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Hosts
Richard O'Brien (1990–1993)
Ed Tudor-Pole (1994–1995)
Stephen Merchant (2016)
Richard Ayoade (2017–Present)
Characters
Sleeping Princess (played by Karen Heyworth)
Madame Sandra aka Mumsy (played by Sandra Caron)
Mumsy 2016 (played by Maureen Lipman)
The Knight (played by Jessica Hynes)
The Riddle Master aka Jarhead (played by Adam Buxton)
Broadcast (Channel 4)
The Crystal Maze (1)
The Crystal Maze (2)
15 February 1990 – 10 August 1995
The Crystal Maze 2017 title card
SU4C Special: 16 October 2016
23 June 2017 – Present
Packagers
Chatsworth Television (1990-1995)
Fizz/Lion Entertainment (2016–present)

The Crystal Maze is an adventure game show-typed British programme.

BackgroundEdit

The series is set in "The Crystal Maze". The Crystal Maze is divided up into four different "zones" set in various periods of time and space. A team of contestants take part in a series of challenges in order to win "time crystals". Each crystal gives the team five seconds of time inside "The Crystal Dome", the centerpiece of the maze where the contestants take part in their final challenge.

The maze cost £250,000 to build and was the size of two football pitches. At its height the show was the most watched on Channel 4, regularly attracting between 4 and 6 million viewers. In 2006 and again in 2010, the show was voted "greatest UK game show of all time" by readers of UKGameshows.com.[1][2] This site describes the programme as "a highly-ambitious, high-risk show that paid off handsomely."[3]

GameplayEdit

Each team that competes on this show has to undertake a series of challenges (referred to as games) within four different themed "zones" within the Maze, each consisting of six game rooms, referred to as "cells". Teams begin at a pre-determined zone, and first must complete a simple challenge together to enter the Maze, whereupon they compete in a series of games in each zone, amassing as many time crystals as they can before completing their last zone and travelling to the large "Crystal Dome" at the centre of the maze to meet their final challenge. For each game, a member of the team is nominated by the team's leader, who can volunteer themselves if they wish. Upon entering a game's cell, the goal of the puzzle is usually determined by a clear written message or by cryptic clues. The rest of the team watches their teammate's progress either through a cell's windows or via monitors, and may give advice to the contestant unless advised against doing so. The host will serve reminders of the time limit and of any special rules, and generally will not give hints unless the contestant is struggling badly.

Each game falls under one of four categories:

  • Physical – These are aimed at testing a contestants strength, agility and stamina, and can range from climbing over, between and around obstacles, to lifting, using, cranking, or manipulating objects with their hands, arms and feet.
  • Skill – These are aimed at testing a contestant's dexterity and accuracy, and can include target-shooting, skillful timing tests, and careful miniature vehicle driving.
  • Mental – These are aimed at testing a contestant's mental and memory skills, and can range from simple brainteasers, to acute memory and 2D/3D puzzles.
  • Mystery – These are aimed at a contestant's overall ability to solve a puzzle, and range from treasure hunts, to solving mazes and searching a cell for clues to the location of the crystal.

A principal risk is that of being locked within a game's cell. If a contestant is locked in, they are unable to take any further part in proceedings unless they are released by their team. A locked-in contestant may be absent for the remainder of the episode, and thus increase the difficulty for the team completing the final challenge. If the team's captain is locked in, the vice-captain takes over. A locked-in contestant may be released at any time by the team's leader in exchange for a time crystal.

There are two ways a lock-in can occur in the Maze:

  • Exceeding the time limit – Each game is usually set within one of three time limits – 2 minutes, 2 and a half minutes, and 3 minutes. While contestants may usually leave the cell whenever they wish, staying within a cell beyond the allotted time will cause them to be locked-in.
  • Automatic Lock-In – In a number of games, contestants may be locked-in if they breach a game's special rules or restrictions, irrespective of their progress in obtaining the crystal. For some games, a rule strictly forbids the contestant from making contact with the floor, while other games follow a "three-strikes" rule, in which a contestant will be allowed a maximum of two errors. An example of the latter is making contact with a restricted part of the game's puzzle.

