The Crystal Maze

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The Crystal Maze
The Crystal Maze 2017 title card.jpg
2016 revival titlecard
GenreGame show
Created byJacques Antoine
Presented by
Theme music composerZack Laurence
Opening theme"Force Field"
Ending theme"Force Field"
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original language(s)English
No. of series6 (original)
2 (revival)
No. of episodes78 (inc. 5 specials) (original)
18 (inc. 12 specials & 3 unaired) (revival)
Production location(s)
Running time60 minutes (inc. adverts)
Production company(s)Chatsworth Television (1990–95)
Fizz in association with Little Lion Entertainment (2016)
Fizz and RDF West (2017–)
DistributorZodiak Media
Original networkChannel 4
Picture formatPAL (576i) (1990–95)
1080p (16:9) (2016–)
Original releaseOriginal series:
15 February 1990 (1990-02-15) – 10 August 1995 (1995-08-10)
16 October 2016 (2016-10-16)
Revived series:
23 June 2017 (2017-06-23) –
Related showsFort Boyard
Jungle Run
The Adventure Game

The Crystal Maze is a British game show devised by Jacques Antoine, in which a team of contestants take on a range of challenges set within a labyrinth of the same name consisting of four time zones, winning a "time crystal" (golf ball-sized Swarovski glass crystals) for each one they successfully complete. Reaching the centrepiece of the Maze, "The Crystal Dome", the team work together collecting a certain amount of gold tokens to win a prize, with the allotted time inside the Dome being determined by the number of crystals they obtained in the previous zones.

Broadcast on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom, The Crystal Maze was originally aired over six series and five Christmas specials between 15 February 1990 to 10 August 1995; the first four series and three specials were hosted by Richard O'Brien, with the remaining two series and specials hosted by Edward Tudor-Pole.

In October 2016, Stephen Merchant hosted a one-off celebrity edition of the show for Stand Up to Cancer. Channel 4 announced the return of the show a month later, to be hosted by Richard Ayoade and featuring a revamped format. The broadcaster commissioned twenty episodes for the 2017 series, which consisted of fifteen civilian episodes and five celebrity specials.[1] On 22 January 2018, a second series was commissioned with twelve episodes, which consisted of six civilian episodes and six celebrity specials.[2] On 7 March 2018, the revival began airing in Australia on SBS Viceland.[3]

In March 2016, The Crystal Maze Live Experience opened, allowing the public to buy tickets and compete in a replica of the game show's zones and challenges.[4][5] On 3 June 2019, it was announced that a 10-episode American version of the show had been commissioned by Nickelodeon with filming taking place in Bristol during the summer.[6][7]


Upon seeing the idea of Fort Boyard (then known as Les Clés de Fort Boyard), producers at Chatsworth Television decided to devise a British version and began work on making a concept. According to Richard O'Brien, who was selected to be the host for this project, the original outlined concept was "kind of like "Dungeons and Dragons", with the host acting as the "Dungeon master". A pilot of the show was filmed in London, as it became apparent that the fort used by Fort Boyard on the west coast of France would be unavailable for filming due to its ongoing refurbishments in 1989. The pilot wasn't successful and as Channel 4 had commissioned the production company for a full series, producer Malcolm Heyworth contacted Fort Boyard's creator, Jacques Antoine, about developing an alternative format, with a proposal that it used themed zones as a means of keeping the show visually fresh. The concept of The Crystal Maze was developed in just "two days", creating a show which although similar to Fort Boyard, was substantially different in presentation and style.[8]

It was later adapted in France for children under the title of Les Mondes fantastiques (Fantastic worlds) and broadcast from 9 September 1992 to 15 November 1995 on France 3.


Each team that competed on The Crystal Maze have to undertake a series of challenges (referred to as games) within four different themed "zones" within the Maze, each consisting of six game rooms, referred to as "cells". Teams begin at a pre-determined zone, and first must complete a simple challenge together to enter the Maze, whereupon they compete in a series of games in each zone, amassing as many time crystals as they can before completing their last zone and travelling to the large "Crystal Dome" at the centre of the maze to meet their final challenge. For each game, a member of the team is nominated by the team's leader, who can volunteer themselves if they wish. Upon entering a game's cell, the goal of the puzzle is usually determined by a clear written message or by cryptic clues. The rest of the team watches their teammate's progress either through a cell's windows or via monitors, and may give advice to the contestant unless advised against doing so. The host will serve reminders of the time limit and of any special rules, and generally will not give hints unless the contestant is struggling badly.

