Denver Immersive Summit will be held at the University of Colorado Denver Science Building on Saturday, November 10. The daylong event will feature creative artists and designers demonstrating their wares and speaking about the past, present, and future of immersive experiences. Tickets are $25 for the full event and students can apply for “scholarship” admission.
So, why should you attend an immersive summit? If you are a theatergoer and your tastes lean toward the experimental, you should attend. If you’ve been hearing about this Meow Wolf installation coming to Denver in few years and want to know what that’s about, you should attend. If you’re interested in augmented and virtual reality technology, you should attend. If you watch Westworld and want to know how close the premise of that show is to being a reality, you should attend. And if you like escape rooms and want to join a discussion about inclusive escape room design led by Cody Borst and me, you should attend.
Whether or not you can attend the summit, I’m interested in your take on the escape room topic. Have you played an escape room and felt disconnected from some element of the experience? What are the the most important ways an escape room can engage with a wide group of players? Are there drawbacks to an escape room being too inclusive? Please share your thoughts.
I recently blogged about the Inkubator crosswords subscription service and Crosswords LA X.
The Inkubator Kickstarter is here, and $25 pledge includes an AV Club crossword subscription. The puzzle packet for Crosswords LA can be purchased here.
Crosswords LA provided me an opportunity for a mini-vacation in Southern California last weekend. I constructed the opening puzzle and volunteered at the tournament as a judge and an assistant for some of the game events. The tournament had a good puzzle set this year and I encourage solvers to get solve-at-home packets once they become available. Puzzle 3 by Anna Gundlach and Erik Agard gave solvers the biggest challenge of the day, but it wasn’t as dramatic a pack separator as I predicted. Solid performance throughout the day netted berths in the finals for Jeff Davidson, Brian Fodera, and Eric Maddy. Eric took the victory with the only perfect solution of Brendan Emmett Quigley’s championship puzzle. Congratulations to all the finalists!
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Outside of the tournament, most of my waking moments in LA were assigned to a binge of local escape rooms. Tyler Hinman organized the binge and scheduled 15 escapes over the weekend. I participated in ten of them, eight on Saturday and two following the tournament on Sunday night, and it’s safe to say that the best was saved for last. Hatch Escape’s Lab Rat is the current hot escape room ticket in LA and I have to say that it lives up to the hype. The game put solvers in a world where rats are the scientists and humans the diminutive test subjects, and this premise is realized with amazing fabrication and humorous narrative. The game-play structure features many original puzzles including one challenge revealing that Tyler and I should work on some strategies if we ever end up on a charades team in the future. The room’s intricate mechanics seem a bit risk-inviting and, in fact, we suffered two mechanical hiccups that halted our game, but game master August was on the ball and got us back on track in short order. The whimsical prediction values and great teammates made this a memorable escape room experience.
Escapades LA was another highlight of the binge. Of its two rooms in North Hollywood, my favorite was Doggy Dog World in which the solving group took on the role of an intrepid canine on a quest for a beloved red ball. The dog’s-eye-view set was inspired and the endgame was hysterical. The Laboratory in downtown LA had an intriguingly manifest structure. After a generic “save the world” briefing, the group was shown a wall-mounted diagram of all the puzzles with clear visual indications of the solving order and the confirmation locations. This was helpful information as the mission had over 30 puzzles to solve. I found the structure refreshing and enjoyed the fact that we could organize our efforts so that everyone had opportunities to make contributions. I played several 60Out rooms on Saturday and my favorite was the circus themed Hyde and Seek with a fun train car set. Abyss at Maze Rooms was a two-person experience that Tyler and I completed as our last experience on Saturday night. It featured an interesting narrative and polished set but, like Maze’s Magic Kingdom, we struggled with intuitive leaps on how precisely to use the technical elements to complete each task.
The best part of escape room binges is the opportunity to solve with new friends. The montage of victory photos below includes people such as Al, Craig, Erik, Jenna, and Wyna with whom I shared an escape experience for the first time over the weekend. Thank you for adding to my joy and reminding me that it’s all about the team!
Laura Braunstein is requesting submissions for an upcoming crossword puzzle subscription service. The Inkubator will feature twice-a-month publications of crossword puzzles constructed by women. Laura and Tracy Bennett will edit the puzzles and seem very open to themes and grid styles that challenge mainstream standards. Constructors may submit drafts and general questions to inkubatorcrosswords [at] gmail.com. A crowdfunding campaign for subscriptions launches October 21.
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Crosswords LA X will be held this Sunday (October 21) at USC’s Hoffman Hall. Advance registration is closed, but a limited number of walk-in participants will be admitted on tournament day. Tournament organizer Elissa Grossman and puzzle wrangler Alex Boisvert have commissioned puzzles from some of the finest puzzlemakers in the country, and also one from me. Solve-at-home packets will be made available after the tournament and portions of the proceeds go to Reading to Kids. I’m excited to see everyone at the tournament!
I haven’t written about work lately so I thought I’d share some updates at Puzzah! We just signed a lease on a space for our new location. The third Puzzah! is set to open in Santa Fe, New Mexico in early 2019! The storefront in the Railyard district will feature clones of our Specimen and MASK games, and the debut of new game: Knight Shade.
In Knight Shade, players become amateur ghost hunters investigating a villainous knight whose spirit allegedly haunts a medieval-themed pizzeria. The theme was inspired by 1970s bubblegum mysteries like Scooby-Doo, and has some humorous details that will lighten the spooky setting. The shop team did a great job on fabricated elements, such as the Castle Attack arcade game pictured right. I am finishing up effects and scheduling while the general contractor readies the New Mexico space for installation. This has been a demanding project for the last few months and I’m excited that we will soon get to offer the game to the public.
One of my design goals for Knight Shade was to introduce opportunities for open (parallel) solving. All Puzzah! games to date have featured strictly linear narratives. The structure suits the groups of 2-4 that the company founders originally targeted, but we are now trying to accommodate larger groups who have requested the option to split up rather than cluster. Knight Shade has a story line that allows acts to be presented in various orders and combinations, but we still plan to put limits on open solving, at least in the initial runs of the game. We don’t, for example, want to open multiple acts or acts with specialized reset requirements toward the end of a stage when players are pressured to resolve all tasks before advancing. We always welcome smaller groups and would not want a twosome to feel pressured to split up just because a open solving option arises. Anticipating the possibilities and translating the responses to computer code have been challenges for meeting this design goal.
Aside from Knight Shade and the Santa Fe opening, the Puzzah! team has been pitching ideas for future projects and developing more outreach programs for schools and community groups. We ranked #4 in the USA Today reader’s poll for Best Escape Room 2018 — thank you to all who supported us with votes! I also plan to represent Puzzah! as a forum participant at next month’s Denver Immersive Summit, but I’ll save the details of that event of a future post.