The Crystal Maze
|The Crystal Maze|
Series 3-6 title card
|Genre||Adventure game show|
|Created by||Jacques Antoine|
|Directed by||David G. Croft|
|Theme music composer||Zack Laurence|
|Opening theme||"Force Field"|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||6 (inc. 5 Christmas specials)|
|No. of episodes||83|
|Location(s)||Lee International Studios
Aces High Studio, North Weald
|Running time||50 minutes (approx.)|
|Production company(s)||Chatsworth Television|
|Original channel||Channel 4|
|Picture format||PAL (576i)|
|Original release||15 February 1990– 10 August 1995|
The Crystal Maze was a British game show, produced by Chatsworth Television and shown on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom between 15 February 1990 and 10 August 1995. There was one series per year, with the first four series presented by Richard O'Brien and the final two by Ed Tudor-Pole. Each show was one hour long, including adverts.
The show was originally intended to be a British remake of the French programme Fort Boyard, devised by Jacques Antoine. However, the unavailability of the French show's set led British producer Malcolm Heyworth to reinvent the show, using themed zones as a means to keep the show visually fresh.
The series is set in "The Crystal Maze", which features four different "zones" set in various periods of time and space. A team of six contestants take part in a series of challenges in order to win "time crystals". Each crystal gives the team five seconds of time inside "The Crystal Dome", the centrepiece of the maze where the contestants take part in their final challenge.
The maze cost £250,000 to build and was the size of two football pitches. At its height the show was the most watched on Channel 4, regularly attracting between 4 and 6 million viewers. In 2006 and again in 2010, the show was voted "greatest UK game show of all time" by readers of UKGameshows.com. This site describes the programme as "a highly-ambitious, high-risk show that paid off handsomely."
On 10 June 2015, almost 20 years after the last episode aired, it was announced that The Crystal Maze would be making a comeback as a "live immersive experience" in London, starting in Autumn 2015. On 14 June 2015, interactive theatre production company Little Lion Entertainment revealed that they were behind the project, through the midnight launch of their Indiegogo campaign. Currently their aim is to raise £500,000 through crowdfunding in order to build a brand new maze. The new maze will act as an arena in which four teams of eight will compete against each other, with a live audience spectating. Each team will have its own maze guide, and the teams will rotate around the four classic zones before meeting up at the Crystal Dome to conclude the game.
- 1 Origins
- 2 Format
- 3 Hosts and characters
- 4 Production
- 5 Reception
- 6 Commercial replicas and merchandise
- 7 Transmissions
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
- 10 External links
Originally Chatsworth Television intended to make a British version of the French show Fort Boyard. A pilot show of Fort Boyard was filmed, hosted by Richard O'Brien, which Channel 4 duly commissioned for a Thursday night primetime series. However, it then became clear that the fort would not be available for filming at the time it would be needed for the series. Fort Boyard's creator Jacques Antoine was therefore consulted about developing an alternative format that could be shot elsewhere, and a concept was then developed by the producers "in two days". The Crystal Maze used a concept similar to Fort Boyard, but was substantially different in presentation and style.
The Crystal Maze was filmed on a very large set, originally at H Stage in Shepperton Studios, but after the first series at an adapted aircraft hangar named Aces High Studios at North Weald Airfield in Essex.
O'Brien has revealed that the producers' original concept for the show was "kind of like Dungeons and Dragons to some extent". Therefore, when it came to selecting the show's host, their thinking was "what we need is a dungeon master", and O'Brien's name "was thrown into the hat at that point". He also commented that he found The Crystal Maze "the better programme" compared to Fort Boyard.
Channel 5 later bought the rights to Fort Boyard and made their own version, using the original set, running from 1998 to 2001.
The objective of the show was to amass as many time crystals (golf ball-sized Swarovski glass crystals) as possible by playing the games in each zone. Winning a game secured a crystal, worth five seconds of time for the team in the Crystal Dome. When the team reached the Crystal Dome, they had to collect as many gold tokens as possible in order to win a prize.
The set was divided into four zones set in different periods of time and space. For the first three series, the zones were Aztec (ancient village amidst ruins), Futuristic (a space station environment), Medieval (a castle set where the host purportedly lived), and Industrial (a present day chemical plant). From series four onwards Industrial was replaced by Ocean, set on a sunken ship, the S.S. Atlantis. The maze itself was not literally a maze, but rather four interconnected zones. At its centre was the Crystal Dome, a giant geometric acrylic glass crystal where the teams play their final challenge after playing games in each of the four zones.
