The Crystal Maze Live - Tips and Review
I don't want to be the type-of person who does something special and then goes home to review it. What makes you so important that your review needs to be aired?
Having said that, before I entered The Crystal Maze Live Experience, I went online to get the answers to a few questions I had and to do some last-minute revision. Not all the answers I found were right (I'm sure they were honest, but things had changed).
This post is here to accurately answer the questions I had, and a few more. It is not a review - I am not a reviewer. I did it in February 2017.
- What is it?
- How closely does it resemble the TV show?
- What should you wear for it?
- Do you need to know the TV show?
- What are the hosts like?
- Is it dangerous/scary?
- Is it difficult?
- How long does it take? Are there any breaks?
- What actually happens?
- How do you win?
- What do you get?
- What is it like to do?
- How do I get tickets?
What is it?
It is a recreation of 1990-1995 British TV game show, The Crystal Maze. Whereas the TV show was a serious game, this is played for fun with your friends.
The TV show, if you didn't know, saw teams race through a series of challenges set in different zones, in order to win crystals, which entitled them to additional time in The Crystal Dome, which is effectively a wind tunnel where you won by collecting golden paper. For each challenge you have to decide who is taking part based on its category: physical, mental, skill or mystery.
They call this an 'immersive live experience', and it was created by Little Lion Entertainment using a crowdfunding campaign. It opened in March 2016 and is based in an old warehouse near Kings Cross, London and in Manchester.
How closely does it resemble the TV show?
To their credit, the creators have been loyal to the original TV show. In fact you can count on one hand how many changes they've made, and they're all for good reason.
First thing they acknowledge is that the Ocean zone has been removed (Industrial is there though). They didn't give a reason, but it's reasonable to assume people didn't want to be trudging around London soaking wet.
A defining part of the show, lockouts, don't really exist any more. While they're funny to watch on TV, it's not so funny when you've travelled all the way to London to spend the day locked in a fake prison cell. Instead, being locked out usually means having a crystal deducted. It's easy enough to avoid. Some games do involve players being locked out for one round.
A striking change is that there are now four different teams playing. This is only for the hosts' convenience: you are unlikely to see the other team while playing, and while they announce the winner at the end, it's all for fun and hardly competitive.
If you remember the gold and silver paper in the Crystal Dome, the silver has gone. Again it's a reasonable request: they don't have the resources the TV show had and separating the paper wouldn't be easy.
Teams are now made up of up to eight, rather than the original five/six.
Many of the games came straight out of the TV show. It's a really good effort! So good, a 2016 charity episode of the TV show was filmed here.
What should you wear for it?
I normally dislike photos, but this occasion was different.
"The bomber jacket scandal"!
I read lots of comments online that they force you to wear the boiler suits seen on the TV show, and that you'll get extremely hot and should dress with that in mind. News: the first thing they told us when we arrived is that the bomber jackets on display in the changing room were for decoration only, and that we would be playing as we were dressed. I had just come out of the Outback.
You will get hot running around and climbing, but you can do it wearing jeans. Just wear whatever's comfortable.
Do you need to know the TV show?
No. They are aware the TV show is older than some of the players, and will be sympathetic to somebody who doesn't understand it. However, it would be sensible to read up on the show before going, just so you have some idea what to expect.
They start the event with a very short clip and explain all the rules so they can highlight any changes.
What are the hosts like?
Each of the four teams is assigned a maze master and they are excellent. I am a very grumpy man, and I was worried these actors/entertainers would get on my nerves. Quite the opposite.
The whole show relies on their enthusiasm and pace. Using this, you quickly forget you're stood in a refurbished warehouse near Kings Cross. Their knowledge of the set is also excellent. I don't know how much prompting they get in their ears, but it's a really slick operation.
It's also easy to forget they're human. They want to have a good day, and they want to make sure that you go home having had a great time. As a result, they frequently move off-script to make you smile or to help you through a challenge. Without their advice, some of the challenges would just be three minutes of you scratching your head at a puzzle and that wouldn't be fun.
Most people tell you to "befriend your Maze Master". Just be nice to them. Don't try to get into a long conversation or out-wit them, because they're trying to keep the whole team 'in the zone' and even if you mean well, you're derailing their work. They will get the last laugh!
Sadly, Richard O'Brien doesn't make an in-person appearance (he's very busy), but he is there in spirit.
Is it dangerous/scary?
Cleverly, they've managed to make the set feel like you're constantly running, climbing and crawling, without actually having any big drops or small spaces. There is no water (there are one or two fake skulls). Unless you have an extreme phobia, which you should discuss with them, there is nothing to worry about. The building will be fitted with 'trap' and safety paths which they could send you down in the unlikely event of a problem.
