Deathmaze 5000: One of the Most Deeply Inscrutable Puzzles in Adventure Game History   13 comments

I ran a little experiment; the text below I wrote *before* starting my next play session in earnest, and then I follow with the conclusion.

I’m still hacking at the calculator room puzzle. On my last post, Carl Muckenhoupt wrote what’s in the title of this post, adding “I will be very, very surprised if you get it without hints.”

Now, if you aren’t familiar with Carl, keep in mind:

a.) He is the only person I know who has finished Wizardry 4 without any hints, aka One of the Hardest RPGs Ever Written. This was done back when the game was released, so he didn’t even use any save states.

b.) He used to curate “Baf’s Guide to the Interactive Fiction Archive” which attempted to catalogue absolutely everything in the IF Archive at the time. He’s played as many if not more adventure games than I have.

c.) He still writes regularly at The Stack, one of the best post-as-you-play-games blogs I know. For old-adventure fans, try his series on Time Zone starting with this post.

So when Carl says a puzzle is inscrutable, the wise thing would be to give up and check the solution. But I’m going to be foolish and work at this a bit longer anyway, albeit with a rule: I must work on the puzzle for at least one hour before checking the official hint sheet. (“At least” means I can take longer, but the goal here is to stop the temptation to give up early.)

Spoiler: Carl was right.

First, I tried to write down all the detail I knew: when entering the position on the map with the calculator, the hall is sealed off. The wall shows the message “To everything there is a season.” The message changes as you hit keys to turn:

Steps 1-5 show: “To everything there is a season.”
Steps 6-14 show: nothing
Steps 15-20 show: “To everything there is a season.”
Steps 21-25 include TURN, TURN, TURN added to the original message
Steps 26 and further: no message

The calculator initially displays 317 but CLEAN CALCULATOR reveals it actually showing 317.2.

My first impulse was that the game wanted the left/right arrow keys pressed in the right series in some sort of code. I tried, for example 3 left, 1 right, 7 left, 2 right; 3 left, 1 turn-around, 7 right, 2 turn-around; 3 right, 1 left, 7 right, 2 left; and so on for many, many more attempts.

Even if the “3172” digits were correct, any complexity past just using the digits in order would have required just sheer luck to come across. There are far too many possibilities and arrangements. (As the previous sentence implies, the 3172 digits were not correct, but let’s get back to that in a moment.)

I then went for some “outside the game” type solves. First, the inverted calculator idea, which I illustrated in my last post:

Again, without any extra clues, proceeding from here involved testing a bunch of variants: LIE, 2LIE, ZLIE, LIE LIE, REST LIE, and so forth. This was made worse by “SAY” being a verb so the game might have accepted the right command as a “magic word” or it might have required me to “SAY” it; so I had to test twice every word I listed.

Past that point and even more desperate, I tried looking up Ecclesiastes 3, the original source of the song lyrics, which includes a verse 3:17.

I said in mine heart, God shall judge the righteous and the wicked: for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work.

I tried every single word here like “heart” and “judge” and crossed them out as I went.

I checked if this could be a “phone code” using the letters on a phone, but realized while “2” has “ABC” there are no letters on the 1.

I considered if latitude or longitude was involved (there is the “.2” part which doesn’t show up at random) but on Earth those metrics max out at 180, so I’d need to be referring to somewhere in outer space. I tried words like MARS and VENUS just to feel like I was doing something.

I tried checking if the digits reversed (that is, 317.2 being 2.713) were somehow mathematical. Euler’s number starts out 2.718, and just in case the authors made a typo I tried out EULER and various possible mispellings. (This might seem to be reaching into absurd territory, but there is a well-known game in a very well known series where a certain name is spelled wrong, and the game only accepts the wrong spelling.)

While I didn’t know it, I was getting further and further away from the answer. When I buckled (after about an hour and 20 minutes), I found out my very first guess about a left/right code was absolutely correct. The way out of the room was to

1.) turn left five times
2.) turn right four times
3.) turn left three times

Where does the 5-4-3 sequence come from? I finally puzzled it out, and it takes a combination of the insights above:

1.) flip the letters calculator-style to get LIE
2.) find LIE on a telephone; the letters are on the buttons 5-4-3 in order.

I have no idea what the “.2” part was about. If you draw a “Z” shape from the bottom you get left-right-left … but there’s no reason why you can’t draw from the top either, and that connection seems way too stretched to be correct.

To explain what went wrong with this puzzle, I’m going to hop briefly over to cryptic crosswords.

A cryptic crossword is one where each word is clued twice, once explicitly and once with wordplay; however, the break between wordplay and second definition isn’t always obvious.

Cod nutrition changed the starting point (12)

is a clue for introduction. “Cod nutrition” is an anagram of “introduction”; “changed” is the word indicating an anagram is being used. “Starting point” is the definition of “introduction”.

There’s essentially one “transformation step” before we’ve reached a point we can verify a solution is correct (by matching our result with the definition).

It is possible but considered bad form to have require multiple transformations to the same word.

Listening, elf moved a boat messily using white powder (5)

“Messily” indicates another anagram, but on the “Elf moved a boat” section. However, before the anagram starts, the definition of “row” needs to be substituted for “moves a boat” so the thing we are anagramming is “elf row”. This anagrams into “flower”. Then we apply “listening” to indicate that “flower” is a homonym for “flour”, which is the “white powder”.

While it’s *possible* to go through the logical steps, having to leap from one to the next without reinforcement really makes for an uncomfortable solving experience. It exposes puzzlers to too many combinatoric possibilities.

With the calculator puzzle, the solver had to make a chain of actions similar to the bad cryptic clue: flipping the calculator to make the word LIE, taking that result and putting it on a phone pad, then taking that result and applying it in a left-right-left code order. Only at the very end of this improbable chain is there any indication the player is on the right track. While it’s fine to have a little bit of exploration on the player’s part where a clue is abstracted into an action, once multiple “layers” are added there are thousands of possibilities to search.

Posted July 14, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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13 responses to “Deathmaze 5000: One of the Most Deeply Inscrutable Puzzles in Adventure Game History

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  1. It’s entirely immaterial to the post, but the phrase that appears is “To everything there is a season.” Which is in accord with the song.

    Also I did not get the LIE on the telephone pad thing at all. To the extent that I kind of wonder if that’s really where it comes from. The hint sheet just contains the solution, right? If that is where it comes form, what does the .2 do?

    • Whoops, fixed the text there, thanks.

      I just found out the HINT command which is normally useless (all I got was “read the instructions” and the like) gives an actual useful message: INVERT AND PHONE.

      Maybe the author forgot the puzzle was supposed to be solvable *without* the hint.

  2. I wonder if there’s some significance to the word TURN appearing 3 times in TURN TURN TURN…?

    The first TURN because you need to turn the calculator upside down,.

    The second to make you think of turning a telephone dial. (Remember them?)

    And finally the third for turning left and right.

    Or maybe not. I’m probably just seeing patterns where there aren’t any.

  3. Ah, the calculator puzzle. It’s absolutely horrible. Our attempts at solving it are very similar – I also took a look at the bible and old phone layouts. As you know now, none of them worked. Good luck with the rest of the game – it’s still a ways to go…

  4. *one of them worked.

  5. Btw, the calculator puzzle is not over yet, iirc. The next part of it is the one I found truly unsolvable. (if not by sheer luck)

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