The Crystal Maze

by Liz Colville

The Crystal Maze was a British TV game show from a bygone era otherwise known as childhood. It happened once a week in the early evening, and I probably watched it every week from 1990 to 1994. What was The Crystal Maze, though, truly? It was like stepping into another dimension (actually four) separate from homework and dolls and the anxiety surrounding whether I would finally wear a skirt to school, and watching contestants do difficult things like sweep a crystal off a tall platform with a broom.

Each of the four levels in the show corresponded to “various periods in time and space” (yeah, I’m quoting from Wikipedia, just…): Aztec, Medieval, Industrial (later replaced by Ocean) and Futuristic, and in each dimension were lots of rooms, each very different from the others, with nary a repeat room from episode to episode, and in these rooms were crystals that you would sweep down with the broom, or release from a vault after completing an exceedingly difficult puzzle, or grab with your greedy hands after walking across a rotating log. And so forth. The most fun thing about the show was just sitting there at the end of the bed and trying to decide which zone was my favorite.

On top of all that, the host was this charismatic creep named Richard O’Brien who wore like a long cowhide jacket and some kind of cowboy hat most of the time and said very dramatic overblown things that were funny and made the contestants feel uncomfortable and/or psyched. If he hadn’t been on this show he would have been a frustrated drama teacher somewhere, so I’m happy for him, except in 1993 he was replaced, and obviously things were not the same after that.

I’m going to ruin things for you, or save you some time, by saying that at the end of the show, the team with the most crystals got to step inside a giant hollow glass “crystal” and have their crystals magically transformed into time increments. The door would close and then a fan would turn on and money would just start blowing around. For the amount of seconds they had earned with their crystals, the contestants got to jump around like sad fools trying to catch as much money as they could. Brilliant, brilliant stuff. If the video clip above isn’t enough for you, here are some more. To this day, I’m still trying to figure out which zone I want to devote the majority of my fond memories of this show to: Aztec had all the sand, but sometimes it seemed like too much sand; Ocean had all the ocean, but sometimes the room challenges turned into scenes from Titanic; Futuristic allowed us to peer into a future that was quite a lot lamer than the future turned out to be. So, Medieval, I guess.

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