Watch Celebrities Tackle an Escape Room for Charity!

I know the last few months have been hard for a lot of people. But it’s also been inspiring to see communities rally and work together, even while social distancing, to take care of each other. And loads of creative folks out there have been raising money for charity in clever and entertaining ways.

In the last few weeks alone, we’ve seen examples like the cast of the TV show Community reuniting on behalf of World Central Kitchen and Frontline Foods, Twitch streamer Rachel Howie supporting St. Jude through gaming, and a puzzle bouquet to support safe maternity care worldwide, masterminded by Andrew Chaikin (with puzzles by Mike Selinker, Kid Beyond, Alison Muratore, and Sandor Weisz) and distributed through Lone Shark Games.

One of the biggest annual fundraisers is Red Nose Day, a yearly international event dedicated to eradicating child poverty. There are often special TV events tied into the Red Nose Day, and this year was no exception.

NBC employed a more puzzly route than most participating networks, as they presented an hour-long show dedicated to a celebrity-filled escape room.

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[Image courtesy of EOnline.]

Musician and actor Jack Black hosted, serving as the exuberant and maniacal gamemaster for the event. Ben Stiller, Adam Scott, Courteney Cox, and Lisa Kudrow were the celebrity players, and they had one hour to escape Jack’s series of rooms. For each puzzle they successfully solved, they would earn $15,000 in charitable donations from the event’s sponsor, M&Ms.

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[Image courtesy of NoReruns.net.]

Jack explained the rules, and then informed them that they were allowed three hints to help them solve the puzzles. Each hint was represented by a red clown nose, the official symbol of Red Nose Day.

You can watch the entire special video below, or continue reading for a recap of the show and a breakdown of each puzzle:


RECAP

The celebs were escorted into an elevator and sent on their way. The team immediately started trying to figure out how to escape.

But the elevator wasn’t a puzzle room. Jack was just messing with them, sending the elevator up and down before opening it.

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The group’s first actual challenge was an 80’s themed room, which contained not only numerous references to the decade (posters, movies, decor, etc.), but references to each actor’s career to serve as a distraction. Jack Black informed the audience of two key locations to pay attention to — a photo wall and the table with pizza on it — but didn’t explain the actual puzzles.

Courteney Cox stumbled upon a clue — a recorded message from Jennifer Lopez — that sent the celebs to their yearbooks on one of the shelves. Inside, they each found a different variation of a picture of people sitting on a couch, each one with more people in it.

Ben Stiller not only realized that they needed to be placed somewhere in order, but spotted where to do so.

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The photo wall was a 3×4 grid, with 8 photos already placed and 4 open spaces. My first instinct would have been to place the photos in order of the rows (as if reading the photos in storyboard order from left to right, row to row).

But the photos had to be placed in column order from left to right, ignoring the rows. Courteney figured this out, and a couch folded out from the wall. Having successfully completed a puzzle, $15,000 was added to the team’s charity total.

By all sitting on the couch, they activated the TV, which aired a commercial for Rubik’s Cubes. Ben realized the pizza and tablecloth in the center of the room were covering a giant Rubik’s Cube. (Instead of being rotated and twisted, this one had removable magnetic blocks, which made solving it easier.)

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[Image courtesy of WhatsNew2Day.]

By completing the puzzle (and earning another $15,000), the room’s window opened onto a school hallway set.

Jack directed the audience’s attention toward a clue on the floor, a mascot head in the trophy case, and to the lockers along the corridor.

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[Image courtesy of WhatsNew2Day.]

The celebs immediately started checking the lockers, but they were all locked. While searching for their next puzzle, the celebs misinterpreted a banner that said “Let’s get loud” and started screaming.

It’s silly, but hey, in an escape room, sometimes you’ll try anything.

Ben spotted the clue on the floor, and Courteney realized that some of the floor tiles could be pulled up, revealing a picture puzzle to be assembled. They solved the puzzle — a picture of Jack in a mascot costume — and it opened the trophy case. That made their charity total rise to $45,000.

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When Adam put the mascot head on, the lights dimmed, and he began looking for the next clue. Three of the celebs tried the mascot head on, but they couldn’t find anything. So they used one of their red noses and asked for a hint.

