Starting the biggest fans of them all

The Crystal Maze logoAt 9pm tonight on Channel 4, The Crystal Maze returns for the first episode in its new series. It will be a Stand Up 2 Cancer celebrity special, notwithstanding that (most of?) the rest of Channel 4’s programming for the strand will be happening, as usual, in October. Alternatively, if you don’t want to wait for 9pm, you can watch it on All 4, formerly known as 4oD, until the show starts – and if you’re an O2 customer, then you’ll be able to see the show two days early all series long through O2 Priority. (Apparently there’ll be a code, granting access to the impending episode, released every Wednesday at 9pm.)

Accordingly, I’m far from alone in having seen the episode already, but I’m not going to spoil anything before it airs, and will be keeping my thoughts on it to the comments to this post for spoiler-prevention reasons. Whatever you think, I remain convinced the escape room industry in this country as a whole owes a debt of gratitude to the show; while escape rooms have boomed in countries which never had the show or anything like it, it’s a convenient, widely-known point of reference that surely sped the process of public acceptance along. Will the show’s return help the industry further? Remains to be seen – but, at the very least, I don’t see how it can hurt.

In other news, the UK Puzzle Championship opens to solvers at noon today; if you want to start your clock for two and a half hours of puzzles, you can find the details at the official contest page!

Red Bull Mind Gamers thoughts

Red Bull Mind Gamers: Mission Unlock Enoch , copyright Red Bull GmbHThe global finals of the Red Bull Mind Gamers promotion took place in Budapest, Hungary last week, tied in with Tuesday’s release of the Mind Gamers movie by the drinks company’s media house.

22 national teams qualified from their countries’ qualifying campaigns, with two other wild card teams made up of solvers from around the world arising from other competitions on the Red Bull Mind Gamers site. These 24 teams, in total, were split up into two sections of 12 depending upon their arrival date in Hungary, which in turn depended upon how far they had had to come. Each section of 12 played an identical semi-final game on the same day, either Thursday or Friday. All 24 teams were brought to a studio on Saturday where the results of the semi-finals were announced, with the best teams taking part in a final. Excerpts of the semi-finals and the final itself were broadcast in a live show on Red Bull TV, still available on demand, and the faster team in the final won the championship, along with a trip to the US and a delightful physical-puzzle trophy.

The rest of this post is a reflection on, and will contain spoilers for, the TV show. Continue reading

Challenge Anneka? No, Challenge You

"Challenge Me" logoNot so long ago, on another forum, this site learnt of a casting call for a forthcoming ITV show provisionally entitled Challenge Me. “Do you have an unique skill or unusual party trick or know someone who does? Something that no one else can do? Could you use that skill to take on a huge challenge and win cash in the process?” It sounds something like a monetised version of You Bet!; let us not refer to the end-of-the-pier show that was the BBC’s Epic Win a couple of years ago.

The application page suggest that “We are looking for people with crazy, unique and bizarre skills and talents. These can be absolutely ANYTHING you can imagine! Big, small, serious or downright bonkers – we want you!” It’s not clear whether applicants have to be alone, or whether pairs or larger teams could apply. It’s tempting to wonder whether someone, or some people, could apply claiming “I can get out of any escape room” and then challenge ITV to build a room from which they cannot escape. It could make for some entertaining TV at the very least, though might well be out of the budget of TV these days.

However, if they want something a bit more straightforward, this site would like to see a sudoku champion take on a memory champion to produce a complete grid. The sudoku champion would see the grid with a usual number of digits placed, then would have to fill in all the missing digits. The memory champion would see the completed grid, memorise the position of all 81 digits, then reproduce it from memory. Both are impressive mental feats when done at champions’ speed; it would be possible to devise a sudoku of appropriate difficulty to make it a close, televisual race.

