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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The Human Limit of Speed-Puzzling?

stopwatch

When you think about achieving the impossible, what comes to mind? For runners, there’s beating the 4-minute mile. For the 100-meter sprint, it’s topping 10 seconds.

What do you suppose the puzzle equivalent would be? Solving puzzle #1 at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in under 2 minutes? We’ve seen Dan Feyer do that, and it was seriously impressive.

For Rubik’s Cube enthusiasts — especially the competitors known as speed-solvers or speed-cubers — that benchmark is a sub-3 second solve.

The current verified world record for speed-solving a Rubik’s Cube stands at 3.4 seconds, which shattered the previous record by almost a second.

(That record is for a single solve. Many Rubik’s Cube competitions involve an average time across five solved cubes, and the speed record for that hovers somewhere around 5 seconds.)

A lot goes into achieving a 3.4 second solve. There are specially designed cubes that allow for easier, quicker, smoother twisting and turning, so you can solve faster. I’m sure anyone who has solved a classic Rubik’s Cube found it at least a little bit clunky.

There’s also technique. Top solvers not only memorize solving patterns known as algorithms, but they have preferred combinations of moves.

It has been mathematically proven that no matter how complicated a scramble gets, you’re never more than 20 moves away from the solve. Now, of course a computer can analyze a cube and figure out those 20 moves. The human mind doesn’t work that way, so even top speed-solvers would require many more moves to solve the cube, even if they’re still lightning fast.

Which brings us to the next aspect of speed-solving: efficiency. Sometimes the fewest number of moves isn’t the fastest solve. For instance, if you have to rotate the cube in order to execute a turn, you’re wasting time you could otherwise spend twisting and turning toward the solution. So some solvers will avoid a slower rotational move by doing two turns instead, which ends up being faster overall. The trade-off of speed vs. efficiency is another way speed-solvers are whittling down time and approaching that 3-second threshold.

Top solvers can execute ten turns or moves per second. Based on the idea that no Rubik’s Cube is more than 20 moves away from being solved, that mathematically implies that a 2-second solve should be possible, if not probable.

In fairness, we’ve seen a solve take less than a second, but that involved a computer program and a robot solver.

So where do we currently stand? Well, there’s the 3.4 second official record, but former champion Feliks Zemdegs claims that, in training, he has achieved a 3.01 second solve.

Another speed-solver, Patrick Ponce, claims that he has solved a 3×3 cube in 2.99 seconds, but again, this is an unofficial time.

That being said, it certainly seems like the 3-second threshold, like the 4-minute mile before it, will eventually fall.

How fast is the human limit? Only time will tell.

[Sources: Rubik’s WCA World Championship, World Cube Association, Wired.]


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A New Twist on a Classic Twisty Puzzle?

The Rubik’s Cube is an instantly recognizable icon of the puzzle industry. That simple pattern of colors on a 3×3 grid, the twisty turny puzzly challenge… it’s unmistakable.

Of course, that hasn’t stopped Rubik’s Cube devotees and puzzle designers from experimenting with new variations on this iconic idea. Just in the last few years, we’ve seen everything from a solvable Google Doodle to a smartphone-enabled solving tool, from self-solving cubes to 3D-printed designs from superfans. Heck, we’ve seen cubes the size of buildings! (We’ve even seen them animated!)

But we’ve never seen a Rubik’s Cube quite like this.

[Image courtesy of Gearbrain.]

Say hello to the Rubik Tilt, a $25 handheld Rubik-style twisty puzzle that mixes button pressing with rotating, turning, and tilting the device itself in order to manipulate a virtual Rubik’s Cube on its game screen.

The buttons on the back of the controller allow you to select which row or column of the Cube is being shifted by your real world maneuvering.

Now, you may very well be saying, “So what? What does the Rubik Tilt do that you can’t get from playing with an actual Rubik’s Cube?” And that is a very fair question.

And the designers at Super Impulse did think of that; yes, the Rubik Tilt does have one trick up its sleeve that the original Cube does not.

[Image courtesy of Gizmodo.]

It’ll offer you hints if you get stuck.

Yes, when the game detects a lapse in solving — such as when you’re stumped about how to proceed next — it offers hints on which rows and columns of the puzzle to focus on. Although the puzzle won’t go as far as walking you through solving a Cube, it does provide a little pushing and prodding to keep you going.

When you factor in that the game also keeps track of your solving time, you have a Rubik’s-solving experience that not only encourages you, but actually teaches you to be better at solving this classic, diabolical brain teaser.

And, like the best puzzles, it rewards determination, rather than doubling down on frustration.

It’s certainly a different take on the Cube we all know, but it remains a worthwhile experiment, a proud new entry in the grand tradition of puzzles that teach us to be better solvers.


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Turn Your Smartphone Into a Rubik-Solving Sidekick?

I just can’t resist a bit of Rubik’s Cube news.

