Around the World: what’s going on in North America

Room Escape Artist's map of North American exit gamesThe above map is a snapshot of Room Escape Artist’s North American exit game map. (Hi! Thank you!)

Speaking of exit game maps, Live Escape Games‘ Shaun points Exit Games UK to the Puzzalarium newsletter, from the site of the same name of San Diego. This site has quickly made a name for itself from some of its unique approaches, as detailed in Toronto Room Escapes‘ brilliant, must-read interview. Puzzalarium have announced an approach which is brilliant, simple, lucrative, zero-cost and worthy of recognition as instant global best practice.

Simply, they offer the chance to play their room in “Zen mode”. You book, and pay for, one room for two adjacent time slots. You then get to play the room in no rush whatsoever over the duration of both timeslots… and the time in between them, normally filled in by the room being reset. (So if a game takes an hour, and there’s an hour reset time between games, this would give you up to three hours in total in the room.) This means that people can take the room as slowly as they like, possibly even taking no hints in a room where hints might usually be liberally supplied, and come out feeling that they can be pretty sure that they haven’t missed a single thing. At a guess, only a few percent of groups would feel that this is the right approach for them, and probably only for rooms known to be relatively difficult – but those who do, and who are willing to pay double money, would really appreciate the option. Puzzalarium also offer teams who have played their game the chance to watch other teams playing the game from behind the scenes.

Escape Room Directory‘s Dan Egnor points to Dr. Bryan Clair‘s amazing, detailed account of an intricate-looking exit game he set up and ran for 36 teams at St. Louis University. (He’s also volunteering to run DASH 7 in St. Louis, where it’ll be making a return after being present for DASHes 4 and 5, and absent for number 6. What a guy!) Amateur exit rooms like this are definitely part of the future of the genre and might be right for some people who love the idea of devising and running their own exit game but don’t feel well-suited to the business aspect of things. (Plus who have the resources to sink into such a project, without getting an obvious financial return from it.) Dr. Clair, this site salutes you!

Talking of interviews and taking looks behind the scenes, the latest (and last, at least for the year… and maybe longer?) episode of the consistently beloved and heroic Snoutcast podcast features an interview with Lindsay Morse and Nate Martin of Puzzle Break of Seattle and San Francisco. Nate also previously wrote this Reddit post with his reflections on his first year in business.

Lastly, this site just loves the theme behind Omescape of Markham, Ontario’s new room: the Kingdom of Cats. It opened yesterday; obviously, on a Caturday!

The latest links

Monochrome pumpkin graphicA blessed Samhain to all of you.

Most excitingly, social media updates lead to some new dots on the map! Locked In Games of Leeds confirm that today is their opening day and The Great Escape Game of Sheffield have launched their Facebook presence, revealing their location and thus earning a red “Coming soon” dot.

Puzzlair of Bristol have announced a one-day discount available for bookings placed on Saturday 1st November only. Book that day for a game to be played by the end of January 2015, use the discount code HALLOWEEN and you’ll earn a chunky 30% off the cost of your game. Additionally, their Facebook page is close to a thousand “Like”s; whoever turns the counter to four digits will earn a free game.

The consistently brilliant Snoutcast podcast is putting out monthly episodes this year, featuring interviews with women who make puzzle games of various sorts. This month’s episode is particularly relevant for this site, as it features an interview with two of the six founders of Spark of Resistance, Portland’s first exit game. The people behind it have a remarkable track record in a variety of styles of game and it’s clear that the eight months of effort have led to a great deal of thought. The Oregonian have a write-up with more detail.

Lastly, a quick tip of the hat to the girlgeekupnorth blog, who has written delightful reviews of the three exit games she has played, so far all in north-west England. With the new games opening elsewhere in the north, who knows what else might be reviewed at some point?

All the news from the world’s exit games

Newspaper iconThe previous post contained a collection of links with exit game news from Europe; today’s news collection looks a little further afield.