Each game falls under one of four categories:

  • Physical - These are aimed at testing a contestant's physical abilities such as strength, agility and stamina, and can range from climbing over, between and around obstacles, to lifting, using, cranking, or manipulating objects with their hands, arms and feet.[9]
  • Mental - These are aimed at testing a contestant's mental and memory skills, and can range from simple brainteasers, to acute memory and 2D/3D puzzles.[10]
  • Skill - These are aimed at testing a contestant's dexterity, accuracy and eye–hand coordination, and can include target-shooting, skillful timing tests, and careful miniature vehicle driving.[11]
  • Mystery - These are aimed at testing a contestant's problem solving abilities, and range from treasure hunts, to solving mazes and searching a cell for clues to the location of the crystal.[12]

A principal risk is that of being locked within a game's cell. If a contestant is locked in, they are unable to take any further part in proceedings unless they are released by their team. A locked-in contestant may be absent for the remainder of the episode, and thus increase the difficulty for the team completing the final challenge. If the team's captain is locked in, the vice-captain takes over. A locked-in contestant may be released at any time by the team's leader in exchange for a time crystal.

There are two ways a lock-in can occur in The Crystal Maze:

  • Exceeding the time limit: Each game is usually set within one of three time limits - 2 minutes, 2 and a half minutes, and 3 minutes. While contestants may usually leave the cell whenever they wish, staying within a cell beyond the allotted time will cause them to be locked-in.
  • Automatic Lock-In: In a number of games, contestants may be locked-in if they breach a game's special rules or restrictions, irrespective of their progress in obtaining the crystal. For some games, a rule strictly forbids the contestant from making contact with the floor, while other games follow a "three-strikes" rule, in which a contestant will be allowed a maximum of two errors. An example of the latter is making contact with a restricted part of the game's puzzle.[13][14]

Several games were derived from familiar, commercially available children's or fairground games, including steady hand testers, mazes, and sliding puzzles; games in some zones sometimes appeared in other zones with some cosmetic changes and some variations to previous incarnations, with some game designs tending to become more elaborate in later series.[15] A small number of games differed from the traditional style of those that were featured; while they fell under one of the four categories available, they did not comply to the traditional style for the games on the show:

  • Some games had a special condition that would forfeit the crystal after it is obtained, if the contestant broke a rule. In some games, for example, a contestant could not wade back through a body of water after getting the crystal, but could earn it only by returning through the use of specified platforms or a raft. In other games, dropping the crystal would render it forfeit.
  • A game designed for the Futuristic Zone featured a humanoid "robot" opponent whom the chosen contestant had to shoot with a light gun, while the robot could shoot back at them; if the contestant lost all their lives against the robot, they were locked-in. If the robot was defeated, the contestant then had to complete a second puzzle to secure the crystal, located behind the robot.[16]
  • A maze game used on the show was designed with 'virtual reality' properties. In it, a contestant is given a special piece of headgear and had to be navigated around a maze by their teammates, who could shout commands on how they should move, seeing the maze on a monitor outside the game's cell, along with a special marker on the contestant's headgear that marked where they were. The contestant was restricted from letting this marker touch the walls of the maze, being locked-in if they did this a third time, but could freely leave the cell once they had navigated round to the crystal's location and picked it up from the cell's floor.[17]
  • Some games involved contestants donning special equipment, sometimes for protection. Contestants frequently became submerged during water-based challenges, following which they would be sent by the host to change into fresh clothing.
  • In some games, a contestant could be penalized by having their progress cancelled out by any mistakes they made. One example of this was a game in Aztec Zone, which was designed so that contestants needed to get balls into a "win" basket, in order to secure the crystal, thus if any were missed, they landed in a "lose" basket and counter-weighed against any in the win basket.[18]
  • Several skill games involving target shooting only had a limited number of instruments and each can only be used once. If a contestant uses all of them, the game is over. Similarly, in series 3's Futuristic Zone, one game involved a player taking out bars from an apparatus but at the risk of dropping tennis balls. If the player dropped more than four tennis balls, the crystal's path would be blocked.
  • During the fourth series, a game in Medieval Zone did not directly reward the successful contestant with a crystal. Instead, the successful contestant would emerge from the cell with a sword containing a crystal-like object in the hilt. The host would then place the sword with a suit of armor, thereby retrieving a crystal locked in the armor's glove.

