Looking forward to the 2017 Mind Sports Olympiad, including a Sudoku and Kenken contest

Mind Sports Olympiad medalsOK, I do a post like this one every year, but it’s better than there not being an event to post about. (This year, I’ll even remember to put the tags back in.) If it’s the week before the August Bank Holiday, it’s time for the annual Mind Sports Olympiad. This will be the twenty-first installment of the annual mental-games-and-skills-themed multi-sports festival. This year’s event started on Sunday 21th August and will be running until Monday 28th August and is held at JW3, the London Jewish cultural centre. (Accordingly, there is no play on the evening of Friday 25th or at all on Saturday 26th, being the Sabbath.) This is the first time that the traditionally vagabond festival has stayed in the same location for four years running.

Some people prefer to focus their efforts on a single mind sport at the highest level they can attain, others take a much broader view that it’s more fun to compete at many different games, and the Mind Sports Olympiad is a great place for those who take the second viewpoint. This web site has a lot of sympathy with the principle. By analogy, some people like only exit games, others only logic puzzle contests, others only cryptic crosswords or mechanical puzzles or geocaching or one of maybe a dozen other things; this site tends to believe that if you like one but haven’t been exposed to the others then it may well be that you turn out to enjoy the others as well.

The most immediately relevant event to readers of this site is the contest in sudoku and kenken (also known as calcudoku – think killer sudoku, but with other mathematical operations as well as addition) on the morning of Sunday 27th August, which this year has £140 of prize money provided by sponsors. However, there are contests in scores of other mind sports as well, plus an open play room with a well-stocked games library open each day. You might well recognise some of the attendees.

Neil Zussman has won the contest for the last two years and Mark Goodliffe won the contest for each of the last two years before that, so expect competition to be fierce – but if the event sounds interesting at all, you can read Mark’s write-up to get a better feel of what it’s like in practice.

Changing the subject a little, but only a little, I touched upon the Mind Sports Olympiad and the topic of getting puzzle events at wider mind sports festivals a few months back in a “How would we get puzzles at the Olympic Games?” post, touching upon hypothetical possible membership of the World Puzzle Federation within the International Mind Sports Association. With this in mind, I note that the IMSA recently put a new set of statues in place. Section 7.2 has a clear checklist of criteria to meet:

  • History – the IF shall be fully operating for a minimum of six years;
  • Universality – the IF must have at least 40 national federations on at least 4 continents and be not dependent on any specific language;
  • Practicing skilled competitions only – there may be no luck factor in determining the competition outcome;
  • Regularly held national, regional, and international competitions;
  • Well-established rules governing the practice of each sport and mechanism to ensure the application of the rules;
  • Clear and consistent criteria of the eligibility for competitions;
  • Compliance with the General Principle of the Olympic Charter and with the IOC Code of Ethics;
  • Compliance with the World Anti-Doping Agency anti-doping code;
  • Adoption of the principle of the arbitration of the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS).

There’s also a section 10 about potential “Associate Member” status, and I reckon that the WPF could take Associate Membership up almost straight away if it wanted to, not being too far from ticking all the boxes above. It’s fun to think about other mind sports which might or might not choose to apply; Scrabble is arguably the most obvious omission from the IMSA, possibly requiring some duplicate format to get around the “no luck factor” stipulation, but the “universality” criterion could be argued to have been directly aimed at the World English Language Scrabble® Players Association and its counterparts.

Section 10.4 of the IMSA statues reads An associate member shall contribute to the IMSA finance by payment of its annual dues and other charges as deemed necessary by the Executive Committee, and that perhaps might be the most convincing reason for the WPF not to join…!

Business Update


UK and Irish escape room count over the past five years
produced by Ken Ferguson of Exit Games UK

The graph above reflects part of the state of the escape room industry. We are lucky to have Ken Ferguson keeping record so meticulously, and the graph comes from a recent statistical update he wrote; he is the Google to my Yahoo!, which is why my coverage has pivoted away from escape rooms to such a large extent. The trampoline park industry appears to have grown in the UK at a comparable rate to that of the escape game industry, probably even a quicker rate still, according to very limited data quoted within this Guardian article; it would really be useful to see more granular data on the trampoline parks for a fuller comparison. (Certainly the escape game industry has done relatively well at keeping itself out of trouble in terms of adverse news stories, which the trampoline park industry hasn’t.)