Yesterday, this site linked to this German live escape games blog, with a map linking to known sites around Europe. With a tip of the hat to Scott, a site about online escape games is attempting to collate a global live escape game map. Ambitious, but brilliant! There’s only one post to the site’s blog so far, but this site looks forward to others. A rising tide lifts all boats. (Spoiler: something very cool in this regard very soon.)

One of the most interesting exit game developments in the US is Trapped In A Room With A Zombie, remarkable for already having a dozen locations across the country, East to West, North to South. The creator, Marty Parker, is prominent and fascinating in mainstream publication interviews; his take on his own segment of the industry in Art Attack Philly is well worth a read to give you a sense of his perspective on his own cottage industry, which you can put into context by reading other interviews from newspapers in Columbus from February and Boston from July.

Lastly, across the border to Canada – specifically, the province of Ontario. Scott, to whom we referred above, curates an amazing Ontario exit games catalogue, and the wide availability of games also attracts local press interest. (Why has Toronto evidently become a hub in the same way as Budapest and Beijing? Professional enigmatologist Stacy Costa, a SCS Instructor at the University of Toronto, had this to say.) It’s the location for the Canadian operation of the original Real Escape Game, as discussed at Motherboard, with The Star taking a wider look at the popularity of the genre across their area.

With so much interest in exit games, it would appear logical that there could be the demand for other sorts of puzzle events in the Greater Toronto area. Perhaps this might be another conurbation in which the likes of DASH and/or Puzzled Pint might take root. There aren’t yet puzzle hunts in quite the way they are known elsewhere, as far as this site can tell, but a spy-themed game seemed to have quite a few similarities (though, sadly, the domain discussing the event appears to be no more) and the FISH Scavenger Hunts annually held in Toronto, and Vancouver, also sound spectacular and relevant.

Toronto does have its own sort of hunt that may be all its own. Tip of the hat to the German Live Escape Games blog for this one, and it’s the sort of story that makes you check that you’re not reading a satire site by mistake. The Simcoe Reformer suggests that there have been scavenger hunts in Toronto where the prizes to be found are, well, cannabis. A larger event planned for September promises to put the “pot” into “jackpot”, or perhaps the other way round.

This might sound like a plot from a Cheech and Chong movie, and it might be the plot of one. The Canadian stereotype of politeness, legality and good order holds firm, though. Participants are not invited to dig up random leaves and take a chance at smoking whatever they find; instead, the prizes are vouchers. In order to claim your prize, you have to be one of the 11,000 locals with a medical marijuana licence already.

Rob Ford would surely approve!

Around the World: Boda Borg

Boda Borg logoA few days ago, this site predicted that “There is practically a 100% chance that something incredibly cool, of which this site was not previously aware, will make itself known.” Nobody was expecting a very strong candidate for the title to arrive quite so soon, and a very grateful tip of the hat to Ed Roberts of Breakout Manchester for pointing it our way.

With roots that can be traced back to Sweden in 1995, Boda Borg is a company operating, directly or by franchise, a series of adventure centres. Currently seven are open in Sweden, one in Ireland and two are apparently under construction in the USA, one on either coast. The adventures are played by teams of 3-5, and are suitable for both adults or children aged, perhaps, 8+. (This brilliant writeup suggests that the Swedish centre clientele may be 80% adult; maybe less different from established exit game demographics than you might think.)

Each centre consists of a collection of Quests, which are independent and can be completed in any order. Each Quest consists of a series of 2-5 (possibly fairly small) rooms that must be completed in order. By way of an example, the Irish location, at the Lough Key Forest and Activity Park, has a total of 15 Quests and 47 rooms. (The Boda Borg web site implies that the Swedish centres are larger, with 20-25 Quests each.) €15 per person will get your team access for two hours (during which time, two fully completed Quests is apparently a par score) or €20 per person will get your team access for the whole day.