There were a variety of entry methods to gain access to the contestants' starting zone, including rowing canoes in Aztec, opening a heavy portcullis in Medieval, answering the computer's questions in Futuristic, climbing a gap to open the door in Industrial, and traversing a net ladder in Ocean. When transitioning between zones, ladders, lifts and tunnels were used to connect the zones together.
In each episode, a team consisting of three men and three women (including a team captain and vice-captain), always aged between 16 and 50 during the regular series, would enter the maze. The teams were put together by Chatsworth from individual applicants, only meeting each other for the first time on the day before filming their episode. 38,000 contestant applications were received for the show's final series.
Gameplay was co-operative throughout. Starting from a pre-determined zone, the team played three or four games of various types in each zone, travelling through the four zones in either a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction. At the end of the show after playing all four zones, they entered the Crystal Dome.
Before each game in a zone, the team captain (or vice captain should the team captain be locked in) would choose which contestant would play and which type of challenge the game would involve. There were four categories of game:
- Skill games, tests of dexterity and accuracy. These included target-shooting games, miniature vehicle driving games, steady hand tests, timing tests, maneouvering the crystal out of the maze, or getting balls into the correct holes.
- Physical games, tests of speed and strength. These included demolishing targets, climbing without touching the floor, using a zipwire, avoiding obstacles, crossing the water, or heaving a chest to unlock the crystal.
- Mental games, tests of brainpower. These included arranging 2D or 3D puzzles, solving a brainteaser set by Mumsey, solving a word association game, solving maths equations, or releasing a key on a rope entangled in an intricately shaped object.
- Mystery games, which did not fall into the previous three categories. These included treasure hunts, sliding puzzles, and finding the location of a crystal in a room using clues.
Each game involved a contestant venturing into a room on their own. The host advised the contestant on the time limit or special rules (e.g. automatic lock-in stipulation) before allowing them to enter. As soon as the door was closed and locked, the timer was started. The rest of the team was able to see what was going on inside the room through monitors or windows in the walls.
A major hazard for contestants on the show was the risk of being locked in a game room. There were two ways a contestant could be locked in:
- Exceeding the time limit: Each game had a time limit of two, two-and-a-half, or three minutes. If the contestant failed to exit the chamber within this time limit, before the timer hit zero, the host would keep the door firmly closed and the contestant would be locked in. A timer was almost never provided inside the game room itself, so the contestant was reliant on timecheck information shouted in by the host and/or their teammates outside. Therefore, anxious shouts from teammates of "Come out!" or the contestant shouting "I'm coming out!" or "Should I come out?" were regular catchphrases throughout the show.
- Automatic lock-in games: In a minority of games, known as automatic lock-in games, the contestant could also be locked in by committing a foul. Most typically this meant either setting off an alarm three times (e.g. by touching an obstacle in a physical or skill game, or making an incorrect guess in a mental or mystery game), or by touching the floor if this was forbidden for that game. Automatic lock-in games appeared quasi-randomly, not under any control of the contestants. If the contestant triggered the condition for automatic lock-in, they would be locked in instantly, irrespective of whether or not they had obtained the crystal, and regardless of how much time they had left. In the Ed Tudor-Pole era a number of games were described as "automatic lock-in", which did not meet these criteria; instead, the contestant would not be able to come out without the crystal. Normally this was achieved by making the crystal easily accessible but blocking the contestant's exit somehow.
Any contestant who was locked in forfeited the crystal from that game, and was unable to take any further part in proceedings unless and until the team captain chose to buy the contestant's freedom at the cost of a previously earned crystal. As the episode progressed the host would occasionally refer to any contestants left languishing in cells, and viewers would be shown brief clips of them incarcerated in their cell.[nb 1]
Buying out a contestant could be done at any time. If not done immediately, it required another team member to physically take a crystal to the chamber where the contestant was locked in, leaving the crystal there in exchange for their team-mate. If the team had since moved one or more zones further in their journey around the maze, this buying-out was represented[nb 1] as a lengthy trip back through the maze that effectively took a second contestant out of action for at least one game. Buying out a contestant was not mandatory however, and the team could proceed to the Crystal Dome without them if they so wished (although the contestant would be reunited with the team at the end of the show).
The Crystal Dome
After competing in all four zones, the contestants—excluding any still locked in and never bought out—were led to the Crystal Dome (as host, Richard O'Brien usually greeted this journey with a loud and excited shout of "To the Crystal Dome!") The Dome was a 16-foot-high (4.9 m) giant replica of one of the show's time crystals, surrounded by a seven-foot circular moat and entered by a 3-foot-wide (0.91 m) drawbridge which was hydraulically retracted once the team were inside. One of the Dome's triangular panels acted as a door, pneumatically opened and closed to let the team enter and then to shut them inside. After sending the team inside and closing the door behind them, the host would call for the fans to be switched on. (O'Brien always used the same catchphrase "Will you start the fans, please!" Tudor-Pole used varying catchphrases such as "Let the mighty winds blow!")
