The Crystal Maze is a British Game Show that originally ran from 1990 to 1995, initially hosted by Richard O'Brien and later by Edward Tudor-Pole, and produced by Treasure Hunt and Fort Boyard creator Jacques Antoine. (Channel 4 originally wanted Fort Boyard, but couldn't get at the fort itself as the French series was massively popular at the time.)
Each week, six contestants would have to complete a series of challenges in four adventure zones (originally Industrial, Futuristic, Aztec and Medieval. In the fourth series, Ocean replaced Industrial). Completing these challenges would mean receiving a time crystal. If contestants failed to leave the room (crystal or not) before time ran out, or broke certain rules in some games, they were locked in and could only be released in exchange for a crystal.
The final part was always the Crystal Dome, where contestants would have a certain amount of time (determined by how many crystals won - 5 seconds per crystal) to collect gold tokens* blown about by a big fan. Silver tokens were also present and these would result in a deduction from a score (which could - and often did - lead to a negative total score). If they got 100 or more after deductions, they would win prizes: usually adventure holidays in B-level British resort towns.
Most of the show's appeal came from the wonderfully eccentric Richard O'Brien (of The Rocky Horror Picture Show fame) and the way he would present the show: his manic, restless behaviour; his razor-sharp put-downs of (frankly bad) team performances; and how he would always play that damn harmonica at the most inappropriate and distracting times. Edward Tudor-Pole never had a chance. It also became common for the viewer base to start shouting at the screen at the contestants when they missed the very obvious solutions. (Extracts from the show's blooper reel that have been leaked onto YouTube reveal that, in the privacy of the technical gallery, the show's director did it too.)
Although it wasn't very apparent to the viewer most of the show was in fact fixed: for example, it was the production staff, not the Captain, that decided what games to play (Physical, Mental, Skill or Mystery), and was in fact decided well in advance of the show. Although on screen it looks instantaneous there was also a significant length of time between a contestant entering a puzzle room and actually playing it, sometimes in the region of 15 minutes. This was so the crew could set up equipment such as cameras and in some instances actually reset the game if the player in question mucks up too badly in order to keep it interesting to the viewer. A far more in-depth list can be found on the other Wiki.
There were also Spin-Off Gamebooks, set in a more elaborate version of the Maze: The Crystal Maze Adventure Gamebook by Dave Morris and Jamie Thompson aimed at teens and adults, in which the more "realistic" maze was justified by it being set a hundred years in the future, with advanced holographics and robotics (including the robot host ROB); and four targeted at younger readers (The Crystal Thief, Tea at Rick's, The Sacred Necklace and Phantom in the Tower all by Peter Arnold), which just Handwaved it.
The show remains a classic and repeats are still shown in syndication. In particular, it was and remains very popular amongst University Students, though there have been no DVD releases as yet. In 2015, it was announced that a "live immersive experience" in central London with Richard O'Brien's involvement would launch funding through IndieGoGo, which eventually opened in March 2016. Later that year, alongside a second live venue in Manchester being announced, a one-off Celebrity Edition Revival was shown on Channel 4, this time with Stephen Merchant as the host, raising money for the charity Stand Up To Cancer.
Due to the popularity of the "Crystal Maze Experience" and the celebrity revival, Channel 4 commissioned a brand new series to be hosted by Richard Ayoade and broadcast in 2017, including a number of celebrity specials. Changes to the revival include the change from six random contestants to a group of five acquaintances, the return of the Industrial zone, and redesigns to the Future zone and the Crystal Dome. Medieval zone was ditched in 2019 in favour of the new Eastern zone, meaning that only Future and Aztec have been ever-present now.
A U.S. version premiered on Nickelodeon in 2020 hosted by Adam Conover (of Adam Ruins Everything fame). This version whilst also filmed on the UK set this time features teams of families, with the youngest family member being the team captain.
This show contains examples of:
- Apothecary Alligator: A Mystery Room in the medieval zone was dressed as an alchemist's laboratory, complete with stuffed crocodile (with a clue in its mouth).
