I watched Channel 4's Codex the other weekend, for two reasons:
- Tony Robinson presents
- It's billed as a new Crystal Maze
What utter horserind.
Update 2006/11/28: Holy jesustongs! The puzzle designer of both shows replies in a comment below!
The concept is neat enough: a team rushes around the British Museum at night, solving historical puzzles and attempting to crack a code. Tony Robinson has the historical and investigative credentials to host such a task, but it falls down on every other point.
The first thing they show you is the "Codex", a substitution cipher which is slowly revealed as the team completes tasks. Unfortunately, it's designed for morons. If you have a PVR, you can press pause and crack it in about 4 minutes before any of the code letters have been revealed. Since that would obviously be too hard, they give you two letters for free.
The mini games which form the meat of the programme are not-even-glorified trivialities that you might find in one of those puzzle magazines on sale at airports, designed to blunt your mind for a 12 hour plane flight.
They do a spot-the-difference using an image and a digitally altered image of an ancient artifact.
They do a memory test by showing you a picture then asking you about it.
They even play a guess-the-weight-of-the-object game to eliminate players.
The only halfway clever part was the what-does-this-symbol-mean test, where you are shown some kind of ancient ideograph that is still pictorial enough to figure out the object it represents. They could've taken it much further, say, by matching whole sentences to their translations. Blind translation could be a gameshow in its own right.
At the end, more letters of the Codex are revealed and the loser-players attempt to decipher it in order to tell the potential-winner which of five objects to choose.
The overall structure does seem to be based on The Crystal Maze - walking around themed zones, players being left behind, mini games leading to a final challenge, the victory message ("I cracked the Codex"/"I cracked the Crystal Maze")... there's even a genuine link between the shows: Tony Robinson's Maid Marian and Her Merry Men did an episode parodying The Crystal Maze.
Unfortunately, the big picture similarities are nullified by details so tame that I am personally offended by the comparison.
The Crystal Maze had Richard O'Brien being his own eccentric self. Tony Robinson is sadly subdued, struggling to fill the boring stretches of time as the tasks are mechanically completed.
The British Museum is an amazing location, but it's not a set, no matter how many blue lights you install.
Most importantly, The Crystal Maze was hard. The mini games had a brutal time limit, and Richard O'Brien wouldn't hesitate to lock players in if they were a second late getting out. The physical games made players pant and sweat. The mental games asked genuinely difficult questions. The skill games had players banging the controls in frustration. There were no practice rounds and no second chances. A victory in a Crystal Maze game actually meant something.
Codex is heart-achingly dumbed down, and I bet it had a huge budget too. Amazingly enough, The Crystal Maze is currently back on TV at 7pm every weekday on "Challenge TV", one of those mystery channels that you only ever get to by accident. It's not listed in most TV guides, and is way, way down the list on NTL's on-screen guide thingy. It's channel 152, if you must know.
And you must!