Six huge fans, mounted on a slowly rotating giant turntable, were situated beneath the wire mesh floor of the Dome, to blow around gold and silver banknote-sized tokens made of foil. Once the fans and turntable were up to speed with all the tokens swirling around, the host blew a whistle to start the clock. The team's aim was to grab the flying gold tokens and post them into a clear plastic container, roughly the size of a house brick, mounted at waist height on the outside of one of the dome's panels. O'Brien termed it The Letterbox, while Tudor-Pole called it The Cosmic Pyramid. The container had a pneumatically-operated door on the inside, marked with a red saltire-shaped cross, which opened when the collection time started and closed when time was up.
Winning the show
The team had to collect at least 100 gold tokens in the Crystal Dome to win, but each silver token accidentally posted would cancel out a gold token. Hence the team had to collect 100 more gold tokens than silver ones. Each team reassembled in front of the Dome after their time was up, for the final scene of each show in which they were informed of their result by the host.
In the first series, a final balance of 50–99 gold tokens entitled team members to a runner-up prize, but this was dropped in later series. In the case of the Christmas specials, featuring a team of children, they were awarded the prize regardless of their performance in the Dome.
Originally, prizes consisted of individual adventure days out, such as a flight in a Tiger Moth or a day spent mud-plugging, and contestants chose their own gold and silver grade prizes off set, just in advance of filming the Crystal Dome part of the show. From series four onwards, the contestants would choose a single prize (usually adventure holidays) shared by the whole team.
The prizes on the show have been described as "shoddy", and Richard O'Brien frequently mocked them gently in his introduction to each show, referring to them variously as "inconsequential", "mediocre", "ordinary", "underwhelming", etc. However, the prizes were comparable to other British TV game show prizes of the era, with the added advantage of being something the contestants actually wanted.
All players that participated won a commemorative crystal saying "I Cracked the Crystal Maze, 199x". This acted as a consolation prize for the vast majority of teams who failed to win the grand prize: only 17 of the show's 83 teams (20%) were successful in winning the grand prize. A further 7 teams won the "secondary prizes", which were only offered in the first series for a net total of gold between 50 and 99.
Hosts and characters
The centre of attention on The Crystal Maze was never away from the show's host for very long. It was for the host to guide the team between the zones and game rooms in each zone, to act as timekeeper for every game and for the Crystal Dome, and to reveal the final result. The host also quite often provided specific genuine assistance to the team during a game, in order to keep the crystal attempt moving for viewers, after the contestant had spent some time failing to understand an element of the game or persistently making a mistake.
During each game, the teammates would always crowd closely around the game room's windows or viewing monitors and concentrate on the game. This allowed the host to wander a short distance away from the team and deliver a monologue into a spare camera, which the contestants would probably not hear. Typically the view would switch from the game room to the host for short periods, and then back to the game room with the host's comments continuing as a voiceover. This did not happen in every game but the technique was used extensively throughout the show's run. This also allowed the host to be more disparaging about a contestant's attempt at a game 'privately' to camera than in their remarks to the contestants' faces, an opportunity both of the show's hosts sometimes utilised. Props were occasionally left around the maze which the host could talk about and/or use, and fictional 'side stories' relating to the maze's zones and its other 'inhabitants' were developed.
According to the production team, the asides were not originally foreseen but originated when O'Brien began joking with the cameramen, trying to make them laugh, while the action was focussed on the gameplay inside; but when the team reviewed the footage and realised what it could bring to the show "we asked him to do it all the time, and he did". For O'Brien, looking straight at the camera, "unknowingly it added a complicity between me and the audience at home".
The original host Richard O'Brien brought a very individual and distinctive style. This started with his physical appearance: he always wore a long fur coat (leopardskin in series 1 and 2; black and white in series 3 and 4), paired with a brightly coloured shirt, skinny fit trousers and long, sleek leather boots, while his head was always shaved completely bald.