Once the team arrives at the Dome, they are told how much time that they have to complete the final challenge, based on the number of crystals they have brought with them. At this point, the team enter the Dome, and upon the challenge beginning, they must collect as many gold (foil) tokens as they can and deposit them into a container along a wall of the Dome, while avoiding any silver tokens mixed in with them; these are blown about by fans beneath the floor of the Dome. Once time is up, the fans are switched off and no more tokens can be deposited into the container; a slot is opened during the challenge, which closes up when the time is up. Once the team is outside the dome, they, along with any members who were not present for the final challenge, are given the tally of their efforts by the host. If the team can accumulate a total of 100 gold tokens or more, after deduction of any silvers they collected, the team wins the grand prize that they chose for themselves before partaking in the show. All contestants who participate in the show win a commemorative crystal saying "I Cracked the Crystal Maze", which acts as a consolation prize if a team fails to secure the required number of gold tokens.[19]

Original series[edit]

During the run of the original series between 1990 and 1995, teams consisted of three men and three women, each aged between 16 and 40, who were put together by the production team and did not know each other before appearing on the show[20] From their pre-determined starting zone, teams either travelled clockwise or counter-clockwise around the maze, engaging in at least three games in each zone, sometimes being given the opportunity to play a fourth game in a zone during their trip around the maze. Between the first and fourth series, the total number of games that could be played varied between 14 and 16 per episode, but for the fifth and sixth series, the number of games played was reduced to standard of 13. Throughout the run, 3D maps of varying sophistication were used to highlight where the host and team were. Until the end of the third series, each contestant on the team could win a prize for themselves that they chose before taking on the Maze if the team succeeded at collecting 100 or more gold tokens, but from the fourth series, this format was changed to the team choosing a prize that they shared together if they won the final challenge. During the first series, a runner-up prize could also be chosen by each member of a team, which they won if the final tally of tokens was between 50-99, but this format was dropped by the start of the second series.

During the Christmas specials, the teams consisted of similar setup, with each aged between 8 and 16,[citation needed] and selected by the production team. While the format was similar to the adult version, there were notable differences, such as easier games with fewer chances of a lock-in, more lenient time limits and additional clues from the host. The prize would always be awarded at the end, irrespective of achievement.

One-off special[edit]

For the Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C) special in 2016, the format was slightly changed. The team, which consisted of celebrities, was reduced to five members, and because the show did not take place on the original set, fewer games were played. However, the one-off special stuck to the format of the captain choosing the type of game and nominating a member of their team to play it. The brain-teaser game was featured but operated slightly differently, in that there was no time limit, and the nominated contestant had to get two out of three correct to get the crystal. The show was not filmed on the set used in the original run, which was dismantled in 1999. The show featured a revamped map which retained the same layout, as well as indicating the team's position. The Futuristic zone was renamed Future zone.

For the final challenge at the Dome, the team were given an extra crystal, and were charged as normal with collecting as many gold tokens as they could. More than 200 gold tokens were acquired (net), securing the maximum cash prize of £25,000 for charity.

Revived series[edit]

A year after the Stand Up to Cancer edition Channel 4 revived the show. It returned the original setup of zones, used the same map design from the SU2C special, included a brand new collection of games and a newly designed taller set, it also revamped the format:[21]

  • The team setup was based on that from the SU2C edition, with all five contestants knowing each other, rather than being a group of strangers put together by the production team. The roles of captain and vice-captain are still retained and the host now spends time at the start of each episode getting to know each contestant, usually asking them about themselves and giving or getting interesting trivia preceding the opening Zone.
  • The number of games that can be played is reduced to 10 - two in two zones (usually, but not always, the first and last zone), and three in the other two zones.
  • The specific category of games to be played next is now pre-determined by the host. The captain now only needs to determine who to nominate in the team to tackle each game.
  • Teams don't necessarily travel in a circular fashion as they did in the original series, meaning the order in which the zones are visited can be completely random - for example, if the team begins in Medieval, they can move on to Aztec directly after playing all the games that are available, without having to do so via Industrial or Futuristic.
  • The riddle game format from the SU2C edition is retained; the nominated contestant may confer with the team. A variation of this game now requires the contestant to get two out of three correct answers to avoid being locked-in.
  • Each zone now has its own background music which is played while a contestant is engaged in a game.
  • The on-screen timer, used on all versions of The Crystal Maze, is no longer used during the Crystal Dome. Instead, viewers are left to rely on both the host and a shot of the crystals to know how much time the team has left.

A series of celebrity episodes was initially broadcast. Like the one-off edition in 2016, the contestants taking part were given an extra crystal upon reaching the Dome to add to those that they had brought, and would earn cash for Stand Up to Cancer depending on how many gold tokens they got, after deduction of silver - £5,000 for less than 50 gold tokens, £10,000 for 50 to 99 tokens, and £20,000 for 100 or more tokens.

The 2019 series introduces a new concept - the "Mega Crystal", a noticeably larger version of the Crystals within the Maze. Playable once per episode, the Mega Crystal grants an additional ten seconds of time when in the Crystal Dome if the team are successful in completing a game (akin to the Ruby Monkey from Jungle Run).

