Saturday, April 6, 2019


Where we left off last time, I had found all of the lost treasures of Zork and was at the Tomb of the Unknown Implementers’ Crypt, ready to face Zork’s final challenges.

The crypt lay completely bare, with no remarkable features except the vague words “Feel Free” inscribed on a wall.

In one of those adventure game moments of trying something just to see what happens, I shut the door and turned off the lamp. And instead of being eaten by a grue…

Suddenly, as you wait in the dark, you begin to feel somewhat
disoriented.  The feeling passes, but something seems different.
As you regain your composure, the cloaked figure appears before you,
and says, "You are now ready to face the ultimate challenge of
Zork.  Should you wish to do this somewhat more quickly in the
future, you will be given a magic phrase which will at any time
transport you by magic to this point.  To select the phrase, say
        INCANT "<word>"
and you will be told your own magic phrase to use by saying
        INCANT "... <phrase> ..."
Good luck, and choose wisely!"

The incant phrase isn’t terribly useful right now, because I’ve already got a saved game file from right before entering the crypt. Perhaps it served its purpose back in the 70’s, when I’m guessing there were tougher restrictions on creating save files, though it seems completely unreasonable to even get this far without free save access.

From this point on, saving was disabled, and to restore from my save right before the crypt, I’d have to restart first.

I found myself at the top of some stairs, leading to a dark passage in the depths below. My inventory consisted of a lamp and sword (I went in the crypt with a lamp and a brochure, so I am assuming this is a fixed inventory). Through the passage were three new rooms:
  • A stone room with a red button
  • A small room with a red beam of light coming from the north end
  • A hallway with a mirror blocking the north exit
I couldn’t figure out what pressing the button does, or what the red beam of light does. I tried breaking the mirror, which revealed a wooden panel behind it, but couldn’t determine any use for it. Even parsing the source code didn’t help me figure out what to do here. So at last, I turned to an online walkthrough.

You’re supposed to drop the sword in the small room, then go into the stone room and push the button.

Why would that work? Well, I figured it out in retrospect. When you look around in the small room after dropping the sword there, this becomes the new description when you look around:

You are in a small room, with narrow passages exiting to the north
and south.  A narrow red beam of light crosses the room at the north
end, inches above the floor.  The beam is stopped halfway across the
room by a sword lying on the floor.

So evidently, blocking the laser beam is the first part of activating a hidden mechanism, necessary for the red button to do anything.

Fair, I guess, but I think the nature of the parser interface made this puzzle seem much more arbitrary than it was. On the face of it, how would you come to think “drop sword” would accomplish anything? If this had been a graphic adventure with a point and click interface, “use sword on laser” would have been one of the first things I’d have tried, just on the principal of using every item everywhere.

Anyway, this opens up a passage behind the mirror. Going in took a few tries thanks to some parser pedantry (“go in” worked, but “n” and “enter mirror” and “go in mirror” did not).

Inside the mirror was a verbose description of a very complicated sounding puzzle of painted wooden panels, bars, and poles.

Inside Mirror                                                          
You are inside a rectangular box of wood whose structure is rather     
complicated.  Four sides and the roof are filled in, and the floor is  
     As you face the side opposite the entrance, two short sides of    
carved and polished wood are to your left and right.  The left panel   
is mahogany, the right pine.  The wall you face is red on its left     
half and black on its right.  On the entrance side, the wall is white  
opposite the red part of the wall it faces, and yellow opposite the    
black section.  The painted walls are at least twice the length of     
the unpainted ones.  The ceiling is painted blue.                      
     In the floor is a stone channel about six inches wide and a foot  
deep.  The channel is oriented in a north-south direction.  In the     
exact center of the room the channel widens into a circular            
depression perhaps two feet wide.  Incised in the stone around this    
area is a compass rose.                                                
     Running from one short wall to the other at about waist height    
is a wooden bar, carefully carved and drilled.  This bar is pierced    
in two places.  The first hole is in the center of the bar (and thus   
the center of the room).  The second is at the left end of the room    
(as you face opposite the entrance).  Through each hole runs a wooden  
     The pole at the left end of the bar is short, extending about a foot
above the bar, and ends in a hand grip.  The pole has been dropped     
into a hole carved in the stone floor.                                 
     The long pole at the center of the bar extends from the ceiling   
through the bar to the circular area in the stone channel.  This       
bottom end of the pole has a T-bar a bit less than two feet long       
attached to it, and on the T-bar is carved an arrow.  The arrow and    
T-bar are pointing west.                                               

Ugh, my head hurts.