O'Brien was always broadly welcoming and encouraging to teams, and congratulatory on their successes. As a guide around the maze he displayed what has been described as an "infectious... enthusiasm and manic energy", often shouting at teams to hurry or catch up. From series 2 onwards, he encouraged contestants to use every second of their time effectively, often giving harsh-sounding rebukes to any contestant he perceived to be dawdling or hesitating, or to be worrying about 'coming out' of the cell prematurely, or to any watching teammate who shouted that there was lots of time left. On occasion he would show visible frustration with a contestant for a particularly sub-standard attempt at a game. However, O'Brien also "often appeared detached from proceedings, bordering on deadpan". Many of his comments were comic "light-hearted quips at contestants". He also sometimes made subtle jokes related to the show itself and its production (e.g. amusing attempts at concealing that timechecks and other information came through his earpiece). According to h2g2, "his improvised jokes and little wisecracks on the contestants' stupidity were enough to keep the Maze going. He hammed it up marvelously and introduced a certain amount of campness into the show."
Once or twice in many shows O'Brien would produce a harmonica from his pocket during a game, often announcing that he was going to provide "excitement music". He only ever played one short and repetitive tune, of dubious quality. (Much more rarely he would 'find' another musical instrument in the maze which he used to provide a more authentic showcase for his musical talents, and on rare occasions he would briefly burst into song.)
O'Brien announced his departure from The Crystal Maze after the broadcast of series 4. In the 1993 Christmas special that preceded series 5, O'Brien appeared for the final time in a short pre-credits sequence cameo appearance, in which he and "Mumsey" leave the maze for a new life in America.
O'Brien has said in subsequent interviews that his time doing the show was "good" and "a lot of fun". In a 1998 BBC interview he said that he "never imagined I'd go down that particular byway" and it was only a "diversionary kind of sideline". He explained that after four years as host he was thinking, "If I stay here much longer I'm not going to be able to do anything else", suggesting that the film work he was in that year would not have come his way if he had remained on The Crystal Maze. O'Brien has said that he "didn’t want to get to the point where they said goodbye before I did. The show went on for 2 or 3 more years and it began to dip, and my credibility goes down doesn’t it? So I left." "I did four movies shortly after that and I don’t think I would have been allowed to have done them if I’d stayed as a game show host, so it was the right decision for me anyway."
In a subsequent article for The Independent newspaper, O'Brien wrote that he had been frustrated with Channel 4's attitude towards the show and towards him as its talismanic host. Despite The Crystal Maze being Channel 4's top-ranked programme, O'Brien claimed that "they never waved the flag for the show or tried to woo me as a Channel 4 person in the same crazy manner as they wooed Jonathan Ross" despite the ratings for Ross's show at the time being much lower than The Crystal Maze's. O'Brien felt that "Channel 4 people... should have taken me on board as a viable Channel 4 personality. And when... I'd had enough of Crystal Maze they should have asked if there was anything else they could have found me."
Tudor-Pole sported a look that has been described as "Georgian" and included an elaborate tunic in predominantly blue (series 5) or red (series 6), together with a waistcoat, off-white sleeves and trousers, and long black boots similar to O'Brien's. He has acknowledged that the producers "bent over backwards to accommodate" him and this included allowing him to design his own costumes, as well as write his own on-screen material.
His style hosting the show was similarly energetic to O'Brien's. His air was somewhat less detached and more sympathetic towards contestants than O'Brien, commonly commiserating them on their failures. He often employed very short interviews with contestants immediately after they came out of game cells, asking one or two questions about their success or difficulty with the game. Tudor-Pole talked up the 'time travel' element of the show, often using nonsense words such as "trignification" and "osmification" to describe the "process" of travelling between time zones in the show. He frequently pretended not to be able to calculate the maths of how many seconds teams had won in the Crystal Dome, waiting for the team themselves to shout out the correct answer. According to h2g2, "pale and looking a little emaciated, Ed Tudor-Pole gave The Crystal Maze a dark and intimidating feeling".
Since leaving the show, Tudor-Pole has shown less keenness than O'Brien to talk about his time on the show. Responding to questions about the show during a 2009 interview for DemonFM, he commented: "You've got to bear in mind I did it for five weeks about twelve years ago," and revealed that he only ever watched one and a half episodes of the completed show, "so I'm not an expert on it". Shortly afterwards he tersely moved the topic of conversation back to his music career with the comment, "Frankly I wasn't sent to this world to present game shows."