To complete each room in each Quest… well, that’s up to you, and the reason why Boda Borg is so interesting is that the instructions aren’t explicitly given, and you have to figure them out from context yourself. Quoting the web site, “Once you enter only teamwork using countless different skills, ingenuity, trial and error will allow you to survive the Quests.” Some rooms will pose purely physical challenges, others a mixture of physical and mental challenge; a colour-coding scheme on the doors hint at which are which. The official explanation video hints at the variety of challenges on offer, but also implies that one relatively frequent physical challenge theme is “don’t touch the floor” – but dressed up in sufficiently many different ways, and with such a variety of props to aid you in this, as to maintain interest. That’s cool; that’s fun.

From context, sets of sensors will detect any failure by any member of the team (and working out how failure is defined is part of the challenge) and cause the team to need to start the entirety of that Quest over again – or, perhaps, give a different one a try and come back to that one later. Success through every room of a Quest earns access to that Quest’s ink stamp, with which to emboss your low-tech scorecard. (A scoring system that has been good enough for letterboxers for decades.)

More specifically, this video seems to come from the Irish site and dates from 2009. While Quests are changed from time to time, this may give you a more practical sense of feel for what you might find in practice. (Rabid spoilerphobes might conceivably choose to keep away.)

How does this compare to an exit game as this site knows them? It looks, principally, rather less labour-intensive. Teams are left to their own devices, attempting the Quests in the order of their choice – so, by implication, there is an assumption of good faith and good queueing between the various teams running round the site independently. (If there are many more than fifteen teams, and only fifteen Quests, perhaps the waiting might get a little in the way.) It’s also unclear quite how sophisticated the mental aspects of the various Quests are; presumably there are some deliberately very accessible ones and possibly also some rather more obtuse ones. Noting that Quests are independent of each other, it would be unfair to expect the degree of interconnectedness that you might find in (particularly a relatively story-heavy) exit game.

It all sounds extremely promising, though how it might work in practice is another matter. From a distance, the best way to judge is TripAdvisor – and, as usual, better to read the comments than just go by the (generally very favourable) ratings – and to bear in mind that the people making them may have a wide range of sets of expectations going in. It’s worth bearing in mind that most of the comments reflect the entire park; Boda Borg probably comes off better than the park at large.

A telling recent comment reads: “Took us a wee while to find our feet (14,13 yrs old sons & hubby + me) but it was great fun when we completed a few and got the team work nailed! I took many laughing fits as we struggled to get through some and we all had sore knees climbing & crawling and my hubby who is 6ft 2 banged his head quite a few times but that’s all part of the fun. Will definately be back to beat our poor record best afternoons craic in a wee while. Super activity for all the family provided everyone is reasonably mobile and has a sense of humour!” On the other hand, a different (rather older) comment reads: “Inside, it is cheaply constructed, very poorly supervised and dimly lit. The day we were there, many of the ‘challenges’ were broken, others were in poor condition with important items missing and there were young teenage children running amok inside racing up and down narrow corridors. It was like being in a claustrophobic secondary school playground.

The truth will surely be somewhere between the two extremes; it also seems reasonable to suggest that there were rather more complaints over the standard of maintenance in 2013 than there have been in 2014. It would be very interesting to know what the maintenance schedule is and whether there’s a sense that the site might be at its best “early in the season”. (You might also choose to give higher importance to reviews from, perhaps, a game-ier context at BoardGameGeek.)

If you’re the sort of person who is sufficiently game for a certain sort of laugh that you’re willing to make a journey to play an exit game, or to go out of your way to play with toys and environments so impressive as to be impossible at home, the odds are surely extremely promising for Boda Borg. (It reads like being as close as you’ll get, these days, to the sort of fun from the Cyberdrome Crystal Maze of old – except, twenty years later on, lower-tech.) Definitely one to follow as franchises spread around the world. It would be interesting to know whether the economics might make a site in Great Britain work, or whether our land and installation costs are just too expensive. The capital expenditure would surely be much more than that of a basic (almost modular?) exit game, but the potential daily throughput could be tremendous while being much less labour-intensive than that of a one-moderator-per-team exit game.