I found I could raise or lower the short pole, but it wasn’t yet clear what this accomplished.

Then I found the panels could be pushed, and so could the walls.
  • Mahogany panel – Nothing
  • Pine panel – Nothing
  • Red wall – Rotate clockwise
  • Black wall – Rotate counterclockwise
  • White wall – Rotate counterclockwise
  • Yellow wall – Rotate clockwise
I rotated the structure, pressing both the mahogany panel and pine panels with each step, until pressing the pine panel caused it to open up, and I was able to exit to the south. The compass rose was facing north when this happened.

This took me back into the hallway, and the door swung shut, but with the structure rotated, I was able to walk around it to a narrow room, and onward to another hallway, lined with statues of the Guardians of Zork. In spite of the blue glow of my elvish sword, I tried crossing this hallway, and the Guardians animated and pounded me into llama feed.

Restoring and retracing my steps, I found that the colored panels in the structure only react if I raise the short pole first. I still wasn’t quite sure how this contraption worked, but was getting closer to understanding.

This time, I turned so that the arrow faced south, and pressed the mahogany wall instead of the pine wall. The structure moved south!

I was starting to get the hang of it. These were the controls:
  • Red button – opens the wall in the “left” side of the structure (initially the structure faces west, so its “left” initially faces south)
  • Colored walls – Rotates the structure, if the short pole is raised
  • Pine wall – opens the wall in the “back” of the structure, if facing north or south
  • Mahogany wall – Moves the structure in the front-facing direction, if facing north or south

I went back inside, rotated the structure to face north, and pressed the mahogany panel to move it across the terracotta army. Unfortunately, it wobbled as it moved, awakening the army, who pounded the box to bits.

Retrying, I did the same steps, only this time I lowered the pole before moving the structure north. Sure enough, this time it slid smoothly and did not awaken the army. Moving further north, the sword started to glow very brightly, then dimmed as the structure reached the northmost end of the hallway. I raised the pole, rotated the structure south, and pressed the pine button to exit from the back.

This led to a new room, the dungeon entrance, with a barred wooden door. Opening it, breaking it, and picking it did not work, but knocking on it did.

The knock reverberates along the hall.  For a time it seems there
will be no answer.  Then you hear someone unlatching the small wooden
panel.  Through the bars of the great door, the wrinkled face of an
old man appears.  He gazes down at you and intones as follows:

     "I am the Master of the Dungeon, whose task it is to insure
that none but the most scholarly and masterful adventurers are
admitted into the secret realms of the Dungeon.  To ascertain whether
you meet the stringent requirements laid down by the Great
Implementers, I will ask three questions which should be easy for one
of your reputed excellence to answer.  You have undoubtedly
discovered their answers during your travels through the Dungeon.
Should you answer each of these questions correctly within five
attempts, then I am obliged to acknowledge your skill and daring and
admit you to these regions.
     "All answers should be in the form 'ANSWER "<answer>"'"
The booming voice asks:
'The taking of which object offends the ghosts?'

Awhile back, when I found the dead adventurer in the maze, the “TAKE ALL” command proved fatal, as the parser assumed I wanted to take the body too, which invoked the wrath of vengeful spirits. My answer of “body” satisfied.

'Beside the Temple, to which room is it possible to go from the Altar?'

Technically none, but praying at the altar takes you to the forest, and restores your life if you are dead. I answered “forest.”

'In which room is 'Hello, Sailor!' useful?'

No idea! The instructions on the boat do include the word “hello, sailor.” I started a new game parallel to the currently running instance and tried typing this in, but it made the game crash.

