Start the fans, please!

I’ve always been a big fan of the Crystal Maze. I loved Richard O’Brien as the host and all of the running around trying to solve the puzzles and laughing at contestants that got locked in or fell into the water. I remember watching a special episode where they’d got children in the Maze instead of adults and was really jealous of the children and remember thinking to myself, “One day, I’ll be on the Crystal Maze” (I was only young, #dontjudgeme)

 

So, when they announced they were bringing the Crystal Maze back via Crowdfunder, I jumped at the chance to do something. First thing was trying to get a team together. I sent a text to the usual suspects to say that if I could get 7 other people interested on a first come first served basis, then I’d send money for a team off to Crowdfunder. My partner was in the room when I sent the text out, and was the 5th person to reply. I’d got a full team of 8 together, plus 2 reserves. Money went off to Crowdfunder, and we waited.

 

It seemed like forever before they confirmed that they were ready to take bookings. And once they announced available dates, I had to try and find a day that everyone could do. Not an easy task! We settled on a date, and I booked us in. I did have problems booking but after several phone calls and a bit of hassle, we finally had the booking sorted.

Crystal

Cue more waiting. People that we knew went to the Maze and came back saying it was amazing, which I think got us even more excited. The week before we went I was worried that it might not live up to my expectations (which were pretty high). Finally the day arrived, and the team members set off down to London. We’d been pre-warned that the venue wasn’t well signposted, but managed to find it pretty easily.

 

The initial entrance wasn’t very Crystal Maze-y. There isn’t a sign outside to let you know you’re in the right place or anything, but there were a couple of people in the reception area wearing t-shirts with crystals on which gave it away!

 

We went in, put all of our belongings away and had the chance to don the fabled jackets. We were the green team so our jackets were a lovely forest green. We waited around our green table, in our green jackets, very excited for games to begin. It was a really warm day so we were told we wouldn’t be able to take the jackets in with us as it would be too hot (it really would have been!)

 

After a quick brief from one of the team members about safety, we were taken to our start room – ours was in the Medieval Zone – and we were left to watch a video before our Maze Master appeared. Our Maze Master was full of energy, which was really good as there isn’t much time to rest while in the Maze! It’s pretty full on. When you’re not in a room doing an activity you’re probably cheering on a team mate, providing “helpful” advice or trying to think of who’s doing the next room and what type of room it’ll be. There are 4 room types, Physical, Skill, Logic and Mystery.

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I won’t say much about the individual rooms, but I’m pretty sure they are all rooms based on the TV show. So, if you’re planning to go, watching some reruns would be useful! Going as a full team of people was a definite advantage as we knew who was going to be better at some of the types of games and who would be a disaster. I also loved how the Maze Master didn’t try to be a copy of Richard O’Brien but instead had his own style. I don’t think it would have worked otherwise!

 

The zones were incredible, and felt true to the show. The Aztec zone was full of sand (trust me, I accidentally bought a shoe-ful of it back), the Medieval zone was dark and gloomy, the Futuristic zone was clean and crisp and the Industrial zone was really well done. My only criticism is that it was hard to see through the windows of the Futuristic Zone rooms. All of the other viewing windows were really good in the other zones.

 

After the games, it was off to the fabled Crystal Dome to try and collect as many gold tokens as we could (no silver ones in this version of the game!) We were the last team to go, so tried to pick up hints from the teams before us. Sadly, all of those teams cheated but weren’t called up on it until the end – so we collected tokens using techniques the other teams had used… and were told that our scores wouldn’t be counted as all of the teams cheated! We did get chance to get a photo of the team in front of the dome though.

Crystal Maze

All in all, we had a fantastic time. We hung around in the bar around the dome afterwards and had a drink, talking about our favourite games. Everyone on our team had managed to get a crystal and played at least two games, so there was lots to talk about. We were warm and sweaty after running about in the Maze but no one cared as we’d had so much fun. I’d definitely recommend doing it if you get a chance. There’s also chance to buy any souvenirs after the games, a few of us bought crystals (you can’t do the Crystal Maze and not get a crystal in my mind!).