During O'Brien's period as host of The Crystal Maze, the most prominent recurring 'character' besides the host was "Mumsey" (who referred to herself as 'Madam Sandra' in her earlier appearances), a genial fortune teller played by Sandra Caron. She appeared only in the Medieval Zone, said to be Richard's "home". A recurring (and generally very easy) mental game in Medieval Zone involved receiving 'brain teaser' questions from Mumsey in her sitting room. At the end of the game O'Brien would usually talk to her briefly before moving on, sometimes continuing a conversation which was presented as starting between episodes. In series 3 we are told that Mumsey is away in Bratislava, to O'Brien's distress, but he is being "helped out" by the temporary residence in the Maze of Auntie Sabrina, an ageing hippy also played by Sandra Caron in a broadly similar way to Mumsey. Mumsey 'returned' for series 4.
O'Brien confirmed in a 2013 interview that he "invented Mumsey" himself. A fortune teller asking brain teaser questions had been an ordinary game concept by the production team for the first series, and O'Brien "built up the image" of the character from there, with Mumsey becoming a regular throughout his four series as host. O'Brien felt this "just added silliness and intrigue" to the show.
In Futuristic Zone O'Brien tried to develop an interpersonal relationship with the computer. In the first series, the computer's voice was male and acted antagonistically toward Richard. In the second series, the computer's voice was female and very flirtatious. For the third and fourth series, the computer's voice reverted to male; the third series' computer's voice had more of a bubbling and/or absent-minded personality and spoke with a deep pitch and cockney accent; the fourth series' computer's voice was more sophisticated, polite and more engaging with the team's current progress upon their entries. Tudor-Pole also flirted with the computer, which reverted to female and he called Barbara. He and Barbara had been together for 45 years in 2250 when she died. Barbara had been a scientist, and as part of her work, her soul was inputted into the computer.
In series 1 of the show, male contestants playing one 'maze' game had to kiss the princess at the centre of the maze in order for her to wake up and release the crystal. In series 5, a 'guard' called Lance in a Medieval Zone game instructed the contestant to build "the king's seal", and released a crystal on successful completion. In series 6, three 'guardians' inhabited a 'maze' game in Aztec Zone in which the contestant needed to ask each of them for a verbal clue to the crystal's location.
There were also a number of unseen characters at different points in the show's run. Mumsey's affair with someone known only as Ralph, who is never seen on screen, is an ongoing source of conversation during series 1 and 2. When Mumsey "returns" in series 4, Ralph's place in her affections has been taken over by a New Age Hollywood film director from California named Dwayne, who also was never seen on screen. As series 4 progresses O'Brien makes it increasingly clear to viewers that he disapproves of Dwayne. This culminates in O'Brien's final episode with an on-screen argument between him and Mumsey about Dwayne, followed later in the show by 'tears' from O'Brien. Tudor-Pole often referred to unseen companions in the maze, such as his horse Bert in Medieval Zone, and Starbuck the cat, who survived the sinking of the SS Atlantis (Ocean Zone) and still lived on the vessel.
Each series of the show featured its own portfolio of games: 37 different game designs in series 1 (which had no Christmas special), and then between 46 and 49 games in each subsequent series. Therefore, the same games became familiar to regular viewers over the course of a series, but did not appear on every show. There was never any officially designated variation in difficulty of games on the show, although the host sometimes implicitly acknowledged that some games were considerably easier to win than others.
While there was originality in the design of many games throughout the show's run, some games in later series were always 'variations on a theme' of games from earlier series. Several games on the show were derived from familiar commercially available children's games and/or fairground games, including KerPlunk and Downfall, shaky hand testers and sliding puzzles. Game designs tended to become more elaborate in later series.
In series 1-4, the total number of games that a team 'had time' to play across the four zones of the maze could vary between 14 and 16. As a result, Richard O'Brien often encouraged teams to keep transitions as quick as possible with comments such as "It's your time". For series 5 and 6 the number of games per episode was reduced to a standardised 13, despite no significant change in show running time.
A small number of games on the show 'broke the mould' of what viewers would have come to consider the 'normal' features of a game:
- Only one game ever featured a humanoid opponent, a quasar game in Futuristic Zone, to shoot at a robot which shot back. Contestant and robot had four 'lives' each.
- Rarely, the contestant was given the crystal before completing the task. Taking the crystal triggered a 'trap' preventing the contestant's exit from the room until the puzzle was completed.
- One game made the teammates outside the cell chiefly responsible for success in the game, not the contestant in the cell. This was a 'virtual reality' game requiring careful navigation around a computer-generated maze only visible on the monitor outside the cell. Teammates had to shout directions into the cell.