Jack intervened and told them to direct the mascot head’s vision toward the lockers. On certain lockers, the mascot’s head revealed in invisible ink the birthdays of the four players. After some difficulty, Adam realized they should open the lockers in birthday order, which caused all four to open. (Four puzzles completed, $60,000 earned.)

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As the other players removed letterman jackets from the lockers, Courteney stepped into her locker (which was larger inside than the others) and Jack shut it behind her, seemingly locking her in. While trying to figure out how to free Courteney, they all decided to put their jackets on.

Jack directed the audience to pay attention to the janitor’s closet, the trophy case, and the cubby area for the next puzzle.

Courteney discovered her locker secretly led into the locked janitor’s closet. Meanwhile, the other players found prom tickets in their jackets.

The Red Nose Day Special - Season 2020

[Image courtesy of TV Insider.]

Unable to free Courteney (the inside door handle came off in her hand), the celebs were flummoxed again, even trying to play rock-paper-scissors to open the door. (Bafflingly, Ben doesn’t know how to play.) They decided to ask for their second Red Nose hint. Jack pointed them toward the janitor’s to-do list, which has four tasks on it, three completed.

The unfinished task referenced the water fountain, and upon investigating it, Adam found the door handle for the janitor’s closet, freeing Courteney (and earning another $15,000).

Doing so activated the TV in the trophy case, and special guest “Principal” Kelly Clarkson provided a year-in-review that recounted the trophy won by each celeb, and suggested they hang up their jackets on the Wall of Fame (the cubby area).

The celebs missed the trophy clue and just hung their jackets up (not realizing that the trophies — first place, second place, third place, and fourth place — indicated the order of the jackets).

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They tried birthday order again, then headed back to the trophy case, realized their mistake, and put the jackets in the correct order, earning another $15,000 for charity.

Part of the locker wall then opened up to reveal a room decorated for prom, complete with balloons and a space for couple/group photos. Jack directed viewers to pay attention to the clock on the wall, the photos of couples on the wall, and the photography setup.

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Relying on the clue “it’s almost time for crown the king and queen,” they puzzled out that there are clocks on all of the photos, but it reads 9 PM for the crowned couple.

Courteney eventually realized there was a stepladder that would allow her to reach the clock, and rotated it until it read 9 PM. (Their charity total was now $105,000!)

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Completing the puzzle activated the lights in the photo area. They posed for their picture, and when they snapped it, the balloon wall burst, revealing a gym decorated for prom. (It also scared the daylights out of them, which made for a great prom photo.)

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Jack then fully explained the next puzzle to the audience, as the celebs had to match the images on their prom tickets to certain champagne bottles (filled with M&Ms) on the refreshments table, which would then point them to particular light-up squares on the electronic dance floor.

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The celebs immediately zeroed in on the symbols on the champagne bottles, but didn’t know what to do with them. Jack taunted them, hoping to goad them into using their third and final hint, until Courteney spotted the matching symbol on her prom ticket.

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Now finally pairing up bottles of M&M champagne, Courteney again figured out that the colors of each pair of bottles should combine to match the color of the podium they’re placed on. It’s a pretty impressive bit of puzzling, I must admit.

Each time they placed a pair of bottles correctly, part of the dance floor lit up.

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Unfortunately, they confused the colors required to make pink with the colors needed to make orange, which slowed them down. Fixing their mistake and completing the puzzle, they ran to the dance floor with another $15,000 for charity.

The dance floor was a 4×4 grid, with each player standing in a different colored square in the bottom row. As the dance floor lit up in a sequential pattern of lights, the team realized they were playing a Simon-style game where they had to step forward in a certain order to match the pattern of colored lights displayed on the floor.

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There were three rounds of the game. The first (and simplest) required a single step each onto the second row. The second required two steps (meaning eight total moves in order), and third required three steps (meaning a more complicated twelve-step order).

Once they sorted out their timing issues in the first round, they flew through the second and third rounds, solving the puzzle and earning another $15,000.

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Jack then instructed the group to go onstage and sing their way out of the room as their final challenge. He noted they only had 9 and a half minutes left to escape.