 

 

Events, Judging Harshly, London

Judging Harshly – Crystal Maze, London

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Escape Room Games, Judging Harshly

Judging Harshly – The Betrayal of Cluetankhamun, Clue HQ Warrington

We thought we’d done all of the rooms at Clue HQ Warrington – but then they opened up a new one, which we went off to play soon after it had opened. I’ve always had a soft spot for Egyptian lore, so was looking forward to playing this one. We ended up splitting into two groups – I was in a group of 4, Emma was in a group of 5.

 

From their website:

Just over a month ago the long lost tomb of Cluetankhamun was unearthed for the first time in over 5 millennia. A team of explorers were sent in to recover the Cluetan Crystal, a jewel believed to possess the power of the Nile. It has been several days since last contact with the exploring party so it’s time to send a new expedition down into the tomb to retrieve the crystal. But watch your step – Who knows what happened to the last exploring party.

 

Our first mission was to find the room – having played all of the other rooms there, this was pretty easy for us. As usual, I won’t give away anything inside the room as I’d hate to spoil it for anyone.

 

The room was really well put together, especially as it’s not an overly large space. All the space was utilised well, and the puzzles were fairly straightforward. My team did struggle with one of the puzzles that wasn’t too difficult as we weren’t thinking very clearly. As it’s set in the Egyptian era, there aren’t any high tech puzzles, which worked in it’s favour in my opinion (if you read these blog posts then you’ll realise I’m not a fan of the easily breakable high tech things – especially DVD players and lasers) Everything in the room worked and worked well. All of the puzzles were good, although none of them stood out on their own.

Betrayal of Cluetankhamun Emma

We did manage to get out, and although Emma’s team beat mine with 15minutes left, we were very proud of our escape with 9minutes left. In our defense, they did have an extra player, and we had 2 rather hungover players – including one that had never done an escape room before! It also didn’t help that we spent a good while hunting down for something to use a code on before we figured out it was probably for the door – we’d had so much fun solving puzzles that we didn’t really want it to end!

Betrayal of Cluetankhamun

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Judging Harshly – I Am Medieval, Riga

Our last escape room in Riga was I Am Medieval. We were on an escaper’s high having successfully escaped 3 rooms in Riga, and had high hopes for this one after checking out some reviews. It’s set in a tower in Old Riga and looks quite impressive. We haven’t tried any Medieval themed rooms and were looking forward to trying this one.

 

From the website:

“Ramer Tower Museum” is a quest game that is situated in the unique historic location, inside the city wall and the city wall tower. The quest is truly a gem on the map of riga and is suited for people of all ages. The Quest Keeper invites you to experience the authentic medieval atmosphere, solving and completing all the puzzles and tasks of the tower. The tour is suited for small groups from 2 to 5 people and lasts 60 minutes.

 

I’m usually pretty laid back and easy going and try to see the good side of things, but this room made that very hard to do. In all honesty, it’s tied for the worst room that I’ve ever done (I still can’t decide if this was as bad as Make a Break or if it was worse). We arrived at the door before our host did, and we both got the impression that he didn’t really want to be there. We were given some monk habit-style things to wear and belts to tie them up, which we thought was a nice touch before entering the room.

Being set in a tower, the rooms aren’t overly big and there are a lot of stairs. There was a screen on the first floor where clues would be typed – not useful when you’re stuck on the top floor and need a hint. Speaking of the top floor – I was really glad that we were wearing the habit-type things as it was incredibly dusty. In my mind dust should not be used to “theme” the room, and we both came away wanting showers to clean ourselves of the experience.

