October links

A golden chain of linksA few news stories that have been doing the rounds recently, courtesy of – in no order – Ken from The Logic Escapes Me, Dean from Escape Review and the denizens of (mostly the #uk-general channel of) the escape room Slack chat:

  • An interview with Tom Lionetti-Maguire of Little Lion Entertainment, the people behind both The Crystal Maze Live Experience venues. One crucial quote: “We will potentially be opening more Crystal Maze live venues. And we’ve got lots of new, exciting projects with Little Lion Entertainment, not just in the UK but hopefully abroad too. It’s a really exciting time for us. Hopefully we can announce some stuff early next year.
  • I really enjoyed this piece from Nowescape about ten reasonably closely-linked alternatives to escape rooms. Less closely linked, I would add Branson Tracks of Montana who permit go-karting on a track with hefty rises and falls, as a step towards a Mario Kart vibe, or at least 1988’s Power Drift.
  • There have been a couple of attempts to run events which would seem to have quite a bit in common with running-from-location-to-location puzzle hunts, sold as corporate challenges, but unfortunately neither seem to have stuck. (I don’t know why.) At least the Breakout Bristol web site is still up; the mooted We Are Not Alone event in Leeds seems to have had its tracks covered, with the only evidence for it remaining is this post on the UK Escape Room Enthusiasts Facebook group. There’s a spectrum between purely athletic, non-mental running races and purely mental, non-athletic puzzle hunts, with steps along the way including orienteering and the Intelligent Sport adventure races with incidental puzzles. These looked extremely relevant and interesting. Fingers crossed that someone can make them stick in the UK at some point down the line.
  • CluedUpp run dectective “Manhunt” games in towns across the UK, which feature city centre walking tours combined with operation of a custom Android (only, at this point) app. “On the day you’ll be competing with up to 100 other teams to track down virtual witnesses, eliminate suspects and rule-out murder weapons all across town. It’s like Cluedo meets Pokemon Go, but will your team work out whodunit?​
  • A company from East Kilbride called Spy-Quest.com have a noisy web site detailing their espoinage-themed puzzle-solving games, which are apparently available to play from participating restaurants and hotels. Trouble is, it’s not clear where these might be. If you know, do comment below.
  • Professor Scott Nicholson recently appeared on episode 159 of the Ludology podcast. “Gil and Geoff are pleased to welcome Professor Scott Nicholson from Wilfrid Laurier University to discuss Escape Rooms. What are they, how do they work, and what lessons do they hold for game design?” Scott discussed Wizard Quest of Wisconsin Dells in passing, which is a long-term background interest. He is also rather more explicit in his views than most about the potential for mainstream leisure-focused escape rooms being on a bubble of popularity. I’m not sure I’d go along with that, but I have privately called the top of the UK market already several times and been wrong each time.
  • A date for the DASH 10 puzzle hunt has been announced: Saturday, September 22, 2018. The first DASH took place in September 2009 but DASHes 2-9 were all Spring events. No indication when DASH 11 might be; many thanks, as ever, to everyone who works on the project to bring the game to the people.
  • Lastly, congratulations to Tom Collyer who won the Times Sudoku Championship last month and wrote up his experience for his blog.

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!

All the news: hunts, contests and more

NewspaperThe site has been slow recently due to a nasty case of moving house. If you can stay put somewhere for a long time, it’s a wonderful thing. Still, these are decisions that have to be taken as a family, and you’ve got to go where the work is. Nobody came here for ranting on renting, either, so on to the news.

There are a couple of new hunts listed in the calendar, as Treasure Hunts in London have announced a hunt in historic Chingford and a second with the title “Drink to me only”, both coming up in September.

Past events are not lost to the mists of time but are stored in the calendar archive, and it’s worth following up a couple of events listed there. Mark Goodliffe did the double of winning the puzzles (sudoku and Kenken) competition at this year’s Mind Sports Olympiad and also the recent finals of the Times Sudoku championship, putting him commandingly atop the hypothetical money list for 2014. All three podium positions in both events were taken by UK Puzzle Association members; congratulations all round!

Previously this site also covered the recent puzzle hunt at the Manorcon board games convention; further to that, this site thoroughly recemmends the recent Snoutcast episode that featured an interview with hunt organiser Annie Percik. Snoutcast episodes are habitually excellent, and about 85% of them focus on puzzle hunts; in previous years, the podcast racked up 200 near enough weekly episodes, and this year the podcast has gone to a focus on monthly(-ish) interviews, focusing on women who make puzzles. Strongly recommended.

Lastly, you might notice a revamping of the blogroll at the right, for this site is in the fortunate position of having so many great blogs to link to that it’s worth categorising them for ease of use. A new Toronto Room Escape blog has got off to an excellent start, and Intervirals has added some forums, of a type that the hobby does not currently have, that may well take off over time.

The Times Sudoku championship

partly-filled partial sudoku gridTom Collyer writes:

The 5 qualifying puzzles have been in The Times every day this week – they are well hidden away in “The Register” which is a section after the business pages but before the sport. The finals will be happening in London (presumably The Times office in St. Katharine’s Dock as in previous years) on Saturday 30th August.

It is worth noting that the competitions puzzles state: “Entries must be received within seven days of the puzzle being in the paper.”
It also states that the 20 fastest times for each day will make the final (I have no idea how they’ll handle repeats – contestants may enter on each day).

So if you want to enter, then make sure you don’t hang around – get on it straight away!

Some write-ups of the finals exist from 2008, 2011 (see also…) and (briefly) 2013. It certainly sounds like people who make it to the final enjoy the day and hold the organisers in very high regard. Additionally, if you are a Times subscriber, you can find discussion of past finals in their archives behind the paywall.

If you like a wider variety of puzzles, it’s still World Puzzle Championship qualifier season, with the two-hour Dutch qualifier in a fixed slot next Tuesday evening. The instruction booklet is available, though all in Dutch without translation.