The unaffiliated-to-branded-beer world record for memorising numbers in a minute hasn’t been attempted for a while (different disciplines go in and out of fashion…) but with improvements in the pack-of-cards speed record, the 100m sprint of memory records, it’s tempting to guess that the top memorisers might be able to memorise the 81 digits in about 30-40 seconds or so, plus perhaps another 20-30 seconds to reproduce them from memory. There are plenty of speed sudoku solution videos out there; this one has Jakub Ondroušek (who has made the top three of the World Sudoku Championship five times) solving a 26-given puzzle in barely a minute and a half. Now you can’t calculate a sudoku’s true difficulty from the number of cells given, but it would surely be possible to create a sudoku which looked impressively sparse and difficult but could actually be solved to any given timescale.

There’s an interesting TV show in China whose title translates as The Brain. This has Chinese citizens with remarkable talents compete in domestic competition and the most successful competitors representing their country in international competition against representative teams from other countries. You can see China-Britain matches from last year and the rematch from this year on YouTube.

Clearly they’re all in Chinese, but you can fast-forward through to the challenges in which you can see the stars demonstrate their skills – and the UK team’s introduction videos have the UK team members self-introducing in English with Chinese subtitles and making all manner of exaggerated and aggressive claims at the producers’ request. These are huge fun, not least because British team captain Ben Pridmore (world memory champion in 2004, 2008 and 2009) is actually delightfully sweet and self-effacing in person, when some of his predecessors have been willing to cast themselves as relatives of Charles Big, who married into the Potato family and double-barrelled his surname.

US readers may be interested to know that Fox produced a one-off of a show called SuperHuman in January and are now casting for a full series, which bears a great deal of similarity to the Chinese format and which Wikipedia suggests may be a local US version. US puzzle superstars may be of particular interest to the show and might wish to throw their names into the ring; the trouble (for the show!) is that the best US solvers tend to be just as modest and polite as the aforementioned Ben…

Looking ahead to 2016: predictions for the year

Peering into a Crystal Ball

This site has ran predictions features over the second half of 2014 and over the whole of 2015, assessing the accuracy of the predictions each time so that the world can have a giggle at just how wrong the guesses were in the first place. Let’s have another go for 2016, more because it’s fun than for any other reason. (Compare to the 2016 predictions for London by The Logic Escapes Me.)

That said, predictions are only so-o-o-o interesting. It’s more fun to think about plausible edge cases; it’s more fun to predict a long shot than something more obvious, but who’s to say what’s obvious and what isn’t? This list of predictions will also attempt to minimise the extent to which it covers previously-trod ground, as “this was an entertaining long-shot that didn’t happen last year and remains an entertaining long-shot this year” isn’t particularly exciting. A couple of other starting-points for predictions: this site will steer clear of predicting things it believes to be foregone conclusions already, and this site will attempt to make the most ambitious predictions that it feels confident making; this site would set over-under lines for the numerical predictions only a little above the figures quoted.

This site considers each of the following to be at least slightly more likely than not:

  • This site will become aware of more than 51 exit game openings in the UK and Ireland in 2016. (Not part of the prediction, but this site suspects that at least 40% of the openings will come from brands and people already in the business in 2015, with a decreasing number of people starting from scratch. Deliberately short-lived pop-up games are not included in the count.)
  • This site will become aware of more than 13 exit game closures in the UK and Ireland. Not every closure is a catastrophe: some businesses have decided to deliberately run a game with a finite duration, possibly with later sequels in mind.
  • At least one brand will have at least nine locations open in the UK and Ireland in 2016. (This is perhaps the most marginal of predictions, but eight seems just a little too safe to predict.)
  • Crowdfunding will get harder; no reasonably traditional exit game based in the UK or Ireland will attract more than £5,000 in funding in 2016 unless the people behind it have an established track record in this or another closely related industry.
  • Many of the biggest gaps in the market will close. At least one exit game will open in 2016 within eight miles of the main train station in at least four of the seven following locations: Reading, Portsmouth, Milton Keynes, Hull, Middlesbrough, Coventry and Peterborough. (This site has heard people talk about possible sites in two of these, but that’s far from a done deal. Other possible cities have been rejected from the list for being too safe a prediction.)
  • The exit game industry will continue to grow sufficiently quickly that this site’s estimate for the number of unique players in the UK or Ireland by the end of December 2015 reaches or exceeds 750,000.
  • There will be a meeting in the UK or Ireland in 2016 with exit games as its focus which attracts more than 50 attendees.
  • This site will become aware of someone that it does not already know at the time of making this prediction running an exit game for friends and family on an amateur basis within the UK and Ireland in 2016 using something more elaborate than, say, a Breakout EDU kit or similar.
  • London and at least two other UK towns will each hold at least four Puzzled Pint events in 2016. (This site has six possibilities in mind.)
  • There will be a UK DASH event and it will sell at least 25 team spaces – or sell out completely if the organisers choose a lower capacity – within 12 days.
  • There will be at least 18 locations in at least three countries around the world at this year’s DASH.
  • Ulrich Voigt will win the World Puzzle Championship this year for his eleventh victory in seventeen years.
  • David McNeill of Northern Ireland will defend his over-50s title in at least one of the World Sudoku Championship and the World Puzzle Championship; hopefully both!
  • This site will finally predict the WPC winning team after picking second place for the last two years.
  • This site loves stories of marriage proposals taking place at exit games and there have been at least ten customer proposals on record. A more interesting prediction is that by the end of 2016, this site will become aware of at least one proposal between a couple who got to know each other by both working at the same exit game.

This site considers each of the following to be less likely than not – maybe something like 30% likely each? – but nevertheless these are interesting possibilities.

  • Some company may bring larger-scale live escape events to the UK, with relatively many teams playing the same game at once. (This is inspired by SCRAP’s Real Escape Game events playing in France and Spain as well as other continents, and is surely slightly more likely than last year.)
  • An exit game brand in the UK and Ireland may take over at least one other existing game, or maybe even another exit game brand altogether.
  • There may be a single-day puzzle hunt in the UK and Ireland that is not the continuation of a series run in previous years and that attracts at least a hundred players.
  • There may be some interactive transmedia storytelling (or an Alternate Reality Game, as people called them a decade and a bit ago) to promote a new exit game or a new room at an exit game.
  • This site may become aware of an Irish exit game community; the rooms do exist, as well as the Boda Borg centre at Lough Key and doubtless other things far too cool to exist in the UK yet, so it would be a delight for someone to start a blog with an Irish focus and maybe even get meetings going as is starting to happen in the UK.

This site considers each of the following to be much less likely than not – maybe something like 15% likely each? – but nevertheless these are entertaining outside possibilities.

  • There might be a TV puzzle show made in the UK or Ireland to match up with the best puzzle shows that we’ve had in the past; if someone were to commission a local version of The Genius and it were to live up to its potential, that would count, or if someone were to make a really good exit game TV show, that would count too.
  • There might be a puzzle competition (as opposed to an armchair treasure hunt or puzzle hunt) launched in the UK or Ireland which is designed to be played in teams – maybe even an inter-town league or an inter-university championship. This site really misses the Croco-League.
  • Someone might start an overtly humorous blog about the genre in the UK and Ireland: two-thirds serious content, one-third shtick.
  • Someone might start an attraction just north of Heathrow called The Crystal Hayes or in South Essex called The Crystal Grays

New year, new Korean exit game TV show

Screen grab of CODE by JTBCHappy New Year! While this site is working on its start-of-the-year features, here’s something exciting and fresh to keep you going. As previewed a couple of weeks ago, Korean broadcaster JTBC have brought a show called CODE to the local airwaves. The first episode was broadcast on January 1st; happily, it does seem to be the exit game TV show that it promised to be. Dubious links to illicit online versions of TV shows do not last forever, so you’re probably better off looking for the magic phrase jtbc code in the search engine of your choice – but, at least for now, you could just try this link with the first half of the show and this link with the second half.