Hosts and characters[edit]

Throughout its history, The Crystal Maze has been presented by a series of hosts. Each takes on the role of the Maze's custodian, responsible for guiding each team around the various zones, keeping them updated on their progress, leading each nominated team member to the respective games, acting as the timekeeper on all games and the final challenge at the Dome, and taking safe custody of each crystal won by the team. During each game, while the team is focused on watching and helping their nominated member tackle it, the host will sometimes conduct a short monologue to camera, sometimes being more disparaging about a contestant's attempt at a game in 'private', and occasionally interacting with props left around the maze, talking about them and even giving fictional 'side stories' about them, the zones and the 'other inhabitants' of the Maze. In addition to the host, the show employed a series of performers who took on the role of other characters, some supporting, while others were merely a part of a game's puzzle.

Richard O'Brien[edit]

Richard O'Brien was the show's first host, hosting it during the original run between the first and fourth series. During his tenure, he often wore a long fur coat, paired with a brightly colored shirt, skinny-fit trousers, a shaved head and long, sleek leather boots,[22] and brought to the show a unique style of presenting, displaying an "infectious... enthusiasm and manic energy" to his role. He was always broadly welcoming and encouraging to teams, being congratulatory on their successes, but on occasion would show visible frustration with a contestant for a particularly sub-standard attempt at a game, and, at the start of the second series, would encourage them to use their allotted time effectively. Once or twice in an episode, O'Brien would produce a harmonica from his pocket during a game, and played one short and repetitive tune which he called "excitement music". On a number of occasions, he would 'find' other musical instruments in the maze, which were used to showcase his talents, even occasionally breaking into song.

According to the production team, the short monologue to camera scenes originated when O'Brien began joking with the cameramen during filming of an episode. When the production team reviewed the footage and realized what it could bring to the show they "asked him to do it all the time", to which O'Brien felt that looking straight at the camera, "unknowingly added a complicity between me and the audience at home".[23] However, he also "often appeared detached from proceedings, bordering on deadpan",[24] sometimes making subtle jokes related to the show itself and its production, while his comments were comic "light-hearted quips at contestants". 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."[22]

Richard's final appearance was in the 2016 Stand Up To Cancer special, posing a riddle to the contestants to enter the Aztec zone.

Mumsey and Auntie Sabrina[edit]

Portrayed by Sandra Caron, both "Mumsey" and "Auntie Sabrina" were genial fortune tellers, and were supporting characters during O'Brien's tenure, hosting their own recurring mental game in the Medieval Zone that involved brain teaser questions; Caron portrayed Mumsey for the first, second and fourth series of the original run, and Sabrina for just the third series, who was described by O'Brien as taking over while his Mumsey was away. Both characters were portrayed as friendly to the contestants, with Mumsey sometimes being motherly with O'Brien, who occasionally asked how she was doing after a game was over, and often talked about her affair she was having with a man called "Ralph" to both the contestants and audience during the first and second series, showing disapproval of her next affair with man called "Dwayne" during the fourth series. Originally, Caron played a character called "Madam Sandra", with Mumsey being an unseen, separate character that O'Brien talked about when travelling through the maze, but a decision made halfway into the first series saw the two characters merged.

In an interview in 2013, O'Brien confirmed that he had been responsible for inventing Mumsey, helping to build up her image after the first series and make her a regular feature on the show throughout his time as the Maze's host. O'Brien felt that the character of Mumsey he helped to create "just added silliness and intrigue" to the show.[25]

O'Brien and Caron's departure[edit]

After the fourth series had been broadcast, both O'Brien and Caron decided to depart from the show, with the former announcing his decision. Both chose to make a short cameo appearance as part of a pre-credits sequence for the 1993 Christmas special, in which O'Brien declared that he and "Mumsey" were leaving for a new life in America.[26] While O'Brien remarked that hosting the show had been "a lot of fun", [27] in a BBC interview he did in 1998, he stated that he "never imagined I'd go down that particular byway" and it was only a "diversionary kind of sideline", explaining 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 show.[28] 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."[29] "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."[23]

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 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."[30]

While O'Brien and Mumsey made a cameo appearance for the SU2C edition of The Crystal Maze in 2016, the former acting as the Maze's computer system, Caron was unable to portray her character, leading to actress and comedian Maureen Lipman filling in for the role instead.[31] A version of Mumsey appeared in the 2018 Christmas special where she turned the Crystal Dome into a pumpkin to the chagrin of Ayoade but reverted the pumpkin when the contestants arrived.

