Weaver's Week 2016-12-18

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A word of warning, this article gives away some fairly major spoilers about what was in the live event back in June. Many of these features may still be present in December. If you want to be completely unspoiled, skip right now to the album chart.

The Crystal Maze


The Crystal Maze Live

Little Lion Entertainment. Review based on our visit on 18 June

The hopes and fears of all the players

A little history. On 14 June last year, we noted:

The big news this week has been about The Crystal Maze. Press releases and publicity have suggested that there's to be a live-action version of the show, to be staged at a location in London. Money for the project will be through the fashionable crowd-funding concept. [..]
This column has enough confidence in the people named, and thinks the risks are outweighed by the possible fun, that we've thrown some money their way. We expect to be locked in at the first possible opportunity.

The Crystal Maze

Two weeks later, we'd turned from "will this happen", to "it's on, amaze us."

The Crystal Maze has won a crowdfunder in eight days flat. Teams of eight, the canonical one hour, leads to a concern that players will see two games. Two thoughts on this, not mutually exclusive.
1) We play more than four games per zone. The teams could play for at least 15 minutes in each zone, and then move on. 15 minutes allows a team to play five, maybe six games.
2) Multi-player games in the Fort Boyard style. As not seen on British television, but very much part of the fabric elsewhere.
We expect the construction to be sympathetic to the original, though not pinpoint accurate. A well-lit Aztec zone, a dark and cobwebby Medieval world, a run-down factory, a spaceship. They don´t have to have the same layout as the 1990s set, don´t have to have the same number of cells.
How will they handle lock-ins? An additional goal is to have a central prison, allowing prisoners to escape in the Fort Boyard style. Failing that, a lock-in cage somewhere in each zone: the player is visible, and will move with their team, but can´t do much to help.
We hope the designers don't repeat too much from The Crystal Maze television show – the iconic games are Mumsey, and the murder mystery, and one of those is a faff to reset. We're less concerned about games from Fort Boyard, Zodiak owns the rights to both shows, and many of the physical-to-skill games are a) novel to most players, b) easy to explain, and c) quick to reset.

Oh little town of Islington

Fast forward to a muggy Saturday in the middle of June. Eight players gather in a pub near The Angel. Who are these people?

The Crystal Maze This isn't us. Most of the pictures are from Channel 4's programme in October.

  • The Founder, a trader from Middlesbrough
  • The Firefighter, a friend from London
  • The Puzzler, a brainbox from Archway
  • The Traveller, an archivist from Salford
  • The Dryad, a librarian from Hogwarts
  • The Week, a column from Birmingham
  • The Jogger, a tutor from Tottenham
  • The Doctor, a puzzle compiler from Reading

And The Doctor is the team's captain.

An efficient entry system: scan tickets, sign waivers on a computer, put bags away. They can process a complete team in five minutes flat. It's impressive.

Then gather around a table in the team colour, which has jackets underneath. We're not wearing them, it's too hot in the maze.

A briefing by the briefing person, to check we're not too drunk, and to warn that there may be some strong language and some physical triggers. No-one's forced to do things they don't want to do, or see anything they don't want to see. That said, you won't want to see this show if you've a morbid fear of sand, and there's a little crawling through enclosed spaces.

The Crystal Maze Handing over from Richard to his successor.

And then we're ushered into the waiting area. For mediaeval, there's a long four-poster bed for us all to sit on. We're played a montage of clips from the television show, mashing up games and scenery. All the host shots feature Richard O'Brien. Clearly, they've taken the same approach as some viewers, and they deny the very existence of Ed Tudor-Pole.

The video montage ends with Richard signing over the maze to a new master. Enter, through the door, Jezzabel. A larger-than-life character, Jezz is dressed as a zippy hippie, the sort of character who can walk into a room and command everyone's attention.

This isn't our mazemaster, but close enough.

Jezz is our mazemaster, and spends five minutes learning about the team. This is primarily so she can fix names to faces in her own way. And it works: the names are fixed with pinpoint precision.

And then it's into Mediaeval. They've done a good job with the scenery, this really does feel like they've re-created the castle. A long table to gather around, chandeliers with just the right sort of cobweb.

