Archive for March 2016

Philosopher’s Quest: How to persist on difficult problems   15 comments


One of my issues from my last post was an albatross that stays tied to one’s neck. Apparently what’s needed to divest it is a story:

> e
Wheeeeeeeee…. Ooof!

As you slide, one of your possessions tumbles away from you. You can hear it falling into the distance.

As you drop into the room, you catch sight of a burly workman carrying three “Caution” signs over his shoulder. “I say,” you begin, “I’ve got this frightfully interesting story about an albatross. You simply must hear it!” So saying, you pour forth your tale. The workman is fascinated and thoughtfully suggests you switch your lamp off while you continue. This you do, and the two of you sit in the darkness for a while. After a while you come to the end of your story. The workman, visibly moved, shakes you by the hand as you relight your lamp, and then moves off carrying his warning signs. The load around your neck feels much lighter.

I admittedly only was down there because I thought the item-falling-away effect from sliding just might apply to the albatross, but I’ll take random luck as a win here.

I’m still persisting, though, and I’ve been thinking hard about persistence when there is no apparent progress. This is an issue that applies to my professional life as well as my hobbyist life.

The main trick, I think, is to make explicit: even when nothing is resolved, eliminating possibilities is still progress.

By that I mean while attempts X, Y, and Z may have failed, in the process we have learned that X, Y, and Z don’t work to solve a particular puzzle. Normally this doesn’t provide any user feedback, unless the user makes that feedback visible.

The Tower of Babel puzzle is on the high end of frustration. Here is my record of trying to solve it.


> n
You’re at the tower of Babel – a most imposing construction that seems to stretch up to the very heavens. Hundreds of people are milling around looking very friendly but confused. The atmosphere is most bewildering; it becomes difficult to understand yourself think after a while. A road leads north and south from here.

> climb tower
Before you can do anything the atmosphere of confusion seems to take control of your senses. You find you can no longer understand the language you are speaking.
You’re at the tower of Babel.

At this point the “>” parser disappears and nothing seems to help.

A man in a white coat shows professional curiosity as you make your utterance.
You’re at the tower of Babel.
A nearby trade-unionist, straight from the shop floor, bellows ‘Kadima hapoel!’ in your ear.
You’re at the tower of Babel.
A young woman is amused by your remark. ‘Rotse lishtot mashehu?’ she asks, pointing towards a hot drinks machine.
You’re at the tower of Babel.
Some children burst into laughter and start copying your accent.
You’re at the tower of Babel.
On hearing your words a passer-by offers you some wurst and asks, ‘Ooluy ata raev?’
You’re at the tower of Babel.
You attract the attention of a passing group of troubadours. ‘Shir itanu!’ one exclaims at which they all start singing (in an assorted collection of keys, of course.)

The only other hint seems to be in a different room.

> d
You are in a smooth corridor hacked out of the living granite (whatever that means… I mean, whoever heard of living granite anyway? Oh, sorry…). There is a hole up, and round passages lead east and west. There are some words hacked out of the living (ahem), which read “WORDS IN TOWERS HAVE OTHER POWERS”.

There’s a few angles to work this problem.

I. Say the right magic word(s)

Other problems in this game have been solved by a single word like THINK or STEINBECK, so perhaps that’s the trick.






pray (verb not even recognized)

any of the riddle answers

all of the riddle answers in the order encountered

II. Prepare immunity to confusion beforehand

bring gas mask

temporary deafness or blindness somehow?

III. Prepare a “time bomb” to startle out of confusion

Bringing the exploding case to the Tower
The case will eventually explode and kill the player, but it doesn’t help with escaping the Tower.

Lighting a match, having it burn out while at the Tower.
It hurts the player’s finger in another scene but here the match just burns to ash.

bring the shaggy dog

IV. Decipher the statements being made

It’s faintly possible the phrases the characters are saying are not gibberish, but coded language, and deciphering that language will allow escape.

Kadima hapoel! -> trade-unionist
Rotse lishtot mashehu? -> pointing to hot drinks machine
Ooluy ata raev? -> offered wurst
Shir itanu! -> right before singing

Checking every possible rot1-25 rotation

Attempting to say any of the words

Attempting to say any of the words backwards

Supposing a 1-1 cryptogram

. . .

Having the lists not only provides the feeling of momentum, but also prevents an issue I’ve had before: getting stuck on a puzzle because I thought I tried a particular action, but I hadn’t (or at least not in a certain exact way).

Additionally it’s possible the setup requires an item I haven’t seen yet — so it isn’t good for me to linger absolutely — but it means that if I leave and come back I have a better memory of what already has been attempted.

Posted March 4, 2016 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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