Ed Tudor-Pole[edit]

Ed Tudor-Pole, from the punk band Tenpole Tudor, was the show's second host, being introduced during the 1993 Christmas special, and hosting the original run for its last two series. During his tenure, he wore an elaborate waistcoat and tunic, off-white sleeves and trousers, and long black boots, in a similar style to his predecessor, with his look having been described as "Georgian". While his style of hosting had the similar energetic style to O'Brien's, it was less detached, with Tudor-Pole being more sympathetic towards contestants, and often talking up the 'time travel' elements of the show, with the inclusion of nonsense words, such as "trignification" to describe the "process" of travelling between time zones, while often referring to unseen companions in the maze, such as his horse "Bert" in Medieval Zone, and "Starbuck" the cat, who lives in Ocean Zone. According to h2g2, "pale and looking a little emaciated, Ed Tudor-Pole gave The Crystal Maze a dark and intimidating feeling".[22] Tudor-Pole employed a different catchphrase - "Let the four winds blow" when at the Crystal Dome. This being a reference to the Let the Four Winds Blow, the second album of his band.[citation needed] His final appearance in the show was during the 2016 Stand Up To Cancer special, where a portrait of him is hanging in the Industrial zone.

Following the show's cancellation, Tudor-Pole was less keen to talk about his time on The Crystal Maze in interviews. 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."[32]

Stephen Merchant[edit]

Stephen Merchant was the third host, appearing in a one-off edition for Stand Up to Cancer in 2016. Merchant wore a blue dress suit, red waistcoat and white shirt with a floral neckerchief. His style of presentation involved quirky jokes about real-life events and a cheerful demeanor with the contestants.[33][34]

Richard Ayoade[edit]

Richard Ayoade is the show's fourth host, who was chosen to present the programme by Channel 4 after they decided to revive The Crystal Maze in November 2016; their decision to hire him for the revival was announced in January 2017, after Merchant declined to take on the role following the 2016 special.[35][34][36] In each episode, he is dressed in a smart, colourful suit, wearing his trademark glasses and carrying "The Hand" - a wooden effigy of a hand on the end of a stick. His style of presenting is described as being "a more cerebral and intense version" of his The IT Crowd character, Maurice Moss,[37] using acronyms such as "ALIS" (Automatic Lock-In Situation), and being aware that the show is entirely fictitious, with some of his jokes being at the expense of those playing and the production values of the show itself. Ayoade will frequently refer to contestants by their initials or their colour jumpsuit (e.g. yellow Katie). Whenever he leads a contestant to a game cell, he instructs them to take hold of "The Hand", which he uses to interact with them at close distance. The Hand changes colour based on what team is playing; maroon for civilian contestants, gold for celebrity contestants, and a red glove with white fur trim for the Christmas special. Richard regularly makes jokes about continuity and editing as the contestants putting on safety goggles or crash helmets is cut out, thus causing a difference in their appearance when they enter a room. He regularly makes a reference to the TV show Stars In Their Eyes with his line “Tonight, Matthew, I’m going to be...”, a reference to the dry ice smoke used in some of the Futuristic Zone games and providing disclaimers when necessary to free him of any potential legal issues.

Other characters[edit]

The following lists the characters that appear or have appeared on the show:

  • The Computer - The operating system for the space station that Futuristic Zone is situated within; if the team's starting point is this zone, the computer provides a question for the team that they must answer correctly to gain entry into the Maze. During O'Brien's tenure (except series 2), the computer had a male voice and usually acted antagonistically towards him. During Tudor-Pole's tenure, the computer had a female voice and was referred to as Barbara. In Ayoade's tenure, the computer retains a female voice and refers to Ayoade as "Richard", but no other personality traits are shown, only speaking when a team seeks entry to the maze.
  • The Knight - Portrayed by Jessica Hynes, the Knight is a guard of the Medieval Zone who wears oversized battle armour, carries a large sword, and grants entry into the maze if the teams answers her riddle correctly, in a similar role to The Computer.[38] The Knight typically asks Ayoade to attend events in the Maze, which he frequently rebuffs.
  • The Riddle Master - Portrayed by Adam Buxton, The Riddle Master (credited as Jarhead) is a disembodied head in a jar that appears primarily in the Futuristic zone, gifting crystals to those who can correctly answer two out of three riddles in his game cell. Jarhead has also been shown in the Medieval and Eastern zones in the same role, with his jar reflective of the zone he inhabits.
  • Game characters - Several games have had a character whom contestants encountered, and who often played a decisive role in the acquisition of a crystal. An actor in a Medieval Zone challenge, for example, will play the part of a princess, a soldier or a jailer. Dennis Knight portrayed two such examples in Lance, a guard who required contestants to present him with a stamped version of the Kings seal, and an Aztec High Priest, who provided clues as to which shrine on a wall the contestant could find the crystal.[39][40][22][41]
  • Other personalities - During the 2018 series, Tipping Point was seen during a zone transition as Ben Shephard discussed The Crystal Maze as Ayoade interrupts with his team. Pearl Mackie appeared as a cryogenically frozen Princess in the Futuristic zone that gifted a team with a Crystal on completion of a group task. Ayoade additionally plays a "pre-recorded Richard" who explains the Mega Crystal concept in the 2019 series and talks to the present Richard, seemingly grateful that he is still alive.