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A video wall across the room activated, and Adam and Mike, the two remaining Beastie Boys, wished them luck. When Jack started playing guitar over the intercom, Ben recognized the song as “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (to Party),” which they’d have to sing karaoke-style to escape.

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But Lisa didn’t know the song, and she consistently botched the rhythm on each of her turns. Thankfully, that didn’t hinder the group too much, and after being startled one last time (with victory confetti), they escaped the prom with a total $150,000 for charity, and a little over 6 minutes to spare.

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Honestly, as a fan of escape rooms, I really enjoyed this. It’s a great — if highly budgeted — example of this puzzle genre, and a strong introduction for anyone who has never tried them.

The puzzles ranged from simple to moderately hard, but for the most part were fairly intuitive. Also, while it’s embarrassing in the moment to try silly things and draw dumb conclusions while trying to solve puzzles, it’s also very entertaining to watch someone else do the same.

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[Image courtesy of The Hollywood Reporter.]

All in all, it was a fun event hosted for a great cause, and the four celebrity players (plus gamemaster Jack) made an engaging cast of characters. The little interviews interspersed throughout also added a lot. (Plus, at the end, we found out Courteney loves escape rooms, which explains her mad puzzle skills.)

If you’d like to contribute to the fine charity work Red Nose Day represents, please click here for more details.


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International Puzzle Day is almost here!

 

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This Sunday, January 29th, is International Puzzle Day (aka National Puzzle Day), a day dedicated to all things puzzly — be it crosswords, jigsaw puzzles, riddles, or other brain teasers — and there are plenty of fun ways you could celebrate.

For instance, last year, we commemorated the day by building a puzzle fort!

puzzlefort

Now, if you don’t have dozens of puzzle books handy, don’t despair! You could bust out an old jigsaw puzzle (or a new one!), try your hand at a Rubik’s cube, or tackle a puzzle you’ve never tried before!

If you’re looking for more of a group activity, you’ve got the Internet at your fingertips. You could find your nearest hobby shop and try out a new puzzle, or track down an Escape Room or Puzzle Hunt event near you!

For instance, I stumbled upon this link for a National Puzzle Day Jigsaw Competition in Mobile, Alabama this Sunday! Race to see who can solve a 1,000 piece jigsaw the fastest!

And that’s just one of dozens of events happening around the country this Sunday.

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Need a place to start? Check the event calendar for your local library! Many libraries host events open to public on days like International Puzzle Day, and you might meet fellow puzzlers in your area!

And if there’s not an event in your area, why not host one? You could host a team puzzle-solving challenge, a scavenger hunt, a crossword contest, or a night of trivia!

This year, we opted to do something a little different, whipping up some puzzly bouquets of Daisy, Flower Power, and other floral puzzles, and handing them out to friends! Just a little way to brighten someone’s day! (This excellent suggestion came from puzzler and friend of the blog Jen Cunningham.)

puzzleflowers

And, hey, if you need something a bit more extreme, you could celebrate like this guy and solve a Rubik’s cube while skydiving!

Now, I won’t be doing that, but that doesn’t mean you can’t.

So, how are you celebrating International Puzzle Day? Let me know! I’d love to hear from you!


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A Legend of Zelda Escape Room? Puzzles Plus Adventure!

[Image courtesy of LaCrosse Escape Room.]

Escape Room puzzles are really pushing new boundaries in terms of themes and storytelling. Horror, post-apocalypse, and other disaster themes are fairly common, and we recently discussed a escape event in Chicago with a monsters-on-the-loose theme.

So I’m definitely not surprised to see media companies getting in on the action. As it turns out, Nintendo has gotten in on the ground floor and will be producing a touring escape-the-room event this year.

The theme: The Legend of Zelda. One of the most beloved video game franchises of all time.

Defenders of the Triforce offers the opportunity for game fans and puzzlers to leap into the vast universe of the Zelda games, exploring, solving puzzles, and becoming an adventure hero just like Link!

Unlike traditional escape-the-room challenges, you’re not locked in a room with only your team. Several teams use the space at the same time to try to solve all the puzzles and “escape,” but each team has its own table to serve as a base of operations. (Though the organizers warn “you will need to get up and explore the game space in order to find all the clues. Write everything down!”)