- Occasionally a contestant's mistakes could cancel out their previous progress during a game. For example, balls 'missed' in a pinball game and in a 'plinko' game would drain off into a 'lose' basket counter-weighing balls in the 'win' basket. A net score of +4 released the crystal. In a similar manner, in some later episodes in the Futuristic Zone, there was a game where the contestant operated a large metal platform (similar to a Dr. Who Dalek Hoverbout) with a large globe set in the middle (the globe was needed to push the contestant around), and they had to guide themselves around the game room; the aim of the game was to strike 5 green targets using the platform in order to release the crystal and get out in the space of 3 minutes. However, the floor also had some red targets, which would cancel out one of the green lights. At some point, this rule was amended, so that three greens were needed to release the crystal, whilst the original five greens were needed to let the contestant out.
A computerised diagram of the Crystal Maze was displayed as the team travelled around the maze. The diagram was a copy of the actual production design and floor plan of the set. A new version was used for series 4–6 due to the new Ocean Zone. The Aztec Zone housed 22 tons of sand and 10,000 gallons of water, and over half the plants were real.
Filming would take two days for each episode, with three episodes shot a week, so an entire series took about five weeks to film; each episode had a budget of about £125,000 in all. The team would tackle all the games and discover their fate in the crystal dome "as live" on the first day, followed by multiple cameras. Then on the second day team members would return to games they had already won or lost, and a single camera would be used to get additional close up shots of gameplay and footage from inside the dome of the team grabbing for tokens.
The show ended in 1995 when Channel 4's contract with producers Chatsworth TV expired and was not renewed. The large set remained up in Aces High hangar until 1999, when it was dismantled.
Eventually, Challenge (a digital satellite channel, then known as Challenge TV) bought the rights for all six series in 1998 and has frequently shown all the episodes throughout the following years. It quickly became one of the most popular game shows on the channel.
The makers of the children's TV show Jungle Run openly acknowledge The Crystal Maze as an influence, particularly the last host, Michael Underwood, who was the team captain in the first Christmas special.
The theme tune for The Crystal Maze was composed by Zack Laurence and is entitled Force Field. It was used through all six series. The original track is 1 minute and 5 seconds long; however it was shortened to roughly 50 seconds for the opening titles and varied between 40 seconds and 1 minute and 40 seconds for closing credits. The "Underscore" remix of the theme tune played during the show itself was also composed by Zack Laurence.
40% of the show's viewers were children aged 16 or younger. O'Brien has said that this popularity among children was a great surprise to him and the producers, but once they became aware of it, he adapted his performance on the show to "think like the kids and I'd invent treasure in the sand for no particular reason".
The show was nominated three times for a BAFTA award. The first nomination was in 1992 for Graphics. Further nominations followed in 1993 and again in 1994 for "Best Children's Programme—Fiction or Entertainment", specifically for the Christmas special show. The show was also once nominated for a Royal Television Society award, for series 5.
Contemporary commentary on the show has sometimes suggested that O'Brien's performance was the show's biggest single attraction for many viewers. In 2012 The Guardian's TV & Radio Blog listed O'Brien as one of the six "most loved" game show hosts, describing him as "an unconventional choice for an unconventional series... [who] looked more like a dandy gazelle than a game show host". A blogger for The Independent referred in 2012 to O'Brien's "zany charisma" on the show. According to popular culture website Popshifter, he "managed to transform a good concept into something more. He was your genial guide, a fearless adventurer with a wink and a smile and a verbal knife in the back of those poor saps [contestants]... His style and wit was sardonic, yet never exclusionary, and pointed, yet never bitter." The same commentary has sometimes suggested that although Tudor-Pole's performance as the replacement host was considered good, he had an almost impossible task in living up to O'Brien's popularity. The Guardian claimed "It was no surprise that the show went downhill after his exit."
The Crystal Maze was named "Greatest UK Game Show of All Time" in a 2006 poll by the UKGameshows.com website and again in 2010. Due to its popularity, it was featured in the Channel 4 at 25 celebration season which showed popular shows from Channel 4's 25-year history. It has retained a cult following over the years.
A particular point of entertainment for TV viewers could be contestants' inability to understand the working of the games they played; numerous 'lock-ins' of contestants on the show were caused simply by greed under pressure when enticingly close to claiming the crystal. Website Den of Geek describes it as "watching people who are out of their element (i.e. in a TV set) confronted with simple tests, and entirely failing to understand them. What's more, they were encouraged by their team members with shouts of 'you have plenty of time', just seconds before they got locked in." It adds that a viewer might well watch most of the proceedings through their fingers, "not actually believing that some contestants could be so stupid or clumsy, or both", and that "screaming at the TV... was a national angst" for the millions of viewers.