Watching shows in languages you don’t understand is always a certain sort of fun; perhaps the world of fan-supplied translation subtitles makes things almost too easy. While you might struggle to get the subtleties of a drama or a love song, gameplay is generally designed to be easy to follow for those who are not paying full attention. If you’re interested enough in exit games to be following this site, you won’t have any great difficulties. Based on a single episode, the game in the show comes closer than that of Race to Escape to the essential exit game experience, though Race to Escape works better as a show with a start, an end and a story to tell along the way.

Race to Escape‘s puzzles are more kinetic and visually interesting; here, the codes risk being a little sterile but are nevertheless watertight. One arguable niggle is that the show occasionally seems to play a little loose with the meaning of mathematical notation; if a and b are digits then does ab represent the product of a and b or does it represent 10a+b – the value of the number formed by a followed by b? Perhaps there are some language subtleties that are lost in translation.

For a fuller description of (what this site interprets to be) the format: Continue reading

The highlights of 2015

heartsLet’s shine a spotlight on some of this site’s highlights of 2015.

DASH 7 at the end of May was a spectacular day. The puzzles were rather tougher than those of the previous two years, in the main, but ingenious and thematic. The company was excellent; many thanks to everyone who put the event together, whether globally or specifically in London. Being able to cover the event extensively on Exit Games UK was also a treat. A date for DASH 8 has been announced, but it has not yet been confirmed whether anyone has stepped up to the plate to run the event in London. If nobody does, it’s quite possible that there won’t be a DASH in London this year. Does DASH have your name on it?

This site considers 2015 to have been an amazing year for puzzle TV. Here in the UK, Only Connect was great fun, as usual. Race To Escape in the US divides opinion – it has been pointed out many times that it encourages behaviour that nobody would want to see in a real exit game – but this site considered it great fun, full of clever ideas and remarkably variable from week to week, well worthy of an inclusion in a highlight post. Series four of The Genius was outstanding; some consider it the best season of the four, others don’t, but it’s definitely there or thereabouts. Quiz The Nation was both a highlight for those who were able to win hundreds or thousands of pounds from it – and, it should be noted, received their winnings in full and promptly – and a slight lowlight in that it only had one short run at the start of the year and perhaps hasn’t yet lived up to its strong potential.

On a related topic, this year, this site got really excited about getting to interview the team behind The Cyberdrome Crystal Maze, and following the progress from a distance of the live The Crystal Maze attraction coming in less than three months’ time. This year’s April 1st post was a lot of fun to put together and it was a selfish thrill to be quoted in pieces by CNBC and by the BBC.

It’s also been very exciting to read about the parallel development of the genre in so many different countries. People want to talk about these games of ours, and related games, and this leads to weblogs; from there, weblogs lead to meetings, or perhaps conferences. It’s always slightly disappointing when cool events aren’t documented in nearly as much detail as you hope they might be, and there seems to have been only one report of the MIT Escape Room Game Jam in April. Stuttgart’s Escape Games Convention sounds amazing, but again there seems only to have been the official report and a recommended write-up at Play-it-Real talking about it… at least, in English. (The Twitter hashtag has gone dormant.) October saw the Ontario Escape Room Unconference; the report gives some flavour, but the Google document generated by the participants has so much more to offer. Fingers crossed that this example of best practice can be emulated in the future.

The games, the puzzles and the ideas behind them may fascinate, but to (mis?)quote Alan Parr, “it’s the people, not the games, that make the hobby”. Here’s to much more of everything in 2016!

Reviewing this site’s predictions for 2015

Crystal ballAt the start of 2015, this site made a number of predictions as to what might happen over the course of of the year. The accountability department declares it time to go back, review those predictions and have a good laugh. Expect counterpart predictions for 2016 early in the new year.

There is a 5% chance that an exit game business sufficiently motivates and enthuses its staff to vote it into the top twenty of the next Sunday Times “Best Small Company to Work For” list.

No. Apparently this was never likely to happen in the first place as companies have to be at least three years old even to be eligible for nomination. Companies have won local business awards, though.

