Monday, April 1, 2019


Last week, I had a checklist of things remaining to be done, some tasks trivial, some non-trivial, some mysterious.

The first order of business was to solve the mystery of the machine room deep within the coal mine. This, I think, is one of the better puzzles in the game, though I had already mostly solved it. The exit from a maze in the coal mine leads to a passageway so narrow that you can’t carry any items through it. But it’s dark on both sides of the tunnel. The solution is to place one light source (and any other items you need) inside a basket in a room before the maze, which happens to be directly over the room on the far side of the tunnel, lower the basket into the dark room, and use your other light source to navigate the maze. Then you can drop your light source in front of the passageway, lighting both sides of it, and squeeze through.

On the other side:

Machine Room                                                        
This is a large room which seems to be air-conditioned.  In one     
corner there is a machine (?) which is shaped somewhat like a clothes
dryer.  On the 'panel' there is a switch which is labelled in a     
dialect of Swahili.  Fortunately, I know this dialect and the label 
translates to START.  The switch does not appear to be manipulable by
any human hand (unless the fingers are about 1/16 by 1/4 inch).  On 
the front of the machine is a large lid, which is closed.           
> open machine                                                      
The lid opens.                                                      
> put coal in machine                                               
> close machine                                                     
The lid closes.                                                     

Then the parser trouble began.

> press switch                                                      
Pushing the switch isn't very interesting.                          
> press switch with screwdriver                                     
I can't make sense out of that.                                     
> i                                                                 
You are carrying:                                                   
A screwdriver                                                       
A torch                                                             
> put screwdriver in slot                                           
I can't see any slot here.                                          
> put screwdriver in switch                                         
I can't do that.                                                    
> put screwdriver in panel                                          
I can't see any panel here.                                         
> press switch                                                      
Pushing the switch isn't very interesting.                          
> flip switch                                                       
I don't know the word 'flip'.                                       
> turn switch                                                       
with what?                                                          
> turn switch with screwdriver                                      
The machine comes to life (figuratively) with a dazzling display of 
colored lights and bizarre noises.  After a few moments, the        
excitement abates.                                                  

I was rewarded with a brand new diamond. A misconception on how diamonds are made, made sillier by the fact that it came out of the machine perfectly cut, but that’s fine.

On the way back, I snagged the bracelet from the gas room, making sure to leave my torch in the room above and using my lantern for light instead, and also stole the figurine from the super bat, bringing a clove of garlic with me for protection. The crystal trident wasn’t where I left it, the thief probably stole it, but the trunk full of jewels was.

The golden coffin was easy to retrieve. With the reservoir drained, I just carried it through the reservoir, to the slide room just before the coal mine, and slid down with it to the cellar, from where I could just carry it back up to the living room.

The massive door near the torchroom is an old chestnut of a puzzle, but this might be its ur-example. I’ve seen it in several other adventure games, and also in MacGyver and in Jeremy Brett’s TV version of Sherlock Holmes. The key is still in the lock, on the other side of the door, and must be pushed out onto an object slid underneath the door and then retrieved. Inside was a prison room containing a blue crystal sphere.

Anyone know where this puzzle originated? Both TV examples are newer than Zork, and in the case of Sherlock Holmes, this was an addition to the TV show; in the novel The Sign of the Four, Holmes and Watson just broke the door down. Also, whoever locked it did it from the inside. How did they get out?

The bank was a perplexing puzzle. I vaguely remember needing to look up the solution back when I played Zdungeon, but couldn’t remember what I had to do. The bank layout looks like this:

Stealing the portrait sounds an alarm and seals off the tellers’ rooms. The safety depository room has “curtain of light” to the north, preventing northward movement. But I tried typing “enter north wall” instead of “n,” and passed through the wall, arriving in the viewing room. So I thought I could just steal the painting and pass through the curtain of light and arrive back in the viewing room and exit south.