We'll occasionally see Maze Elves, resetting each challenge as soon as we've played it. In this zone, the Maze Elf can interact, pretend to be a hunchback. Attention to detail, see.

The Crystal Maze Dry ice, candelabra, drapes, painted bookcase.

There's a gentle background noise, the drip of water on stone, and the occasional noise of dogs barking and howling. Actual wooden shutters prevent us from looking into the cells before they start the games.

The same detail's present in the games. The "cannonball roll" game involves real cannonballs and a real barrel, rolling on real rails, and real gravity to deliver the crystal. The "sundial" game involves a real sundial, with real stone pieces. The "inn signs" game involved real wooden signs, to be hung on real wooden poles, and they're really heavy. (Like, seriously heavy. Lift with your knees, people, not your shoulders. We had sore arms for a couple of days afterwards.)

The Crystal Maze For the telly, they made the game much easier.

They don't have the dry ice smoke, which is a slight shame, but we can understand why. And the "bash the castle" game requires people to play honestly – The Firefighter accidentally opened the crystal halfway through the game, but we encouraged him to complete the task.

Four games played, three crystals won. Jezz was already imposing herself on the group. "We'll have a no 'sorry' rule," she advised. And wanted high fives amongst the entire group after every game. Keep our spirits up, treat success and failure the same because we're all here to have a good time.

And then the dripping stopped, replaced by the familiar sound of The Crystal Maze theme tune. Time is up, we need to be out of here! Up a steep flight of steps (or a climbing wall, if you're very athletic), through a ceiling crawl, and then down into the sandpit of Aztec world.

The Crystal Maze Sand and intricate carvings.

Crickets chirp, there's desert sand on the floor, thin netting across the windows, and – my word! – it's hot in Aztec. They've made a good re-creation of the "fit bars across a room to climb" game, though we're asked to imagine that the pit is full of boiling lava.

The Doctor makes short work of this challenge. "You've plenty of time!", calls Jezz. This column retorts, "There's never plenty of time." We exchange looks, and scripts.

The Traveller wins "pot some basketballs from under the net". The Dryad unlocks the secrets of the cube. Our team's first experience of a new game is one where things are buried in the sand. Or things are supposed to be buried: in two minutes of frantic digging, all anyone gets is sand in our eyes. Lovely.

The Crystal Maze Inside a cell in Aztec.

For the finale in Aztec, the old "throw some eggs across a wobbly path" game. It's been made harder by the inclusion of a rolling log rather than bridges and hand-ladders. The Week's playing, and we find falling off a log as easy as falling off a log. Literally.

"Oh bother, surely that's a lock-in," we think. But no, play on, fall off some more, manage to get one egg in place before Jezz begins the ten-second countdown. Huge amounts of entertainment for everyone, including this column, but is that it?

Ah, the clanging chimes of "Forcefield" mean we need to move on. It's up a flight of stairs to Industrial.

No-one ever loved Industrial, it was a collection of games that didn't fit anywhere else. Few mourned its change to Ocean on the television series.

The Crystal Maze

In this adaptation, the set is dark, stained metal panels and latches protecting the games from prying eyes. On the television, there was a water feature on the floor and people's breath condensed out of their mouth. Here, it's the upstairs layer of games, complete with a soundtrack of hammers beating on metal.

Given Jezz's demeanour, we're not expecting to be locked in retrospectively. She doesn't want the hassle of a lock-in. One of our team comes within a moment of experiencing the lock-in for himself: this is on the murder mystery game, played in the traditional manner.

"I can't see what I've got to do!"
"Who's dead?"
"Who would have killed him?"
"What's in the pockets?"
"Might there be something else?"
"Five .. four .."
"Come out"
"Two .. one"

Exit The Jogger, crystal in hand. How did he manage that? How did he manage that?

The Crystal Maze Climb the ropes without ringing the bells.

And so it continues. The "driving a car that doesn't turn well" game is always as dull as watching paint dry. The "spider's web and bells" game is always buttock-clenchingly tense, and Jezz breaks the reverie. "You know, in a game where I'm listening for the slightest ring of a bell, you don't want to be silent." The Puzzler makes light work of it.