We’ve covered Rubik’s Cubes a lot on this blog. We’ve seen them solved underwater, while being juggled, during a skydive, and one move at a time by strangers on a world tour. And yes, we’ve seen them solved in increasing faster times, both by humans and machines.

The human record hovers around the five-second mark, while the machine record stands at .38 seconds, which is brain-meltingly fast.

Now there’s a new tool on the market to up your Rubik-solving game like never before. It’s called GoCube, and it’s on Kickstarter right now.

GoCube is a Rubik’s-inspired twisty puzzle that is Bluetooth-enabled in order to interact with a phone or tablet. It offers real-time updates on your solving progress — which corresponds to areas of the physical cube that light up — as well as carrying a whole host of other features.

You can use it as a training tool to teach you the tricks of the solving trade, whether you’re just learning how to solve a twisty puzzle or you have aspirations of being a speed-solver.

GoCube’s connectivity even allows you to compete in head-to-head solves with other users. Plus you can use the cube as a controller for mini-games, in dexterity challenges, and more.

This seems like an impressive step forward for twisty puzzles. Although the price tag is pretty hefty — the basic Kickstarter package starts at $69 (although the creators claim it will retail for $119) — the campaign has already blown past its initial goal of $25,000. It currently sits at over $400,000 in Kickstarter-backed funds with over a month to go.

Puzzles continue to grow and adapt to the modern technological revolution in unexpected and fascinating ways. I can’t wait to see what tech-savvy puzzlers cook up next.


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What Can YOU Solve In Under a Second?

Oh yes, it’s Rubik’s Cube time once again.

Every time I think I’ve seen everything someone can do with a Rubik’s Cube, a month or two later, another amazing video appears on the Internet, proving me wrong.

We’ve covered Rubik’s Cubes a lot on this blog. We’ve seen them solved underwater, while being juggled, during a skydive, and yes, we’ve seen them solved in increasing faster times.

As of last year, the record for a robot solving a Rubik’s Cube was .637 seconds. That robot, Sub1, has been the Guinness World Record holder ever since.

Until now, it seems.

That’s a right, a pair of engineers — Ben Katz and Jared Di Carlo — have nearly halved that world record with what they call their “Rubik’s Contraption.” This cube-solving bot posts a solving speed of .38 seconds.

Their machine is so fast that they had to program it to only allow one motor to move at a time. You see, in previous runs, more than one motor would try to move, and the cube would be RIPPED APART.

This lightning-fast robot is still waiting review by the team from Guinness, so, for now, Sub1’s record stands.

But for how long?


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This Rubik’s Cube Feat Is a Real Toss-Up!

You know, every time I think I’ve seen it all when it comes to Rubik’s Cubes, some enterprising solver proves me wrong yet again.

Over the years, I’ve seen a LOT of cool things done with Rubik’s Cubes.

I’ve seen the world’s most complex Rubik’s-style cube being solved, a building turned into a solvable Rubik’s Cube, and a Rubik’s Cube solved one move at a time by strangers across the globe.

I’ve even seen a Rubik’s Cube solved during a skydive.

So when I saw the video below, I originally thought it would fit right in with the cavalcade of impressive solves we’ve shared in the past.

I mean, solving three Rubik’s Cubes in 20 seconds… while juggling them? That’s incredible!

Check it out:

Wait, what’s that?

If you watch very closely, there’s something strange going on in this one.

Yes, it turns out it’s been faked. This is not a real solve.

But the reveal of how they pulled it off is almost more impressive than actually solving them so quickly:

That’s a lot of effort to make it look real.

But has anyone actually done a juggling solve of multiple Rubik’s Cubes?

Yes. A little more searching turns up the following six-minute doozy:

Here, as far as I can tell, is a genuine video of someone solving three Rubik’s Cubes while juggling them. It takes him six minutes, and he solves them one at a time (one twist at a time, every third throw, as you can see if you slow it down).

The camera isn’t steady; it’s constantly moving around. And the daunting length of the video adds to the credibility. You saw all the work that went into digitally animating 20 seconds. Doing so for six straight minutes with far greater variation in light and framing? That would be a Herculean effort in editing.

The only thing that’s weird about this one is how nonchalant everyone around this guy acts while he’s performing an amazing feat of concentration and dexterity.

It might not be a rapid-fire speed-solve, but it is a worthwhile watch nonetheless.

Now, to close out today’s post, here’s the opposite of speed-solving, as two Rubik’s pros take 18 minutes (sped up in the video) to solve the world’s largest Rubik’s Cube:

I like how the sheer size of the cube seems to flummox them a bit. After all, it’s not as easy to look at all sides of the cube and assess it as you would a normal Rubik’s Cube.

Still, it’s a very cool feat to document.

Meanwhile, I’ll be over here, trying to crack a regular old cube. Good thing I’ve got extra time off for the holiday. I’ll need it.


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