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Crystal Maze, The Best TV Programme Ever, Is Back, Sort Of

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Tarantulas, confined spaces, giant egg timers and unsolvable puzzles, the cult '90s TV show, The Crystal Maze is back.

A show that, in hindsight, was essentially just the world's most stressful team-building exercise, played out over the course of 45 minutes, during which you could be locked in a room with some terrifying animals or stranded on a rope bridge with no promise of rescue. It was like Saw, live, on Channel 4.

If you're not familiar with the premise, the prime time show that clocked a cool 6 million viewers per episode, was a cross between Takeshi's Castle and Mastermind – so, yeah, not a laugh a minute, but it made for some pretty entertaining TV. Filmed at a huge air hangar in Essex, teams of six had to complete a seemingly endless series of mental and physical tasks in different themed zones (Aztec, Industrial, Medieval, Futuristic and, later, Ocean).

The aim of the game was to collect crystals from each task in order to determine how long they would spend within a crystal dome – inside which people would manically jump up and down to try and grab golden tickets – in the show's finale. It was unbelievably exciting, like the glass elevator in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, like Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, like Fun House – have we mentioned it was the best show on TV?

The intensity of the show was not only amplified by the incredibly flammable-looking boiler suits that the teams were hopefully contractually forced to wear, and by the evil-genius wizard of a presenter, Richard O'Brien, the perennially smooth-headed auteur and presumed owner of said 'maze' whose preferred uniform was a leopard print blazer and skinny jeans. All so very weird. All so very good.

O'Brien was a veritable one man show. Episodes would often open with down-lit, long, panning shots of O'Brien seated like some Teddy Boy Dracula in his cave, dripping wax candle in one hand, crystal in the other. It still sends nervously excited shivers down my spine. Not dissimilar from David Bowie's goblin king character in the Labyrinth (every '90s child knows) O'Brien would flit between seeming co-conspiritor and machiavellian master whose main aim was to entice and then trap office workers from Luton in tiny rooms.

I'm obviously not alone in my fanaticism. Following a crowdfunding campaign that raised £900,000 in just four weeks, a fully immersive Crystal Maze is to open in North London next year. Tickets which went on sale for £50 each yesterday, saw so much traffic to the official website, that it crashed.
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