The Doctor has a mathematics game, equations in various colours are put into a safe that then opens. Or that's what we think. Jezz wants The Doctor to read out what he's put into the combination.

The Crystal Maze When is a safe not safe?

Back in Mediaeval, The Jogger completed the sundial jigsaw with a few seconds left, but the light didn't turn on. Was this an oversight by the host? We were told in the briefing that time was illusory, and Jezz's time-checks didn't bear much relationship to time in the outside world. She often consulted her kitchen timer, but never let us look at it. We might just see the strings.

And the theme is playing, we need to move on. A short drop down escape pods, then a longer descent down a ladder. With the injunction to leave a gap between players, this transition eats up a lot of our time. We barely have chance to play four games in this zone.

The Crystal Maze The future world.

Jezz has also eaten up some of our time as she went. High fives after every game? Boom, that's fifteen seconds tied up each time, likely a full game somewhere along the line. Want to fit in nineteen games? Start in Futureworld, and don't faff about outside the cells.

After the dark of Industrial, the Future is bright. White padded walls, no visible lights, and a gentle hum does suggest we've dropped into a space station.

Highlight of this zone is the "Knightmare" game, where The Dryad is blinded and follows instructions around a maze, without breaking the walls. On the television, this was done by superimposing the grid on a screen: here, it's demarcated by a grid of posts. On the telly, players spoke into a microphone that was transmitted into the helmet: here, it's shouting through the window.

And this is a weakness. The game could be made stronger with a little tech. Yes, tech breaks, there can be a backup, and for all we know we were using that backup. But still, it feels like we're having to imagine quite a bit. The modern eye is accustomed to fully-immersive environments, escape rooms and theatre sets built to intricate detail. Where the fine detail is missing, it jars.

The Crystal Maze

Another weakness comes through in other games. The Founder's task – direct lights to a target – is familiar. Very similar to challenges in Aztec and Ocean during Ed's stewardship. But the organisers deem these series nonac.

Elsewhere, a new challenge involves an ultra-violet torch and some marked equipment. This is novel, and it's weak. There's no rhyme or reason to go to that particular part of the room, most of the time is spent on a scavenger hunt looking for the magic area. This is also familiar, too many games in the very early series were tests of luck like this.

The final act is the laserbeam challenge. The Doctor manages to break three beams in no time at all, which should be a lock in. Sara Cox managed to reach the crystal: The Doctor is less nimble. But we now know that lock-ins are advisory only, and The Puzzler takes on the challenge to win. Just throw the rulebook out of the window.

The Crystal Maze

For our money, The Crystal Dome was always a weak finale, the result was less important than the journey. The fine attention to detail continues here, with a contest of zero importance. We're collecting gold tokens only, they're weighed and that determines the result. No prize other than bragging rights, though there is a bottle of bubbly for the week's best team.

As always with mundane contests, the result is hyped up to the rafters. We do get to see something of all four mazemasters, each of them strong performances in their own way.

Afterwards, in the bar, there's a live video feed from the maze. To be specific, four murky monitors, locked off onto screens showing one particular game. A disappointment, and possibly worse than nothing.

Magi's back?

Make no mistake, this column – and the entire party – had a wonderful time. We would do it again in a heartbeat. We'd love new games and fresh challenges, especially ones that are as good as the familiar. We'd appreciate the final step, a fully immersive environment where we don't have to pretend.

The increase to eight players was – mostly – handled well. There were a few occasions when individuals were squeezed back from the viewing-and-shouting area, but more often there was enough space for us to crowd around.

With eight players on a team, everyone gets two games, and virtually no-one gets three games. It saves a lot of rows. It also means we're playing for about six minutes, and shouting for about forty. We hoped there would be some games for two players, and we still hold that as an ideal. Give everyone three chances to win, that would make much better value for money.

The Crystal Maze

What of our other points? Yes, the construction was sympathetic to the original. Mediaeval felt like a real castle, Industrial was heavy machinery with a little rust. Future was very different from the show – padded walls and invisible lighting, more a sci-fi show like Blake's Seven. And that fits the brief; if anything, we prefer it to the show.