Nevertheless, past performance is no guarantee of future results, as the stock market disclaimer goes. Within the last month or two, I’ve seen two very respectable, puzzly people say “Are escape rooms still a thing?” and “I kinda feel like I’m over escape rooms now? Am I just getting old?”; no names, no pack drill, no trace on Google. On the other hand, someone else made unprompted negative comments about the ubiquity of the escape room genre in public as far back as GameCamp 2016, now almost 15 months ago. As I said at the time, “one of the ways you know your genre has made it is when there’s a backlash against it“. If you’re serious about starting your own room, don’t let me put you off; keep doing your research, and you might well get a lot from this seminar on the topic – though a lot of the legal specifics are from the US rather than from the UK.

I firmly believe that (a) escape room games have an awful lot to offer that other genres don’t, (b) we’re still only really scratching at the surface of what the wider escape room game industry has to offer and (c) I don’t think you’d find many people willing to argue that the overall quality of new games hasn’t gone up over time. I also firmly believe that the wider escape room game industry doesn’t have a right to exist and keep growing, and will need to keep innovating and reinventing itself over time, sometimes in large ways and sometimes in small ones, in order to remain in good health. So far, so very very good; I’ve privately called the top of the market in the UK at least three or four times – and so far, quite happily, I’ve been wrong each time. Ken reports that the number of closures so far this year has been remarkably low; it may be harder to track closures than openings, for things can just fade away, but this is another indication still of good health.

Ever since Escape Hunt was bought and floated on the Alternative Investment Market, because they have become a public limited company, much more of their business has to be conducted in public. The shares are neatly up from the price at which they were placed, which is excellent news; the price doesn’t seem to move too much and the market for them might not be all that liquid. The company’s web site’s investors section will be worth following over time. The statement at the recent AGM is interesting – “The key metric by which we judge our franchisee business is the share of revenue which we receive from our franchisees” – and the annual accounts will always be of interest. You can always follow the details of any UK company that’s a plc or a ltd. at Companies House, whether it’s an escape game company or not; for instance, Escape Hunt plc, Tick Tock Unlock Ltd., Clue HQ Ltd. and so on, and so on. (Many small escape game companies are operated by sole traders and thus cannot be found in this way.)

Lastly, purely for completeness, if you can buy shares in any publicly traded company and build up a long position in it in the hope that the price will rise, you can quite probably find a broker who will help you build up a short position in the hope that the price will fall as well. If you are sophisticated enough to know what you’re doing and were of a mind to do so, neither of which is true in my case, the likes of SpreadEx might be able to set you up with just such a contract…

How tough was this year’s UK Puzzle Championship?

UK Puzzle Association logoNotably tougher than usual for strong contenders – indeed, arguably the toughest yet – but only about as tough as usual for the rest of us.

It’s tempting to say “There, done” and move on, but the conclusion is an unusual one and worth explaining. As ever, the most important thing is a rousing round of thanks to everyone at the UK Puzzle Association (hereafter UKPA) for putting the championship together year after year, from the puzzle authors (from around the world!) to the test compilers to the system administrators.

How would you compare the difficulty of one year’s championship to that of previous ones? The analysis I’ve performed in the past compares what sorts of scores people are getting year on year, expressing the scores as rebased percentages, with a score of 100% representing all the puzzles being solved within the time limit. (If you do solve all the puzzles correctly within the time limit then you earn bonus points depending on how much time you have left, which rebases your score to one of over 100%.)

UK Puzzle Championship difficulty graph

Click on the image for a bigger version of the graph

The small version of the graph isn’t the clearest, but the large version is much more so. This year’s data is represented as a purple line. The purple is unfortunately fairly close in colour to the 2015 brown line, but each year uses a different shape of data marker, and the 2017 data’s marker looks more like a cross than any before it. The other way to recognise the purple line is that it’s almost always at the bottom of the graph.

