Puzzle TV update

"The Genius" garnet and logoIt’s a joy to have a good excuse to use the above logo again; the fourth series of Korean sensation The Genius is now under way. At time of writing, the first two episodes have been broadcast, translated and covertly reposted with English-language subtitles. The subtitle of this series is GRAND FINAL, and it’s an all-star series; the thirteen contestants have all played one or two of the first three series – and, furthermore, they include the top two finishers from each of the first three series. (Sadly, some of the most entertaining and biggest mouths of the first two series aren’t back.)

This site previously discussed the show; in summary, imagine Big Brother with really smart contestants playing proper clever, puzzly games. You can jump in at the start of the fourth series which stands alone, but you may also get more from being familiar with the personalities if you’ve watched the first three series (highly recommended; the games broadly get more interesting and better-played over time, but the first series has the single most brilliantly-played game to date and the second series has the single most brilliant piece of gameplay, which is not quite the same thing). Links to shows plus translations are at the usual place.

While the UK isn’t cool enough to have The Genius, it does have dear old Only Connect, brilliant in its own right and its own fashion – though this site maintains that the show has, metaphorically, put on a jazzy bow tie ever since it moved to BBC 2, just for a giggle. The new series starts on Monday 13th July. Get in early if you can, because you stand much more chance – though still not much of a chance, unless you’re good! – at being able to play along with the episodes at the start of the series. BBC FOUR starts its brand new show, Hive Minds, on Tuesday 14th July, hiding its tricky quiz answers in word search puzzles with hexagonal grids. The clips suggest that there may well be some play-along-at-home value to it.

Later in the month, with most direct relevance to exit games, the Science Channel in the US is launching Race To Escape, as previously discussed. Some more videos have been posted, one featuring the rules to the game. (Two teams 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.) One video suggests that they’re going to use some techniques for the show’s clues which this site would consider a little exotic because real-life exit games cannot have a TV budget; this is good to see, and probably essential because many of the show’s viewers are likely to have played games and seen the relatively simple stuff first-hand. Fingers crossed!

Race to Escape

Race to Escape logoThis site has previously mentioned Race to Escape, a forthcoming game show set to be broadcast on the Science Channel within the US. More details have emerged and are good to share. The biggest headline is the date: the first episode is set for 10pm Eastern time on Saturday 25th July. The media organisations of the world have more or less accepted that they have lost the battle to restrict their programming to the country of their choice; expect the episode to be up on streaming sites within another 24-48 hours of broadcast. (If the world is lucky, the upload will be official, easy-to-find and officially available to the world. If the world is unlucky, it will be necessary to delve into the murky waters of BitTorrent.)

You can find the trailer at an article in Entertainment Weekly on the show with some more details of the format: two teams of three strangers race against each other in identical rooms. Each room has five codes to find and solve. The first team out shares the jackpot, which starts at US$25,000 but decreases over time. “There will be a variety of rooms with all sorts of unique decorations, including an old-timey barbershop, a Chinese restaurant, and a 19th century study (which is the location of the premiere episode).” The graphics suggest that at least the first code will be numeric; fingers crossed for the degree of variety, and focus upon tasks, that the world already knows from the best real-life exit games.

For a deeper view behind the scenes, see the article at the Pacific Standard‘s magazine; this features an interview with show creator Riaz Patel. The article reveals that the episodes are an hour long and – in the best news of the lot – every episode will have a completely different room. (An excellent reason to come back from one show to the next; always something new to see!) The piece also contains more background information about exit games at large, discussing them with an operator from California.

This site hopes that the show is a huge success. The Escape Room Directory points to 58 countries that feature exit games; let’s hope that the show’s creators, and initial broadcaster, are well rewarded for taking a chance on the format and that local versions of the show are made in countries around the world.

Birthdays and bonus news

Birthday cake with one candleThis site loves it when exit games post about their birthdays, not least because it provides more definitive dates with which to back-populate the Timeline of exit game openings. Happy first birthday for today to Breakout Manchester, for last Saturday to Escape of Edinburgh, and for last Tuesday to Tick Tock Unlock of Leeds, who have a particuarly fun-looking cake.

You may have seen it already, but a few days ago, Buzzfeed posted an amazing oral history of The Crystal Maze with contributions from Richard O’Brien himself, producer David G. Croft, production designer James Dillon, Medieval zone fortune-teller “Mumsy” actor Sandra Caron and first ever team captain Ken Day. Great work.

