We take off at a sprint, and I curse my choice of footwear. Bounding out of the park, I shout out to Tim, “there, that’s Gordon’s Wine Bar!” but before he can turn to look at it we’re past it and through a gate. Ahead of me, Ed jogs on unflappably. Matt races past me as I slow a little to catch my breath, and I turn to see Kneace just behind.
We turn onto a side street, and I think it’s a dead end, but then Tim turns up an alley I hadn’t spotted and we’re on the Strand. Dodging taxis, we make it across the road and up onto Bedford Street, our destination. Our eyes turn to Matt, who reads the clue aloud, and our eyes scan across the shop fronts, searching for a jewellers…
My latest trip to London featured an immersive experience called “80 Days: A Real World Adventure”. Part of the Underbelly Festival on South Bank and designed and run by Fire Hazard Games, this “high-energy urban street game” features mad dashes, puzzle solving, prioritisation and Victorian banter.
A group of friends I know through megagaming decided to sign up, and I was quick to plan to make the trip down to do it with them. In fact, there were so many of us interested that we had to get tickets on two different days so that everyone could attend. After registering, we realised we had to do it in teams of one to five, so our 10 August group became two teams: “A Team Has No Name” and “We’re Here to Drink Gin and Kick Ass and We’re All Outta Ass”. I named the latter but was part of the former, along with Tim, Matt, Ed and Kneace.
Starting the adventure
We arrived into London and, after ditching our suitcase (it would only slow us down!) we headed to the Underbelly Festival, arriving just in time for the briefing.
Baron Pendleton ran us through how to use the website app to look up clues – and how to check our money balance, after earning cash by solving said clues! A fully charged mobile phone (and probably a power bank) is absolutely ESSENTIAL. They say that you only need one device, but we found having two was more convenient.
Our first mission was to seek out Hawkins the Botanist, and we headed across Hungerford Bridge to find him.
In turn, he explained how to use shops to purchase items for our voyage – and we made our first excellent decision of the day, by obtaining Executive Membership of the Semi Reform Club – unfortunately the top tier item, Vintage Membership, had already sold out. This was also a key feature – there was only a single one of the top-tier items.
We were raring to go. We knew how to use the app, we knew how to buy things, and the first five clues popped up on our screen. Two were in the same grid square, which Tim looked up on the map provided. As soon as Hawkins gave us the nod, we peeled out of there, leaving the other teams in our wake.
Solving our first clues
Our first destination, as mentioned at the start of the blog, was Bedford Street, or square C4, according to our map. We quickly settled into roles – Tim had the map, Ed helped him prioritise locations and was puzzle lead, Matt and I had the website open to the clues page and Kneace kept an eye on the shops.
We’d headed to C4 because there were two puzzles in the same place, so we kept our eyes peeled for the locations of both puzzles as we scanned our eyes across the street. We spotted a jewellers, alluded to in one of the clues, and briefly wondered whether we needed to go inside the shop itself. Then we spotted the necklace mentioned in the text in the window. One skim of the tag to find the missing gemstone, and we were 75 of your finest British pounds up.
Now onto the second clue. This time, the map didn’t help, and we had to resort to googling the location. Luckily it was only about 50m away, and we dashed up to find the answer to the second question, keeping our eyes peeled for a metallic flower.
At this point in the game, there were only five locations available to visit, and we noticed that the timer technically hadn’t started yet. In fact, we managed to track down four of the clues before Matt shouted “the game’s started!” and we knew that our time was running out.
We had 80 minutes to get back to South Bank. At the time, it felt like ages.
We also now had access to not only about fifty clues, but also all the shops. I somewhat expected the shops to open up periodically, rewarding players for keeping an eye on their apps. Instead, all of the shops opened their doors at the same time. We panicked and purchased some mosquito netting before taking stock of the situation.
A quick skim revealed that pretty much all the categories on our shopping list had one premium product priced at £600, a couple of ordinary products priced lower (£300, I think) and an unlimited number of substandard products priced at £100. There was also a shop that sold a range of knick-knacks that seemed to have no purpose, although obviously we wanted lots of them too.
Unfortunately, with the mosquito net purchase, we didn’t have enough to buy any of the top-level items. We headed off frantically in search of some more clues, unwilling to compromise for a lesser product.
Honestly, the majority of the day passed in a flurry. At first we were just calling out locations with a lot of clues in the same space, but eventually we relayed the clue spread to our map man Tim, so that he could plot a route between the high-reward squares.
Universally the clues didn’t intend for us to enter any of the places we visited, or even try to hard to solve anything cryptic. It was all about observation and speed. I found myself hating my summer dress and slip-on pumps – this was definitely an activity for trainers.