I’m not too worried by this conclusion, as there’s a clear reason why it’s not comparing like with like. Previous UK Puzzle Championships have allowed participants 2½ hours to complete the paper, whereas this year’s championship only permitted participants two hours. While it would seem reasonable to assume that people will have sufficient clue about where their strengths and weaknesses lie to imagine that they would be broadly unlikely to be able to score as many points in the fifth half-hour as in the half-hours before it, I get the impression that had everyone been allowed 25% extra time, scores would have been higher across the board. Maybe not commensurately higher, but probably not far off. This would have put the line in or near the pack, rather than being a low outlier. So I asked why this year’s event was shorter, and the answer is reasonable.

There’s no particular reason why the UK Puzzle Championship has to be any particular length, and my gut feeling is that it had previously settled on a 2½ hour duration because the US Puzzle Championship that has run for almost 20 years has traditionally been 2½ hours long. (The very early days may have been longer still – but the very early days were conducted by fax, rather than online.) The longer the test, arguably the closer it comes to replicating the several hours per day of puzzles at the World Championship, and arguably the more accurate a job it does at declaring a champion; the longer the test, the more work there is involved in its creation and operation, and the more off-putting it may be to more marginal participants.

It is to be noted and celebrated that there were a record 29 UK participants on the scoreboard this year, with the previous best being 25 in two separate years. It’s also worth noting that there weren’t any UK participants who started the test and then failed to submit a single correct answer; if there’s something to moderate the joy at the UK record of 29, it’s that last year had 25 on the scoreboard plus another five zeroes. Are people who don’t answer even a single puzzle correctly of use or interest to the UK Puzzle Association? Probably not in terms of trying to pick a representative team for a world championship, perhaps more so in terms of creating a contest where people enjoy themselves, no matter how marginal the participant, and then come back year after year and tell their friends about it.

UK Puzzle Championship repeat participation graph

Click on the image for a bigger version of the graph

Again the thumbnail says little, but the larger version paints a picture. For each of the previous six years, the data from the above chart is replicated but the data points are either pluses or crosses. (There are no lines. I can’t work out how to make the lines do what I want them to, and I can’t work out how I did it last year.) A plus represents a player who came back in at least one successive year; a cross represents a player who has not yet made another appearance.

Accordingly, this year’s data is not yet included as we won’t know until 2018, or later, who will return from 2017. There are sporadic crosses towards the top from time to time, but the vast majority of crosses are towards the bottom of the chart. The other way to look at it is that the UKPA does very well at retaining the middle of the pack from year to year!

My views are largely the same as last year. I think increasing the number of participants has to be a major goal for the UK Puzzle Association, perhaps close to the most major goal. Noting that, happily, newspapers are more frequently starting to publish a more interesting variety of logic puzzles, I’d be inclined to make sure that there is reasonably heavy representation of deliberately very accessible puzzles every year, both accessible in terms of style and familiarity as well as difficulty. This is part of the reason why I so heavily promote the WPF Grand Prix’s “Paper C” puzzles.

Nevertheless, the UKPC remains my favourite online puzzle contest of the year. Thanks again to everyone for keeping it that way!

UK Puzzle Championship 2017: the stats

Latest UK Puzzle Association logoThe UK Puzzle Association have published the results to their recent UK Puzzle Championship. Did you take part? Were you happy with your result? If so, congratulations!

James McGowan won to pick up his fifth UK championship, so he gets the biggest congratulations of the lot! Adam Bissett earned second place, only the fourth person ever to make it to the top two in the seven years of the contest, and Tom Collyer finished third for the fourth year in a row, missing out on second place by one point. These best British performances were well up there with those of some very accomplished solvers from around the world. For me, the best news is that this year saw nine first-time UK solvers, to take the number of UK solvers putting points on the board up to 29. The previous best was 25, achieved last year and once previously, so this is quite a step in the right direction. There was quality as well as quantity, too!