Some of the challenges involve a little bit of lifting, climbing or crawling. It really is not a big deal and not something the vast majority of people would have an issue with. The 'physical' challenges in particular usually ask for a bit of movement, but hardly a marathon.
Is it difficult?
This is why you need to befriend your Maze Master! They know which challenges tend to be harder than others, and if they've taken a shine to you they will start dropping little bits of advice and clues. If you're really struggling, those clues will become increasingly explicit. It's about making sure you walk away having had a good day regardless of whether you turned out to be naturally good at it or not.
Some of the physical challenges certainly feel like they are impossible, but apparently they have all been completed without any cheating.
The rules state that you must be in a good state of fitness. It is a high-pace and exciting day. Although you don't actually do a lot of running, as the adrenalin kicks in you will feel like you have. You need to be comfortable standing up for two hours.
Whether you want to declare any issues or disabilities is up to you, but so long as you can move around quickly you will be physically fine.
How long does it take? Are there any breaks?
There are 16 games, usually about three minutes long. Allowing for an introduction and The Crystal Dome, it's over in about 75 minutes. It doesn't feel anywhere near that long.
The reason it goes by so quickly is that you're constantly either shouting at your friends or running to a new zone. Although if you really had to they would let you use the toilet or take some time out, it would detract from the experience slightly.
What actually happens?
This is a big spoiler alert. I feel dirty just typing this. If you actually want to take part, scroll past this bit or make sure you have a short memory. The mystery is part of the fun.
Some people ask whether it's filmed for TV. It isn't (although the TV show is recruiting contestants), but a 2016 episode of the TV show was filmed there.
Of the challenges I can remember (I think there is some variation between groups):
- Make a cube out giant Tetris pieces
- Use a map to find buried treasure
- Knock bricks off a podium using a hard-to-reach swing
- Score with a basketball while underneath the court-thing
- Calmly climb a spider's web
- Several different scenes where you had to find clues to open a padlock
- Drive a difficult remote controlled car
- Complete a maze (laid out on a giant cube using switches)
- Work out the names of pubs
- Complete a giant operation-style buzzer game
- Build a tower out of badly-fitting pieces
- Make it to the end of the room without touching any lazers.
- Build a stained glass window out of puzzle pieces.
- Lift an 'egg' out of the top of a 'tree' while climbing it
- The Crystal Dome!
Before you enter and before your two briefings (one with a runner and one where you meet your Maze Master), there is a strange sign-in process. When you purchase a ticket, you have one for your group. When you arrive, everybody gets an individual ticket, but this only gets you through the next door, where you then have to pretend to read a disclaimer. You sign it electronically and I don't know if they can tell whether you've used a comedy name or not.
How do you win?
There is nothing to "win" but the team who collects the most golden paper at the end is declared the winner.
Just like on the TV show, you earn time in the Crystal Dome by winning crystals in challenges. It is possible to cheat here and there (picking up paper from the floor and walls of the Dome being the most well-known example), but at best this is against the point of you coming there, and at worst will make your team last.
What do you get?
Other than a bit of golden paper I took home with me, absolutely nothing. In some ways this is the beauty of it, as I'll explain in the next question.
At the end there is a bar (no-one seemed to hang around here) and a very small gift shop where you can buy memorabilia. Be warned that this is at London gift shop prices! I think most people turned their noses up when they saw the prices, which is a shame.
What is it like to do?
Utterly amazing. You get in to the spirit of it very quickly and the time flies by. It is unbelievably good.
This is coming dangerously close to being a review. I have just one criticism: the photography policy.
Mobile phones are strictly banned in the Maze (lockers are provided). This is a sensible rule: the Maze Masters are trying to transport you to a 1990s TV set; it would be ruined by you getting your phone out every two minutes. However, the rules specifically state any photography will get you disqualified. Maybe, in the spirit of the 1990s, they want you and the team-mates to share a memory that will always be private between you?
That sounds nice, but people have paid a lot of money and travelled far to get here, and all you have to show for it is one team photo. I get the feeling that (a bit like some draconian TV producers) the owners believe that the set is their work of art, and that you can't share it without their permission.
Would it break the bank to hire one photographer to move between the four teams? You could even sell the pictures like on a roller coaster, and edit out any pictures which ruin 'the surprises'. Surely the owners want people to be sharing pictures - it's free advertising!
I've detailed that because I'm of a generation obsessed with everything being documented, and it did bug. me. Please don't let it detract from the fact the day is, in every possible way, brilliant.
My positive review may be influenced by me scoring two crystals (I suspect it was luck with easier challenges rather than a deserved reward!)
It must be said the reception and changing area is a little barren. This isn't a criticism - just please don't assume that sets the tone for the day!
How do I get tickets?
Head to the official website. Be warned that there is a very long waiting list.
The Maze is based in discreet, secret buildings in London and Manchester. Anybody aged over 18 (13 in Manchester) can take part.