The island of Ireland already has quite a tradition of exit games, and growing; the prospect of a tour some day to experience just all the games that it offers, let alone its other appeals, becomes more and more promising. Or, further afield, there are seven Bodas Borg to try in Sweden. Road trip!

DASH stats 2: the difference between Experienced and New tracks

Close-up of plastic yellow lemon

After looking at whether there was a cultural gap, I next consider the difference between New and Experienced tracks. Here, I’m only going to look at those puzzles where there was a difference in content.

“First sale”, “Advertising”, “Viral marketing”, and (after compensating for the London difference), “Buyout” will be control puzzles. On these four identical puzzles, Experienced were significantly better players. The gap is least if New scores are increased by 4 or 5 points per puzzle.

Again, I think that a Student t-test is an appropriate method, comparing New to Experienced. My chosen data sets are the raw scores for teams completing each individual puzzle. Teams dropping out part-way through the day will contribute data for puzzles they solved.

Collecting Ingredients II” involved solving cryptic clues. These cryptics were different between the tracks – New had a word in a sentence; Experienced had a partial anagram. Experienced needed to fully resolve the sudoku, New only needed the middle three letters, but I think that’s a marginal difference. The evidence suggests that Experienced teams performed worse than New, and the discrepancy goes away by allowing 2 points to Experienced. Given the advantage of Experienced teams on identical puzzles, we might add 6 to Experienced scores.

In “End of the First Day“, Experienced had a longer route to the answer, more letters to decrypt from ternary, and weren’t given the partial hint that there was decryption (but didn’t need to solve that partial hint). Many sides who got this puzzle got it very quickly (though I’ve discarded a team credited with the answer in 40 seconds), and it appears New sides were behind by 1 point. However, we might expect New to be further behind on equal puzzles, so add another 3 points to Experienced scores.

For “Practicing the Sales Pitch“, New had a much clearer hint that semaphore was involved, *and* a time limit more generous by 10 minutes. Experienced were clearly behind, by about 8 points. For our notional parity, try adding 12 to Experienced scores.

In “Mass Production“, there was a small difference – New were explicitly told there’s a word chain. Don’t think that’ll have altered the scores, and this proves to be the case – Experienced were up by 3 points. I can’t reject the hypothesis that there was no additional advantage to either track, so no change.

Finally, for “Memoirs“, New were told that these were rebuses, and given one of the least obvious initial answers, but penalised with a 10 minute shorter time limit. Experienced appears to have benefitted by about 9 points, so we might deduct 4 from their score.

Solely to compensate for differences in the puzzles, I suggest that New teams might deduct 17 points from their score and compare with Experienced sides. That would put the top New team, Colleen Werthmann, in a tie for 31st place; six New teams crack the overall top 100.

DASH stats 1: London’s “Buyout” problem

Lemonade stand

Chris has already written about the DASH audio I’ve put together. The best audio deals with topics that work as audio. Clips of what it was like to be there, experiences of solving puzzles, that works in your ears. Hardcore statistical nerdery, that needs to come out through your eyes.

In a later post, I’ll be looking at the difference between the New and Experienced tracks, from analysis of the results. Here, I’m considering whether the UK players in DASH 6 were disadvantaged by one of the puzzles.

London had a problem. Players in Britain mostly spoke in British English. It’s a dialect similar, but not identical, to American English. Spellings alter, words have other meanings, and there are major differences in commercial culture.

These differences came to the fore in the “Buyout” puzzle, which attempted to clue to a commercial company. It’s an American brand, unfamiliar in Britain. The organisers had attempted to reduce this problem, by substituting a similar but different puzzle, but this hadn’t quite worked out.

London players experienced a different puzzle, each clue resolved to a verb-noun combination. Other players got a verb-noun combination that makes a commercial product. Were London players at a disadvantage by not getting the branded nature of the puzzle?

A Student’s t-test is appropriate to compare the performances between London (where 13 teams took New and 8 Experienced) and All Other Locations (84 New, 300 Experienced). The t-test compares the difference of each value in a set from the set’s mean, and works out the probability that the two data sets have the same mean – the “null hypothesis” in this test. It’s especially useful for sets of different sizes.