And yes, the layout was different – Aztec had one cell where we could stand on all four sides, and Future hid its games in nooks and crannies. We cannot complain about the atmosphere, we cannot see how to improve the layout.

One expectation was not met: we didn't get locked in at the earliest opportunity. We should have got locked in at the second opportunity.

The Crystal Maze Maureen Lipman played Mumsey.

Had they been enforced, lock-ins are a two-stage process. The player can buy their own freedom by answering a Mumsey-style riddle. Otherwise they're carted off to the Crystal Prison – a cage in Industrial, some actual stocks in Mediaeval – from where the team is "encouraged" to release them at the end of the zone. And by "encouraged", we mean "told to, if they've got the crystals". Again, this is pretty close to perfect, and far easier than a central jail from which to escape.

If we do have a criticism, it's that the games were familiar. We played 17 games in the hour, of which 13 had the same rules and presentation as on television. The other four were familiar ideas in unusual dressing. From this column's experience, and from other contributions, it seems that the new games are a cut below those seen on television. Again, this is ever-so-slightly disappointing. The UK has plenty of games designers who can work to a tight brief, and within the confines of what's required. We hope some of this talent can show in the near future.

The organisers had a particular vision of The Crystal Maze, a joyful playground. Taking part matters, time is less important, winning is completely not important, and the prime aim is to have fun. Everything is to emphasise the communal, the team-building. They have their vision, and they've done a brilliant job with it.

The Crystal Maze Stephen Merchant looks askance at the camera.

This column has a subtly different vision. On television, The Crystal Maze was fun, but it also had a spine made of rules. Take one second over the allotted time and you're locked in. Make too many failures and you're locked in. This makes the stakes higher, adds tension and excitement. You can win, or you can fail boringly, or you can fail in a memorable and entertaining way.

The theatre show didn't have much in the way of glorious failure: two of our losses were dull, one was close, and two were only entertaining because the lock-in rule was ignored. In this interpretation, the rules are subservient to the emphasis to have lots of fun. For this column, it slightly blunts the experience. It's similar to CITV's trips to Fort Boyard, where they did away with lock-ins: an entertaining show in its own right, but lacking a bit of edge.

And that's not The Crystal Maze. Dirty Feed put a finger on it back in July last year.

Audiences didn’t just sit there in front of The Crystal Maze in a dull stupor. They were playing the game. [..]
Just like The Crystal Maze, sitcoms and dramas are specifically designed to provoke a reaction. That’s kind of the entire point of them. And whether it’s yelling at a Crystal Maze contestant, in torment over Andy Murray, in agony over Bonnie’s alcohol relapse in Mom, or chortling at child murderers in EastEnders, absolutely none of it is passive – any more than immersive theatre like that created by Punchdrunk is. To say anything else is patronising to any audience, whether it’s 1990 or 2015.
And that is what worries me. The people behind this Crystal Maze project seem to have misunderstood one of the most important parts of the TV show. And, frankly, one of the most obvious. That doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in the outcome. If you can get such a fundamental part of the TV show wrong, then what other horrors and misinterpretations of the show will be lying in wait for unsuspecting visitors?

The Crystal Maze Lean in! The team try (and fail) to help Rio Ferdinand.

This production offered a space for us to shout loud, telling the contestant to "Press U3!" or "Use the cog outlines to help you!" or "Fer cryin' out loud, a child of ten could do better!"

Was it more enjoyable than watching the original shows? The environmental touches helped – this show smelled right. It looked right, though we had to suspend a little disbelief about smoke alarms and low ceilings. And as it's twenty years since the last new Crystal Maze episodes, we may have forgotten just what it was like to anticipate Reckless Rick's latest teasers.

The Crystal Maze That's a lock-in.

At heart, we see The Crystal Maze as about life's handmaidens: success standing cheek-by-jowl next to failure. For our money, this production kept failure just too far in the background, and played up successes a little too much. The television show was tough but fair, it allowed room to be a little sadistic. The live experience wasn't tough. The makers had their vision, and implemented it to perfection; this column has a mildly different vision.

There are things that we'd have done differently, and there is consensus that the converted office block isn't the greatest location. It just happens to be available, and (again) credit to the producers, who have worked miracles in the confined space.

