Mystery at the Museum: The Search for Dippy Review | The year is 1905 and you have been invited to a special preview of the newest display at the Natural History Museum – ‘Dippy the Diplodocus’. But when you arrive the curators are in a panic and you realise something is amiss – you’ve found a note that tells you several parts of Dippy the Diplodocus are going to be stolen before the display opens! Follow the clues around the Museum, question the suspects and track down the culprit before the King arrives for the display’s launch. Can you help the curators prevent a national scandal?
Date played: October 2022
Time taken: 90 mins
Number of players: 3
Night at the Museum
Which of us wouldn’t leap at the chance to sneak around behind the scenes in a museum after the public have been ushered out and the doors locked behind them? And when that museum is London’s Natural History Museum in South Kensington the appeal is even greater. London’s museums and galleries have long embraced the idea of late, after dark openings with extra access to exhibitions alongside bars and live music. But the NHM’s ‘mystery’ evening might be the first time a museum has allowed eager ER enthusiasts and puzzle hunters to roam its corridors in search of suspects and solutions. Trying to temper my excitement that, at nightfall and behind closed doors, the exhibits might come to life for me as they did for Ben Stiller, I headed down to South Ken to find out if my detectoring skills were up to solving the mystery at the museum.
Impressive Game Space
First up, wow. Just wow. When we arrive at dusk the Natural History Museum is looking glorious in the gloaming. It really is a stunning piece of Victorian architecture which lives up to it’s ‘Cathedral of Nature’ epithet. Entering under the main arch is thrilling when you realise that you’re really about to have this vast space to yourselves for the evening. Well, you and probably 75 other people. And only a few of the galleries. But still. You still feel… special.
But if there’s anything that’s guaranteed to make you feel insignificant rather than special it’s the humungous skeleton of a blue whale that greets you as you enter the central Hintze Hall. Suspended dramatically from the ceiling and lit up in startling red, the whale certainly draws your attention. There’s not much time, however, to feel the vast inferiority of the human species because as soon as you arrive a game card is pushed into your hand and you are whisked off to meet Inspector Lestrade. The game, it seems, is already afoot.
One word of warning – although the publicity for this event promotes it as an ‘escape room-like game’, it is most definitely not an escape room. Arrive expecting an ER and you will be disappointed. Attempt to rummage around the museum, opening drawers and searching cabinets as you would in an ER and you’re likely to be expelled! But while it isn’t an ER that doesn’t stop it being a whole heap of fun.
To get started you need to read the game card you were given on arrival. It outlines the mystery that faces you. The unveiling of the new exhibition featuring the skeleton of Dippy the Diplodocus is due to take place tomorrow. But a suspicious note has been found, suggesting a crime will take place before the grand opening and which could plunge the museum into unwanted scandal. The game card also gives you the names and brief bios of six suspects who have been ordered to stay in the museum by Lestrade until the case has been closed.
Lestrade also gives you a copy of the note and your next task is to decipher it. This is really the only actual puzzle involved in the game and it’s not especially hard but does get you moving around the galleries that surround the main museum hall. And stopping to ask a few of those suspects some penetrating questions along the way will also help your case solving.
Because this is mostly about interacting with those suspects. It’s really a traditional ‘whodunnit’ and you will get the most out of your evening and the event if you spend time grilling the suspects (whose period costume makes them easy to spot) and honing your theories. You can question them as often and for as long as you like, or listen in as other players ask their own questions. Although they may tell you a few lies, they will also give you some nuggets of truth and if you can unpick their elaborate webs of accusations, fabrications, deflections and evasions, you might just be able to work out, in the words of Mr Sherlock Holmes himself, who had the “means, motive and opportunity” to commit the crime.
Dippy’s Dino Denouement
Once you’ve solved the opening puzzle, interrogated your suspects and worked out a convincing theory you can take your hypothesis and test it on Sherlock. Holmes solved the mystery in 17 minutes himself so he’s happy to throw you a bone or two if you’re not quite on the mark. And if, after a couple of guesses, you’re still not 100% correct, Holmes will take pity on you and give you the full story. Because no-one wants to go home without knowing who really did design to destroy Dippy’s debut.
Overall, if you approach this as a mystery solving game along the lines of a traditional murder whodunnit then you will have loads of fun. The mystery is sufficiently knotty to keep you questioning suspects and untangling theoretical threads for well over an hour and, for the adults, there’s an in venue bar to keep your whistle wet and your mind sharp. Full kudos to the actors playing the suspects who handle even the most obscure of questions with aplomb, keep in character throughout and manage to retain details of the multiple narrative threads all while dropping gentle hints and prods to get you moving in the right direction. And the venue itself, the access to certain areas of it after hours and when it’s empty of tourists, is worth the price of admission alone.
A few minor niggles. Any expectations of difficult tradition ER puzzling will be disappointed and I think, personally, that they should remove the reference to an ‘escape room-like game’ from promotional material and instead focus on the massive positive of it being a strong mystery-solving evening. Those ER players who don’t enjoy engaging with live performers will want to steer clear as well. Talking to the actors throughout is the only way to play this game.
There were also some weaknesses in communication that left us unaware we had to take our final conclusions to Holmes to be checked. It was only when we eavesdropped on other groups that we realised. And there’s no satisfyingly dramatic conclusion when the culprit is officially unmasked. Because the event has a staggered start time with groups arriving and getting started throughout the evening, everyone reaches their final answer at different times. Once we’d reported to Holmes, that was it. Game no longer afoot. So the evening sort of petered out.
We had a fun evening though. Not too strenuous on the little grey cells, but a nice little mystery to solve in a fantastic location.
This event runs for a limited number of days in October and November. Book via the Natural History Museum website here.
If you want to get into a suitable detective frame of mind before the game, or want to continue afterwards, then I highly recommend a visit to the Evans and Peel detective agency (about a 15 minute walk away). A secret speakeasy bar with a fantastic, and inventive, cocktail menu, you need to provide a good cover story before you can gain access. The more imaginative and bonkers the better. It’s advised to book.
Evans and Peel Detective Agency, 310c Earls Ct Rd, London SW5 9BA