As ever, this site continues to update a year-on-year chart of UKPC performances:


 201120122013 2014201520162017BestTimes
James McGowan112112117
Neil Zussman 21221 15
Adam Bissett  136 5224
David McNeill23     22
Tom Collyer864333337
Steve Barge3 35 4635
Michael Collins9469710447
Emma McCaughan610811481047
Thomas Powell 1257471146
Adam Dewbery 13 4   42
Ronald4      41
Roderick Grafton12510109 856
Heather Golding   12 6553
Paul Redman5      51
Nick Gardner 106    62
Saul Glasman    6  61
Mark Goodliffe7 13131512876
Nick Deller107 1511131876
Eva Myers147 1612111376
AJ Moore  971991475
Ben Neumann    816773
Chris M. Dickson10181922171819107
Paul Slater   13101515104
Gareth Moore16 11 13  113
Chris Nash  11    111
Pat Stanford      12121
Anthea McMillan  1517141315135
tom123513      131
Liane Robinson1514     142
Timothy Luffingham 14     141
Robin Walters 1718 161724165
Kenneth Wilshire18201621   164
Sam Boden 161719   163
Abigial See17      171
Daniel Hunt      17171
Alison Scott   18   181
Chris Harrison    18  181
blueingreen19      191
quixote 19     191
crayzeejim     19 191
Andrew Brown20 21    202
Neil Rickards     2022202
Laurence May 20     201
United Kingdom  20    201
David Cook   20   201
Jonathan Wilson    20  201
Hector Hirst     20 201
Matthew White      20201
Ken Ferguson     2421212
Eilidh McKemmie 22     221
Gary Male  22    221
Tomaz Cedilnik     22 221
Fuchsia A     22 221
River Edis-Smith  23    231
Daniel Cohen   23   231
David Collison      23231
Abdul Hadi Khan   24   241
shirehorse1   25   251
Mark Greenhalgh     25 251
Amber Pease      25251
remy      26261
Chris Green      27271
Joanna Drury      28281
EmmaHB      28281

The ordering is hopefully obvious: best position, ties split in favour of most appearances, ties split in favour of second (or subsequent) best position, ties split in favour of oldest better performance. Errors and omissions excepted and corrections are welcome; for cussedness, this chart declines to split places between players on equal scores on the “time left” tie-breaker. Many thanks to everyone who has been involved with setting the puzzles or organising the contest over the years, especially Liane Robinson and Alan O’Donnell, the most frequent contest compiler and administrator. I’m looking forward to finding out who the UK team will be, with invitations going out to top performers both in the in-person UK Open Championship earlier in the year and in the online UK Puzzle Championship just now.

The UK Championship may be over, but the Puzzle Grand Prix rolls on; the sixth round takes place on the weekend of 14th-17th July!

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!

The sixth CUCaTS puzzle hunt: Cambridge, 17th-18th June

CuCATS fourth puzzle hunt logoThis will be the sixth consecutive year where the last Saturday of Cambridge’s Easter Term has seen the Cambridge University’s Computing and Technology Society stage an in-person puzzle hunt in town for 24 hours. They don’t make it easy. This is not just in terms of the puzzle hunt itself, but in knowing that it exists; it’s not on the society’s web site, nor is it on their Facebook page, but a well-placed e-mail confirmed that the game was on. The hunt seems to be intended to be played primarily by Cambridge students (though far from just by undergraduates!) and staff, but isn’t restricted to them; teams of up to three must have one person with a local e-mail address, but teams can have outsiders as well. Presumably the hunt has been well-publicised within the university.

The cat logo above is being used by this year’s hunt, though the pangram is not around it this year. The FAQ page describes the puzzle hunt as “a team puzzle-solving and treasure-hunting competition. Your team will navigate its way through a mental and sometimes physical obstacle course of challenging and fun computational, mathematical and linguistic puzzles scattered throughout Cambridge, seeking to cut its way through to the goal before everyone else. No preparation is necessary, just come along on the day!” – and that day is Saturday 17th June, with the time being 4pm.

The other thing to note is that puzzles from past hunts are available online, and they’re definitely towards the tougher end of the spectrum. While the organisation behind it is not the same one who put on the online Cambridge Puzzle Hunt earlier in the year, it’s not as if there cannot be crossover from society to society – and, indeed, the societies are moderately close in their essential interests. The more puzzle hunts people play, and especially the more puzzle hunts people set puzzles for, the better-calibrated the puzzles are likely to be.