Here’s a different sort of entertainment, but nevertheless very interesting: Theme Park University reported on the shelving of a theme park project entitled Evermore in which “Instead of the traditional queueing for rides and shows, through wireless technology, guests would be paged via smart phone or other wireless devices to let them know their adventure was about to begin. (…) Each of Evermore’s experiences was to feature a small group that would live out individual adventures filled with live actors, special effects and even some rides along the way.

While this won’t be coming to fruition right now, it seems to have given birth to a mixed reality attraction (and pretty far along the mixed reality spectrum towards the virtual reality end) called The Void. Its trailer video is impressive. That says nothing, but that along with a first-hand report of playing various prototypes sounds extremely promising. Maybe it’s rather lighter on puzzles than would interest this site, but perhaps future games using the system may have more to offer.

Lastly, this site needs to eat some humble pie. You might have detected a little disbelief, or at least hints of sniffiness, that Inverness might support two exit games. This site has drastically underestimated the might and relevance of Inverness, and is delighted to have learned just how wrong it was.

No less a source than the Office of Network Statistics has revealed this data of travel trends for 2014. Take a look at dataset four – and, specifically, table 4.16 within it. It transpires that the ten UK cities that are the biggest destination for holidays specifically (i.e. excluding family visits, business trips and other reasons for visits) are – in descending order – London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Inverness and Liverpool tied for fifth, and only then followed by Brighton, York, Oxford and Birmingham. Even if all trips to the Scottish Highlands are categorised as Inverness, that’s still immensely different to what this site would have expected. While another table in the series suggests that visitors to Inverness skew relatively old, perhaps it’s more appropriate to consider Inverness in terms of its tourist destination profile than just its raw size. Maybe it’ll be able to sustain three or more exit games, not just two!

Puzzle news in brief

News in BriefNot convinced about that graphic, but it took so much more work than it probably should have done… :-/

Puzzled Pint in London’s “Bubble” location was a smashing success; 79 players took part on 19 teams (not counting 3 GC members and two spectators), of whom 17 finished in full. The puzzles attracted plenty of compliments, with at least one that will last in the memory as probably better suited to being attempted after a couple of pints. As ever, the puzzles will be uploaded within, probably, a few days so that if you couldn’t make it then you can print them out and enjoy them in the comfort of your own home. Feel free to move from “Bubble” to “Squeak” from month to month according to which location suits you better, but this month there was plenty of room at “Squeak” and a bit of a squash at “Bubble”; when booking two rooms requires a certain amount to be spent at both, a more even split would suit rather better.

A new puzzle show – the category being a puzzle-focused subset of game shows – started on BBC 2 at 6:30pm on Monday. Cuddly Uncle John Craven oversees a team of four contestants attempting to solve three examples of two styles of puzzles in each of four “zones”, themed around different sorts of puzzle style. The more puzzles that are answered correctly, the more time the team have to try to win the prize at the end of the show. It’s a bit like a low-budget all-mental-game The Crystal Maze except much less kinetic – practically stationary. The puzzles include some very familiar styles, but the puzzle material is habitually very good and extremely well-suited for playing along at home. The endgame is great fun and rattles through at a good pace. Some videos of the first episodes have been uploaded to YouTube, possibly officially, possibly illicitly, so you may be able to take a look even if you’re outside the UK.

There was a hint at Puzzled Pint of an extremely exciting-sounding event possibly taking place; no specifics, but more news will follow if the event is confirmed and if this site gets permission to share. Fingers crossed, because the suggestion caused literal bouncing with excitement!

Exit game media in early May

Jimmy Pardo, host of Science Channel's "Race to Escape"

(image via The Onion’s A.V. Club, with thanks)

Is this the media face of exit games? (Apart from being, very nearly, the face of an IT director this site knows…) This is the face of podcaster and comedian Jimmy Pardo, who is set to host Race to Escape on the Science channel in the US from July. The press release from channel owner Discovery Communications suggests that “Two teams of three strangers compete in the ultimate test of grace under pressure. Trapped in a locked barber shop, a bar, or a 19th century drawing room, the teams race the clock to solve clues hidden in their room to open the door to freedom and wealth. As the time ticks down, so does the money they stand to win. The first team to escape takes the prize and ultimate bragging rights.

This show could be really to this site’s taste if it has excellent, play-along-at-home puzzles and focuses on them. Alternatively, if it focuses on the interactions between the team members and the host being sour about the same, it could conceivably be, er, much less to this site’s taste. The world can but wait and hope. It’s certainly a lot closer to exit games in the mass media than the UK has got, other than the long-sought holy grail, two contestants competing at identical one-person exit games on episode 3 of Britain’s Brightest, which aired on BBC 1 on 19th January 2013 if you can make miracles happen.