Each episode had a budget of £125,000 and was filmed over a period of two days at the show's studio. During the first day of shooting, the team, followed by multiple cameras, tackle all the games and discover their fate in the crystal dome in the style of a "live" shoot. The following day then focuses on acquiring close-up shots of gameplay with a single camera, requiring team members to return to games they had already won or lost, along with redoing the last challenge in the dome to get footage of them grabbing for tokens. An entire series requires about five weeks to be filmed, with three episodes produced per week.[23] Each series of the show featured its own portfolio of games: 37 different game designs in series 1, and between 41 and 49 games in each subsequent series.[42][43]

The set[edit]

Every episode, with the exception of the 2016 special, is filmed on a very large custom built set. The set, designed by James Dillon for both the original run and the revived series, is divided into five parts - four of which are named as zones, set in different periods of time and space, which house the games that contestants take on, while the final part, called the Crystal Dome, houses the final challenge that the team tackle together towards the end of the episode.[42][44] The theme of each zone is not only reflected via its time period, but also in the time-keeping devices, the design of the games, and how the host and team entered and moves between the zones. As of 2019, six zones have been used within the Maze.

Current zones[edit]

As of 2019, the zones used are;

Zone Appearances Description Method of timekeeping
Aztec Series 1–6
An ancient Aztec village amidst ruins, with carved pillars, sand, various plants and a sky backdrop; the lighting for this part of the set is used to depict sunlight, thus can be altered to reflect other times of day, with occasional episodes showing this zone during the night. Night-time viewings may likely have been to simulate a long recording day. The plants that are used consist of artificial and real-life varieties; entry to the zone was originally achieved by rowing along a river, with a tunnel leading off towards Industrial/Ocean and a set of steps to a ledge heading towards Futuristic. The revived series removes the river, having a small waterfall addition instead, added at the request of the show's producer.[45] Water clocks
Industrial Series 1–3
A present-day chemical plant with metal barrels, warning signs, a bubbling chemical pool, corrugated roofing and panelling; cells had metal doors with bar handles, with some having office-like interiors. The zone was used for three series in the original run, with teams able to watch their nominated member's efforts in a game via one of a number of monitors used in the zone. Industrial was brought back for the revived series, maintaining the same design style as the original, though with teams able to watch proceedings in a game via either monitors or panels that opened into a cell. Entry into this zone was initially designed towards finding a key to unlock a chain-mesh gate, but later changed towards finding a way over it and around a number of small obstacles, with stairs leading to an upper floor passage towards Medieval, and a pipeline tunnel towards Aztec. At the start of series four, Industrial was replaced by Ocean until the original series ended. In the revived series, Industrial returned in its original place. Analogue clock
Futuristic Series 1–6
This is designed as a space station, orbiting a planet in the solar system in the distant future; the planet is not made clear in the show. In the original run, it was designed as being slightly run down, with metal sliding doors, exposed wiring, and viewpoints that looked out into space, monitors spread over the station to view inside the cells, and cell doors having a keypad prop next to them that the host punched a code into to let the contestant in and out of. During a few episodes of the original run, "disasters" befell the station, including a notable "meteorite" storm during a "hazard sign" game in Series 6 Episode 7, with explosions and sparks coming from the exterior parts of the set. In the revived show, the station was redesigned, becoming cleaner and sleek, with a central console set on a floor that rotates and cell doors no longer having keypads next to them. Entry was designed around an airlock setup, with a computer panel the host used to boot up the station's computer and request a question for the team, with a passage leading off towards Medieval, and a lift that allowed the host and team to shift between a walkway and a ledge connecting to Aztec. The revived series uses a 'teleporter pad' to traverse between zones. Digital clock
Eastern 2019–present Themed around the architecture and iconography of East Asia with a lily pond, ornate vases, lanterns, and solid colors throughout. Entry is outside a garden surrounded with cherry blossom trees which takes contestants down a small ramp into the center of the zone. Teams are able to watch proceedings in a game by drawing back curtains in the cell or a circular hatch on the cell door. Exiting the zone is via jumping across oversized lily pads. Pendulum clock
Crystal Dome Series 1–6
A 16-foot (4.9 m) model for the show's time crystals, located in the centre of the Maze. The interior is designed with rails for the team to hold onto before the final challenge begins, with a mesh floor and a series of fans below the base which activate on the host's command, blowing foil tokens around. The exterior differs between the original run, one-off special and revived series, but always provided the host with a small hexagonal podium designed to hold the team's acquired crystals. Each crystal is illuminated from below by lights which are deactivated sequentially at intervals of five seconds, serving as a countdown. The challenge is over when all crystals are dark. In the original series the Dome featured an encircling moat and the podium had two switches with which the host operated the door into the Dome, and raised and submerged a moat bridge. For the revived series, the moat and switches were retired and the Dome redesigned to feature a set of flashing lights (Red to cease collecting tokens, Gold for achieving the top prize, etc.) The opening scene of each episode often comprises a greeting from the host from in front of the dome with tokens flying within.[45] Time crystals