Several games were derived from familiar, commercially available children's or fairground games, including steady hand testers, mazes, and sliding puzzles; games in some zones sometimes appeared in other zones with some cosmetic changes and some variations to previous incarnations, with some game designs tending to become more elaborate in later series. A small number of games differed from the traditional style of those that were featured; while they fell under one of the four categories available, they did not comply to the traditional style for the games on the show:

  • Some games had a special condition that would forfeit the crystal after it is obtained, if the contestant broke a rule. In some games, for example, a contestant could not wade back through a body of water after getting the crystal, but could earn it only by returning through the use of specified platforms or a raft. In other games, dropping the crystal would render it forfeit.
  • A game designed for the Futuristic Zone featured a humanoid "robot" opponent whom the chosen contestant had to shoot with a light gun, while the robot could shoot back at them; if the contestant lost all their lives against the robot, they were locked-in. If the robot was defeated, the contestant then had to complete a second puzzle to secure the crystal, located behind the robot.
  • A maze game used on the show was designed with 'virtual reality' properties. In it, a contestant is given a special piece of headgear and had to be navigated around a maze by their team-mates, who could shout commands on how they should move, seeing the maze on a monitor outside the game's cell, along with a special marker on the contestant's headgear that marked where they were. The contestant was restricted from letting this marker touch the walls of the maze, being locked-in if they did this a third time, but could freely leave the cell once they had navigated round to the crystal's location and picked it up from the cell's floor.
  • Some games involved contestants donning special equipment, sometimes for protection. Contestants frequently became submerged during water-based challenges, following which they would be sent by the host to change into fresh clothing.
  • In some games, a contestant could be penalized by having their progress cancelled out by any mistakes they made. One example of this was a game in Aztec Zone, which was designed so that contestants needed to get balls into a "win" basket, in order to secure the crystal, thus if any were missed, they landed in a "lose" basket and counter-weighed against any in the win basket.
  • Several skill games involving target shooting only had a limited number of instruments and each can only be used once. If a contestant uses all of them, the game is over. Similarly, in series 3's Futuristic Zone, one game involved a player taking out bars from an apparatus but at the risk of dropping tennis balls. If the player dropped more than four tennis balls, the crystal's path would be blocked.
  • During the fourth series, a game in Medieval Zone did not directly reward the successful contestant with a crystal. Instead, the successful contestant would emerge from the cell with a sword containing a crystal-like object in the hilt. The host would then place the sword with a suit of armor, thereby retrieving a crystal locked in the armor's glove.

Once the team arrives at the Dome, they are told about how much time that they have to complete the final challenge, based on the number of crystals they have brought with them. At this point, the team enter the Dome, and upon the challenge beginning, they must collect as many gold (foil) tokens as they can and deposit them into a container along a wall of the Dome, while avoiding any silver tokens mixed in with them; these are blown about by fans beneath the floor of the Dome. Once time is up, the fans are switched off and no more tokens can be deposited into the container; a slot is opened during the challenge, which closes up when the time is up. Once the team is outside the dome, they, along with any members who were not present for the final challenge, are given the tally of their efforts by the host. If the team can accumulate a total of 100 gold tokens or more, after deduction of any silvers they collected, the team wins the grand prize that they chose for themselves before partaking in the show. All contestants who participate in the show win a commemorative crystal saying "I Cracked the Crystal Maze", which acts as a consolation prize if a team fails to secure the required number of gold tokens.

Original SeriesEdit

During the run of the original series between 1990 and 1995, teams consisted of three men and three women, each aged between 16 and 40, who were put together by the production team and did not know each other before appearing on the show. From their pre-determined starting zone, teams either traveled clockwise or counter-clockwise around the maze, engaging in at least three games in each zone, sometimes being given the opportunity to play a fourth game in a zone during their trip around the maze. Between the first and fourth series, the total number of games that could be played varied between 14 and 16 per episode, but for the fifth and sixth series, the number of games played was reduced to standard of 13. Throughout the run, 3D maps of varying sophistication were used to highlight where the host and team were. Up until the end of the third series, each contestant on the team could win a prize for themselves that they chose before taking on the Maze if the team succeeded at collecting 100 or more gold tokens, but from the fourth series, this format was changed to the team choosing a prize that they shared together if they won the final challenge. During the first series, a runner-up prize could also be chosen by each member of a team, which they won if the final tally of tokens was between 50-99, but this format was dropped by the start of the second series.