The UK might get closer very soon, though: on May 12th, the latest series of Big Brother will start in the UK. This site has discussed the possibility of turning the show into an exit game; there’s half a thought that this show might turn itself into an exit game – at least for a while – because of its trailer and accompanying article from the Independent suggesting that this series will have a “timebomb” theme. You’d have thought that a time limit plus a confined space would be ideal territory in which to site an exit game, but the Independent speculates that the motif may be taken as an excuse to play with time in other ways.

Another contender for the title, which you’ve very likely already seen, is the exit game clip from Season 8, Episode 16 (“The Intimacy Acceleration“) of The Big Bang Theory, though you might not have seen the excellent Intervirals post about it, which includes Tweets with behind-the-scenes photos. The game bears considerable coincidences to Room Escape AdventuresTrapped in a Room with a Zombie. It’s arguable whether the clip paints exit games in the light of poor value for money, but suggesting that the team escaped in six minutes is a clear hint of the smarts of the team, not a complaint about the game.

The Crystal Maze at 25

the-crystal-mazeThe first episode of The Crystal Maze was broadcast in the UK on Channel 4 on Thursday 15th February 1990, twenty-five years ago to the day. Happy silver anniversary!

For those who don’t know, in each hour-long episode, teams of six contestants went around the titular maze, visiting each of four zones in turn. In each zone, they would face three or four games, played by a team member of their choice. These games would last between two and three minutes in length, and would be chosen from categories entitled physical, mental, mystery and skill. Each game would see the player have to enter a cell, attempt to retrieve a crystal and exit the cell within the time limit, but (generally) winning the crystal would require successfully completing a test of strength, agility, dexterity, balance, problem-solving, ingenuity, lateral thinking or sometimes just plain following instructions. Failure to escape within the permitted time, or sometimes making sufficiently many errors within a game, would see the player locked into that cell and would require the team to, optionally, relinquish a crystal won from another game in order to rescue the player from the cell. One all four zones had been visited, remaining team members aimed to collect certain foil tokens blown into the air within the Crystal Dome, having a time limit proportionate to the number of crystals they had remaining.

The show was distinctive and gained sufficient cult following to last six series, with much to commend it:

  • The games were frequently brilliantly designed, mostly great fun to watch and their sheer variety of games (typically close to fifty per series) meant that there’s a good chance, unless you’re a dedicated fan, that you’ll frequently be pleasantly surprised by something new.
  • The pace was tremendous; if a game is not to your taste, something different will come along within the next three or four minutes. (There were no artificial pauses, or replays, or contestant asides to camera, or any of the other modern additions which might feel dramatic but really just waste time.)
  • The set and soundtrack were elaborate, atmospheric and gorgeous; it’s fun to watch people enjoying themselves by playing with elaborate toys, and the show had some of the most spectacular vicarious fun to be found on TV.
  • The hosting by Richard O’Brien (in the first four series) was irreverent, witty, fantastic and didn’t take itself seriously. (Ed Tudor-Pole in the last two series? …if you ain’t living it, it ain’t coming out of your horn.)
  • The show had vast play-along-at-home value when you were able to work out what to do more quickly than the contestants; if you’re the sort of person who needs to make yourself feel superior to the contestants on-screen struggling and occasionally slightly suffering as a consequence of their mishaps, there were usually opportunities to do so.

The show has a certain timeless quality to it, by virtue of its time-travelling motif, and the production values were so high that it stands up on its own merits decades later. The show is sufficiently well-loved that the game show-focused Challenge TV channel here in the UK still show repeats from time to time; indeed, they are celebrating the anniversary with eight episodes in a row today – a classy, commendable touch. It would not be at all a surprise if the show were to go on to be repeated for decades further.

The Guardian has a story (from a couple of days ago) about the anniversary. The content is excellent, though the tone of the piece is a little incongruous and strained in places. The show is so well-loved, particularly among the game show fandom, that from time to time people discuss whether it might be remade; remade game shows, no matter how lovingly or accurately recreated, often tend to struggle and be brushed off with “It’s not the same“. Perhaps what people really mean is “I want to feel young again, and the show reminds me of when I was young”; the solution to that is something exciting and new… though possibly evocative of the hits of the past, and drawing upon their strengths. (It’s rare for a second host to match up to the original, and you couldn’t expect an increasingly frail 72-year-old Richard O’Brien to be nearly as kinetic as he was in his late forties and early fifties.)