There is a 10% chance that the newspapers will find a new style of puzzle that attracts half as much public attention as sudoku. There is a 80% chance that the newspapers will claim they have done, but only a 10% chance that it will actually stick in close to the way that sudoku has.

Not the 10% chance, at least. A quick search for "the new sudoku" points to Hidato in The Guardian, which hasn’t caught on.

There is a 15% chance that the world will gain a second global monthly puzzle event. There’s a definite reason for one to exist: the wonderful Puzzled Pint is for the benefit of the community, which (generally) goes to visit a different venue each month in each city. Suppose there were a second event run for the benefit of the venues; individual bars (etc.) could adopt the event, pledging to host a puzzle night in their location each month. There are places that would find that a compelling attraction!

Not to this site’s knowledge. The closest is Puzzle Night, which has yet to spread beyond Minneapolis – St. Paul in the US.

There is a 20% chance that some company brings larger-scale live escape events to the UK, with relatively many teams playing the same game at once. (For those who get the distinction, think Real Escape Game as opposed to Real Escape Room.)

Couldn’t really say so in the way this was intended. Corporate entertainment companies have games which come close to fitting the bill, but they’re not (to this site’s knowledge) selling team tickets to teams of all-comers. Compare to this Irish event or this Dutch event. On the other hand, exactly those sorts of events are happening in France and in Spain, so it’s definitely possible that they’ll come to the UK at some point.

There is a 25% chance that the 25th anniversary of The Crystal Maze, which will happen on 15th February this year, will see a reawakening of interest and the show will catch the public mood once more.

Yes; yes, with bells on! £927,252 worth of yes!

There is a 30% chance that one of the big players in the leisure industry starts a chain of exit games within its own facilities, or teams up with an existing exit game business which wants to expand rapidly by opening in a number of facilities. For instance, if you’re going to go to either of the branches of the real-snow indoor ski slope Xscape, you know you’re prepared to spend money, and the chance to play “Escape at Xscape” would surely be irresistible…

Not yet proven. The escape room at Namco Funscape would count (though is, perhaps, one-fifth the size of what this site had intended) but this site has not yet seen evidence that it’s available at more centres than the London County Hall centre. If it is available more widely among the chain, then it counts.

There is a 35% chance that the UK team produces its best performance in the next World Puzzle Championship, beating its previous best of sixth from the twenty national “A” teams in Beijing in 2013.

Not quite. As recently discussed, the team were so-o-o-o close to matching their previous sixth place finish, but seventh it will have to be.

There is a 40% chance that another UK city develops a puzzle community like that of London, with at least one regular monthly event and at least one larger annual event – maybe as simply as hosting its own Puzzled Pint and DASH events, maybe something of its own. All it takes is someone willing to be the first onto the dancefloor.

A very honourable mention to the wonderful Exit Games Scotland and their exit game binges, which is something that even the community in London does not have. It would be very prescriptive (to put it far more kindly than it would deserve) to suggest that the community in London is, in any sense, the only way to have a community.

There is a 45% chance that the UK mass media will catch on to just how cool exit games are. Maybe the “The One Show” team will go and play, or someone will take the idea to Dragon’s Den, or The Apprentice might consider them to be sufficiently zeitgeist-y to take an interest. At the top end, this site might dream of a revival of The Adventure Game, which effectively featured (among other things) room escape games a good thirty years ahead of the time.

Only to a very technical extent, what with the UK version of the Discovery channel signing up to show repeats of the US Race to Escape show, and not actually starting to air them until 2016.

There is a 55% chance that at least one exit game will earn the Living Wage Employer mark. Perhaps there is at least one out there which pays the stipulated wage already. This site doesn’t believe that every exit game can afford to pay the stipulated level; indeed, many owners, especially of very new games, will be some way from covering costs, and consistent wage rises might force them out of business outright. However, perhaps there’s a business out there who would take pride from going down this route.

Not as far as this site is aware.