Technical points: I’m only considering those teams that recorded a solve time for “Buyout”. Also, note how London had more New than Experienced teams: I can conjecture that, if anything, London teams may have under-estimated their abilities, and could prove better than All Other Locations.

For the “Buyout” puzzle, analysis suggests that I can reject the null hypothesis, and there probably *was* a difference between London teams and all others. On the Easy track, there’s a 3% chance that the observed scores come from the same population. These probabilities are even lower for the Experienced track, where the small sample set might not be representative.

If we boost the scores of London teams by 2 points, we can accept the null hypothesis on all measures. So, yes, the teams of London appear to have been disadvantaged by the cultural gap, but only by a minute.

As a control, I’ve repeated this analysis for the other puzzles. We can easily accept the null hypothesis in all cases, and assume that there was no trans-atlantic difference.

DASH 6: the podcast

DASH 6 lemon logoUnder normal circumstances, this site would not make a post about, essentially, a single link. However, this single link justifies a post alone.

This site has discussed the DASH puzzle hunt in April fairly extensively, but so far this site hasn’t discussed the puzzles specifically. It’s been over two months now, and the puzzles and answers have both been posted, so surely we’re outside spoiler territory.

With this in mind, this site gives a very strong recommendation to Iain Weaver’s most recent “Outside Broadcast” podcast, where he discussed his team’s extremely successful attempt at the New Player track of DASH 6. The piece is 80 minutes long, but well worth your time. It’s obvious that a great deal of effort has been put into it and the results are spectacular. The event took place in public so there’s a fair bit of authentic background noise, but it’s not at all difficult to follow what’s going on. The podcast is hosted as part of the Fifty 50 show podcast series (mostly about UK game shows) by Puzzled Pint London stalwart Lewis Murphy and co-hosts, which I’ve long enjoyed over the years.

If you played DASH, you can enjoy the puzzles again in a whole different way. If you didn’t play DASH, it’s a good way to get a feel for the event, along with the other reviews and discussions that have happened over time. Whether you come to Exit Games UK from a puzzle contest perspective, a puzzle hunt perspective or an exit games perspective, DASH is one of the highlights of the year.

Whether you have fond memories of DASH or not, if you’re looking for another in-person puzzle hunt in the greater London area to enjoy with your team, the next such event to look forward to is the previously-discussed “Top Secret” one-day Cryptic Treasure Hunt in Essex on August 3rd. The recent interview with game control only makes the prospect more appetising still – so if you don’t want to wait another, presumably, ten months or so to have a great excuse to get a team of friends together for a big team event, then in the words of a currently prominent disembodied head: “You will love it”. Oi, oi!

in memoriam ludorum: Entros

Cartoon gravestone pictureThis site announces a new, infrequent, irregular series about some of the most interesting games of yesteryear, for fear that they are forgotten for good. The title in memoriam ludorum hopefully works better than the alternative Game but not forgotten.

Entros was a restaurant in Seattle, and later San Francisco, for most of the 1990s. It was distinctive for offering imaginative games along with the food, on a scale sufficiently grand and with equipment sufficiently advanced that a dedicated centre was necessary to house them. At a basic level, you could pull up to the bar and have some fairly familiar fare accompany your food and drink: Boggle, backgammon, card games, or pen-and-paper puzzles. However, for a few dollars more, you could get a sticker to get you access to the six or so big games, rotated once or twice a year, and these big games were about as imaginitve and exciting as it got – arguably, among the most progressive games made available to the public of all time.

