Richard O'Brien (1990–1993)
Ed Tudor-Pole (1994–1995)
Stephen Merchant (2016)
Richard Ayoade (2017–present)
Sleeping Princess - Karen Heyworth
Madame Sandra aka Mumsy - Sandra Caron
Mumsy 2016 - Maureen Lipman
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
Chatsworth Television (1990-1995)
Fizz/Lion Entertainment (2016–present)

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


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 six 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[1][2] This site describes the programme as "a highly-ambitious, high-risk show that paid off handsomely."[3]

Format (Original Version)Edit

The objective of the show was to amass as many 'time crystals' (golf ball-sized Swarovski glass crystals) as possible by playing the games in each zone. Winning a game secured a crystal, worth five seconds of time for the team in the Crystal Dome. When the team reached the Crystal Dome, they had to collect as many gold "tokens" as possible in order to win a prize.

The mazeEdit

The set was divided into four "zones" set in different periods of time and space. For the first three series, the zones were:

  • Aztec – a sandy village
  • Futuristic – a space station environment
  • Medieval – a castle set where the host purportedly lived
  • Industrial – a present day chemical plant.

From Series 4 onwards, Industrial was replaced by Ocean, set on a sunken ship called the S.S. Atlantis. The 'Maze' itself was not literally a maze, but rather four interconnected zones. At its center was the Crystal Dome, a giant geometric acrylic glass 'crystal' where the teams played their final challenge after playing games in each of the four zones.

There were a variety of entry methods to gain access to the contestants' starting zone, including rowing canoes in Aztec, opening a heavy portcullis in Medieval, answering the computer's questions in Futuristic, climbing a gap to open the door in Industrial, and traversing a net ladder in Ocean. When transitioning between zones, ladders, lifts and tunnels were used to connect the zones together.


In each episode, a team consisting of three men and three women (including a team captain and vice-captain), always aged between 16 and 40 during the regular series, would enter the 'maze'. The teams were put together by Chatsworth from individual applicants, only meeting each other for the first time on the day before filming their episode. 38,000 contestant applications were received for the show's final series.[4]

Gameplay was co-operative throughout. Starting from a pre-determined zone, the team played three or four games of various types in each zone, travelling through the four zones in either a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction. At the end of the show after playing all four zones, they entered the Crystal Dome.

The gamesEdit

Before each game in a zone, the team captain (or vice captain should the team captain be locked in) would choose which contestant would play and which type of challenge the game would involve. There were four categories of game:

  • Skill – tests of dexterity and accuracy. These included target-shooting games, miniature vehicle driving games, steady hand tests, timing tests, maneuvering the crystal out of the maze, or getting balls into the correct holes.[5]
  • Physical – tests of speed and strength. These included demolishing targets, climbing without touching the floor, using a zipwire, avoiding obstacles, crossing the water, or heaving a chest to unlock the crystal.[6]
  • Mental – tests of brainpower. These included arranging 2D or 3D puzzles, solving a brainteaser set by Mumsey, solving a word association game, solving maths equations, or releasing a key on a rope entangled in an intricately shaped object.[7]
  • Mystery – tests which did not fall into the previous three categories. These included treasure hunts, sliding puzzles, and finding the location of a crystal in a room using clues.[8]

Each game involved a contestant venturing into a room on their own. The host advised the contestant on the time limit or special rules (e.g. automatic lock-in stipulation) before allowing them to enter. As soon as the door was closed and locked, the timer was started. The rest of the team was able to see what was going on inside the room through monitors or windows in the walls.


A major hazard for contestants on the show was the risk of being 'locked in' a game room. There were two ways a contestant could be locked in:

  • Exceeding the time limit – Each game had a time limit of either two, two-and-a-half, or three minutes. If the contestant failed to exit the chamber within this time limit, before the timer hit zero, the host would keep the door firmly closed and the contestant would be 'locked in'. A timer was almost never provided inside the game room itself, so the contestant was reliant on timecheck information shouted in by the host and/or their teammates outside. Therefore anxious shouts from teammates of "Come out!" or the contestant shouting "I'm coming out!" or "Should I come out?" were regular catchphrases throughout the show.
  • Automatic lock-in games – In a minority of games, known as automatic lock-in games, the contestant could also be locked in by committing a foul. Most typically this meant either setting off an 'alarm' three times (e.g. by touching an obstacle in a physical or skill game, or making an incorrect guess in a mental or mystery game), or by touching the floor if this was forbidden for that game. Automatic lock-in games appeared quasi-randomly, not under any control of the contestants. If the contestant triggered the condition for 'automatic lock-in', they would be locked in instantly, irrespective of whether or not they had obtained the crystal, and regardless of how much time they had left.

Any contestant who was 'locked in' forfeited the crystal from that game, and was unable to take any further part in proceedings unless and until the team captain chose to buy the contestant's freedom at the cost of a previously earned crystal. As the episode progressed the host would occasionally refer to any contestants left languishing in cells, and viewers would be shown brief clips of them incarcerated in their cell.