You have to buy tickets in advance to ensure a spot at one of these events, and teams of six will participate in the game. So you can sign up with friends or sign up on your own and join a team!

[Image courtesy of Zelda.com.]

No specific Zelda game knowledge is required in order to play, but I suspect long-time fans of the Zelda games will get more out of the experience.

These are the dates announced so far:

San Francisco: Jan 31 – Feb 5 (sold out)
Los Angeles: Feb 10 – Mar 12 (sold out)
Phoenix: Feb 15 – Feb 17 (1 date with spaces left)
San Diego: Feb 23 – Feb 25 (sold out)

Further information on events in Seattle, Houston, Chicago, and New York will be announced on January 24th. And be quick on the button, because these things are clearly selling out fast!

This sounds like a perfect matching of video game puzzlers and traditional puzzle solvers, and I can’t wait to hear about the events. I’ll be sure to keep you posted, and if anyone in the PuzzleNation readership is planning on attending, let me know! I’d love to hear from you!

[You can find more details on the event here, along with links to The Legend of Zelda and SCRAP, the escape room team organizing the event.]


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An Escape Room in a Box!

[Image courtesy of Escape Game Addicts.]

Escape rooms have been all the rage lately, as teams of people pit themselves against riddles, puzzles, codes, and other challenges in order to escape a room within a certain amount of time. It’s about as close as you’ll get to being MacGyver or Batman in this life, and it can be great fun.

They’ve been around long enough that themed escape rooms are beginning to emerge. From post-apocalyptic and horror themes to hockey, schools, pirates, and more, escape rooms are constantly innovating to keep solvers on their toes.

So when I heard about an upcoming escape-the-room-style event in Chicago, I had to share it with my fellow puzzlers.

Revolution Brewing Tap Room in Chicago will be hosting Creatures on the Loose on December 28, a creation of The Mystery League, and they’ve put a curious twist on the escape-the-room scenario: everything you’ll need is inside a locked briefcase.

From the announcement on Eventbrite.com:

Ten terrible creatures, each from an alternate dimension, have been let loose to wreak havoc on our town. The culprit’s identity and motives are unknown. Hunters have been on the case, snooping around town and collecting evidence. But they too have vanished, leaving just their locked briefcases behind. You will need to break into the briefcase, find the creatures, and figure out who is causing all this mayhem.

Inside the briefcase you will find all the tools you need to solve the mystery, including (but not limited to): a newspaper, a magic wand, a bible, a calculator, a wallet of money, a pile of stocks, a Wonka bar, a leather strap, a code wheel, a map, and an enigmatic computer.

The idea of an escape room that comes to you is an awesome one, and I hope the Mystery League finds great success with this challenge. (And the winning team gets a round of pints as their prize!)

Tickets start at $29 for a 90-minute event, and that sounds like a great deal for a puzzly experience like this. Let me know if you participate! I’d love to hear about it!


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The Great Puzzle Pursuit: Puzzle Hunting Across the U.S.!

Puzzle hunts are interactive solving experiences that often have you wandering around a certain area as you crack codes, unravel riddles, and conquer puzzles.

Whether you’re working alone or you’ve recruited a team to help with the hunt — perhaps solvers whose skills complement your own or fill a gap in your puzzling ability — it takes puzzles a step further, often making for a memorable puzzle experience, akin to Escape the Room challenges.

We’ve covered some puzzle hunts in the past, like BAPHL or the Trials Evolution hunt. We’ve also explored puzzle hunts that combine aspects of scavenger hunts and physical challenges to create a more physically demanding solving experience, like the Great Urban Race.

But I don’t know that we’ve ever covered something quite on the scale of The Great Puzzle Pursuit.

Instead of one city, you have 15 possible cities to test you. Instead of racing other teams over the course of a day or a weekend, you have a seven-month window of opportunity to test your puzzly mettle.

Intrigued yet? I certainly was, so I reached out to the team behind The Great Puzzle Pursuit to find out more about this ambitious solving experience. Co-creator Jason was kind enough to answer my questions about the event.


What inspired the Great Puzzle Pursuit?

