Prior to a few weeks ago, we Northerners had it rough. We’d begrudgingly listen to our jammy Southern friends gloat about their trips to the Crystal Maze down London-way. “What about us?” we’d moan. And then it happened: the Crystal Maze was opened up North and all was right with the world. Unsurprisingly, when a handful of my pals and I were invited to try it out, we jumped at the chance.
On The Day
We all headed over to what is, in my opinion, one of the best ever venues in town: the Old Granada Studios. Shaking the dregs of the working week off ourselves at the beginning of our Friday evenings, we assembled in the foyer, reacquainting ourselves with our former teenage, crystal-maze-watching selves.
We buzzed and twittered as we signed forms, read the rules and generally attempted to stay cool. After pledging that we were fit, healthy and alcohol-free, we head to the locker room where we hastily stowed away our valuables before trying on the iconic Crystal Maze jackets. Talk about starting on a high. As we posed for our photos, we excitedly shouted “START THE FANS PLEASE!”. The time had come to choose a team name. After much deliberation, we came up with “Crystal Mates”. An unbreakable bond was formed that day.
Spoiler Alert: Read On At Your Own Discretion
The best thing about Manchester’s Crystal Maze experience is that there are unexpected surprises, funny familiarities and puzzling unknowns at every corner, causing the group to whoop in delight and giggle spontaneously. For the purpose of preserving the delight of surprise, we won’t blame you if you choose not to read on right now.
Full of beans, the Crystal Mates (that’s us, by the way) waited for the Activity Leader to come and guide us through the labyrinth of rooms. An eccentric hippie named Iris McTape arrived with her all-seeing-eye (you’ll understand when you see it) and made us chuckle away before leading us through a wading river and through to the first zone of the maze… Okay, so it wasn’t a real river – you won’t need to wear your swimming cozzie on your visit; comfy, cool clothes should do it.
The Crystal Maze is impressively like the TV show of the ‘90s. For those of you who didn’t have the pleasure of watching it back in its heyday, the aim of the game is for groups to form teams and attempt an array of imaginative challenges in order to win as many crystals as possible. Each task has a time limit of 2 minutes, in which time the chosen member of the team has to suss out the task and complete it successfully to earn a crystal.
It’s not as scary as it sounds. Yes, you do technically have to complete the challenge by yourself. But, the rest of the team look on through windows and can contribute ideas and help you along the way.
In the *real* Crystal Maze, if you don’t complete the challenge or run out of the room within the 2 minutes, you get locked in for all eternity (cough, until the end of the game). But given entry is around £45 a pop, it would be a bit rubbish to spend the whole time in a room on your own. So, instead, there are a fair few forfeits to get your teeth into such as wearing a fluffy pair of pink bunny ears, doing impromptu yoga, and solving puzzling riddles… it’s all part of the fun and games.
Zones of the maze are the same as in the TV show (including Ocean, Aztec, Futuristic, Medieval and Crystal), and are just as impressive – trust us. Each of the zones has a different theme, with a soundtrack, lighting and accompanying challenges to match.
Somehow, I got voted the team leader, which meant I relished the power to choose who would take part in each challenge and what kind of challenge it would be, out of: mental, physical, mystery and skill. Without giving too much away, here are a few of our favourite challenges:
The ball-pool challenge - I’ve never seen my friend more in his element than when he dived head-first into a huge ball pool. It was a hilarious challenge, requiring him to wade through the sea of white balls in pursuit of blue, green, red and yellow ones.
The electric buggie challenge – They really do pull out all of the stops when it comes to the set and props of each challenge. You’ll see what I mean if you opt for the one where you get to drive an electric buggie to collect bricks and fetch the crystals.
The 90s video game challenge – There’s nothing more fun that watching your mate use a tennis ball machine to launch balls at game characters. Virtual reality turned real.
The End Of The Show
After a few hours of uncontrollable laughter, loads of fun and teamwork in abundance, we had reached the end of the maze and made it to the Crystal Zone. The moment we’d all been waiting for had arrived and we stepped into the giant crystal ready for the fans to start and the gold slips to whizz around our heads. We had collected a modest 8 crystals, affording us a total of 40 seconds to collect as many as possible.
We left the crystal maze with a respectable score of 256 points; we’ll be going back to beat our score, for sure. To put it briefly, we were a-mazed at the whole experience. You will be too.