It was very different to rooms that we’ve played in the past and neither of us particularly enjoyed it (we both thought about calling it a day and leaving half way through but neither of us said anything out loud so we stuck it out until the end). If you hadn’t played an escape room before then you might enjoy this one, but if you like puzzles that make you think and that make sense, this is definitely one to avoid. I spent quite a bit of time looking for a way to unlock a padlock on a container – only to find out that it was a dummy padlock and that the container was open. Yes, perhaps I should have checked, but I’m used to going into escape rooms and trying to unlock padlocks.

 

In summary? Avoid like the plague of ye olden days. Travel a bit further out of the old town and go to Get Out or further still and try out Mystery House.

 

 

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Judging Harshly – Robbery at the Museum, Get Out, Riga

After a recommendation from Mystery House in Riga, we looked up Get Out. They didn’t seem to have many trip advisor reviews but based on how much we enjoyed Mystery House and the fact our host said it was the best game she’d ever played, we thought we would give it a try. We booked, and went along.

Occasionally, the location of an escape room will take us by surprise. This one certainly did. It was in a shopping centre in the middle of the city. Surrounded by clothes shops. To us, it seemed a bit strange, being used to more out of the way locations, old mills, railway arches etc.

We went ahead and booked the Robbery at the Museum room. We’ve done an art gallery theft room before and weren’t carried away with it so were a touch concerned that this one might also not live up to expectations. We were issued with a briefcase full of “useful items” and sent into the room.

From the website:

It was just a game…
We used to play poker with friends. We did great and we were good at it. However, one day some dangerous people beat us. Such people don’t forget stuff like that… Their demand is the diamond from the museum with the best security system in town. And we must carry out the robbery!  The robbery is well-planned to the slightest detail! But we have only 60 minutes…

First impressions of the room? Dark. And noisy. We didn’t have a clue what was going on for a while, and opened up the briefcase to see what we had that might be useful. Luckily there was a torch, and we got going on trying to do the mission.

As usual, I won’t go into any specifics, but it was AMAZING. The range of puzzles was brilliant, including some extremely clever high-tec ones (and everything worked!) and some very simple ones (yep, we struggled with the simple ones but managed the high tec ones just fine) It was the most physically demanding room that we’ve tried, but in a fun way, not moving furniture or picking up heavy objects kind of way. We were told we could have 3 clues and ended up using 2 of them – one of them on something quite simple that we really should have figured out ourselves.

The theming of the robbery was really good – you had to get into the museum that you were robbing, it wasn’t just a case of “you’re outside the door, open it and rob what you’re after before escaping the room”. It was more “you’ve got to get into the museum, avoid the guards, rob what you’re after and then get out” which made it more believable in my opinion.

We managed to escape, I think it was in 53:20. Sadly we didn’t get our photos taken or make a note of our time. There was plenty for the two of us to do and larger groups would be kept busy with all of the puzzles. There was also a potential time penalty in the room, which we managed to avoid and was something I hadn’t come across in escape rooms before. We asked (as we found it easy to avoid the penalty) and apparently it does catch people out who then struggle to complete the escape with the reduced time.

New favourite escape room. Need I say more? If you’ve after an escape room in Riga then this is a definite must. Sadly they just had the one room while we were there but are planning to open up a new room soon.

 

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Judging Harshly – Dr Zink, Mystery House, Riga

After finishing Mission: Riga at Mystery House, we had a little bit of a break while our host Gundega reset the room. We had both enjoyed the first room and were glad we’d booked the second room to do straight after. In all honesty, we loved the sound of the Dr Zink and would have played it first but the difficulty rating put us off a little bit so we went for the easier room first.

 

From the website:

This will be a journey into the world of numbers, formulas, and chemical elements. Are you ready to retrace knowledge obtained back in school? You have been trapped in the laboratory of dark minded scientist Dr. Zink. He is planning to blow up the whole world. The stakes are high, and you do not have much time left. Will you be able to find clues, solve formulas, and deactivate the bomb before it’s too late? Time is ticking…

 

Again, the room was really well thought out with some fantastic puzzles. We were warned that there would be a new type of lock in the room that we hadn’t come across in Mission:Riga which did confuse us a little bit (luckily I’d seen one before but my partner hadn’t). There were fewer high-tec puzzles in this room, but the ones in the room definitely required more thought. They weren’t kidding about the world of numbers and formulas!