There is a 60% chance that the next World Puzzle Championship will be won by Ulrich Voigt of Germany, which would be his eleventh overall and the first time anyone has ever won four in a row.

While Ulrich was the very clear leader going into the play-off, he was only second place coming out of it, so that prediction pays out on “no”.

There is a 65% chance that the exit game industry continues to grow sufficiently quickly that this site’s estimate for the number of unique players in the UK or Ireland by the end of December 2015 reaches or exceeds half a million… and this site will not attempt to fix the figures just for the sake of proving this relatively weakly-held prediction correct.

You’ll see soon. (SPOILER! Nearly, but not quite.)

There is a 70% chance that at least one exit game will start to advertise itself using a formal endorsement from a reasonably well-known, mainstream national or international celebrity.

Not yet. The Escape Room of Manchester have posted several photos of Manchester United’s Daley Blind playing there, but that stops short of a formal endorsement.

There is a 75% chance that the Puzzled Pint community of London will continue to grow, flourish, with teams getting to know each other ever more closely and look forward to meeting each other at the other puzzle events that exist through the course of the year.

Puzzled Pint in London was getting about 50-60 attendees late in 2014. It has grown so large that it has had to split into two locations and now attracts 90-110 attendees most months. That’s a definite yes.

There is a 80% chance that eleven or twelve of the calendar months of the year will see at least one new site open for business in the UK or Ireland.

Very much so, and any fault here in the prediction was one of a lack of ambition.

There is a 85% chance that there will be a UK-based exit game review blog set up this year, to which this site will very happily link. There are many different sites out there who want the publicity from the reviews that they might get; be any good (goodness knows, this site doesn’t set the bar high) and proprietors will be climbing over themselves to invite you to play!

Yes, hooray! QMSM, Escape Game Addicts and The Logic Escapes Me fill this site with joy every time they post. Still room for plenty more, though!

There is a 90% chance that the London leg of DASH 7 will expand from 8 teams in 2013 and 21 teams in 2014 to at least 25 teams for 2015. The London capacity for 2013 and 2014 was 25 teams, so it’s quite possible that London DASH might well sell out.

The London leg of DASH did indeed sell tickets to 25 teams within the space of about two weeks, so this prediction counts as fulfilled (in an airline sense) even if only 23 teams did turn up on the day.

There is a 95% chance that at least two existing exit games covered by this site will officially call it a day.

Sadly so, ending on a downbeat note, but the strength in depth of the market as a whole is something that causes this site great delight.

Exit game TV

Television setFour quick stories about exit games on television, both past and future:

1) The Bristol Maze, of the City Mazes chain, was recently featured in a short but very positive piece on the genre that was part of the BBC’s Points West local news show.

2) As discussed, the US TV show Race to Escape will be coming to the UK version of the Discovery TV channel. Indeed, you may even have seen some trailers for it. There’s also acknowledgment of it, of a sort on the Discovery channel’s Press Releases page. This site liked the show a lot, though not everybody did, and certainly it’s rather more destructive within exit game rooms than would happen in the real world.

3) However, it’s more fun to look at what’s set to come in the future. This site is bullish about prospects for further exit game TV shows; the lack of references firmly fixing them at a point in time mean that they, like The Crystal Maze, could be repeated for literally decades to come and still entertain someone who hadn’t seen that particular episode before. The ratings for Race to Escape are mentioned in this press release; it’s written in jargon rather than English, but – running it through the translator – those ratings are apparently “boffo”.

Not sure if the success of Race to Escape has been noted as a good thing, but Intervirals pointed (on Facebook) that the US TV channel Pop, half-owned by the CBS Network, are set to feature a show by Zodiak USA, who have quite a track record, with the working title of Celebrity Escape Room. The Deadline web site quotes a press release like so: “Based on the hottest new craze in live-action gaming, CELEBRITY ESCAPE ROOM is a high-intensity, totally immersive pop culture challenge. Two celebrities and their friends compete by getting locked in identical rooms, and the only way out is to use their pop culture knowledge and work together to unlock the exit. With room themes ranging from zombie apocalypse to a totally tubular 80’s teen dream, viewers play along as the two celeb teams hilariously stumble through a series of clues, puzzles and red herrings until they unlock the key to their freedom. The first team to escape wins.