- Art Evolution: The American version has one on the 2017 British version with clearly a larger CGI budget spent on the opening credits, zone maps and the Motion Capture game in the Futuristic zone.
- Aside Comment: The crux of Richard O'Brien's awesomeness. Carried on by Ayoade to just as great effect.
- Bald of Awesome:
- Bamboo Technology: A feature of the Aztec Zone.
- Berserk Button:
- Don't tell the contestant "You've got plenty of time", or Richard O'Brien will get very annoyed.
- In the case of Richard Ayoade, don't try to walk out of the Futuristic doors without him opening them (it's his job to do that) and don't try to hug him (he'll accuse you of assault).
- For Mumsie, it's touching her crystal before she gives it to you during her challenge. She called one contestant a twit because of it.
- The Cameo:
- Richard O'Brien and Mumsey make an appearance at the beginning of the 1993 Christmas Episode to explain their departure before Ed's takeover as host.
- Richard O'Brien makes a second cameo in the 2016 revival through a computer screen, telling Stephen not to mess the job up and that the guy who played Doctor Who would have made a better host.*
- The 2018 celebrity special has appearances by Alison Steadman (as the Fairy Godmumsie) and Pearl Mackie (as Sleeping Beauty).
- Captain Obvious: Most of the team "advice" during certain games. Not that the obvious advice was necessarily unhelpful to their teammates...
- Traditionally "This is a two/two and a half/three minute game from the very second I close the door...", but in the case of the revival abbreviated to "mins" by Ayoade.
- In the original series "Will you start the fans, PLEASE!" for Richard O'Brien (which has since been revived post-2016), "Let the four winds blow!" or similar for Ed* - both just before the Crystal Dome task.
- Ed Tudor-Pole would normally close off by telling the audience to "Keep on rocking!" while Richard Ayoade signed off with "Thank you for watching, if indeed you still are. Farewell!"
- Subverted for a while by Richard O'Brien who decided to make "Go for it!" his catchphrase, but whenever he used it would shortly after go off on a monologue explaining to the audience that he had decided to make "Go for it!" his catchphrase.
- With Richard Ayoade we have "Follow the Hand", "You will look slightly different in the next shot" (see Lampshade Hanging) and "This is an ALIS, an Automatic Lock-In Situation".
- Celebrity Edition: The show was brought back as a one-off edition in 2016 which rated well enough to bring the show back in 2017. The new series has started with a group of celebrity editions before reverting back to civilian editions.
- Cheaters Never Prosper: Kind of averted. Contestants who managed to get a crystal in a method other than the one the game intended were usually allowed to keep it. On the other hand, they'd usually misunderstood the game, rather than strictly speaking cheated. Examples include:
- The infamous contestant who spent half his time messing about with the plastic skeleton prop that was only there for decoration won by simply dragging the chest containing the crystal along the ground instead of using the wooden rollers like he was supposed to.
- Another challenge involved putting four weights of different values on four pressure points; however, there weren't enough weights for each pad. The solution was to place a metal bar across two pressure pads and then place the "2" on it. One child contestant just stood on the final pressure point; when the crystal vanished after he stood off the pad to grab it, he just moved it closer. O'Brien pointed out how he didn't really play it properly but decided to let him keep the crystal anyway.
- One contestant had to shovel sand into one end of a see-saw so there would be enough weight to counter-balance him, so he could reach up and grab the crystal on a platform. He just knocked the crystal off with the shovel.
- In the first series, one challenge involved finding the crystal in one of twelve cells, having to get between them by climbing ropes or ladders. Richard O'Brien would always say "Ropes and ladders only!", but never penalised the contestants who took a shortcut by clambering across the top of the frame.
- Played straight with a contestant who wasted upwards of twenty seconds just trying to break his way into the cage containing the crystal. Had he just played the game properly, he would have won the crystal with time to spare. Instead, he got locked in.
- Christmas Episode: Between seasons there were Christmas specials with child contestants.