During the Christmas specials, the teams consisted of similar setup, with each contestant aged between 8 and 16, and selected by the production team. While the format was similar to the adult version, there were notable differences, such as easier games with fewer chances of a lock-in, more lenient time limits and additional clues from the host. The prize would always be awarded at the end, irrespective of achievement.

2016 SpecialEdit

For the Stand Up to Cancer special in 2016, the format was slightly changed. The team, which consisted of celebrities, was reduced to five members, and because the show did not take place on the original set, fewer games were played. However, the one-off special stuck to the format of the captain choosing the type of game and nominating a member of their team to play it. The brain-teaser game was featured but operated slightly differently, in that there was no time limit, and the nominated contestant had to get two out of three correct to get the crystal. The show was not filmed on the set used in the original run, which was dismantled in 1999. The show featured a revamped map which retained the same layout, as well as indicating the team's position. The Futuristic zone was renamed Future zone.

For the final challenge at the Dome, the team were given an extra crystal, and were charged as normal with collecting as many gold tokens as they could. More than 200 gold tokens were acquired (net), securing the maximum cash prize of £25,000 for charity.

RevivalEdit

A year after the one-off edition Channel 4 revived the show. It returned the original setup of zones, used the same map design from the Stand Up to Cancer special, included a brand new collection of games and a newly designed taller set, it also revamped the format:

  • The team setup was based on that from the one-off edition, with all five contestants knowing each other, rather than being a group of strangers put together by the production team. The roles of captain and vice-captain are still retained and the host now spends time at the start of each episode getting to know each contestant, usually asking them about themselves and giving or getting interesting trivia preceding the opening Zone.
  • The number of games that can be played is reduced to 10 - two in the first and last zone, and three in the other two zones.

The specific category of games to be played next is now pre-determined by the host. The captain now only needs to determine who to nominate in the team to tackle each game.

  • Teams don't necessarily travel in a circular fashion as they did in the original series, meaning the order in which the zones are visited can be completely random - for example, if the team begins in Medieval, they can move on to Aztec directly after playing all the games that are available, without having to do so via Industrial or Futuristic.
  • The riddle game format from the one-off edition is retained; the nominated contestant may confer with the team. A variation of this game now requires the contestant to get two out of three correct answers to avoid being locked-in.
  • Each zone now has its own background music which is played while a contestant is engaged in a game.
  • The on-screen timer, used on all versions of The Crystal Maze, is no longer used during the Crystal Dome. Instead, viewers are left to rely on both the host and a shot of the crystals to know how much time the team has left.

A series of celebrity episodes were initially broadcast. Like the one-off edition in 2016, the contestants taking part were given an extra crystal upon reaching the Dome to add to those that they had brought, and would earn cash for Stand Up to Cancer depending on how many gold tokens they got, after deduction of silver - £5,000 for less than 50 gold tokens, £10,000 for 50 to 99 tokens, and £20,000 for 100 or more tokens.

SetEdit

Every episode, with the exception of the 2016 special, is filmed on a very large custom built set. The set, designed by James Dillon for both the original run and the revived series, is divided into five parts - four of which are named as zones, set in different periods of time and space, which house the games that contestants take on, while the final part, called the Crystal Dome, houses the final challenge that the team tackles together towards the end of the episode. The theme of each zone is not only reflected via its time period, but also in the time-keeping devices, the design of the games, and how the host and team entered and moves between the zones:

Zone Description Method of timekeeping
Aztec This is designed as an ancient Aztec village amidst ruins, with carved pillars, sand, various plants and a sky backdrop; the lighting for this part of the set is used to depict sunlight, thus can be altered to reflect other times of day. The plants that are used consist of artificial and real-life varieties; the latter being removed from the set outside of shooting, to receive adequate sunlight to keep them alive. Entry to the zone was originally achieved by rowing along a river, with a tunnel leading off towards Medieval/Ocean and a set of steps to a ledge heading towards Futuristic. The revived series removes the river, having a small waterfall addition instead, added at the request of the show's producer. Water clocks
Medieval This is designed as a castle of the Middle Ages, laden with a straw covered flagstone floor, wooden barrels/casks and a large dining table with solid wooden chairs. The area is lit with 15 flaming torches and over 100 candles, which when combined with sound effects such as lightning and wolves howling, are used to create an atmospheric "frightening dungeon". The zone's cells have sturdy oak doors with slide locks on, barred windows to look in. Entry into this zone was initially done by contestants raising the portcullis at the castle's entrance by finding the right chain, and then later having to climb over it. In the revived series, this method was changed to simply answering a riddle to get a gate open. The zone was designed with a passage that led to Futuristic via a beam that had to be crossed, and a set of stairs that had to be crossed to get to Industrial/Ocean, later this was changed to a set of ledges that had to be traversed. Hourglasses
Industrial This is designed as a present-day chemical plant with metal barrels, warning signs, a bubbling chemical pool, corrugated roofing and panelling; cells had metal doors with bar handles, with some having office-like interiors. The zone was used for three series in the original run, with teams able to watch their nominated member's efforts in a game via one of a number of monitors used in the zone. Industrial was brought back for the revived series, maintaining the same design style as the original, though with teams able to watch proceedings in a game via either monitors or panels that opened into a cell. Entry into this zone was initially designed towards finding a key to unlock a chain-mesh gate, but later changed towards finding a way over it and around a number of small obstacles, with stairs leading to an upper floor passage towards Medieval, and a pipeline tunnel towards Aztec. Analogue clocks
Futuristic This is designed as a space station, orbiting a planet in the solar system in the distant future; the planet is not made clear in the show. In the original run, it was designed as being slightly run down, with metal sliding doors, exposed wiring, and viewpoints that looked out into space, monitors spread over the station to view inside the cells, and cell doors having a keypad prop next to them that the host punched a code into to let the contestant in and out of. In the revived show, the station was redesigned, becoming cleaner and sleek, with a central console set on a floor that rotates and cell doors no longer having keypads next to them. James Dillion has stated the drastic redesign of this zone in comparison to the others was due to "nothing dating quite like the future." Entry was designed around an airlock setup, with a computer panel the host used to boot up the station's computer and request a question for the team, with a passage leading off towards Medieval, and a lift that allowed the host and team to shift between a walkway and a ledge connecting to Aztec. The revived series uses a 'teleporter pad' to traverse between zones. Digital clocks
Ocean This replaced the Industrial Zone, being used between the fourth and sixth series of the original run. It was designed as a sunken ship called the "S.S. Atlantis", held within an air bubble at the bottom of the ocean, and consisted of a saloon with an elegant staircase, wooden panelling, couches, a grand piano, covered furniture and objects and an upper walkway, a boiler room, and maintenance corridors, with cells designed as either maintenance rooms, the interior of one of the ship's boilers, or refined cabins. This zone did not return in the revived series. Entry was designed around teams climbing down from the bridge into the boiler room via a rope ladder, with a hatchway at the top of a ladder leading to Medieval, and a ventilation shaft leading towards Aztec. Analogue clocks
Crystal Dome A 16-foot (4.9 m) model for the show's time crystals, located in the centre of the Maze. The interior is designed with rails for the team to hold onto before the final challenge begins, with a mesh floor and a series of fans below the base which activate on the host's command, blowing foil tokens around. The exterior differs between the original run, one-off special and revived series, but always provided the host with a small hexagonal podium designed to hold the team's acquired crystals. Each crystal is illuminated from below by lights which are deactivated sequentially at intervals of five seconds, serving as a countdown. The challenge is over when all crystals are dark. In the original series the Dome featured an encircling moat and the podium had two switches with which the host operated the door into the Dome, and raised and submerged a moat bridge. For the revived series, the moat and switches were retired and the Dome redesigned to feature a set of flashing lights. The opening scene of each episode often comprises a greeting from the host from in front of the dome with tokens flying within. Time crystals

TriviaEdit

Richard O'Brien would later provide the voice of Lawrence Fletcher in Phineas and Ferb.

Ed Tudor-Pole was the lead singer of the punk band Tenpole Tudor, and would later play Mr. Borgin in the film version of Harry Potter.

ReferencesEdit

  1. All-time Poll. UKGameshows.com. Retrieved 20 September 2013.
  2. Gameshow General Election 2010. UKGameshows.com. Retrieved 20 September 2013.
  3. The Crystal Maze @ UKGameshows.com

LinkEdit

Official Site
Fansite

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