The perceived stupidity of the contestants was the central target of a parody sketch of The Crystal Maze on comedy programme The Mary Whitehouse Experience. The sketch showed an over-excited team having no idea who wanted to play a game next or what type of game they wanted to play. The 'host' offers one of the contestants an "extremely easy game" called the "Making a Cup of Tea game" featuring a teapot and two teacups. The bewildered 'contestant' utterly fails to complete the game, 'trying' absurd moves such as putting a teacup on top of the teapot, and pouring the teapot straight into his mouth, before freezing entirely, panicking and yelling "I'm coming out!"
A striking cultural reference to The Crystal Maze was made in the 2000 movie Dungeons & Dragons. This featured a maze with similar puzzles, where the movie's protagonists attempt to obtain a red ruby, with the maze's owner Xilus played by Richard O'Brien.
At least four separate British TV sketch shows ran parodies of The Crystal Maze:
- Various elements of the show were parodied by Punt and Dennis in a sketch on The Mary Whitehouse Experience, most prominently the perceived stupidity of the contestants. Their pathetic efforts in the sketch provoke the Richard O'Brien lookalike "host" to express an exaggerated detached frustration, and to compare his role on the show unfavourably with the life of another writer of hit West End musicals, Andrew Lloyd Webber.
- In 1994 an episode of the children's sitcom Maid Marian and her Merry Men (series 4, episode 1), had the Robin Hood character acting as the part of O'Brien.
- Comedy duo Adam and Joe also parodied The Crystal Maze on Channel 4's The Adam and Joe Show using their well known style of using toys. This time, the Crystal Maze was hosted by Yoda. The team was led by Emperor Palpatine and consisted of Jabba the Hutt, Princess Leia, C-3P0 and a drunken Obi-Wan Kenobi. The game culminated in the team only collecting one crystal. The Emperor was so frustrated with his team's terrible performance that he destroyed the Crystal Dome with his Force powers and declared, "The pony trekking holiday in Ullswater will be mine!"
- On 18 February 2006, a parody called The Crystal Muck appeared on Dick and Dom in da Bungalow, featuring a character called Richard O'Muck. The character played the harmonica at moments where the contestants needed to concentrate the most—a parody of O'Brien's antics.
Other British TV and radio references to The Crystal Maze included:
- In an episode of the third series of Absolutely Fabulous first broadcast in April 1995, the character Christopher, Edina Monsoon's hairdresser, calls out enthusiastically, "This is just like The Crystal Maze!" as he and others run through university hallways looking for a videotape.
- In 2007, the Sony Award nominated pilot for the BBC Radio 7 sketch show A Series of Psychotic Episodes, one sketch featured a traumatised daughter whose father had been locked in the Aztec Zone of The Crystal Maze in 1994 and never released from the maze.
At least two notable computer games have also referenced the show:
- The December 1992 video game "Crystal Kingdom Dizzy" featured in the final level of the game an obstacle course of moving platforms beneath water, where Dizzy had to collect a crystal and make his way out, in a parody of the programme itself. During this course a Richard O'Brien look-alike says in a caption "Quick!, quick!, get the crystal!", one of O'Brien's most well-known phrases on the TV show.
- The 2001 online multiplayer game RuneScape features a maze of puzzles, traps and other obstacles known as the Rogues' Den, operated by a character called "Brian O'Richard". When spoken to, Brian O'Richard claims the maze belongs to "mummsie".
Additionally, the 1992 Larry Niven and Steven Barnes book The California Voodoo Game features a Crystal Maze competition which is used to introduce two of the teams competing in the larger game around which the plot is based.
Commercial replicas and merchandise
The Cyberdrome Crystal Maze was an attraction usually found in larger bowling alleys and video arcades in the UK. It allowed fans an opportunity to "play" the Crystal Maze for themselves in a computerised format. There were a few differences from the show itself, e.g. there is no player choice of game category, and there is no locking in (instead, failing to quit a game would immediately cost the team a crystal). Five of the first six locations were in Britain, while the sixth was in Japan. All of the Cyberdrome Crystal Mazes have since closed. The locations of the Cyberdromes were Sandcastle Water Park (Blackpool), Oakwood Theme Park (Wales), Southampton Megabowl, Coventry Megabowl and next to Magnet Leisure Centre in Maidenhead, (Berkshire). The last one, at Canaston Bowl, Pembrokeshire, ceased operations in June 2010.
Encounter Zone, an indoor theme park found at Wafi Mall in Dubai, formerly had a similar attraction called "The Crystal Maze", which was inspired by the original television series. Opened with the rest of the theme park, the attraction was built due to the popularity of the television series in the U.A.E. after having been run and re-run several times on the now-defunct, local television Channel 33.