Former zones[edit]

Zone Appearances Description Method of timekeeping
Medieval Series 1–6
This is designed as a castle of the Middle Ages, laden with a straw covered flagstone floor, wooden barrels/casks and a large dining table with solid wooden chairs. The area is lit with 15 flaming torches and over 100 candles, which when combined with sound effects such as lightning and wolves howling, are used to create an atmospheric "frightening dungeon".[46] The zone's cells have sturdy oak doors with slide locks on, barred windows to look in. This zone was referred within the show as the homestead of the current Maze Master. Entry into this zone was initially done by contestants raising the portcullis at the castle's entrance by finding the right chain, and then later having to climb over it. In the revived series, this method was changed to simply answering a riddle to open a portcullis. The zone was designed with a passage that led to Futuristic via a beam that had to be crossed, and a set of stairs that had to be crossed to get to Industrial/Ocean, later this was changed to a set of ledges that had to be traversed. In the 2019 series, Medieval was replaced with Eastern. Hourglasses
Ocean Series 4–6 This replaced the Industrial Zone, being used between the fourth and sixth series of the original run. It was designed as a sunken ship called the "S.S. Atlantis", held within an air bubble at the bottom of the ocean, and consisted of a saloon with an elegant staircase, wooden panelling, couches, a grand piano, covered furniture and objects and upper walkway, a boiler room, and maintenance corridors, with cells designed as either maintenance rooms, the interior of one of the ship's boilers, or refined cabins. Entry was designed around teams climbing down from the bridge into the boiler room via a rope ladder, with a hatchway at the top of a ladder leading to Medieval, and a ventilation shaft leading towards Aztec. The zone was in use until the end of the original series and did not return for the revival. Analogue clocks


For the first series, the show was filmed at Shepperton Studios, within a stage set measuring 30,000-square-foot (2,800 m2) and containing a water tank on-site. After the first series, the production team decided to expand the maze, relocating the set to an adapted aircraft hangar, Hangar 6, operated by Aces High Studios at North Weald Airfield in Essex. After the show ended in 1995, when Channel 4's contract with producers Chatsworth TV expired, the set was eventually dismantled. When the broadcaster decided to make a one-off edition of the show for Stand Up for Cancer in 2016, the episode was filmed at The Crystal Maze live immersive experience in London, as it was no longer possible to use the original set. When Channel 4 made the decision to revive the show for a full series in November 2016, James Dillon was asked to design a new set at a 30,000-square-foot (2,800 m2) warehouse at The Bottle Yard Studios in Bristol.[47] Dillon went back to his original plans and sketches but took the opportunity to build and expand on several of his original ideas and concepts. The most drastic change is that the Crystal Dome is actually located in a separate part of the studio; originally its proximity to the Aztec zone caused a problem with sand contaminating the Dome area.[42]

Theme tune[edit]

The theme tune for The Crystal Maze was composed by Zack Laurence and is entitled "Force Field". It was used through all six original series, with an updated version being used for the new series. The original track is one minute and five seconds long; however it was shortened for the opening and ending titles. Likewise, the new re-recorded version of the theme lasts for 33 seconds. The "Underscore" remix of the theme tune played during the show itself was also composed by Laurence.[48]


At its most popular, viewing figures regularly scored over 4 million, peaking at 5.9 million in 1992 when the show was nominated for its first BAFTA award. Three other BAFTA nominations followed in subsequent years with a Royal Television Society award nomination in 1995. [49][50][51] Although not originally envisioned as a children’s show over 40% of the shows viewers were under 16, a surprise to the crew and O'Brien, who adapted his performance accordingly, forcing himself to think more like a child.[27][52] Contemporary commentary has often suggested that this aspect of O'Brien's performance was the show's biggest attraction. Praising his zaney style and describing him as “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.” [53] 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".[54] [55] [56] The same commentary has also suggested Tudor-Pole had an almost impossible task in living up to O'Brien's popularity.[22][56] The Guardian claimed "It was no surprise that the show went downhill after [O’Brien’s] exit."[54]

The show has had a lasting impact and influence on British television, becoming what has been described as a cult classic due to repeats,[42] the makers of the children's TV show Jungle Run openly acknowledge The Crystal Maze as an influence, particularly the final host, Michael Underwood, who was the team captain in the first Christmas special.[57] The perceived stupidity of the contestants was the target of various British comedy shows and spoofs, a trend which continued well into the mid 2000s.[58][59]