At one point I vaguely became aware that it had started to rain… but more forcefully aware that I did not care one little bit. It could be a torrential downpour, with thunder and lightning, and I still wouldn’t care. My only thought was on the next puzzle.
A city of characters
There also happened to be four in-world characters wandering around, but sadly we only ran into two.
The Baron challenged us to a game of higher or lower, which Ed performed magnificently on. Meanwhile the Botanist asked us to determine which of his many plants was the correct one to cure an ailment. Tim took this task easily in hand, working methodically through his book of notes.
Through these extra puzzles we received enough money to purchase a jewel-encrusted steamer trunk and some premier climbing gear, although we were very disappointed that the compass we’d had our eye on was out of stock when we went to purchase it.
Locked in place
Unfortunately, we lost a lot of time on one particular puzzle. It was a high value one, worth about £150, but in the end it only cost us. We headed up to Hungerford Bridge, on the north side, and began to search.
It soon became clear that this wasn’t a straightforward puzzle. There was a pink lock, sure, in fact there were two next to each other.
But if they’d ever held a message, it was lost to time. We began to think outside the box. Perhaps there was another pink lock. Perhaps we just had to find the pink lock, then stand there and look around for the clue. Perhaps the pink lock wasn’t actually pink. Perhaps we were on the wrong bridge.
It took longer than I am willing to admit for us to give up.
Time was beginning to run out when we decided to take one final trip north to square C3. It had a high value clue, but it was a risk to head so far away from the HQ with so little time remaining. Luckily we cracked Maxwell with just 18 minutes left on the clock, and started to head back.
But as we turned back, I spotted one more clue we could pick up on the way past – an operahouse, where we were looking for the surname of a photographer. We paced up and down the street several times, but no luck. We decided to cut our losses and head back with under 15 minutes to get from St Martin’s Lane to South Bank. We briefly consider getting an Uber but decide to leg it.
As we do I fire up Google, and search for “FIRST NAME opera photography”. It’s a longshot, but I saw the search results and started punching in the surnames that appear. My second try was right.
Inspired, I brought up the clues page and tried searching for a few more answers, but struck out. However, just as we head down the steps onto South Bank, I struck lucky a second time. These extra clues bagged us an extra £100 in the final moments of the competition.
Matt had told me we don’t need more money – the shops are out of all their goods, we have done all we can. But as we headed back into the Semi Reform Club lounge, we were offered the opportunity to make a final purchase – a train ticket. My final two clue answers meant we could afford a First Class Ticket.
Around the world in…?
All aboard! We were now off on our trip around the world. The five of us crowded around my phone as the website turned into choose-your-own-adventure. The first task – board the train! Our choice of a first class ticket meant we only lose three days on the journey to Florence.
Throughout the journey around the world, we had the chance to use items that we’d bought. In some places, we succeeded and barely lost any time. In particular, when our Designer Evening Wear allowed Mr Megagame to pretend to be an Estonian ambassador in order to sweet-talk our way onto a private flight, we absolutely lost it because that’s exactly what he would do.
At other times, our lacked of preparedness meant we spend days longer on a particular leg of the journey – such as when we offer up an amusing anecdote rather than a useful antidote to snake venom.
We made it “back to London” and answered one final puzzle at the end of the quest, to receive our final time: 57 days to get around the world.
Glancing around, we saw others still deep in their phones. We’d raced through the journey with some of the team unable to provide much input – note that answering the questions quickly doesn’t win you anything. I recommend that you your time over the questions and make sure that all team members get to hear the full problem and options.
“Back” in London
The teams, exhausted from their trip around the world, waited with baited breath for the results. Rumours rustled around the audience, and we knew we were in with a shot.
The third place team, Le Tour du Monde, was announced, and they managed it in 70 days. We glanced at each other anxiously. The second place team was announced and… it’s the Flying Giants in 69 days – meaning we have won by almost a fortnight!
We erupted with joy, as we raced to the Baron to receive our prize – a handcrafted chocolate pocket watch. That Ed immediately eats the lid of without letting me photograph. Well, I guess he has just been around the world in 57 days.
Oh man, I wish I could do something like this every day! The adrenaline, the excitement, the puzzles, the pace, the competition… it’s honestly everything I look for in an afternoon’s entertainment.
Despite the minor frustration over the missing puzzle (which may have been rubbed away by too many eager hands, as it turned out) and my lack of suitable outfit (the event info says “dress appropriately for the weather” and “physical mobility required”, but honestly you should dress for a work out), I had an outstanding day. Winning was certainly the cherry on the cake, but it was one hell of a cake to start with.
80 Days is running until the end of September and you can book on here.