Although the room was rated more difficult than Mission: Riga, we escaped this one quicker in 54:10 (after defusing the bomb of course – in fact I was so engrossed in defusing the bomb I completely forgot about opening the door!). Perhaps it’s because we both like the science-y stuff and find it interesting (we studied Chemistry and Engineering) or perhaps it’s because they try to persuade people to try Mission: Riga. Either way, we both really enjoyed it, and had a great chat with our game host Gundega afterwards while waiting for the taxi back to the city centre. We asked if she had any recommendations for escape rooms in Riga, and looked up the one she suggested – more on that soon.

Mystery House has definitely made it into our top 5 escape room locations. I always think that having a welcoming and friendly host makes a huge difference. Hopefully we’ll be able to go back and try our hand at any new games they have in the future!

Mystery House Riga

 

 

 

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Escape Room Games, Judging Harshly, Manchester

Judging Harshly – Madchester, Breakout Manchester

We ended up doing a couple of rooms last bank holiday at quite short notice – and in two different locations. I went and did Madchester at Breakout Manchester, while Emma went attempted escaping from the Secret Lab at Escape Room Manchester, which I’m sure she’ll blog about soon.

 

We’ve done a Breakout room in the past, Classified, where we raced against each other (they had two identical rooms) which we weren’t overly keen on – the room felt very functional, with few distractions and a lot of the equipment didn’t work which was a shame. Had we done the rooms earlier it might have been different, but as they were due to shut the week after we left (the lease was up) I think they didn’t see the point in replacing the equipment.

 

Anyway, the Classified rooms have gone now, and we went to try Madchester, Breakout’s hardest room. We were greeted and taken into the room, which I found a bit strange. I prefer being briefed outside the room, so that the escape starts once you’re inside. All of us were in the room looking around for clues before the intro started.

 

From their website:

Zack is a passionate collector of anything Manchester related. As a group of thieves, you wondered in his bedroom and find yourselves trapped. You have 60 minutes to steal Zack’s valuable collectables and escape before he comes back.

 

The room was bigger than I expected, and decorated well, reminding me slightly of my room while at Manchester University (although the Madchester room was much, much cleaner. And bigger. Without any damp) The props were good, and everything that should work did work. There were 3 of us in the team and we were all kept pretty occupied for the duration of the game. We managed to escape with just 1:12 left on the clock, having been distracted by something silly for far too long. We were just happy to escape, as one of our friends had done the room with his 4 workmates and not managed to get out. Not that we’re competitive or anything…

 

Breakout Mcr Madchester

 

I’d definitely recommend the room if you’re up for a challenge – we thought it was pretty well done and will probably try the other Breakout rooms soon.

 

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Judging Harshly – Dungeon of Doom, Clue HQ Warrington

Another review for a Clue HQ Warrington escacpe room – this time for the Dungeon of Doom.

 

Time for us to do the last room that we hadn’t done at Clue HQ Warrington – until they open up the new one later this month that is!

From the Clue HQ website:

Your friend has been wrongly accused of murder, and sentenced to death. They are locked in the confines of a medieval dungeon and it’s up to you to break in and save them. Can you free your friend and escape the dungeon together before the guard patrols the area again. You’ve got 60 minutes or you’ll all be sentenced to the same fate.

One person is blindfolded and taken to a jail cell, and the other members of the group are trying to free them. We used an app to decide who would be the “murderer”, which ended up being me. As I was blindfolded and led away, I did wonder if the rest of the group would try to save me, or if they would just leave me to rot in my jail cell and go home!

Thankfully they decided to stay and help. As usual, I won’t give too much away, but it was slightly infuriating being able to hear the rest of the group discussing what they were doing but being unable to see or help them in any way. There was one point in the game when I wondered if I’d be stuck there for the whole 60minutes!