On the success of the television special in October, there's to be a second location in Manchester. This column intends to play again there, at some point next summer. As and when that happens, we'd love new challenges, or less visible strings, or just to play it with the same level of rigour that Richard and Ed applied.

Was it our best game show experience of the year? The highs were very high, and the lows were not very low. This show provided two of our top ten moments of the year across the whole of life (not just games, but the whole 366 days), so yes. The Crystal Maze was our best game show experience of the year.

The Crystal Maze

The Album Charts

Bradley Walsh and Alexander Armstrong have a friendly rivalry. They host two of television's most successful shows, The Chase and Pointless dominate teatime television. Both can sing a tune, and both released albums into the Christmas market. Who has sold more albums than the other? Who is top of the pops this Christmas?

Here's the game show talent (hosts, contestants, staff) with albums in the UK top 100 sales chart in the week to 15 December.

3 Little Mix – "Glory Days". Winners of The X Factor in 2011, and still on the winners' contract, Little Mix have their fourth hit album, and first chart-topper.

5 Olly Murs – "24 Hrs". Twice player on Deal or No Deal, the former X Factor host has his fourth number one album.

12 Alexander Armstrong – "Upon a Different Shore". It's a good record, but it's not Pointless.

14 Bradley Walsh – "Chasing Dreams". See what he did there? Ha ha.

18 James Arthur – "Back from the Edge". A former X Fac winner.

21 Aled Jones – "One Voice at Christmas". The host of various Welsh shows manages to duet with – himself!

29 Susan Boyle – "A wonderful world". The Britain's Got Talent runner-up has managed a "seasonal" album for the past seven years.

The X Factor From 2011, when Little Mix hung around with The Saturdays.

41 Little Mix – "Get Weird". Last year's album is still popular.

45 Kylie Minogue – "Kylie Christmas". A re-release from the BBC The Voice mentor.

47 Daniel O'Donnell – "I Have a Dream". Remember when he wowed the public on Strictly Come Dancing last year?

92 Mr Tumble's Christmas Party. All the best bits from the BBC gymnastics show.

All of which demonstrates that when The X Factor hits, it really hits.

This Week and Next

There's a new show in town. The Eurovision Super Games would bring together teams from eight broadcasters in physical and mental challenges. The proposed format would see the viewing public select two of their four participants to compete in the next set of challenges. The EBU's Vision 2020 document says this show might start as soon as next year.

Brendan Murray will perform on behalf of RTÉ at next year's Eurovision Song Contest. The song will be found through a public search. Murray, a young man from a boyband, is managed by Louis Walsh.

Still in European news, there will be two more series of Coach Trip on E4 next year.

Have I Got News for You Paul Merton and his co-panelist.

Almost a quarter of a century ago, Have I Got News for You replaced an absent panelist with an inanimate object. Roy Hattersley failed to show, and was replaced by a tub of lard. It was the start of a meteoric rise, ennobled as Lord Lard of Yardley, before being caught in the fat-for-honours scandal. Too much greasing the wheels, the slippery customer lined his own baking sheets and left many people thinking, "Government today. I can't believe it's not better".

This week, former cabinet minister Nicky Morgan withdrew at the last minute. There was no time to find an alternative human, so the replacement was a large leather handbag. We expect a great career for the handbag, there's an Oscar Wilde play to be cast.

Balliol Oxford and Homerton Cambridge on University Challenge. Balliol won on the buzzers, the score was 210-90. Balliol reckon that Laurence Olivier was acting in 1887, a remark that incurred the ire of that white-haired host. Olivier wasn't acting in 1887, Paxman saw him in documentary plays.

Student UC resumes in the new year. There will be a "festive" edition, featuring "celebrity" teams of graduates. We'll cover anything noteworthy in the next normal Week, on 8 January.

Only Connect pitted the Part-Time Poets against Surrealists. Surrealists won by 23-21.

Yes, there was a charity episode with Charlie Brooker playing Pacman... Harsh (but fair) not to accept "pop videos" for "Top of the Pops"... They had a set of pictures saying "jerk" without including any insults... "We did the highest peaks on each continent on BBC4, in black-and-white"...

