The Crystal Maze (London)

Summary
Simply brilliant. An hour of pure, unadulterated fun. I had been waiting 25 years for the time I got to actually play the Crystal Maze for myself — and it was everything it was billed to be.

Review
In a world where lots and lots of people accumulate lots and lots of stuff, experiences have been suggested as the new “want”. The Crystal Maze captures the zeitgeist perfectly: Gen X and millennials who watched the TV show in the late 80s and early 90s, all the while wanting to take part, now have the opportunity (and the disposable income) to do so.

I booked our trip nine months in advance to coincide with Emmy’s birthday and the presence in London of some of the further-afield members of Team Judge. A long time to count down. Would it be worth the wait? I was certainly hyping it up in my and my team’s heads…

We assembled nice and early outside the venue. It does not stretch physical ability to say it’s a stone’s throw from Angel station, though I suppose it would need to be a fairly small stone and you’d want to be careful of hitting anyone or any cars. It took a tad longer than I would have expected for us to pack away our belongings in lockers and I did feel a very brief pang of disappointment to be told that wearing the legendary bomber jackets was ill-advised, as it was too warm. No point dwelling on that though as it was not long before the staff escorted us to our starting point and played a clip show of old Crystal Maze material by way of welcome.

This I suppose is usually where you meet your maze master; in our case Minnie the Mover announced herself in a particularly unique manner – and it was very quickly into the maze. We started off down the wrong route by guessing which direction to travel, but got redirected promptly. I used the prerogative of having booked to declare myself team captain. We were really dropped in at the deep end with two automatic lock-ins, both of which we won, and continued on a roll for quite a while.

Having seen most if not all of the TV episodes, I wasn’t concerned about being bored whilst not playing. I budgeted for each team member to play two games assuming all went well, but I also expected that participating as a helper, or at least giving encouragement, was as important. And so it proved. There was a ratio of about 2:1 between games that had been previously seen on screen (or were slight variants) and completely new ideas. But knowing what to do and how to do it, and actually getting it done were two different things.

Minnie played her role to perfection throughout. Just the right balance of madness, organisation, and relentlessly high energy. We really ran from place to place. She hammed it up where needed and threw us a few slivers of helpful suggestions, but recognized that we were really at home with it and for the most part just let us get on with it. We genuinely felt like the stars of the show – right down to in our very last game, a classic, when I identified that I would be no help to our player, and instead danced with Minnie whilst the others played and helped.

What of the games? Yes, they come in physical, mental, skill, and mystery and last two to three minutes. Many would be at home in escape rooms. On average the difficulty level was pretty low – I say that now, though I might have had a different opinion if you had asked me after the games I played, both of which I made heavy weather (win 1 lose 1, since you asked). A couple were a bit low-rent, but the majority were well-themed, well-built, and beautiful. Helping from outside was indispensable on some games. The challenge was keeping the help from becoming a distraction, but I think we did all right.

It was all too short a time before we headed to the Crystal Dome. The Dome itself was yet another item to file under “everything I expected and more”. No silver tokens these days, but you’re not allowed to grab tokens from below waist height, only kick them back into the fans. It’s harder than it looks!

Attention to detail was immense throughout. Minnie didn’t put a foot wrong; she greeted a couple of other hosts by name when we stumbled across them, made occasional discreet radio calls to Mumsey for time checks, and knew all the games, all the places to go, whether there was a skill game left remaining in the zone, whether to help or have fun, and so much else. She was immense. On top of that, she matched our pace and vibe, knowing when there was time to squeeze in an additional game, and when there wasn’t, giving us a minute to retry one of the harder games for a bit of fun. Hosting aside, tech issues were notable by their absence – everything worked, perfectly, and first time. We didn’t encounter the other teams between entering the maze and getting to the Dome. Even the little touches that only the saddest bloggers notice were present – a microphone held out by the sound tech as the host passed by so she didn’t need to break her stride, for example.

Afterwards we were welcome to stay in the bar and chat, as well as watching following teams. They have a selection of board games, a classic Crystal Maze pub game (no idea where that came from!), as well as the bar itself. You’re welcome to go down to the locker room to fetch money or cards for the bar, which is reasonably-priced. There’s also the merchandise shop selling your souvenir crystal (£10), mugs (£8), t-shirts (£15-20), hoodies (£30), bomber jackets (£60), and a few other bits and bobs. I’d have snaffled a jacket but the sizes didn’t suit me. Might order one up online. It’s plastic only at the merchandise shop (American Express is accepted).

Outcome
Right, down to the nitty-gritty. We played 18 games and won 13 crystals. In fact, we won the first ten games back to back in Futuristic (4/4 including the two automatic lock-ins) and Medieval (5/5) before hitting the buffers in Aztec zone (1/4), before getting on track to add three out of five in Industrial. Our Crystal Dome performance at 165 wasn’t setting any records though came out second once they had finished disqualifying most of the other teams for scooping up tokens off the floor.

Once the initial 25 minutes or so of admin and briefings are out of the way you have about 45 minutes in the Maze and 15 at the dome after which you are able to stay in the onsite bar which has board games and the like. The CCTV view to watch others try the games isn’t really up to much — it’s just four fixed cameras which are outside game cells — but that is decidedly in the realm of trivialities.

In numbers
Sorry, but this one’s going to defy maths.
Overall: 10/10
Difficulty: 4/10
Theming: 11/10
Host: ∞/10
Wow: 10/10

It won’t be a surprise that the Crystal Maze joins our list of Generally Awesome award winners. It will take something very special indeed to knock them off the top of our leaderboard. This takes slick operations to new levels. Four teams playing at a time, black-shirted reset team skulking about to make the games ready again, maze masters plugged into radio connections but never distracted from the players, and everything just works. This exceeded all our expectations by an order of magnitude.

Advice
A special extra section for the Crystal Maze on how to get the most out of your trip to the Crystal Maze – recognizing that some escape rooms cost less than a single ticket to the Maze…

  • Print and bring all of the tickets from your confirmation email.
  • Be in plenty of time, rushing is bad.
  • Eat afterwards rather than beforehand.
  • Have at least somewhat of a plan on what kind of games each team member might like to play. Discussing it runs time down.
  • Be prepared to run from one game/zone to the next.
  • Don’t all shout at once whilst helping!
  • If you’re not first into the Dome, watch what the others do.
  • Listen carefully to your Maze Master.

Other details
Accessibility: Those without normal physical mobility or with visual impairments are likely to find things very challenging. They do say to contact them in advance to discuss the art of the possible. But there are steps all over the place.

Alerts: UV, some physical games. All of your stuff needs to be left in lockers, of which there are plenty.

Capacity: Four teams play at one time and each team is of up to 8 players. You can book individual tickets (in which case you may be grouped with others), an entire team, or all four teams at once — but you’ll want to book months in advance for full teams in premium times such as evenings and weekends.

Cost: We backed the Indiegogo last year so had the benefit of a reduced price; the going rate now is £52.50 per player on weekdays (closed Mondays) or £63 per player on weekends, plus a £1 transaction fee. American Express is accepted.

Photo: Taken in front of the Crystal Dome with a proper DSLR, and duly uploaded to their Facebook group the following Monday.

Getting there: A couple of minutes on foot from Angel (London Underground), or 15 minutes from Kings Cross/St. Pancras.

Website: http://www.the-crystal-maze.com/

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