Instead, once the alarm had been sounded, the curtain of light took me to a small, empty room. I could leave through the south wall, but that just took me back to the safety depository. Entering the north wall a second time warped me inside the vault where a stack of paper Zorkmids sat unguarded. Again, no walls, but I could walk right through the north wall (not the south) and return to the safety depository.

With a lot of trial and error, I figured out the rules for how the security system works.
  • Taking the portrait from the chairman’s office activates the silent alarm.
  • The safety depository exits to the tellers’ rooms are sealed if you are carrying the portrait or bills.
  • Leaving the safety depository to the tellers’ rooms, if you aren’t carrying the portrait, deactivates the silent alarm.
  • Entering the curtain when the silent alarm is not activated warps you to the viewing room.
  • Entering the curtain when the silent alarm is activated will alternate between warping you to the small room and warping you to the vault.

Kind of a dumb system, but with the rules worked out, it’s simple to rob the bank. Steal the portrait, activating the alarm. Pass through the curtain twice to get to the vault, and steal the bills. Return to the safety deposit room, and drop the portrait and bills so that you can leave. Exit to a teller’s room, deactivating the alarm. Then go back to the safety deposit room, take the treasures, and leave through the curtain, which takes you back to the viewing room since the alarm is deactivated. Then you can just leave.

This isn’t a good puzzle. The bank security setup makes it seem like you need to perform an elaborate heist. But it’s really just a matter of deducing the invisibly triggered rules, and then the heist is almost trivial. And what if I had discovered the solution too soon, before finding out that the curtain will lead to the vault on your second failed escape attempt? I'd probably have never found the vault. I’d be short one treasure, with no indication that I missed something, and even if it occurred to me to try to break into the bank’s vault, it’s unlikely I’d ever discover it at that point.

Moving onward, I went back to the temple area, picked up the grail, and went down to Hades.

The bell, book, and candle ritual for banishing the spirits is straightforward but must be done exactly right the first time, with absolutely no room for error.

Entrance to Hades                                                   
You are outside a large gateway, on which is inscribed              
        "Abandon every hope, all ye who enter here."                
The gate is open; through it you can see a desolation, with a pile of
mangled corpses in one corner.  Thousands of voices, lamenting some 
hideous fate, can be heard.                                         
The way through the gate is barred by evil spirits, who jeer at your
attempts to pass.                                                   
> ring bell                                                         
Ding, dong.                                                         
The bell suddenly becomes red hot and falls to the ground. The      
wraiths, as if paralyzed, stop their jeering and slowly turn to face
you.  On their ashen faces, the expression of a long-forgotten terror
takes shape.                                                        
In your confusion, the candles drop to the ground (and they are out).
> take candles                                                      
> light match                                                       
One of the matches starts to burn.                                  
> light candles                                                     
With what?                                                          
> with match                                                        
The candles are lighted.                                            
The flames flicker wildly and appear to dance.  The earth beneath   
your feet trembles, and your legs nearly buckle beneath you.        
The spirits cower at your unearthly power.                          
The match has gone out.                                             
> read book                                                         
                COMMANDMENT #12592                                  
Oh ye who go about saying unto each:   "Hello sailor":              
dost thou know the magnitude of thy sin before the gods?            
Yea, verily, thou shalt be ground between two stones.               
Shall the angry gods cast thy body into the whirlpool?              
Surely, thy eye shall be put out with a sharp stick!                
Even unto the ends of the earth shalt thou wander and               
unto the land of the dead shalt thou be sent at last.               
Surely thou shalt repent of thy cunning.                            
Each word of the prayer reverberates through the hall in a deafening
confusion.  As the last word fades, a voice, loud and commanding,   
speaks: 'Begone, fiends!'.  A heart-stopping scream fills the cavern,
and the spirits, sensing a greater power, flee through the walls.   

The spirits out of the way, I could proceed into Hades, and shortly reached the Tomb of the Unknown Implementer, which contained four corpses (presumably Tim Anderson, Marc Blank, Bruce Daniels, and Dave Lebling), and mountains of empty Coke bottles and useless printouts. It seemed very reminiscent of the Repository in Adventure. When I tried to proceed into the crypt, Zork simply declared its lethal intent without further explanation.