I’m on shift this weekend and, frankly, get the impression that these puzzles are likely to be harder than I would enjoy. However, I know there are people in the UK for whom this hunt would be an excellent match, particularly the more technically-minded members of teams who did well at DASH or at online puzzle hunts, and if you come into that category then this may well be the hunt for you. Many thanks to everyone at CUCaTS for putting it on and making it available; it’s surely likely to be spectacular!

That said, it, also, is far from the only interesting thing happening this Saturday…

The annual DASH participation statistics post, after DASH 9

Bar chart showing improving performance over timeIf it’s a few days after DASH, it’s time for the annual participation statistics post! Please find below an updated version of a table which details the number of teams on the scoreboard for each city in each edition of the DASH puzzle hunt to date.

Location DASH 1 DASH 2 DASH 3 DASH 4 DASH 5 DASH 6 DASH 7 DASH 8 DASH 9
Albuquerque, NM 6 6+1 3+2+0 4+0+0
Atlanta, GA 5+7 8+5
Austin, TX 2 11 12 13+4 10+4+0 17+6+0 20+4 18+4
Bay Area, CA Y(SF)
Y(PA)
7(SR)
59(LA)
16(SR)
74(SM)
73(SF) 34+7(SF)
32+3(HMB)
53+17+0(SF)
39+5+0(C)
46+15+0(SF)
37+7+0(SJ)
48+10(SF)
43+12(PA)
42+14(SF)
39+9(F)
Boston, MA Y 18 26 29 27+2 30+7+1 30+6+0 38+13 33+10
Chicago, IL 17 14 10+1 15+9+0 16+24+0 16+16 20+19
Davis, CA 16 15 16 13+7 8+7+1 13+7+0 12+8 15+5
Denver, CO 3+12+0 6+7
Enschede, NL 9+2
Houston, TX Y
London, UK 6+2 8+13+0 14+9+0 14+8 18+6
Los Angeles, CA Y 7 22 21 15+4 15+2+0
(Pasadena)
12+7+0
(Sta Monica)
19+17 16+6
Minneapolis, MN 8+7 7+4+0
(recast)
9+7+0 7+9 6+17
New York, NY 12 24 25 30+7 26+15+2 29+15+0 24+15 37+13
Portland, OR Y 6 17 19 19+2 11+7+0 10+10+0 12+5
Provo, UT 1+1
San Diego, CA 7
Seattle, WA Y 32 47 49 49+2 58+4+2 60+9+2 63+6 46+3
South Bend, IN 1
St. Louis, MO 2 2+3 7+8+1 8+10 7+11
Washington, DC Y 14 22 33 31+1 27+5+0 26+9+0 28+12 27+13
Number of locations 8 10 12 13 15 14 16 16 16

Here are some initial interpretations:

1) Errors and omissions excepted, with apologies in advance. The Minneapolis DASH 6 recast figures came from the organisers by private e-mail.

2) The numbers are drawn from the scoreboards and may not reflect teams that participate but do not make the scoreboard for whatever reason, or other infelicities. (On the other hand, it does include teams which do make the scoreboard even despite being listed as “not started”.) DASH 1 does not have a public scoreboard on the web site and thus “Y” represents the hunt having happened there with an unknown number of participants. When there are pluses, the number before the first plus reflects the number of teams on the experienced track, the number after the first plus reflects the number of teams on the “new players”/”novice” track (DASH 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9), and the number after the second plus reflects the number of teams on the junior track (DASH 6 and 7 only).

3) Interpret “Bay Area, CA” using the following key: SF = San Francisco (1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9), PA = Palo Alto (1 and 8), SR = Santa Rosa (2,3), LA = Los Altos (2), SM = San Mateo (3), HMB = Half Moon Bay (5), C = Cupertino (6), SJ = San Jose (7), F = Fremont (9).

4) I’ve been thinking for a while about knocking single-entry cities (Houston in DASH 1, San Diego in DASH 3 and South Bend in DASH 4) out of their own individual rows of the table and into a single combined row, a bit like the Bay Area, CA row. This might make the table easier to deal with. Fingers very firmly crossed that Provo, UT and Enschede don’t prove similar one-offs.