4) As much as exit games are a global phenomenon, there’s no reason why TV exit games couldn’t be global likewise – and being quite visual, the formats might travel well. This site has discussed the outstanding The Genius broadcast on tvN in South Korea, which has won the Best Game/Quiz Program award in the Asian Television Awards and may have had more of an impact still; rival broadcaster JTBC has announced a show which looks like it might just be an exit game. (On the other hand, it might not; compare with Dero!, which inspired the US Syfy channel’s Exit, and is sadly just a dressed-up quiz.) ‘Code – the Secret Chamber’ is a psychological survival program that the casts have to evacuate from the locked down rooms with 4 different concepts by solving secret codes through mission games. Through their deductions, the program will induce the members to union, betrayal, corporation and competitions. ‘Code’ will air its first episode in January 2016.

Not long to wait to find out either way!

Good news for the end of November

"Good News for a change!" - adapted from Rick Warden, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 licence

Adapted from an image by Rick Warden, released under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 licence,
originally created using a Flickr Commons non-copyrighted archival photo

Never enough good news stories. Never, ever enough of them.

  • Congratulations to Sofija and Artur who recently became engaged at Locked In Edinburgh; the story even made it onto STV! If you’re in the UK, you can enjoy the couple’s moment by watching a later part of this episode of The Fountainbridge Show within the next 30 days – and aired on St. Andrew’s Day, no less! This is the ninth UK exit game proposal of which this site is aware; this is the point at which these stories will continue to be joyously celebrated, but perhaps no longer counted.
  • On the subject of TV, Nick Gates of Bother’s Bar passes on a suggestion that Race to Escape is due to be broadcast in the UK, on our version of the Discovery channel, available on Sky and Virgin. A few months ago this site discussed covert ways to watch the show but this will be much more convenient, as well as – ahem – legal. This site considers it a varied, imaginative and entertaining show, though criticisms that it requires (and thus risks encouraging) horrible behaviour from exit game players do have a point.
  • Still on the subject of TV, though here it’s TV inspiring live games rather than the other way around, the live The Crystal Maze attraction is whirring into life with Indiegogo backers being able to select their tickets today and sales surely being opened up to the rest of the world very soon. With so many booking options sold during the campaign and literally thousands of people booking tickets, the booking process appears to have been a little bumpy in patches, but only a little and largely quickly resolved.
  • It’s been a bumper year for Rubik’s cube speed-solving records. Back in May, Collin Burns clocked a 5.25 second solve of a standard 3x3x3 cube to break a World Record that had lasted two years; on 21st November, Keaton Ellis improved on this with a 5.09 second solve, a new World Record. Unfortunately Keaton may go down in history alongside legendarily transient record-holder Olga Rukavishnikova, for his landmark achievement was overshadowed only about an hour or so later when Lucas Etter clocked a 4.904 to break the five-second barrier. Far better to have been the fastest that the world has ever known, even if only briefly, than never to have held the crown at all.
  • On the subject of records and prizes, Escape Manor in Ottawa, the capital of Canada, have announced on their Facebook that they’re holding an exit game design contest with a buxom prize pool of six thousand Canadian dollars; five finalists will be selected to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges. “The top 3 contestants will be awarded a cash prize and a chance to help have their room developed at one of the Escape Manor locations!” This site contacted Escape Manor for comment, which has not yet been returned, as to whether entrants have to be Canadian and whether it might be possible for a finalist to pitch by videoconference should travelling to pitch in person be uneconomic. At the very last, perhaps it’s a model for design contests in the future.
  • A less geographically constrained, less competitive endeavour is the forthcoming Breakout EDU game jam on 9th-10th January 2016. Breakout EDU is a standard collection of equipment intended to help people create classroom games with something of the exit game nature to them – though normally breaking into a box, rather than breaking through a locked exit door. The standardisation of the platform means that if you design a game, anyone around the world will be able to play it; there aren’t many games available in this way yet, but this event will hopefully get people creating – and then using the created games. While the tools may be relatively frequently found, there’s no limit to the puzzles and ingenuity that might surround them; you can create games for four- and six- year olds, or anywhere up the scale to being for adults. Get designing games wherever you like, but the focus on one weekend will inspire physical events at which many people with a common goal can get together to get creating. Exciting times, and – again – perhaps a model for another part of the future!