Although the implementers are dead, they foresaw that some cretin
would tamper with their remains.  Therefore, they took steps to
punish such actions.
Unfortunately, we've run out of poles.  Therefore, in punishment for
your most grievous sin, we shall deprive you of all your valuables,
and of your life.

Returning to base, I found dropping the book to be problematic:

> drop book
Which book should I drop?

I think the problem is that Zork can’t distinguish between the “book” and the “matchbook.” But in my inventory, the book is simply described as “a book.” Fortunately, the game’s question accepted “bible” as an answer, and I could move on.

Through the round room, past the engravings cave, and into the circular room at the bottom of a well, I tried to figure out how to raise the bucket to the top of the well. The only clue in the room was some engravings:
                        o  b  o
                        A  G  I
                         E   L
                        m  p  a

Didn’t mean a thing to me. I tried looking for both anagrams and acrostics, but found no good answer.

Incidentally, here you can “kick the bucket,” and AFGNCAAP will comply in the euphemistic sense.

I tried playing around with the rope, but without something at the top to tie it to, it wouldn’t do much good, and even if I could, how could I raise the bucket that way without already being at the top of the well? In any event, the parser didn’t acknowledge my attempts to tie lassos, etc. I thought maybe I could use the dam controls to divert water into the well and float the bucket, but had no luck there.

Then I thought, what if I carry water myself?

> get in bucket
You are now in the wooden bucket.
> open bottle
> pour water
There is now a puddle in the bottom of the wooden bucket.
The bucket rises and comes to a stop.
Top of Well
You are at the top of the well.  Well done.  There are etchings on
the side of the well. There is a small crack across the floor at the
entrance to a room on the east, but it can be crossed easily.

This is exactly the kind of perfectly stupid moon logic puzzle that tends to send people straight to walkthroughs, and yet it can be solved with patience and lateral thinking.

More etchings at the top:

> read etchings
                        o  b  o
                    r             z
                 f   M  A  G  I  C   z
                 c    W  E   L  L    y
                    o             n
                        m  p  a

Well, duh.

In this new region, first there was a tea room with some cakes.

There is a piece of cake here with the words 'Eat-Me' on it.
There is a piece of cake with orange icing here.
There is a piece of cake with red icing here.
There is a piece of cake with blue (ecch) icing here.

Figuring out how to eat the first cake was another parser problem. I’d type “eat cake” and it would ask “which cake?” and struggled to guess the right way to distinguish it from the rest of them. The correct command was “eat eatme cake,” which made me shrink and enabled passage to an adjacent pool room through a mouse hole.

Eating the orange cake made me blow up.

Eating the red cake just tasted good.

Eating the blue cake made me grow huge and subsequently get crushed to death by the too-small room.

The pool room had a leaking ceiling, a pool of the bilge, and a poison flask. So poisonous that merely opening it killed me.

Another adjacent room had a robot and an instruction manual, telling me how to give the robot orders. The next room had a three electrified buttons, which were fatal to touch, and a closet. Inside the closet, another crystal sphere, and a sticker warning me it was burglar-proof. Trying to take it, of course, activated a deadly trap.

I could order the robot to press the buttons, and found these effects:
  • Triangle – Dull thump in the distance
  • Square – Increases whir intensity
  • Round – Decreases whir intensity

Ordering the robot can crash the game here if your grammar isn’t correct!

I also tried ordering the robot to eat the orange cake.

"I am sorry but that action is difficult for a being with no mouth."

The robot can also be ordered to take the sphere, but this kills the robot, who then falls and crushes the sphere.

Exiting to the low room, the compass was going crazy, just like it had in the round room before. Exiting the low room in the right direction took a few tries, but I made my way back to the round room (lowering the bucket simply required me to put the water back into the bottle), and the magnet effect there was gone, and there was a dented steel box on the ground, with a violin inside, apparently undamaged by the fall.