5) The line-up of 16 locations participating in DASH 9 was not too different from that for DASH 8; we lost Denver and previously ever-present Portland, each hopefully for only a year, and instead gained Enschede in the Netherlands and Provo in Utah. Fingers crossed for the return of Albuquerque at some point, too, so I can know where to turn left. (See also this comment from DASH about there having been some interest, that didn’t come to fruition, from Manchester, Mexico City and Vienna.)

6) It’s not a competition to see whose DASH can be the largest; all DASH organiser teams are glorious, generous paragons of virtue, whether their event had one team or 70+, and the community at large thanks them all for the time and effort that they put in. The two-track solution proved its worth again, with each location seeing at least one team on each track.

7) Numbers do appear to be slightly down in several of the larger locations. It’s tempting to wonder to what extent this is a result of demand being down and to what extent this is a result of a lack of availability of supply. Could some of the locations, if they had wanted to, have held bigger events if they had had more GC available? Could some of the locations, if they had wanted to, have held bigger events if they had larger sites for their individual puzzles? Were there many teams who wanted to get the chance to play but didn’t get to play in practice? (As ever, there’s no reason why bigger necessarily has to be better and there’s no sense in deliberately trying to emphasise quantity over quality.)

8) I’m about to do something quite unfair, for the barriers to entry are so vastly different, but here’s a table comparing the growth of DASH with the growth of Puzzled Pint over the last few years, courtesy in part of data from Puzzled Pint’s Matt Cleinman:

Year DASH
locations
DASH
teams
Month Puzzled Pint
locations
Puzzled Pint
players/GCs
2012 13 300 April 2012 1 50
2013 15 295 + 53 April 2013 2 (N/A)
2014 14 307 + 101 April 2014 5 255
2015 16 333 + 151 April 2015 17 922
2016 16 363 + 159 April 2016 32 1461
2017 16 342 + 138 April 2017 39 1956

The DASH data, after DASH 9

D.A.S.H. logoThere’s no editorial here, and definitely no intent to suggest there is such a thing as an optimal set of values, but this might still be of interest to set some context for comparison purposes. The times refer to puzzles offered in the most popular (i.e. expert/experienced) track from DASH 5 onwards.

Edition Par time Fast* time Usual* time Teams Structure
2 5:00 1:51 4:32 173 8+M
3 6:00 2:57 6:42 298 8+M
4 6:00 1:53 4:48 300 8+M
5 4:30 2:14 5:32 295+N IB+7+M
6 5:50 2:33 5:10 307+N IB+8+M
7 5:45 3:38 6:55 333+N IB+8+M
8 6:40 2:33 4:35 363+N IB+7+M
9 6:05 1:55 3:54 341+N 9
* median,
top-11
* median,
middle-8/9
N = normal track M = metapuzzle,
IB = icebreaker

Data remains available for DASH 2, DASH 3, DASH 4, DASH 5, DASH 6, DASH 7, DASH 8 and DASH 9. Note that the usual time was calculated from the median time quoted for either the middle-scoring 8 or 9 teams, depending on whether the overall number of teams was even or odd, and may not represent every puzzle being solved without a hint or even every puzzle being solved at all. The times quoted do not include the par or solving times for the unscored co-operative icebreaker puzzle from DASH 5, 6, 7 and 8.

Mazes and Crystals

It all started with a big CrystalThere is much more to say about the Red Bull Mind Gamers finals show, much of it very positive. Not tonight. I am still bitter about my Internet access here yesterday, and how resetting a router can make things worse when every other time – including a measly ten minutes after the show finishes – it makes it better. That’s not important right now. (At least I got to see the show, even if I have used up half my mobile phone data for the month.)

The live The Crystal Maze experience is clearly a hit, selling out months in advance in London and sufficient to inspire a second official maze in Manchester. (There are some very positive reviews of the Manchester maze previews at Escape Game Addicts and at Brit of an Escape Addict!) When the show comes back to TV, after the one-off Stand Up To Cancer celebrity special, it will come back further into people’s consciousnesses and be a rising tide to lift all boats further. Hurrah!

Here is a statement which I don’t think reflects any great insight, but I don’t think I’ve seen anybody else yet make. The world of escape games is already enough that there can be reasonably well-established subgenres within it: a zombie game, a prison break game and so on. Aside from the issue of whether the live The Crystal Maze experience “counts” as an escape game or not, I think there is room for the existence of a “The Crystal Maze” subgenre of escape games, and that there will be more escape and related games in the UK that, for want of a good adjective, have some degree of the essential The Crystal Maze nature.