Switching back, I tried a complete guess answer of “none,” and to my surprise, this was accepted! The door opened, and the Dungeon Master beckoned.

The area ahead branched out into two corridors, west and east, but converged back into a north corridor, from which there was a prison cell to the south, and a parapet to the north (where’s Dennis when you need him?). The master followed me everywhere, except for the prison cell. The parapet room overlooked a fiery pit, and featured a dial with eight positions, plus a large button. The large button closed the prison cell door, and turning the dial didn’t seem to do anything.

It was clear to me I was supposed to cooperate with the master, most likely by having him manipulate the dial and buttons while I was off somewhere else. So, using the same syntax that I had used to give the robot orders before, I told him to say, walked into the prison cell, then told him to turn the dial and press a button. He did, and then I found I couldn’t talk to him anymore, or leave the cell. Seems I moved the cell somewhere!

Restoring, I re-did the whole endgame sequence up to the parapet. The Dungeon Master’s questions were the same as before.

This time, I tried turning the dial myself.

I set it to two, pressed the button, and the prison door closed. I walked back, opened the door, and found the cell was still there.

I set the dial to three, pressed the button, and the prison door closed. I walked back, opened the door, and found the cell was still there.

I set the dial to four, pressed the button, and the prison door closed. I walked back, opened the door, and found the cell was still there, except now there was a bronze door inside the cell too, which I could open, and go through to the south corridor on the other side.

What would happen if the Dungeon Master played around with the controls while I was in the cell now? If the cell moved, would the brass door open and lead to the next place? I told the Dungeon Master to stay at the parapet, walked into the cell, and told him to set the dial to one and press the button.

The doors shut. I opened the brass door, and then found I could not move south, but could move north (the room must have rotated when it moved), and entered a new room:

Treasury of Zork                                                     
     This is a room of large size, richly appointed and decorated    
in a style that bespeaks exquisite taste.  To judge from its         
contents, it is the ultimate storehouse of the treasures of Zork.    
     There are chests here containing precious jewels, mountains of  
zorkmids, rare paintings, ancient statuary, and beguiling curios.    
     In one corner of the room is a bookcase boasting such volumes as
'The History of the Great Underground Empire,' 'The Lives of the     
Twelve Flatheads,' 'The Wisdom of the Implementors,' and other       
informative and inspiring works.                                     
     On one wall is a completely annotated map of the Great Underground
Empire, showing points of interest, various troves of treasure, and  
indicating the locations of several superior scenic views.           
     On a desk at the far end of the room may be found stock         
certificates representing a controlling interest in FrobozzCo        
International, the multinational conglomerate and parent company of  
the Frobozz Magic Boat Co., etc.                                     
     As you gleefully examine your new-found riches, the Dungeon     
Master himself materializes beside you, and says, "Now that you have 
solved all the mysteries of the Dungeon, it is time for you to assume
your rightly-earned place in the scheme of things.  Long have I      
waited for one capable of releasing me from my burden!"  He taps you 
lightly on the head with his staff, mumbling a few well-chosen spells,
and you feel yourself changing, growing older and more stooped.  For 
a moment there are two identical mages staring at each other among   
the treasure, then you watch as your counterpart dissolves into a    
mist and disappears, a sardonic grin on his face.                    
Your score in the end game is 100 [total of 100 points], in 1218 moves.
This score gives you the rank of Dungeon Master.                     

That’s the game! The move count really undersells how long it took me to beat the game, since I had to replay almost the entire thing from the start, and I knew what I was doing the second time around.

In spite of some parser trouble, I enjoyed that endgame section, and I vaguely remember this section appearing, in a somewhat abbreviated form, in Zork III. The emphasis on mechanical puzzles reminds me a lot of Myst. The text format does make it seem more complicated than it really is; pictures are a lot more conducive to that kind of mechanical puzzle than words. After all, they say a picture is worth a thousand words, and that description of the structure interior was only 328.

Before I move on to Zork I, I want to delve into the source code, pull some data, and solve a few mysteries.

My map of the endgame:

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