Some more experiments, and I better understood what the buttons do exactly:
  • Triangle – Toggles the magnetic field from the round room to the low room
  • Square – Makes the magnetic field lethal
  • Round – Makes the magnetic field non-lethal

I could not figure out what to do with the cakes or the sphere, so I left those alone for the time being, but at least I had another treasure!

Next, I took to the frigid river again, in search of a use for the shovel. The damp cave on the way had “particularly damp earth,” but digging there produced “The ground is too hard for digging here.”

So I took to the river, mindful that I’d need to find a way back, probably across the rainbow canyon at the falls. In Adventure, you could cross a chasm by waving a rod, and there was a broken stick near the inflatable boat, but this would pop the raft. But I found the stick fit in my lunch sack, and could carry it into the boat safely that way.

I landed on every shore I could and tried to dig on all of them. Along the way, there was a red warning buoy, which according to adventure logic I took. AFGNCAAP said it “seemed funny,” so I opened it and inside was an emerald. Landing to the west, I dug, and found a statue.

At the falls, sure enough, waving the stick produced a solid, walkable rainbow. On the other side was the canyon bottom near the start of the game, and a pot of gold too!

Returning to the house and dropping off my reassures, my score was now 383/616 with a rank of “hacker.” And so I tried to take on the thief in his lair.

Knife in hand – I recall this was a better weapon than the sword – I killed the thief on my first try, though it took a few strikes and some descriptive prose. He left behind a silver chalice, the trident he stole earlier, the Fabergé egg that I gave him ages ago, and a clockwork canary that he carefully extracted from it.

Past the Thief’s lair was a Sokoban-style puzzle room, with a letter:

To Whom It May Concern:

     I regret to report that the rumours regarding treasure contained
in the chamber to which this passage leads have no basis in fact.
Should you nevertheless be sufficiently foolhardy to enter, it will
be quite impossible for you to exit.

                                Sincerely yours,
                                The Thief

When in the puzzle room, the entire layout is not shown to you, but only the surrounding 3x3 grid, and without showing you any “rooms” not in your line of sight. It took me a few reloads before I could map out the room correctly. I found a gold card under one of the pushable blocks, and a card reader in the lower-left region. But using the card there just leads to it being swallowed up. The solution, which I needed some graph paper on hand to solve, is to keep the card (it's a treasure) and find a pushable block with a ladder on its west-facing side, maneuver it one space east of the starting cell, and then climb the ladder back up.

That’s a huge load off my todo list! Everything on it, except for navigating the Volcano, has either been attempted or finished, and most of them are finished. My treasure collection now consists of:
  • Painting
  • Bag of coins
  • Chalice
  • Trunk of jewels
  • Gold coffin
  • Crystal trident
  • Platinum bar
  • Sapphire bracelet
  • Jade figurine
  • Pearl Necklace
  • Grail
  • Statue
  • Pot of Gold
  • Stack of zorkmid bills
  • Portrait of J. Pierpont Flathead
  • Gold card
  • Blue crystal sphere
  • Fancy violin
  • Huge diamond
  • Large emerald
  • Jewel-encrusted egg
  • Clockwork Canary

That’s 22 treasures, and I know about another three; a ruby near the volcano, my still-useful torch, and the white sphere that I couldn’t figure out how to steal. That makes for an even 25 treasures, but there have got to be more inside the volcano still.

My remaining things to do:
  • Hades:
    • Find a way into the crypt
  • Top of Well:
    • Figure out what to do with the cakes
    • Figure out what to do in the pool room
    • Steal the sphere
  • Volcano (to do last!):
    • Get the ruby
    • Operate the balloon in the volcano
My map so far:

1 comment:

  1. "Anyone know where this puzzle originated?"

    The oldest literary example I know comes from Enid Blyton's The Mystery of the Secret Room:

    I have a feeling it might not be the first.


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