The piece in The Guardian does perceptively touch upon the link between The Crystal Maze and the explosive growth of exit games; this site completely concurs. The Crystal Maze has become a byword (or, perhaps, a byphrase – a byname?) for any sort of TV challenge where part of the puzzle is to work out exactly what to do, or where the instructions may not be completely obvious. The “collection of minigames” format is not original to the show – see, for instance, the format that the world knows as The Price is Right, dating back at least a couple of decades earlier – but that is another familiar niche that the show has carved out as its own.

This site is convinced that The Crystal Maze‘s popularity and familiarity have contributed to the rapid public acceptance of exit games in the UK and Ireland. (It’s far from essential, though, looking at the success of the genre in countries which have never been exposed to the show.) Every country has its own favourite sort of intellectual game, but the phrase “it’s a bit like The Crystal Maze” has so immediate and familiar as to convey the key message of “go into a room, work out what the puzzles therein want you to do, solve the puzzles and get out within the time limit” in concise shorthand. Some sites refer to it explicitly when describing how their game works; even when they don’t, those who have played it will often make the comparison when describing the game to their friends – and it’s a comparison that is often so well-received as to make people want to play.

If that weren’t sufficiently connected to exit games enough, the first five series of the show each had one game that drew upon the murder mystery party games that had come to popularity in the 1980s – and, indeed, which some exit games can still be compared to. Enter the cell, there’s a dead body on the floor, it’s probably clutching an instruction, the instruction determines where to look within the intricately decorated cell and how to interact with the scenery, follow the chain of clues and eventually you’ll reach the last one which is rewarded with success – and hopefully you’ll do it before the time limit expires.

The show was popular enough to develop its own fan following, with Marc Gerrish’s site an excellent, database-like repository of information about each episode and every game played therein. It has screen grabs and statistics of these murder mystery games as played on the show in series one, two, three, four and five. (There wasn’t one in the sixth series, possibly because by that point each zone had hosted a murder mystery once and a sixth would’ve retrod old ground.) You can find a great many illicit videos of episodes of the series on YouTube; if you don’t want to spend the time looking up particular episodes and then finding particular games within them, you can just look at this wobble-vision off-screen recording of a contestant playing the murder mystery from series four.

If you were sufficiently keen on The Crystal Maze to watch more than a couple of episodes of it, there’s a good chance that you wanted to play the game and feel it for yourself. For years in (mostly) the early- and mid-’90s, there were a number of The Cyberdrome Crystal Maze attractions at bowling alleys and other family entertainment centres in the UK. This site has long planned to try to compose the paean to them that they deserve; their fading suggests that they may have been ahead of their time, or perhaps that they used unreliable technology that proved too hard to maintain, or perhaps they did not have the degree of repeat play value in practice necessary to pay their considerable way, or perhaps – just perhaps – The Crystal Maze might, sadly, have been just a bit too niche an interest after all. Nevertheless, this site is really impressed by Boda Borg, which would seem to have independently developed many of the same essentials. It has several sites in Sweden, one in Ireland and at least one is coming to the US within a few months.

Could the brand still have value in a participation experience in the UK these days? Perhaps, just perhaps. The particular challenges would include the need to establish dozens of different challenges, at a much greater physical location / rent cost than a typical exit game, the potential for much greater need to reset the games between plays (though the Cyberdrome games broadly handled that well) and either an intensive labour requirement for people leading the teams around the maze or an intensive tech requirement to direct people from game to game. There would certainly be some retro chic value to it, if ever it were to happen. We can but hope and dream… and improvise our own games until it happens, if ever it does. Tooooooooo the Crystal Dooooome!

Also happening this weekend: the second, Slovakian-authored, round of the WPF’s Puzzle Grand Prix series runs until the end of Monday, Central European Time. 90 minutes to earn points by solving puzzles of varying difficulty, with four puzzles of each of six different styles available. Take a look at the instruction booklet and see if any of the six types tickle your fancy. Also, if it’s Sunday night, it’s Quiz The Nation night, buuuuuut the official results from last week have not yet been posted and the official results from the week before have not had their prize payouts confirmed, so while these teething troubles are being sorted out, maybe play this one for fun (and, happily, it is fun) with the free credits supplied and more in hope than in expectation of the cash prizes.

