are likely to be some clues to this year’s event at least alluded to in there. The text is a reference to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; if that turns out to be the theme, or one of the themes, then it’s likely to be a popular choice. Further details will be teased out in a week’s time, with the puzzle itself released in mid-December.