- Comically Missing the Point: On more than one occasion, a contestant completely fails to understand their task, leading O'Brien to helpfully offer advice on what to do. When they still don't get it, O'Brien will offer the advice again... and again... and again. He's clearly getting irritated at these utter morons! One episode had a contestant simply stand there with a dumbfounded look for the entire 5 minutes.
- On some occasions Richard O'Brien would get so infuriated by the incompetence he'd storm in to actually show them what to do like it was just that simple (and it usually was) once he had let them out.
- Consolation Prize: Regardless of the result in the Crystal Dome, the contestants always got their own crystal as a consolation prize.
- Corpsing: In the third 2017 celebrity special, Tamara Wall was reduced to helpless laughter by Richard Ayoade's repeated mentions of balls.
- Fashion Dissonance: The perms, mullets, and toupees sported by so many of the contestants certainly were a product of the time.
- 15 Puzzle: Sometimes appeared as a challenge.
- Fortune Teller: One of the inhabitants of the Medieval Zone was a stereotypical fortune teller who asked quiz questions and handed over a crystal (which was hidden in the base of her crystal ball) if the contestant answered correctly. O'Brien would provide the contestant with silver coins to cross her palm with. The fortune teller is his in-show mother, 'Mumsie', something that O'Brien made up on the spot during a first-series episode and it stuck. In Series 3, 'Mumsie' was replaced by 'Auntie Sabrina' - which was strange, because they were both played by Sandra Caron (possibly it was just an elaborate excuse to change her costume, as the characters did dress differently). 'Mumsie' returns in Series 4, announcing her arrival back in the Christmas Episode which kickstarts said series.
- Genki Girl: The entire "Cheerleaders" team in the 2017 series. Likewise "The London Girls" in the 2018 series.
- Golden Snitch: Ultimately, the number of crystals gathered meant nothing if the team gather too many (negative-scoring) silver tokens in the final stage. And they frequently did. (In theory, they could have used the extra time to check for silver tokens instead of just shoving in as many as possible, but apparently no-one ever thought of that.)O'Brien: I'm not going to wish you luck, it's a complete waste of time!
- And of course, the only way to top the above.
- Hates Being Touched: Richard Ayoade keeps the Hand (a hand on a stick) with him to hold contestant hands because he doesn't like touching people. Any attempt of hugging will hit Ayoade's Berserk Button, accusing the contestant of assault.
- Inverted with his American counterpart, Adam Conover, who as well as having no qualms touching contestants, decides to initiate a Group Hug with the team at end of his first episode!
- Hooking the Keys: In the game "Key Collection", contestants must use a hook on the end of a long pole to collect keys through a grill, and then find the correct key to open a chest.
- Impossibly Tacky Clothes:
- Mr O'Brien dresses like a fashion designer, that is to say like a man who knows nothing about style.
- Not to mention the team uniforms.
- Ed, on the other hand, wears his "scruffy dandy" look remarkably well.
- The 2017 revival is no different with the team uniforms and Richard Ayoade's suits looking just as tacky.
- Large Ham: Richard O'Brien. Ed Tudor Pole tries to go one up, but doesn't quite make it.
- Lampshade Hanging: Rather than showing the contestant put on safety helmets and knee pads for physical rounds like in the original run, the revival edits them out with Ayoade fully aware of it.Ayoade: You will look slightly different in the next shot. Don't worry, it's editing.
- Laser Hallway: Sometimes appeared as a challenge in the Futuristic Zone. The original series used tripwires as they probably didn't have the budget for real lasers, but the revival is going for the real deal this time round.
- Linked List Clue Methodology: A lot of the games had a dash of this, but particularly one of the most iconic games, the 'Murder Mystery' where a trail of clues would lead around a messy room (which also had a dead body in it because reasons) to the crystal. These games were so popular a different incarnation was done in each series.
- Loophole Abuse: It wasn't unknown for contestants to obtain their crystals in ways they weren't really supposed to.
- Suggested by David Coulthard in the 2017 celebrity specials when he advises another contestant that he use a hammer to break a Perspex shield when he is actually supposed to use an Allen key, leading Richard Ayoade to tell him he's not in Scotland. Coulthard also suggests a Groin Attack on a guard in the Medieval zone... this is not carried out.
