Zork: A tale of three puzzles   8 comments

(This is part of a complete playthrough of Zork in the All the Adventures project.)

Things are winding down. I’ve found all the treasures and am trying to solve the endgame, so hopefully my next post will have “Won!” or some permutation thereof.

In the meantime, three puzzles are thoroughly spoiled below.

The Bank of Zork

This is my nominee for worst puzzle in the game.

There’s a Safety Depository

This is a large rectangular room. The east and west walls here were used for storing safety deposit boxes. As might be expected, all have been carefully removed by evil persons. To the east, west, and south of the room are large doorways. The northern ‘wall’ of the room is a shimmering curtain of light. In the center of the room is a large stone cube, about 10 feet on a side. Engraved on the side of the cube is some lettering.

and a portrait that needs removal (it’s a treasure)

Chairman’s Office
This room was the office of the Chairman of the Bank of Zork. Like the other rooms here, it has been extensively vandalized.
The lone exit is to the north.
A portrait of J. Pierpont Flathead hangs on the wall.

but attempting to just carry it out sets of the alarms.

> e
An alarm rings briefly and an invisible force prevents your leaving.

Fair enough so far. Entering the curtain of light described in the Depository brings the player to a Small Room:

This is a small, bare room with no distinguishing features. There are no exits from this room.

Waiting a few turns, a gnome shows up:

An epicene gnome of Zurich wearing a three-piece suit and carrying a safety-deposit box materializes in the room. ‘You seem to have forgotten to deposit your valuables,’ he says, tapping the lid of the box impatiently. ‘We don’t usually allow customers to use the boxes here, but we can make this ONE exception, I suppose…’ He looks askance at you over his wire-rimmed bifocals.

After giving a treasure to the gnome, he sends you back to the bank entrance. Further attempts to enter the curtain of light send you to a viewing room. It’s possible to give the gnome a treasure other than the portrait so for a long time I thought the objective was simply to trick the gnome.

No: it’s much, much stupider than that. From the Small Room:

> enter south wall
You feel somewhat disoriented as you pass through…
Safety Depository

Note that just going SOUTH doesn’t work, it has to be those exact words. Argh!

Reusing the curtain of light brings the player to a vault full of zorkmid bills, as depicted above. There’s another secret exit like this first. Dropping everything, coming back, and using the curtain again sends the player to the viewing room and past the alarms. The latter part is not what’s upsetting; there’s just not much reason to suspect it is possible to walk through a wall, especially given the rejection of walking south.

I cheated by looking at source (specifically Dean Menezes’s port to Inform 7). Did anyone solve this one fairly? How would anyone suspect this? I suppose the curtain of light is meant to “prime” the player (like the PLOVER puzzle in Adventure) but it just strikes me as too much a reach.

The Secret Slide Room

This puzzle has a similar dilemma as the Bank of Zork with a hidden exit, but I enjoyed it much more.

One general rule in adventure games is to always GAZE or LOOK INTO something resembling a crystal ball. There’s a white crystal sphere; gazing into it describes seeing the location of a blue crystal sphere. Later finding the blue crystal sphere:

> look in blue sphere
As you peer into the sphere, a strange vision takes shape of a distant room, which can be described clearly….
Sooty Room
This is a small room with rough walls, and a ceiling which is steeply sloping from north to south. There is coal dust covering almost everything, and little bits of coal are scattered around the only exit (which is a narrow passage to the north). In one corner of the room is an old coal stove which lights the room with a cheery red glow. There is a very narrow crack in the north wall.
The vision fades, revealing only an ordinary crystal sphere.

So a puzzle remains: where’s the sooty room? There are subtle clues in the text: “a ceiling which is steeply sloping” and “coal dust covering almost everything”. Near a coal mine there’s a Slide Room

This is a small chamber, which appears to have been part of a coal mine. On the south wall of the chamber the letters “Granite Wall” are etched in the rock. To the east is a long passage and there is a steep metal slide twisting downward. To the north is a small opening.

where going down the slide leads to the Cellar at the beginning of the game. There’s no hint of anything special, but the crystal sphere text gives strong suspicions.

At this point the rope seemed handiest, but it led to a dilemma

> tie rope
to what?

Nothing in the room description suggested itself. Fortunately, nearby there was a broken wooden timber I knew was quite heavy just from the inventory juggling I needed to carry it.