Peter Sarrett, a fixture of the Seattle game and puzzle community, wrote a juicy, love-laden tribute to the big games on offer in his wonderful old board game printed ‘zine. Sadly the publication is no more and the URL (gamereport.com) of the archive site was far too good not to be snapped up, but happily archive.org has a saved copy. The article is a must-read, but here are some of the most interesting parts to whet your appetite:

“The office is quiet – perhaps too quiet. My companion and I quickly speak into our headsets, describing our surroundings to our partners tucked away in a remote control booth. Cross-checking our descriptions with their information, they tell us to search the bookcase. Sure enough, we find a hidden latch and open a secret door to a darkened room. There, on an illuminated pedestal in the far corner, is our prize- a valuable statue stolen from the art museum. My companion starts to move for it, but I hold him back just in time and point to the floor, an ominous black grid of unusual symbols. Sure enough, our partners tell us it’s rigged to an alarm, but they can guide us through it safely.

We scan franticly for the safe symbols they describe, using them as our stepping stones toward the statue. Halfway through we seem stranded, unable to find a nearby safe square. We shout into our headsets, panic rising, until my companion shouts triumphantly and points to a safe spot. But we’ve taken too long now and we’re out of time. A klaxon wails and the room floods with light, and we’re escorted politely but firmly from the room. Caught. Undaunted, we get back in line for another try.

[…]

After dinner a tantalizing array of activities await. Designed by on-staff gamemakers, these activities aren’t about virtual reality or man vs. machine. They’re about people interacting with each other cooperatively and competitively. Take Interface, for example – Entros’ longest-running game. One player wears a blinding helmet with a front-mounted video camera which sends an image to her monitoring partner. That partner talks the “operative” through a series of activities through a two-way radio link, racing against the clock in a high-tech trust walk. Three different sets of activities exist so players can swap roles and still get a fresh experience.

[…]

The first time I visited Entros they were running a multimedia odyssey called The Forever Formula which contained a puzzle sequence which remains my favorite. As we entered the building, we passed by a telescope mounted on a tripod in the lobby. It seemed an usual bit of decoration, but we forgot all about it as we entered the restaurant through the fake phone booths, humming the Get Smart theme song. During the game, a clue suggested that we look between the pillars of Stonehenge. We remembered that a stone arch was painted on the glass of the building’s front door, so we returned to the lobby. Sure enough, when we aimed at the painted icon we could see through the telescope the magnified image of a small sign mounted on a building across the street. The sign said something like, “For your next clue, call the Kremlin.” As it happened, a pay phone sat just a few feet from the telescope. Dropping a quarter, we dialed K-R-E-M-L-I-N and got a recording of a man with a Russian accent directing us to our next stop.”

It’s not clear why Entros went under (and the eight or so years it had are far from a bad run) though this site notes that a 1998 review noted that “Given the heady nature and price tag of an Entros visit – about $75 per person – Entros tends to attract a well-educated clientele” and that the closure happened at about the same time as the first dotcom crash. Or perhaps the games were great but the restaurant half of the business didn’t pull its weight; the food is discussed in this 1994 review. Maybe the whole prospect was just ahead of its time and the mainstream nature of exit games shows that the market is prepared to accept brainier, gamier fare now than it was half a generation ago.

The games are still offered by Forrest-Pruzan Creative, a company with many former Entros employees working for it, and were seen in the wild at the Pacific Science Center in late 2010, and perhaps since. This list has details of all the games on offer, and we can but dream about playing them. To show just how old-school the list is, most of the games have videos available… but to see them, you’ll need to dig out RealPlayer!

(Reminiscences from people who were actually there at the time would be most welcome, especially if people can place them in the context of the games and puzzles that have followed it. This site’s writers live eight timezones away, as well as years too late, but can tell when they’ve missed a treat.)

Around the World: the Washington Post’s “Post Hunt”

Washington Post "Post Hunt" logoOver the past thirty years, US humour columnist Dave Barry (and, recently, friends) have – slightly more often than not – set a public puzzle hunt for the newspaper that published them. Originally this was the Miami Herald‘s Tropic magazine, thus inspiring the hunt to be referred to as the Tropic Hunt. The Tropic magazine folded, but the Herald itself later sponsored what was later known as the Herald Hunt. Most recently, Barry and friends have been producing the Post Hunt for the Washington Post. Andy Wenzel’s archives are a great source of information.

