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Tom Standage

A Game, a Gadget and an App

The joys of unnecessary obstacles, luggage-tracking and wine-buffery

Tom Standage | May/June 2014

A GAME The Room 2 

Playing a game is a “voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles”, as the philosopher Bernard Suits once put it. It’s enjoyable because of the satisfaction of figuring out a puzzle, solving a crossword clue or beating a difficult boss. The sequel to the 2012 hit “The Room” is an engaging game in which unnecessary obstacles and puzzle-solving gratification are in perfect balance. You must escape from a series of beautifully rendered rooms by manipulating the vaguely steampunkish objects in each one, unlocking secret compartments, uncovering clues and triggering hidden machinery. A special lens reveals messages and mechanisms that are invisible to the naked eye, and there are hints if you get stuck. “The Room 2” offers pure puzzle-solving in a stylish and spooky package. And if you like this sort of thing, check out HintHunt, a real-life puzzle escape game for three to five players, based in a shop in Euston, London.
The Room 2 for iOS and Android: £1.99
HintHunt £75-108 for a one-hour game: hinthunt.co.uk

A GADGET TrakDot

Throw this little box into your suitcase when getting on a plane, and it will text or e-mail you whenever it arrives at an airport—with luck, the same airport as you. Rather than using satellites, it relies on ordinary mobile-phone networks to determine its position. It turns off its radio automatically when airborne and turns it on again on landing, and is approved by regulators. It worked perfectly when I tried it, though the documentation could be improved, and some users have reported reliability problems. But it could be invaluable if you take a lot of connecting flights and want to know where on earth your luggage has got to.
TrakDot £79.99; “usage fee” of $12.99 a year after first year

AN APP Vivino

Take a picture of a wine bottle with your phone and Vivino will recognise the label instantly, letting you call up reviews, ratings, tasting notes and an average price. If you have bottles gathering dust and can’t remember what they are, or whether they are any good, this is a lifesaver. The seemingly magical image-recognition system identified all but one of the dozens of bottles I threw at it; its only flaw was that it sometimes got the year wrong, which is easily adjusted. Just as Amazon ranks all books against each other, Vivino does the same for wine, ranking all 1.3m wines it knows about. As well as sharing ratings and tasting notes with 3m other users, you can also add personal notes to each wine for your eyes only. As wine-rating apps go, this is the best of the bunch.
Vivino for iOS or Android: free

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