Buying out a contestant could be done at any time. If not done immediately, it required another team member to physically take a crystal to the chamber where the contestant was locked in, leaving the crystal there in exchange for their team-mate. If the team had since moved one or more zones further in their journey around the maze, this buying-out was represented as a lengthy trip back through the maze that effectively took a second contestant out of action for at least one game. Buying out a contestant was not mandatory however, and the team could proceed to the Crystal Dome without them if they so wished (although the contestant would be reunited with the team at the end of the show).

The Crystal DomeEdit

After competing in all four zones, the contestants - excluding any still 'locked in' and never 'bought out' - were led to the Crystal Dome (as host, Richard O'Brien usually greeted this journey with a loud and excited shout of "To the Crystal Dome!") The Dome was a 16ft-high giant replica of one of the show's 'time crystals', surrounded by a seven-foot circular moat and entered by a 3ft-wide 'drawbridge' which was hydraulically retracted once the team were inside. One of the Dome's triangular panels acted as a door, hydraulically opened and closed to let the team enter and then to shut them inside. After sending the team inside and closing the door behind them, the host would call for the fans to be switched on. (O'Brien always used the same catchphrase "Will you start the fans, please!" Tudor-Pole used varying catchphrases such as "Let the mighty winds blow!")

Six huge fans, mounted on a slowly rotating giant turntable, were situated beneath the wire mesh floor of the Dome, to blow around gold and silver banknote-sized 'tokens' made of foil. Once the fans and turntable were up to speed with all the tokens swirling around, the host blew a whistle to start the clock. The team's aim was to grab the flying gold tokens and post them into a clear plastic container, roughly the sizse of a house brick, mounted at waist height on the outside of one of the dome's panels. O'Brien termed it The Letterbox, while Tudor-Pole called it The Cosmic Pyramid. The container had a pneumatically-operated door on the inside, marked with a red saltire-shaped cross, which opened when the collection time started and closed when time was up.

Winning the showEdit

The team had to collect at least 100 gold tokens in the Crystal Dome to win, but each silver token accidentally posted would cancel out a gold token. Hence the team had to collect 100 more gold tokens than silver ones. Each team reassembled in front of the Dome after their time was up, for the final scene of each show in which they were informed of their result by the host.

In the first series, a final balance of 50–99 gold tokens entitled team members to a 'runner-up' prize, but this was dropped in later series. In the case of the Christmas specials, featuring a team of children, they were awarded the prize regardless of their performance in the Dome.

Originally, prizes consisted of individual adventure days out, such as a flight in a Tiger Moth or a day spent mud-plugging, and contestants chose their own gold and silver grade prizes off set, just in advance of filming the Crystal Dome part of the show. From series four onwards, the contestants would choose a single prize (usually adventure holidays) shared by the whole team.

The prizes on the show have been described as "shoddy", and Richard O'Brien frequently mocked them gently in his introduction to each show, referring to them variously as 'inconsequential', 'mediocre', 'ordinary', 'underwhelming' and so on. However, the prizes were comparable to other British TV game show prizes of the era.

All players that participated won a commemorative crystal saying "I Cracked the Crystal Maze, 199x". This acted as a consolation prize for the vast majority of teams who failed to win the grand prize: only 17 of the show's 83 teams (20%) were successful in winning the grand prize.[9] A further 7 teams won the "secondary prizes", which were only offered in the first series for a net total of gold between 50 and 99.

Format (2016 Special)Edit

For the Stand Up to Cancer special, 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, with the team watching their nominated member via a game's cell's windows. However, the one-off special stuck to the format of the captain choosing the type of game and who in the team played 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. Although the show was not filmed on the set used in the original run, due to it being dismantled in 1999, it did feature a revamped map was also used to indicate the team's position; while it retained the same layout, it was more rendered, used icons for each zone, and renamed Futuristic zone to Future zone. For the final challenge at the Dome, the team were given an extra crystal due to the nature of the special, and were now tasked with collecting as many gold tokens as they could, with the amount they had when the time was up, after deduction of silver tokens, determining how much money was donated to Stand Up to Cancer - £10,000 for 100 to 149 gold, £15,000 for 150 to 199 gold, and £25,000 for 200 or more. The team managed to get over 200 gold, after deduction, securing the top cash amount for the charity event.

Format (Revival)Edit

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 digital timer, used on all versions of The Crystal Maze, is no longer used during the final challenge. 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.


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


  1. All-time Poll. Retrieved 20 September 2013.
  2. Gameshow General Election 2010. Retrieved 20 September 2013.
  3. The Crystal Maze @
  4. The Story
  5. > Games > Skill
  6. > Games > Physical
  7. > Games > Mental
  8. > Games > Mystery


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