A little background about us first. My wife Amy and I have been frequent participants in events like Warrior Dash, Urban Dare, and various scavenger hunts for the last 10 years. Now that I am older I can tell you that breaking both of my ankles previously ensured that I just cannot run like I used to.

So my wife and I, who are enormous fans of puzzles and the outdoors, tried various geocaching activities. Which we loved, but that is more just hide and seek. Then we went on to try various scavenger hunts and found the challenges to generally be silly tasks as opposed to actual puzzles.

After much research, we just couldn’t find exactly what we were looking for so we decided to make it ourselves, launching in Pittsburgh, PA.

You have 15 cities listed as possible points of entry into this puzzle hunt. What are the logistics involved in creating something of this scope? How many team members do you have running GPP?

The logistics in running multiple simultaneous hunts is somewhat of a challenge. In each city, we choose 7 locations — generally monuments, statues, or unique features — and then weave puzzle elements into these locations. Essentially you will need to solve 7 location puzzles and 7 on-site puzzles to complete your city.

[Glenn’s note: Location puzzles lead you to a location, while on-site puzzles can only be solved once you reach a given location.]

The locations are different but the puzzle elements are identical between cities so we can ensure it is a fair competition. Assuming a team bests their city challenge, all teams across the country share one last Meta puzzle. To date only 4 teams have unlocked this final challenge and now qualify for the cash prize nearing $1,200.

My wife and I are the owners and operators and we have a team of 8 that helps us create the challenges, scope out future locations, etc.

How many groups/competitors are involved right now?

We are nearing 300 teams now, with 4 total finishers [people who have completed a city challenge and the meta puzzle]. Two for Pittsburgh, one from Buffalo, and one from Hartford. All teams have until September 15 to finish so we expect to see a few more by then.

What lessons did you learn from season 1 that have informed this season’s event?

What we learned from season 1 is that people want to be challenged. In season 1 we made a puzzle hunt that was difficult but 50% of all teams completed it.

The vast majority said they wanted it to be even harder! So this year we added that 15th and final national puzzle that only the best of the best will be able to unlock.


Thank you to Jason and Amy for taking the time out to talk to us today! You can find out more about the Great Puzzle Pursuit on their website here and on Twitter here!

And remember, there are 15 possible cities to conquer:

  • Austin, Texas
  • Baltimore, Maryland
  • Boise, Idaho
  • Buffalo, New York
  • Cleveland, Ohio
  • Columbus, Ohio
  • Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
  • Hartford, Connecticut
  • Indianapolis, Indiana
  • New York, New York
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • St. Augustine, Florida
  • Springfield, Massachusetts
  • Washington, D.C.

Let us know if you’re going to accept the Great Puzzle Pursuit challenge in the comments below!


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The Crystal Maze returns!

[Host Richard O’Brien tempts you into testing your mettle in The Crystal Maze.]

Crowdfunding strikes again!

This time around, fan support and puzzly outreach has resurrected The Crystal Maze, a classic puzzly TV show from across the pond.

From 1990 to 1995, contestants would team up to overcome physical and mental obstacles under a tight time limit as they tackled the show’s signature themed zones, including an Aztec one, a medieval one, and an industrial one, earning crystals for every completed puzzle or activity.

Those crystals could then be converted into time allotted to confront the final challenge: the Crystal Maze itself.

The Indiegogo campaign raised nearly double what the team of designers was asking for! But, instead of a TV show, The Crystal Maze is returning as a fully interactive experience for the public, tasking you with completing these challenges yourself.

With the recent popularity explosion of Escape the Room experiences, this seems like a fantastically entertaining next step in immersive puzzle-solving.

[A computer-generated mock-up of the new Aztec zone.]

Not only are there actors to play various roles within each zone, but host Richard O’Brien is returning to “welcome guests in a time-honored fashion.”

Tickets are on sale now for the March 15, 2016, launch of The Crystal Maze experience in London. You can book individually (£50 on weekdays, £60 on weekends), sign up with a full team (8 people), or book an entire session (32 people, since 4 teams can run through each session). Each session runs approximately 90 minutes.

Hopefully you’ll do better than this player:


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