The puzzles were good, a nice variety. To keep with the dungeon theme, nothing was overly high tech, which I prefer. It means that less can go wrong, and they have to think a bit more about the puzzles. There was one particular puzzle that we argued over a little bit, but managed to solve it in the end.

 

Dungeon of Doom escape

I have to say, escaping this room felt very anti-climatic. Several of us were trying to solve a puzzle when a message appeared on the screen to say we were free, which confused us all. Turns out that one of the team had accidentally opened the lock we were trying to get the combination for and had solved the final puzzle! We were close to the end anyway, but that did make our escape much quicker. I think we would have perhaps only been another 5 minutes at most.

So, in summary – a good game, some quite good puzzles but nothing that stood out in particular. Slightly let down by flukey lock and accidental early escape. I’d still recommend it.

 

 

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Judging Harshly – The Vault, Clue HQ Warrington

Another escape room review! This time The Vault room at Clue HQ Warrington. The location of this company is really handy, as it’s just around the corner from Warrington Central train station, and there’s parking nearby. We went on a Sunday and had no problem parking, though I’m not sure if that’s the case midweek.

Most escape rooms require no prior information. Everything you need to escape the room is inside the room. The Vault is a little bit different, as you are not only trying to escape, you’re trying to escape with as many casino chips as possible.

From the Clue HQ website:

You and your friends recently visited a casino owned by The National Bank of Money. Accusations have been made that their machines are fixed to give the house a higher advantage. They stole your money, and you’re going to get it back!

All of the casino’s chips are stored in the vault at The National Bank of Money. Your heist appears to be going smoothly until the security system comes back on! You’ve got 60 minutes to grab as much cash (in casino chips) as you can and escape!

To escape with all of the jackpot, you need to check out the website and do a bit of research before turning up. Everyone on our team checked out the website, and we managed to gleam some useful information.

The room was set up really well, and there were plenty of puzzles to keep us busy, including a few red herrings and a couple of well placed puns in the room that made us giggle. Overall, a pretty good room in my opinion. Everything seemed to work, which is always a plus!

 

But did we escape? We sure did! But sadly not with the jackpot. We had a quick look at the leaderboard before we left, and at the time of going, only one team had managed to get the jackpot. We all really enjoyed the room and it was fun trying to collect the chips.

 

Vault escape room

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Health, Judging Harshly, Product Reviews

Judging Harshly – Misfit Shine

Judging Harshly – Misfit Shine

I vowed that this year would be the year I became fitter. I’d been looking at activity monitors (aka overpriced pedometers) and had it narrowed down to a couple. I finally decided to get the Misfit Shine, because it was waterproof and I could go swimming with it. It also seemed very versatile as it can be worn on the wrist like a watch, or hooked onto socks/shoes (for cycling/running) or even worn as a necklace. I’d read lots of reviews and most of them were positive.

Before I purchased, I did some online research trying to get a decent price. It was retailing for about £75 on Amazon, around £55-60 on eBay (new) and £55 from Blacks. I ended up getting it for £49 from Tesco online and was able to pick it up the next day.

I excitedly opened up my new device. I liked the packaging of everything, although it could have been condensed. I felt like the instructions that came with the device were clear but not very in depth, and ended up looking for a manual online. I was really surprised at how lightweight the Shine was – I knew it wasn’t heavy, but I had expected something a little bit more substantial!

The first task was to open up the Shine device and put the battery in, which was simple enough. The next task was to sync up the device with the app. I have an android phone which is coming up to 2 years old. I looked for the app. It wasn’t there. A little bit of online digging showed that my phone wasn’t compatible with the Shine (it wasn’t easy to find this information out!) Luckily, my android tablet is slightly newer and I was able to download the app. Panic over, I hadn’t just spent £49 on something I wasn’t going to be able to use properly. Phew!

