“Let’s split up and search for clues,” I tell my friends, acutely aware of how cool it is to actually say that for real while solving a devious riddle.
You see, today I’m tracking the mysterious Professor Moriarty down the back alleys of London, following a string of cryptic messages sent directly to my phone to unlock a mysterious prize. Along the way we uncover secretive institutions, quaff strange beverages and discover the secrets of ancient poisons, all while hot on the heels of the Napoleon of crime. Gosh, it’s a lot of fun.
The game is the brainchild of HiddenCity, a company that runs scavenger hunts like this in cities around the UK, with a secondary aim of educating you about little-known areas of your city. While I play Sherlock, I end up wandering around areas of London I’ve never seen before, from chilly raised gardens and snug little pubs to ornate museums and bizarre alleyways.
And as the hunt goes on, I’m increasingly astonished by what I’d been missing out on. How could I not have known about the beautiful statues just off a main road, or the gorgeous deli hiding in plain sight? Or the collection of antique weapons a stone’s throw away from where I once went to a meeting?
That said, I’m not examining my surroundings too closely because I have 17 clues to solve against a ticking clock. For the price of £60 per team (and team players are limited to 4), the game has to strike a tricky balance – make the clues too easy and we’ll feel like we’ve wasted our money. Too hard, and it could become frustrating.
In the end, I think it finds a perfect middle ground. While the clues are tricky to get your head around and one or two leave us stumped for a while (and traipsing around staring at shop signs for hints), none are impossible. In the end, we finish the game in about an hour and a half (not including scheduled breaks or lunch). If stuck we could also have asked for hints in exchange for a time penalty, but it never comes to that.
When my team and I take stock at the end of the day, we agree it was probably worth the slightly steep price tag. As an entertaining activity to do with your friends, it was perfect – but as an offbeat tour around London it was also a slam dunk.
As for if we ever actually found Moriarty – you’ll have to take on his challenge yourself to find out.
Moriarty’s Game is available to play until March 1 2017. For more information and to book tickets: inthehiddencity.com