The hunts have a common format, set up so that a (typically) high four-digit number of participants can play. Five simple clues with numeric answers are posted in the sponsoring publication, along with an annotated map of possible locations within reasonable walking distance, with a central stage highlighted. At midday, from the central stage, it is announced how to transmute the answers to the simple clues, in a non-obvious fashion, to map entries. This indicates the locations of the five main puzzles, which must be visited. At each one, a cryptic and possibly multimedia puzzle is available, whose answer is a number.

Between midday and 3pm, teams (typically of four players, but without size restrictions, and a single player team has won) visit the locations, solve the puzzles and generate the five numbers. At 3pm, another cryptic clue is announced at the main stage which can be interpreted to a sixth location on the map, at which the final instruction is given as to how to interpret the whole of the hunt and its intermediate answers in order to generate and submit the overall answer to the hunt. First team to do so wins. This year’s prize was US$2,000 cash.

The most recent Post Hunt took place in Washington DC on Sunday and the Post has a story about this year’s event, along with this year’s puzzles and answers. They look like a great deal of fun and initial reports suggest this was as good as any previous year’s hunt.

This year’s winners included Todd Etter, a long-time mainstay of the puzzle hunt community and a popular one, for his contributions have included being one of the team putting on The Famine Game, an epic and immensely well-regarded weekend-long puzzle hunt (coincidentally also in the DC area!) last year. Todd’s team also have won one past Post Hunt and taken two other top three prizes; Todd has written about his team’s 2008 win elsewhere.

The Post Hunt has such great imagination, budget, heritage and following that it must surely be regarded as one of the world’s great games of its type. There’s no reason why a British counterpart couldn’t do something similar; considering the love shown by Britons for our own puzzle hobbies, it would surely be as distinctive and popular a hit over here.

Hidden Cash around the UK

A wad of banknotes from the "Hidden Cash UK" Twitter accountIn the last week, a successful property speculator has been hiding envelopes with moderate quantities of cash around cities near the west coast of the United States, posting pictures of the locations and not-very-cryptic clues to their whereabouts to their Twitter account. There is something of a “pay it forward” motif, though of course this cannot be enforced. Apparently it has spawned imitators; most relevantly for us, Hidden Cash UK has made three drops in the North in two days.

There are definitely possibilities here. As there have been many imitators already, there’s no reason why there couldn’t be more to come: there’s got to be room for a Hidden Cash GB, a Hidden Cash Ireland, a Hidden Cash London and so on. Some would consider a couple of hundred pounds a very adequate investment for thousands, or tens of thousands, of involved followers within a couple of days. If someone were to distribute Hidden Cash coincidentally outside their exit game site, then perhaps the site could attract the attention of those looking for it who are likely to be favourably inclined, though possibly unimpressed by a lack of subtlety. (Hiding the cash inside an exit game and charging people to play it might well be considered a bit cheek, though you might still get away with it.)

This probably has the hallmarks of being a half-a-week’s wonder on Twitter in its current form, but if the mainstream media decide to run with it then perhaps there’s a few weeks, or a few months in it. (Maybe more.) This is far from original, of course; Tom Scott and Dan W. ran Advent Locker in December 2012, which is similar but used prizes in Amazon Lockers, and you know that this site will take any opportunity it gets to link to the wonderful story of the newspapers’ own Treasure Hunt Riots, a little over a century earlier. (Also a salutary reminder of the potential dangers of such things. Dan and Tom did nothing more ill-willed than having their Christmas Eve prize be a good old festive RickRoll, but not all patrons need be so benign.)

Treasure hunts themselves are far older; the parallels to geocaching are obvious, and that is so well-known that it need not be explained. Arguably Hidden Cash has a closer connection to its GPS-less, clue-heavier predecessor, letterboxing, which has been dated back to 1854.

There has to be something exciting and relevant to do while Hidden Cash is fresh in people’s minds, and that may not be for too long…