Currently many companies offer team building sessions to other companies in the style of The Crystal Maze. Some companies have developed an inflatable crystal dome  which can fit a full team inside. Also a children's Crystal Maze for aged 5 to 12 is run by Angel Centre in Kent.
|Release name||UK release date||Author||Publisher||Notes||Ref|
|The Crystal Maze||15 February 1990||Peter Arnold
and Gill Brown
1 October 1990
|Crystal Maze Adventure Gamebook||7 February 1991||Dave Morris
and Jamie Thomson
|Crystal Maze Challenge!||21 May 1992||Dave Morris
and Jamie Thomson
21 May 1992
|The Crystal Thief||15 April 1993||Peter Arnold||Mammoth||Puzzle Books|||
|Tea at Rick's||15 April 1993||Peter Arnold||Mammoth||Puzzle Books|||
|The Sacred Necklace||16 December 1993||Peter Arnold||Mammoth, London||Puzzle Book|||
|Phantom in the Tower||16 December 1993||Peter Arnold||Mammoth, London||Puzzle Book|||
|The Crystal Maze||1994||Unknown||Mammoth|||
|Crystal Maze Mystery Pack||25 February 1994||Peter Arnold||Heinemann Library|||
|The Crystal Maze Puzzle Book||13 June 1994||Peter Arnold||Mammoth|||
|The Crystal Maze Puzzle Book: Bk. 2||30 October 1995||Peter Arnold||Mammoth||Puzzle Book|||
|Crystal Maze A1 Poster||13 June 1996||None||Mammoth||Hardcover|||
Chatsworth Television licensed a number of popular SWP gambling machines based on the TV series, originally produced by Barcrest, but now made by JPM. A quiz machine based on the show was also produced. In 2009, Cool Games created a 3D video version for the UK SWP market. Remaining true to the original show, using touch screen technology, the game achieved widespread coverage in the UK and remains one of the most popular SWP games launched.
A computer game based on The Crystal Maze was developed by Digital Jellyfish Design and released in 1993 by Sherston Software for RISC OS on the Acorn Archimedes, and subsequently for the PC. There was also a hand-held version[clarification needed] that contained 12 simple levels, each the same but a bit faster and with added killer statues. It was a platform based game that mainly involved jumping onto different levels (out of 4) as they passed by. On the end of each level the player has to jump across three moving platforms and over a wall to obtain the crystal.
A game for mobiles was released in 2008, and later for iOS in 2010. Developed by Dynamo Games, it contains some of the games from the 1993 version.
In 1994, a video cassette, The Best of The Crystal Maze was released by Wienerworld Presentation. The video included three episodes: the 1992 and 1993 Christmas specials, and an episode from Series 4. It also featured the clip of O'Brien and Mumsey leaving the maze.
|Release name||UK release date||Notes|
|The Best of Crystal Maze||16 May 1994||No announcements of any future releases.|
|Series||Start date||End date||Episodes||Recorded||Presenter|
|1||15 February 1990||10 May 1990||13||November – December 1989||Richard O'Brien|
|2||21 March 1991||13 June 1991||13||December 1990 – January 1991|
|3||23 April 1992||16 July 1992||13||January – February 1992|
|4||1 April 1993||24 June 1993||13||January – February 1993|
|5||12 May 1994||4 August 1994||13||January – February 1994||Ed Tudor-Pole|
|6||18 May 1995||10 August 1995||13||January – February 1995|
The Christmas specials featured teams of children instead of adults. These were recorded shortly before each main series with a broadcast date several months before the start of the new series. Most of the games featured would also be played by adult contestants in the new main series, but a small number of easier challenges were also devised and made specifically for the Christmas specials which were not used in the main series. The team's captain on the show's first Christmas special was Michael Underwood who would go on to present Jungle Run, a show very similar to The Crystal Maze in style and format.
|1 January 1991||November 1990||Richard O'Brien|
|24 December 1991||November 1991|
|27 December 1992||November 1992|
|24 December 1993||November 1993||Ed Tudor-Pole|
|24 December 1994||November 1994|
- Although in fact, the realities of filming were substantially different from the on-screen representation. For an explanation see the Filming section of the separate Design and Production of The Crystal Maze article.
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|url=scheme (help). Bothersbar.co.uk. Archived from the original on http://web.archive.org/web/20100114123317/http://www.bothersbar.co.uk/weekendspecials/marian.htm. Check date values in:
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- Episode Guide
- The Crystal Maze at UKGameshows.com
- The Crystal Maze at the Internet Movie Database
- The Crystal Maze at TV.com