Looking ahead to 2015: predictions for the year

Crystal ballThis site ran a predictions feature over the second half of 2014 then assessed the accuracy of its predictions. More strictly, the piece was a series of probability estimates, which is not quite the same thing. This year, to make things more explicit, this site will split its estimates into challenges, which represent interesting predictions that have an outside chance of happening but this site considers to be less likely than not to happen in 2015, and actual predictions, which this site considers to be more likely than not to happen in 2015.

CHALLENGES

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.

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.

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!

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.)

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.

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…

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.

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.

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.

PREDICTIONS

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

There is a 95% chance that at least two existing exit games covered by this site will officially call it a day. These don’t have to be unhappy endings; for instance, Oxford Castle are listing their Jailbreak event as happening until the end of January only, then presumably they will put the game cleanly back in its box. Fingers crossed that they choose to get it back out again at some point.

Around the World: The Genius

"The Genius" garnet and logoThis site contends that the most interesting new TV show of the last couple of years or so comes from South Korea, is broadcast on the Total Variety Network, tvN and is generally referred to in English as the Genius. Summarising it in one short sentence, it’s “like Big Brother except with properly interesting, puzzly games”. To substantiate the claims of its brilliance, this site would point to the results of the global category of the 2013 Poll of the Year voted upon by ukgameshows.com readers, who ought to know a thing or two.

Each season, thirteen contestants start the first of twelve shows. Each show has a Main Match, which generates at least one winner and exactly two elimination candidates who play in the Death Match. (Usually, this will be the loser of the Main Match plus an opponent of their choice, though the winner or winners of the Main Match are immune from selection.) The loser of the Death Match is eliminated, and all the contestants but that eliminee survive to play the next week’s show. The final show starts with only two contestants, so just consists of a single match, playing best-of-three different games, to find an overall winner of the series.

Each contestant starts with one garnet, the main scoring mechanism of the show, and may earn additional garnets through winning, or performing well in, the Main Matches along the way. In the first two seasons, the survivor of the Death Match also inherits the eliminee’s garnets. The overall winner is paid a million won (currently nearly £600) per garnet, which will add up to enough to buy, say, a low-end but brand new sports car.

The true star of the show is the variety, quality and originality of games that are played. Not every single game sings, but at their best, they redefine how accomplished and sophisticated game-playing on television can ever become. Some of the games are principally social, sometimes with groupthink and group dynamics being key. Others have the puzzle nature even more directly, with hidden depths and even solutions, or tricks, that the best players might find. (The best players sometimes do, and it’s glorious when it happens. It’s as satisfying as seeing someone work out how to perform a magic trick, or as glorious an Aha! as you get from solving a particularly ingenious puzzle.)

There are many other reasons why the show is spectacular, too. The presentation is world class: the sets atmospheric, the graphics exceptional, the soundtrack (particularly in the first season) frequently superb. The soundtrack heavily features electronica, both Western and K-pop. (The band Idiotape is heavily represented and work splendidly in context.) The contestants are entertaining, usually very likeable and often genuinely talented at solving the games – though in a “choose who to eliminate” game, standing out from the crowd can be a bad tactic. When the show is good, it’s as good as puzzle TV ever gets, and even the relatively weak episodes are entertaining.

The one downside is that it’s a Korean show, almost entirely in the Korean language. A fan has ensured their place in legend by producing subtitled translations that are extremely easy to follow; with immense thanks to Bumdidlyumptious, you can covertly download the shows, with translations, from links provided at their Tumblr. It’s worth starting with season one; it starts a little slowly, but when it hits the ground running, it really hits the heights. This site is posting about the show now because a translation has just been posted for the first show of the third series, and it’s the best start to a series yet.

The show gets this site’s highest recommendation. If you’re not yet convinced, you can see what the tremendous, if sporadic, Clavis Cryptica had to say about the first series, posted just before the second series started, and a preview of the third season. Another excellent place to discuss the show is Bother’s Bar, probably the de facto hangout of choice; see old discussions of the first and second seasons, then the brand new third season; comments for each episode start after the subtitled version of each episode is released.

It would be lovely for there to be an English-language version of this some day, but the subtitled show is easily enough to enjoy as it is.

One-day game coming to London next month: MOLE

"The Mole logo from Channel 5Two posts in one day after a bit of a gap, but this one is very exciting. It’s not clear whether it’s time-sensitive or not, but perhaps best not to hang around in case it is.