> tie rope to timber
The rope is fastened to a broken timber.
The rope dangles down the slide.
> d
As you descend, you realize that the rope is slippery from the grime of the coal chute and that your grasp will not last long.
This is an uncomfortable spot within the coal chute. The rope to which you are clinging can be seen rising into the darkness above. There is more rope dangling below you.

Further down the rope is the Sooty Room I described above, and a red crystal sphere.

What made this puzzle especially satisfying was it’s a true knowledge puzzle. There’s pretty much no way of solving it other than putting together the information clues in the right way. So it was like solving a mystery akin to a detective story.

Last Lousy Treasure

This one’s pretty absurd, but at least it is designated a last lousy point. From a matchbook at the Flood Control Dam #3:

> read matchbook
[close cover before striking BKD]

YOU too can make BIG MONEY in the exciting field of

Mr. TAA of Muddle, Mass. says: “Before I took this course I used to be a lowly bit twiddler. Now with what I learned at MIT Tech I feel really important and can obfuscate and confuse with the best.”

Mr. MARC had this to say: “Ten short days ago all I could look forward to was a dead-end job as a doctor. Now I have a promising future and make really big Zorkmids.”

MIT Tech can’t promise these fantastic results to everyone. But when you earn your MDL degree from MIT Tech your future will be brighter.

Send for our free brochure today.

Just in-joking, nothing to think about, right?

Allow me a brief aside on Max Blaster and Doris de Lightning Against the Parrot Creatures of Venus (2003) by Dan Shiovitz and Emily Short.

You see a mask of fearless Xavian leader Ch’awww-k’pot, a teething corknut, and a Max Blaster action figure here.

>x mask
Cast from a solid piece of plastic, with features lovingly molded to exactly reproduce the stern-but-caring countenance of fearless Xavian leader Ch’awww-k’pot. The eyeholes are empty and a rubber strap is attached to the back of the mask, enabling young Xavians to slip it over their beak and re-enact famous socio-political decisions made by Ch’awwk.

>reenact famous socio-political decisions
(first taking the mask of fearless Xavian leader Ch’awww-k’pot, then wearing the mask of fearless Xavian leader Ch’awww-k’pot)
You perform a complex series of instructional morality plays/shadow puppetings using your hands, the mask, and a conveniently-placed light source.

The presence of this exchange was the fault of a (in)famous beta tester with the philosophy of “whatever the player might reasonably think of typing from the text, allow it”. It’s a good approach for side interactivity, but what about the regular portion of a game?

Back to Zork. Go read the matchbook text again. Can you guess what to type?

> send for brochure
Ok, but you know the postal service…

Several turns later:

There is a knocking sound from the front of the house.

Checking West of House:

West of House
There is a small mailbox here.
In the mailbox is a large brochure.
The free brochure contains:
A Don Woods stamp

Yes, that’s a treasure. I’d call it a REENACT FAMOUS SOCIO-POLITICAL DECISIONS style puzzle if that was easier to say. The major difference here is the action makes no sense; how are we sending for the brochure? Is just declaring our intention out loud enough for the post office to notice?

(Thanks to Dan Shiovitz and Admiral Jota who both sent me information on the Parrot Creatures game.)

Posted April 27, 2011 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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8 responses to “Zork: A tale of three puzzles

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  1. I’ll even admit I didn’t get this one on my own. Although as I recall, “WALK THROUGH SOUTH WALL” works and seems to make a bit more sense. “ENTER SOUTH WALL” _is_ dumb.

    I hated the end game. It’s so jarringly different from the main game.

  2. I don’t remember my experience with the bank vault the first time I played Zork 2. In that version, however, there’s an added clue — a piece of paper mentions tellers walking through walls.

  3. I have footage of Dave Lebling apologizing for the Bank puzzle.

  4. The only Zork puzzle worse than the Bank is the Diamond, IMAO.

    • Fortunately the diamond isn’t in the mainframe Zork, if I remember correctly.

      I’ve not read through the post, but the bank is definitely not that fair. But I’m glad the piece of paper in Zork 2 was added, it makes it slightly – only slightly – easier.

  5. I think I’ve done everything except the glacier and volcano. I’ve gotten 556 points, so I think it’s winding down.

  6. Pingback: Zork I: The Death of a Thief | Renga in Blue

  7. Pingback: Zork II: Old Haunts | Renga in Blue

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