The final task was using it. The Shine measures your steps and lets you know how close you are to completing your daily goal (which is set up using the app). It has 12 lights around the edge of the Shine which light up. Normally, the lights are off, unless the device is ‘double tapped’. If 1/12 light up then you still have a long way to go, if 11/12 light up, then you’ve almost completed the goal for the day. These 12 lights also let you tell the time, which can take a bit of getting used to. Another feature of the Shine is that it can tell you how long you’ve slept, and how much of your sleep is ‘deep sleep’. When the Shine is synced up to the app you can get this information, along with detailed information of how many steps you’ve taken and distance traveled. If you go swimming or cycling with the Shine, you can tell the app, and it recalculates your calories and how close you are to your daily goal. I love that if I go for a swim in the morning before work then I’ve often nearly reached my daily goal! Since getting the device the activity options have increased and now also include tennis, soccer and basketball.

People have noticed the Shine on my wrist and commented on it, asking ‘what is it?’ It doesn’t look particularly watch-like, but seeing their amazement when it lights up to show the time is fun. All in all, it’s a handy little device and it’s interesting to see how far I’ve walked each day, and how many calories it thinks I’ve burned (which seems very high, but it takes into account the calories you burn naturally by just ‘being’ – so even if you spent the day sat completely still and the only activity you did was breathing it would still show you as having burned calories)

Would I recommend it? Yes, I would. It’s nice and light, and doesn’t look out of place on your wrist. It’s a great sense of achievement when you hit the daily goal and can encourage you to walk a bit more.

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Escape Room Games, Judging Harshly

Judging Harshly – Extremescape, Disley. Pirate Ship

It’s been a while since our last post, sadly life has gotten in the way! But we’re back with a vengeance with lots of things to catch up on, such as a few escape room reviews!

 

When I heard about Extremescape, I was really excited. A 90 minute pirate ship themed escape room? Amazing. I had heard good things, but wanted to check it out myself. A free evening came up, and 5 of us went off to Disley.

 

The first thing that you notice about Extremescape is the location. It was dark when we went and I’d read that it was a barn on a farm in the middle of nowhere. Not quite true, and there were signs showing the way – best thing to do is head towards the golf course and look for the signs. I imagine it’s a bit easier in daylight, but all 3 cars in our group made it there without any difficulty. There’s plenty of parking space on site, which was really handy.

 

We entered the building, not really knowing what to expect. We were warmly welcomed by Jess and Graham before putting belongings in lockers, then it was onto the main event. We were told a little bit about the room and told the top 3 escape times.

 

Our first impressions of the room were fantastic – before we even got into it properly! The attention to detail is superb and it creates a great atmosphere as soon as you start. As usual, I won’t give away any of the puzzles, but I will say that the room is very well thought out, the variety of puzzles is really good and some of them are quite challenging. The system that Extremescape uses for giving clues is really good, and although we did give in and ask for a clue at one point, we were so close that they almost refused to help us!

 

One thing that was slightly different compared to other escape rooms that we’ve done is that you were allowed to leave the room during the time limit, if you wanted to get a drink or go to the loo. I don’t think any of our group did, but it was nice to have the option if we wanted to.

 

But did we get out?

Extremescape1

Extremescape2

 

Yeah we did! And with a pretty quick time which (currently) has us at the top of their leaderboard. The fancy dress box was a great touch at the end and they also gave us a copy of the above photos which is a really nice keepsake.

 

After the game, we chatted with Jess and Graham, who are really passionate about their room and what they do, and it really does make a difference. Compared to some rooms that we’ve done where they want you out of the way as soon as possible so they can get the next group in it was really nice. They asked us how they’d stacked up against other escape rooms that we’d done, and were really impressed with our escape time. We mentioned that we were going out for food afterwards, and they suggested some local options and even booked a table for us!

 

Overall opinion – Fantastic! Great value for money, well thought out puzzles and theme with some surprises. We’ll definitely be going back to try their new room (Lost tomb) when it’s ready.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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