In 1999, the game show De Mol was first broadcast in Belgium. It documented the progress of a team of contestants, solving challenges from week to week in order to earn money for the communal prize pot. However, one of the contestants was secretly the titular Mole and had a secret mission to attempt to stop the challenges from succeeding. At the end of each episode, all the contestants would be set a quiz about the identity, appearance and behaviour of the Mole, with the least successful contestant eliminated from the game. The player who won the final quiz won the communal prize pot.

The show has aired in well over a dozen versions around the world. The UK had a version that ran for two series in 1999 and 2000 and was named the greatest UK game show ever in a poll of UK Game Shows readers, so pretty hardcore game show fans; the show has run for fourteen series, and counting, as Wie is de Mol in the Netherlands. Is it a puzzle show? The central puzzle of identifying the show runs through its heart, and some of the challenges can be spectacular puzzles, such as the first one of this episode of the Australian version.

Gareth Briggs has announced that he will be running a one-day interpretation of the show at a central London location, to be later revealed, on at least Saturday 25th October. (Sufficient demand might inspire a second game on Sunday 26th October as well.) There will be some changes to the format; while it remains an elimination game at its core, there’s a considerable difference between an elimination game as part of a TV show and as part of a fun fan game as a day out.

There have been attempts to run The Mole as a fan game in the past, notably those of Erin Sparks, well worth watching. Given that there have been fourteen series of the show in the Netherlands, it seems virtually certain that there will have been fan versions held there as well. Nevertheless, it’s clear that the game only really works when it’s played with full contact; part of the challenge of some games may involve working out how people will react when they are pushed close to their limits. The fact that there’s a stake (albeit a small one) will help, but it may well be that a ready-for-anything, take-no-prisoners attitude is required as to what you might be required to do during the day. Gareth Briggs‘ track record is pretty aggressive – a high compliment – so this may well not be a walk in the park.

There are some people for whom this will be the game of the year; while the show had the play-along aspect of finding the mole, part of the appeal is wondering how you might cope with the challenges. This is a very rare chance to find out whether you can walk the walk as well as talk the talk. Gareth describes this as a prototype game, and has hinted at a possible repeat, but at this point it’s not clear whether it might not just be a glorious one-off. Accordingly, if you’ve ever thought you’d like to give the game a try, or even be the Mole, can you afford to miss this opportunity? No deadline for the application is listed, but best not find out the hard way!

Act fast! Lord Fear’s Midnight Hunt

Knightmare helmetReaders of a certain age will recognise the picture at once as the iconic Helmet of Justice from the legendary UK puzzle show Knightmare, a staple of ITV during the late 1980s and early 1990s. The show overtly featured riddles and transportation puzzles; even navigating the real human player around the computer graphical dungeons could be a puzzle in itself. Changes in TV channel demographics meant there wasn’t a place for the show from the mid-’90s, but it remains fondly remembered, with knightmare.com probably the hub of the fandom, and repeats still stand the test of time better than many other shows celebrating their silver anniversary, even if partly as a period piece.

The show has come back into the public consciousness over the last year or two, most notably with a Knightmare Live theatre game show that proved popular at the Edinburgh Comedy Festival in 2013 and has been touring successfully ever since. There was also a one-off revival as part of YouTube’s Geek Week, and a convention, set to take place in Norwich, where the show was originally filmed, on Friday 9th May to Sunday 11th May. Saturday and Sunday night sees a convention expected to attract some of the original actors and offering teams a chance to play a single room of the dungeon. The Friday night will feature the Knightmare Live stage show, and I can imagine no better company in which to see the show.

This is exciting enough to merit discussion in the context of a beloved puzzle show alone, but even more exciting still is mention of Lord Fear’s Midnight Hunt running from 11:30pm on the Saturday night until 3am (!!) on Sunday morning.

Come join us for an exclusive opportunity to be chased around the the streets of Norwich by Mark Knight, a.k.a Lord Fear himself! You will be joining a team of ten others as you all search through Norwich City Centre for clues to save both yourself and your team from Lord Fear as he attempts to hunt you down. […] The hunt will last for at least a couple of hours – please note that there will be a lot of movement on foot (walking, running etc) involved.

I’m not sure to what extent the hunt will attempt to recapture and celebrate the puzzle content of the show, but it sounds like a spectacular, possibly unique, opportunity all the same – and with only one team of ten players getting to play, you might well think it worth taking a chance on a £20 ticket for the hunt; con tickets are not too dear either. Sadly I won’t be able to attend the weekend, but I’d love to hear reports from the convention, and possibly even its hunt, from any attendees.