This is a gradual scale, with shades of grey, rather than being a binary distinction. There have long existed scored games, an early example (and probably the most famous?) of which is Clue HQ‘s The Vault. Some use the score element to reflect how quickly you were able to solve the regular puzzles in the game which you must complete before you can get to the scored activities. Others use scores in different ways; I enjoyed reading The Logic Escapes Me‘s reviews of the Ruby Factory at Trapped In and Bad Clown, as was, at Escape Quest. More topically, Time Run’s new The Celestial Game game is a scored game; from what I know about it, I thought it sounded quite crystalline, though Escape Review’s, er, review (which is spoiler-y for format alone, though certainly not for content) tended to differ.

The Bolton News recently wrote about an upcoming site called Crack The Maze, in which “teams between two and six are tested in physical, mental and skill challenges to win time for an ultimate final challenge. There will also be escape the room challenges in the huge complex.” So there are plans for an explicitly labyrinthine game on site and escape rooms as well. Exciting!

I also enjoyed reading about Never Give Up which opened in Newcastle-on-Tyne about a month ago. “Take on various challenges to successfully complete each type of game. 1 or 2 players can play each game while the rest of your team shout instructions through the doors or windows to help. ((…)) Successfully completing a game will earn your team a “clue sphere”. Collect as many of these precious sphere’s as possible to win clues for the epic centre-piece of the game, the escape from King Tut’s Tomb. ((…)) The various Egyptian themed rooms- mental, skill and physical games are up to 3 minutes long and will last for approximately 35-40 minutes in total. The final challenge, the King Tut’s Tomb will last 15-20 minutes.” So it’s two parts The Crystal Maze, one part escape room. Thumbs firmly up from here… and it has a great name, too.

Part of the reason why escape games have done so well in the UK, I am convinced, is the high esteem in which The Crystal Maze is held, even decades after the fact, and the extent to which people can relate to it as an immediate cultural touchpoint. (Escape game owners, raise a toast to Challenge TV. I’m not kidding.) It strikes me as logical to wonder whether Fort Boyard, the French predecessor show, might have a similar effect in countries where it is beloved. For instance, Oslo in Norway has a game called Fangene på Fortet, which is also the name of their local version of Fort Boyard. The game seems slightly more Boda Borg than anything else, but that’s another game that… if not quite along the same axis, is another asteroid in the same cluster.

Flying slightly into fantasy, it’s tempting to wonder whether other game show properties might ever see the light of day. Given the popularity of the Knightmare Live theatrical shows, I find it easy to imagine that there would be people who would pay to play a Knightmare experience – and that certainly could be replayable. (LARP is a whole different topic, but one not at all far away.) Flying considerably into fantasy, I’d rather like to visit the alternate universe in which John Leslie is providing a star guest appearance at the opening of the (1994 ITV one-series smash-miss) Scavengers experience…

A tiny bit more from Budapest

copyright Predrag Vuckovic / Red Bull Content Pool

copyright Predrag Vuckovic / Red Bull Content Pool

A fantastic photo of the UK team, to be referred to as Team United Kingdom, about to start their semi-final. It doesn’t show their best sides but it’s still a great photo!

Red Bull have posted another article with more information from the combined days of the semi-finals. It also features a photo of Team United Kingdom’s Sera in full flow in what appears to be a laser maze or something similar. Here’s an updated quote with progress:

Based on how challenges to various intelligences were solved throughout the Semi-Finals, an ultimate Dream Team pulled from the full two days might include talent from Australia, Canada, France, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey and the USA. But to make the Finals on Saturday night, teams must have combined all those diverse mind skills within their own four teammates, and any one of the 24 contenders could be announced as a Finalist.

At least for a while, there’s also a video clip available with edited highlights from the semi-finals. The quality and speed of the editing by the Red Bull team is hugely impressive, the game looks amazing and it makes me really look forward to tonight’s show. See you back here just before seven!

Edited to add: For technical reasons, liveblogging the show did not happen as had been hoped.