Quondam: Structural Solving   13 comments

Progress! (Also, outright puzzle spoilers follow.)

From the Book of Kells again. Horror vacui still remains an appropriate metaphor, as solving one puzzle just tightens the game’s net leading to another. I feel a palpable pressure while playing.

One of the puzzles I was stuck on last time involved this object:

There is a B.R. takeaway sandwich here.

Eating it invoked a solution, but also a problem:

You eat the sandwich and its crunchy outside. Your stomach rumbles but you feel a new surge of strength.
You have stomach ache.

You have bad stomach ache.

You are in agony.

You are in agony
Your life is over.

There are some textual clues in retrospect, but the way I solved this was looking at the structure of the game. The sandwich is in a short underground section with many items that seemed necessary to continue, but it also was a one way trip — after exiting and leaving, there didn’t seem to be a way back. I needed to eat the sandwich while still underground to rescue a sword (well, part of one) from a stone, so I knew it was unlikely resolving the sandwich involved some future item. I focused just on what I had, and went through a verb list I had made trying everything reasonable I could think of on the sandwich.

You tear the transparent wrapper off the sandwich.

Ha ha. Ha ha ha. Ok, that one is resolved.

I also managed to escape the spiders that attacked me after visiting the center of a “spider web” area and getting a bottle with an elixir.

A horde of spiders swarms over you and eats you.

I discovered, quite by accident (I was testing out a different theory) that heading west after picking up the elixir did not lead to immediate death. On a hunch, I tried circling the outer portion of the “web” and found the entire route was safe (see the map for some crude MS Paint action):

However, by doing this, it closed off the entire web area — I couldn’t go back without dying. This meant, structurally, that another puzzle in the same area needed to be resolved before the elixir:

You are on a ledge by a cliff. A strand leads northeast to the web and a tunnel leads southeast into the cliff.
A curtain of fire blocks the tunnel!

You stride into the flames, which don’t burn you – it must be an illusion! You hear a curse and various tinkering noises.
You are in a short cave, where nothing seems to have changed for ages. The only exit is a tunnel northwest.
A curtain of fire blocks the tunnel!
A small mirror lies here.
There is a harp made from rare woods here!


As you leave, you look at the face-up mirror while the flames lick about you. There is a cry of triumph as the flames reach furance heat.
Your life is over.

I had another item (the rucksack) that the mirror can be stuffed into for safety. However, this led to another issue: the rucksack has a hole. (It took a while for me to realize this). Essentially, every step you take unloads an item onto the ground. This is bad with the mirror because you have to then pick it up while standing on the spider web, and this happens:

You see yourself in the mirror and, not looking, fall down a hole.
Your life is over.

Since the bottle was necessary for another part, I figured I must had everything I needed for the puzzle; necessity forced me to focus. I realized, after some more experimentation, that the rucksack holds 3 items and most, and is first-in-last-out — that is, if I put the mirror in, and then kept refilling it as I was dripping items, I could cart the mirror to safety.

(Well, mostly safe — the falling into a hole business actually can happen outside the spider web, so I still can’t carry the mirror far without it being in the rucksack.)

In any case, I’m out of things to do, other than getting by a dragon (which eats me as soon as it sees me) and the weird “Customs” area I wrote about last time; specifically, leaving Customs leads me to a town square …

You are in a small town square full of churches and monuments. The Spanish Inquisition are here, debating your future.
There is a coil of rope here

The crowd bars your way.

The throng draws back and leaves a way free.

… and a desert …

You are thirsty.
You are in an expanse of featureless sand under a burning sun.

… but I haven’t found a way out of the area past this point. However, handling the burning sun requires emptying the bottle’s elixir and filling it with water. This suggests another structural solving consideration: if the elixir isn’t just a trap to be avoided (drinking it makes you shrink and disappear) then it needs to be used *before* reaching the Customs area.

Posted September 15, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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13 responses to “Quondam: Structural Solving

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  1. Nicely done. It was the “crunchy outside” comment (from eating the sandwich with wrapper intact) that helped me to solve that puzzle.

    I’m a bit past the point where you are at. I freely admit I had to take a hint from the official hint sheet to figure out what to do next. In particular, while the hint sheet has answers/clues in jumbled order, its order of *questions* not-so-subtly suggests an intended order for the game’s puzzles to be tackled. So without even looking up a clue I knew from the list of questions what mystery I needed to focus on next. (I still needed the clue. I would not have thought to try the correct action otherwise.)

    Your worry about having solved a puzzle incorrectly was also prescient. Not as to breaking the lock – I’ve confirmed that is the correct solution so no need to worry there – but for me, I’d solved the plant monster problem incorrectly. Specifically, I hit open the *other* half of that solution well before realizing “JUMP” was an option. I spent a long time stuck there trying to solve the wrong (and, by the time I’d created it, unsolvable) problem, which existed only because I’d incorrectly solved an earlier problem.

    I do enjoy the game’s pathological sense of humor. I may start keeping a list of “amusing ways to die.” For example: have you tried leaving the underground *without* carrying the sapling?

    • I tried the sapling thing out when I saw the ent react to the sapling – I was definitely curious what would happen without it.

  2. In the spoilery thread you were boycotting on the previous post, the sandwich and the hole in the rucksack were the other two things that I was complaining would be nullified by an “examine” verb. Which is a bit of a pointless complaint, like saying that in a platformer you ought to be able to walk through spikes from the side; there are some where you can, but where you can’t it’s part of the challenge. There’s a reason I read along with playthroughs of this sort of game rather than trying them myself (also, I’m not sure the emulator runs on Macs).
    Ant did mention that the fact that it’s a “BR takeaway sandwich” implies that it’s in a plastic takeaway container, though even seeing “You tear the transparent wrapper off the sandwich” didn’t give me the right mental picture–I thought it was Saran Wrap (more properly cling film, I guess) but apparently it’s hard plastic like what you’ll find if you search for “clear plastic take-out container.” An image search for “British Railway takeaway sandwich” didn’t turn up one in all its packaged glory.

    • Your comment about walking through spikes from the side in a platformer immediately has me thinking of La-Mulana. If there’s ever a platformer that might fit this blog, it’s that one.

      • Oof, that game. I have 20 hours listed on Steam and I’m fairly sure I’m only a fraction in the game.

        I got stuck on one long juncture (probably around 4-5 hours) due to me not realizing a particular bit of the graphics was a shop door I could enter. That sounds like a Phoenix game for sure.

    • I use BeebEm, and there is indeed a Mac port.


      • Ah, well, um, yes, getting right on downloading that right away. (insert gif of Dave Chappelle knocking over the water pitcher and running away)

  3. It seems particularly unfair, though, because from what I gather dying in three turns would be a perfectly natural consequence of eating a BR takeaway sandwich even if you took it out of the container.
    Oh! I just realized “its crunchy outside” is spelled correctly and amounts to “you eat the sandwich and its container” rather than meaning “you eat the sandwich, and it’s crunchy outside.” That’s much fairer. Should’ve trusted the orthography of these Oxbridge folk.

    • When I was trying the verbs out, I was visualizing the crunchy parts as being the bread contaminated somehow, so I tried “EMPTY” and “OPEN” as a way of making it an open-faced sandwich of sorts and exposing just the strength-boosting part and eating that.

      I did just poke in that other thread, and I don’t think either of the non-rot-13 hints would’ve done anything for me. I still don’t understand the first one, and the long reference to British Rail in particular probably would’ve sent me in a panic.

    • I gather dying in three turns would be a perfectly natural consequence of eating a BR takeaway sandwich even if you took it out of the container.


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