Racing to Escape

Race to Escape logoExit Games UK has previously looked forward to Race to Escape, a game show with an exit game theme that started on the Science Channel in the US yesterday. Happily, the first episode was very much to this site’s taste; the short series of six episodes promises a different theme each week and if the variety and standard remains this strong then the series will be something really rather remarkable indeed. In the worst-case scenario, later episodes in the series might have little to offer, but the first episode is still something of a must-watch.

The first question – at least to UK readers – is how to watch the series at all. If you’re in the US, then the solution is simple: it’s available to be streamed, free of commercials, on the channel’s own official site. If you’re not in the US, perhaps you might be able to persuade the official site that you actually are by means of a VPN or such – likely this won’t be free, but it’s cheap, can be reasonably simple, and comes recommended. It’s possible that someone might upload an illicit copy of the first episode to a video site; it’s also theoretically possible that, more legally, one of the UK channels over here might pick the show up.

((Edited to add:)) Oh, what the hell – here’s a link to just such an illicit copy of the first episode. As might be expected, there are a few ads to be closed, and there’s no guarantee that the link will last for long. Nevertheless, enjoy.

As previously discussed, the format is simple. Two teams of three strangers compete to escape identical rooms; the first team to escape within 60 minutes wins a cash prize. Escape within 20 minutes and win $25,000; take longer than that and the money starts to tick away at $500 per minute. Optional clues reduce the potential prize by $5,000 each. Based on a sample of a single episode, the actual show lives up well to the considerable potential. There is remarkably little messing about and the show gets straight to the action. The rooms are the true stars and look gorgeous. The puzzles are… not the most original things in the world, but sufficiently well-designed to impress and look like they have had more money spent on them than could be found in (almost all?) escape games’ budgets. The chain of cause-and-effect sometimes isn’t completely logical, but the show proceeds with such speed and spirit that on the few occasions that people might reasonably stop and say “Er, why?” that it gets away with it convincingly.

The host, Jimmy Pardo, plays his role with about as straight a bat as you might ever expect to see from a comedian, with only a couple of arch hamming-it-up moments. He interrupts the action occasionally to demonstrate the teams’ activities demonstrating certain psychological principles, which is a tenuous reason to justify the show’s broadcast on the Science Channel, but works well enough. The contestants are smart and likeable, though seem to be (if not quite over-emoting then perhaps) sugar-rushing their way through; they’re clearly having a great deal of fun playing the game, and this comes through convincingly. Maybe you can’t play the puzzles at home yourself as well as you might, but you can imagine how much fun it must be to get the chance to do so for real. The first episode left this site wanting more and looking forward to future episodes. Congratulations and compliments to everybody involved.

((Edited to add:)) The host recently took questions from the public on Reddit’s “Ask Me Anything” section. Most of the questions were about his Never Not Funny podcast, but there were a few about the show, with some interesting views behind the scenes.

Has there ever been as good a time for watching puzzle shows around the world as this? Series four of The Genius has been sensational, four episodes in; Only Connect is reliably superb, and Race to Escape has got off to a heck of a start. Happy days.

One more other global issue; while Exit Games UK doesn’t habitually cover US site launches, please do keep an eye on the newly-opened Locurio of Seattle. By way of full disclosure, Exit Games UK knows one of the founders a little, but it respects the knowledge and background experience of the founders so much that the site has exceptional potential.