Our puzzle room

Friday 27th February 2015

A couple of years ago in Budapest we discovered puzzle rooms. The image above is from Trap which was the first one we did. They're really big in Hungary, and there are now some appearing in London, but we think we've got the only one in the South West Cornwall (I've since discovered one in Bristol).

The idea is pretty simple - lock people in a room with a bunch of puzzles that they have to solve in order to escape. Typically we've had groups of two in the room at a time, but a couple of threes have had a go.

We've made three rooms now, and it's been great fun creating them: past puzzles have included using a telescope to search for a coded message, finding a murderer with Guess Who and defusing a bomb! Below is the fake bomb we created:

It's fascinating to see how people explore the room. Some people try to force open padlocks without even trying to find the combination, some work beautifully as a team, some refuse to ask for any help whatsoever, others obsess over tiny details or red herrings.

Everyone who's had a go at one of our rooms has really enjoyed themselves!

The current room is only available until the end of March and it needs to be dark when you start. There is no time limit, but we'll announce the team with the fastest time after it ends.

To book your turn check out our Facebook page or leave a comment below.

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The perfect Virgin Mary

Friday 20th February 2015

I stopped drinking about two years ago and I love it (more about why here).

But the one thing that I find really irritating is the range of non-alcoholic drinks in pubs. There are lots of expensive sweet drinks (coke, lemonade etc), loads of really expensive sweet drinks (J2O, Appletise etc.) and almost no non-sweet drinks at all.

The only two good non-alcholic drinks that most pubs can do is a lemon, lime and bitters or a Virgin Mary, and both drinks seem to prove a real challenge to bar staff. With the former I've been served a bitter shandy with angostura bitters (so wrong) and most Virgin Marys are just tomato juice and tabasco (just dull).

I knew I could do better so I've had a play, and here's my recipe for the perfect Virgin Mary.

Ingredients

  • Chilli sauce, I'm using some awesome Bad Boy Chilli mash
  • A small bowl of ground salt and pepper, mixed together
  • Wasabi
  • Lemon slices
  • Garlic, I'm using garlic pureé because it dissolves more easily
  • English mustard
  • Worcestershire sauce (or soy sauce for vegetarians)
  • Horseradish, I'm using grated fresh horseradish for extra fire
  • Ice
  • Tomato juice

Method

  1. Turn your glass upside down, and dunk it 1cm into fresh water, then dunk into the salt and pepper to coat the rim of the glass, as shown on the left, below.
  2. Mix all your ingredients (I'll leave the proportions to you) into a nasty brown sludge, as shown in the middle photo below.
  3. Add the sludge and a small amount of tomato juice to the glass, and stir well.
  4. Add the remaining tomato juice, stir well then add the ice and lemon.
  5. Enjoy!

The finished drink

Any tips for other ingredients to make it extra super awesome?

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Talking to the car

Friday 13th February 2015

I took my car for a day on a race track recently, which I'd really recommend if you've got a suitable vehicle. As you can see in this video, I span it at the end of the first lap, and after my heart rate fell below 200bpm I noticed that the engine management light had come on. At the time I was having way too much fun to worry about it, so I disconnected and reconnected the battery (which turned off the light) and carried on driving. 

I've been doing an evening class in vehicle maintenance, and my attitude towards car problems has changed a lot - six months ago I would have probably stopped and taken it to a mechanic. But with my new adventurous DIY car repair spirit, I thought I'd try to figure out what was wrong and fix it. The class teacher said many times that as cars become more computer-oriented he understands them less.  I'm the opposite - if it's got a computer in it, I might stand a chance of understanding it.

In an incredible example of standards actually working, all cars made since 1998 in the UK have an Onboard Diagnostics (OBDII) port, which looks like a massive old joystick port, intended for garages to interrogate your car and fix it. Mine's hidden on the underside of the dashboard next to the fuses, entirely hidden unless you're lying on the floor on the drivers side. For £6.99 on eBay (I love eBay) I acquired an OBDII to USB cable, above, and software. And after a lot of fiddling about in Windows I actually got the laptop to talk to the car!

The car tells me that the error is P0011, which the software helpfully translates into the camshaft being over-advanced. Why that happened and how to fix it is for another day. It also tells me hundreds of other facts, such as the car is currently breathing in air at 11°C at the rate of 3.31 grams per second, and that the coolant is at 58°C.

You may or may not find that interesting. Let me know in the comments...

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Kentucky Fried Pheasant

Friday 6th February 2015

I absolutely love KFC - those three letters are making me salivate right now. But I can't eat there any more since I read Fast Food Nation - it put me off fast food for life. Their treatment of animals and environmental record is really rather poor. Until 2006 there was a PETA activist whose legal name was KentuckyFriedCruelty.com (although his mum still called him Chris).

Ever since I stopped eating there I've wondered what the Colonel's 11 secret herbs and spices are, and if it's possible to make at home. Recently I came across a website with a recipe and after a few tweaks I'm in fried chicken heaven once again.

Of course, it doesn't have to be made with chicken, so here I've made it with pheasant (thanks Rachel's mum!) which is just as tasty, but you'll want to make sure you use young tender pheasant, and it does give the final product a stronger taste. Make it with chicken if you like.

Ingredients

The first thing to note is that there aren't 11 herbs and spices listed. The original recipe had onion salt and marjoram too, but we don't have those on the spice rack and I can't taste the difference without them. If it really bothers you then by all means add 11. I've tried removing other ingredients and in my opinion the only ones that really matter are salt, pepper and MSG.

This brings me onto the second thing to note. Yes, you do need to put MSG into it. The original recipe had 2 tbsp of MSG so I've scaled it back to a sixth of that, and anyway there's nothing wrong with MSG. You can buy a bag at any chinese supermarket (or eBay) for a couple of quid that will keep you going for the rest of your life.

  • 500g of pheasant/chicken meat, cut into thin strips
  • 1 bottle of rapeseed oil (e.g. Crisp N Dry)
  • 1 egg
  • 150g plain flour
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • ½ tsp ground chilli
  • 1 tsp ground oregano
  • 1 tsp ground dried sage
  • 1 tsp ground dried basil
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp MSG
  • 2 tbsp paprika

Method

Put the oil into a large saucepan and heat to 180ºC (warning blah blah hot).

While it's heating, get four bowls. In the first, put the pheasant strips. In the second, beat the egg. In the third, sift the flour and mix in the herbs and spices. One by one, take a pheasant strip and dunk it in the beaten egg, then drop it into the flour and coat on all sides. Place in the fourth bowl.

Once you've coated all the strips, take the coated strips one by one and dunk them carefully in the egg again, then back in the flour again, then place them back into a bowl ready to cook. This double coating is the secret to making it super-awesome.

When the oil is up to temperature cook the strips in batches of 3-4 at a time, for about 2 minutes until they are golden. When you cook the first batch, cut a piece open to check it's cooked and then cook the others to the same colour on the outside.

What do you think? Needs more MSG? Leave your comment below.

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