Commercial replicas and merchandise[edit]

The live immersive experience[edit]

In June 2015, the interactive theatre production company Little Lion Entertainment announced that a "live immersive experience" of The Crystal Maze would be taking place in late 2015,[60] funded successfully through an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign.[61][62] Situated on White Lion Street in central London, the new Maze admits members of the public, who can buy tickets and play the show for themselves.[63] Four teams, each guided by their own Maze Master, enter the maze at once, one in each zone, and rotate around the four zones simultaneously before competing against each other in The Crystal Dome.[64] Some game rooms have a camera feed for spectators,[61] The group found a venue for the Maze in the King's Cross area in late 2015, and it opened for contestants on 15 March 2016.[64] It was later revealed in November 2016 that there would be another live experience in Manchester at the Granada Studios,[65] which opened to the public in April 2017. This version of the experience is around twice as large as the London version; the zones are split in two parts, and the teams move through the maze one after the other, such that each half-zone always has one team in it. Like the London Maze, teams compete for the high score in the Crystal Dome, by collecting as many gold credits as possible, but unlike in London, the teams never meet one another. The Mega Crystal used in the show was implemented into the Manchester live experience in August 2019.

The Cyberdrome Crystal Maze[edit]

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 win 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 (Pembrokeshire), 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.[66]

Video games[edit]

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 the PC. 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.

Quiz machines[edit]

Chatsworth Television licensed a number of popular SWP gambling machines based on the TV series. 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.

Board game[edit]

In 1991 MB Games released a board game loosely based upon the show. The concept of the game differed significantly from the show with players competing against each other as opposed to the co-operative style of the TV show.[67]

In 2019 another board game was reinvented by Rascals Products Limited and also which included The Crystal Maze game timer app. This version of the board game features sixteen games with the player or team playing two games per zone.


Release name UK release date Author Publisher Notes Ref
The Crystal Maze 15 February 1990 Peter Arnold
and Gill Brown
Time Warner
1 October 1990
Crystal Maze Adventure Gamebook 7 February 1991 Dave Morris
and Jamie Thomson
Mammoth New edition [69]
Crystal Maze Challenge! 21 May 1992 Dave Morris
and Jamie Thomson
Mammoth 1st Edition
21 May 1992
The Crystal Thief 15 April 1993 Peter Arnold Mammoth Puzzle Books [69]
Tea at Rick's 15 April 1993 Peter Arnold Mammoth Puzzle Books [69]
The Sacred Necklace 16 December 1993 Peter Arnold Mammoth, London Puzzle Book [69]
Phantom in the Tower 16 December 1993 Peter Arnold Mammoth, London Puzzle Book [69]
The Crystal Maze 1994 Unknown Mammoth [69]
Crystal Maze Mystery Pack 25 February 1994 Peter Arnold Heinemann Library [69]
The Crystal Maze Puzzle Book 13 June 1994 Peter Arnold Mammoth [69]
The Crystal Maze Puzzle Book: Bk. 2 30 October 1995 Peter Arnold Mammoth Puzzle Book [69]
Crystal Maze A1 Poster 13 June 1996 None Mammoth Hardcover [69]
The Crystal Maze Challenge: Let The Games Begin! 19 August 2017 Neale Simpson Headline Hardcover [69]

VHS releases[edit]

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 Presenter
1 15 February 1990 10 May 1990 13 Richard O'Brien
2 21 March 1991 13 June 1991 13
3 23 April 1992 16 July 1992 13
4 1 April 1993 24 June 1993 13
5 12 May 1994 4 August 1994 13 Ed Tudor-Pole
6 18 May 1995 10 August 1995 13


Date Presenter
1 January 1991 Richard O'Brien
24 December 1991
27 December 1992
24 December 1993 Ed Tudor-Pole
24 December 1994



Series Start date End date Episodes Presenter
1 25 August 2017 6 May 2018 12*[1] Richard Ayoade
2 20 July 2018 24 August 2018 6[2]
  • Three episodes from the first revived series have yet to air in the UK, however have been aired in Australia on SBS Viceland and were available on the online streaming service SBS On Demand[70].


Series Start date End date Episodes Presenter
1 23 June 2017 13 July 2017 4[1] Richard Ayoade
2 8 June 2018 6 July 2018 5[2]
3 21 June 2019 26 July 2019 6


Date Presenter
16 October 2016 Stephen Merchant
14 December 2017 Richard Ayoade
26 December 2018

U.S. version[edit]

On 3 June 2019, it was announced that a U.S. version of the show will premiere on Nickelodeon and will feature family members.[7]


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External links[edit]