Do we have any copies of "Granny Gets The Point", an ITV education series about decimalisation. And did it get better ratings than The X Factor (very probably!)... We do have the notes about generations of programming languages, and we'll publish them in the column two weeks hence... Both walls solved in no time at all...

Very sorry to see the Part-Time Poets exit here, both sides were decent and would have enlivened the later stages. But that's a knockout quiz where there can only be one winner.

Only Connect continues next Monday, but not the week after. Pointless insists on having a date to the Television Quiz party on Boxing Day. This is a little white lie. Last year, OC got as sozzled as anything, slipped out for a cigarette and threw up in the flowerbeds. And then blamed it all on 5-Star Family Reunion, and 5SFR hasn't been invited back.

Mastermind heat 23 was won by Gerald Chong. Looked unlikely after he got the first question on Steve Jobs wrong, but he recovered to score 11 on the specialist subject, and 25 (3 passes) overall. Jonathan Frere also scored 11 on the history of Hungary, and closed on 22 (0 passes). Jim Longhurst (Black metal music) and Esther Lisk-Carew (Farscape) also took part.

Celebrity Mastermind runs on BBC1 through the Christmas break. The civilian series resumes on 6 January with the final heat. (Gah! Awkward scheduling.) A score of 28, or 27 and no passes, will send the runner-up through.

BARB ratings in the week to 4 December.

  1. Strictly Come Dancing is television's top programme, seen by 11.9m viewers. Planet Earth II fell to 11.55m.
  2. I'm a Celebrity finished on Sunday, with 11.65m viewers. The X Factor results show took just 6.55m, removing Honey G from the contest.
  3. On the undercard, Pointless Celebrities 4.6m, HIGNFY 4.45m, The Chase 3.5m.
  4. BBC2's big shows were Masterchef The Professionals (3.35m), University Challenge (3.05m), Only Connect (2.65m).
  5. I'm a Celeb Extra Camp was digital's top show, with 1.64m viewers. BBC4 made 475,000 with the documentary How Quizzing Got Cool, and Dave scored 350,000 with HIGNFY repeats.

Coming up today (Sunday): All-Star Mr and Mrs (ITV) and the end of The Apprentice (BBC1).

Starting on Monday are Celebrity Mastermind (BBC1) and Christmas University Challenge (BBC2). Alan Carr's 12 Stars of Christmas (C4) gives away goodies to the audience. World's Strongest Man kicks off on Tuesday (C5), Virtually Famous begins its new series (E4), and Lip Sync Battle UK (C5) is a battle of Eastenders.

Radio 2 has some star hosts, Bradley Walsh gets an hour on Tuesday night, Nadiya Hussein has two hours on Wednesday. Take That Gary Barlow (R Wales, Thu) remembers the Carol of the Year contest 1986.

A Question of Sport and Insert Name Here have festive specials on Wednesday (BBC2). QI (BBC2) looks at Noel on Thursday. Disconnect the phones, power down the factory; it's the last ever Deal or No Deal on Friday (C4). BBC1 has a tribute to Len Goodman, ahead of his retirement from Strictly.

Head-to-head combat on Christmas Eve, as Blankety Blank (ITV) goes up against new Pointless Celebrities (BBC1). Later, new episodes of Catsdown (C4), A League of Their Own (The Satellite Channel), and Through the Keyhole (ITV)

Two of BBC1's biggest hits on Christmas Day, with The Great Christmas Bake Off and Strictly Come Dancing. On the radio, Nicholas Parsons hosts Just a Minute Does Panto (Radio 4).

Undo the guyropes, the last Great British Bake Off is on Boxing Day. On Wednesday 28, Robot Wars Battle of the Stars (BBC2) and Pop Quiz The Comeback (BBC4).

New Years' Eve has a new run of Ninja Warrior, and a celebrity edition of Take Me Out (both ITV). World's Strongest Man (C5) runs until New Year's Day.

The Week will return with our review of the year, and normal Weekly service resumes on 8 January. Until then, we wish you the best of health, the greatest of happiness, and all greetings of the season.

Photo credits: Fizz / Little Lion Productions, Sandman_AC (CC-BY-NC-ND), Syco / TalkbackThames, Hat Trick

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