- Losing Your Head: In the revival, riddles are asked by "Jarhead" (Adam Buxton), a head in a jar who's been present in the Futuristic, Mediæval and Eastern zones.
- Mayincatec: The Aztec Zone.
- Messy Hair: Ed Tudor Pole.
- Mineral MacGuffin: The Time Crystals, which grants the team 5 seconds in the Crystal Dome, or can be used to buy out a locked in contestant.
- Motion Capture: One of the games in the 2019 series now involves a contestant being mocapped in a white room whilst the rest of the team guides the contestant's digital avatar through obstacles (not too dissimilar to Knightmare) to get the crystal.
- No Indoor Voice: Gemma Collins in a 2019 celebrity special, which only prompted Ayoade to constantly mock it throughout the episode.Ayoade: You're watching this at home, so you can control the volume. I'm here. I'm frickin' here.
- Offscreen Crash: At least once in the 2020 US version, Adam Conover tosses a crystal out of frame, apparently hitting a cat.
- Only Smart People May Pass: Although the audience might have argued that it was more like "Only a complete idiot cannot pass".
- Pirate Booty: One of the challenges in the Ocean Zone was searching for the key to a treasure chest in a pirate cave, complete with pirate skeleton and stuffed Pirate Parrot.
- Put on a Bus: Richard O'Brien, when he left the series. Although the Series 5 Christmas Episode helps to explain the transfer of the ownership to Ed Tudor Pole.
- Rebuilt Set: Avoided with the 2016 special, which was filmed in the live experience site, but the 2017 revival has recreations of the Aztec, Mediæval and Industrial zones from the original plans. The Future zone and Crystal Dome area were redesigned from scratch. The Dome is now in a separate set as its fans had previously blown sand around in the Aztec Zone.
- Shout-Out: Richard Ayoade in the third 2017 celebrity special: "I'm recapping. It's a TV trope."
- Spell My Name with an "S": The spelling of Mumsey/Mumsie varied from series to series.
- Spiritual Successor: Numerous pundits have compared this series to the 1980-86 BBC children's series The Adventure Game, in which teams of three (two celebrities, one civilian) would have to complete various (untimed) games of skill and lateral thinking in order to get a crystal.note And like The Crystal Maze, The Adventure Game had a Golden Snitch final round in the form of the Vortex; if the contestants solved every puzzle with ease, they could still "lose" if they all stumbled into the Vortex in the final game (which happened more than once).
- After the original run ended, the UK did get its own version of Fort Boyard.
- Thanking the Viewer: Richard Ayoade signs off with "Thank you for watching, if indeed you still are."
- Theme Tune: Much more dramatic than it has any right to be.
- Timed Mission: Every challenge is 2-3 minutes long. The crystal dome has 5 seconds per crystal earned.
- Time Travel: Some of the challenges seem to take place in a medieval time period, or the future, or something similar...
- Too Dumb to Live: Several contestants, although this is probably the most ludicrous example.
- Used Future: The ambience of the Futuristic zone in the original series. The 2017 redesign is Everything Is an iPod in the Future.
- Voodoo Doll: Used for a throwaway gag in a series 2 episode:O'Brien: Oh look, it's one of Mumsey's pin cushions. Strange thing, she has a thing about pin cushions, and she always makes them in the shape of little people, I can't think why.
- Wire Dilemma: Sometimes appeared as a challenge.
- Who Would Want to Watch Us?: The hosts would both moan about the quality of the prizes, the game design, the contestants, the set, just about everything.Ayoade: And thank you for watching, if indeed you still are. Farewell.
- Your Princess Is in Another Castle!: In the fourth series, a game involved creating a chain of words to release a sword from a stone (King Arthur reference). That sword had a crystal as the pommel, but the game had no crystal for the winner. Where is the crystal? In the hand of a suit of armour, possibly worn by a crew member, who is given the crystal-pommel sword by Richard O'Brien.