Alkemstone: I Was Born Under a Wandering Star   17 comments

There’s a point I’ve made before, but is doubly relevant for treasure hunt puzzles, so it’s worth repeating with a different example.

Suppose I wanted to give a message to decrypt.


You might try approaching as a straight cryptogram and realize (even with a search program) that it doesn’t correspond to anything. You might try anagramming letters and get nowhere.

The correct approach is to try both. First, shift every letter forward one step in the alphabet…


…then anagram the result.


I can see from the perspective of an author how they might consider this “simple”. One-step Caesar ciphers, no problem! Anagrams, sure! But when combined together, they form a second-order puzzle where two entirely different steps are needed with no confirmation between the two that one is on the right track. Both cryptograms and anagrams might be “easy” puzzles, but they can become vastly harder to solve when combined together because they are only two forms of wordplay out of an immense variety. (This particular puzzle is borderline fair in that when eyeballing the alphabet shift it looks close enough to English that the anagram seems natural.)

With most treasure hunts I’ve seen there is a strong and almost necessary temptation to have second-order, third-order, or ludicrous-order puzzles. If a treasure hunt is well designed there will be “confirmers” along the way, other clues that help let the player know they’re on the right track.

This raises the question: is Alkemstone well-designed in that sense? I don’t know yet. I do know it likely suffers a related problem common for treasure hunts — spurious solutions. The wide-open unmoored nature of the puzzles — a bunch of clues with no given categories — lends itself to multiple plausible ways to interpret clues.

Another made-up example: suppose I gave the phrase

Absent Tithed Hue

You might find the combination of words strange, and do an anagram…

Thine Debate Thus

…and maybe think it was indicating the site of a famous debate. Or maybe it is

Beneath Hides Tut

indicating an Egyptology theme, or

Behind The Statue

with a more literal location.

The only “solution” so far that I’m safe in saying is a slam dunk involves two new clues (I posted them early in the comments of a thread).

Roger Durrant pointed out that both names appear in the song They Call the Wind Maria from the musical Paint Your Wagon.

A way out here they got a name for rain and wind and fire the rain is Tess the fire’s Joe and they call the wind Maria

Both rooms are immediately adjacent to each other on the overall map.

Click here for a full version of the map. TESS and MARIA are at the lower left.

Also adjacent to TESS and MARIA is a room with the word JOB, which suggests the author misspelled the actual song word (which apparently is either JO or JOE based on where you get the lyrics from).

These two pictures are also placed close (although not immediately adjacent).

I’m extremely curious about the second, which looks like it’s a close-up of … something? It incidentally was very hard to get a screenshot of; when it appeared during the game it only came up very briefly, and I had to resort to using recording software and then pause the video I made on the exact right frame.

Speaking of songs, Matt W. noted the clue above suggests the song Faded Coat of Blue, a song by J.H. McNaughton associated with the Union side of the American Civil War.

Sticking with finding Washington, D.C. spots, that definitely suggests Arlington Cemetary which is quite close to everything else. Let me also add marks for the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, possibly referencing the ruby slippers from Wizard of Oz (which have been there since 1979)…

I finally found this one in-game (I previously only had the Mobygames screenshot). I still never found the -ION clue anywhere. My theory regarding the gap in the upper left corner of the overall map is that all other clues need to be found first before it opens, although it could just be a bug.

…the Washington Monument, associated with the death of Zachary Taylor, and the Lincoln Memorial, where Martin Luther King Jr. made his famous I Have a Dream speech. (Both of these were clues from previous posts.)

I’m finally going to put in the D.C. War Memorial for long-shot reasons, but I do have some logic to it.

There’s a “144” clue which possibly references the fact that with 12 zodiac signs you can pair them with another 12 to get 144 angles. There’s also one direct zodiac reference (“this is almost the age of AQUARIUS”) and one actual sign (Sagittarius, but drawn so the arrow points upright). The War Memorial has a domed building with a 12-direction arrow directly on the floor.

Here’s a Google Street View of someone standing next to the arrows.

Here’s a Google Street View of someone standing directly on top of the arrows.

I found this by hunting around for domes in DC, based on this clue from an earlier post.

There’s also this clue which faintly suggests looking between columns.

We’ve also had month and seasonal references to go along with the Zodiac ones.

“Toe warmers”, probably just meant to reference winter again.

Maybe T.S. Eliot, “April is the cruelest month.”

Without any kind of confirming puzzle, I still feel like I’m chasing shadows. It’s possible all of this is a coincidence, especially since I can’t fit the Paint Your Wagon reference at all, nor a riddle solution Jake Wildstrom came up with.

My First Is Where I Live
My Second Will Be Upon
My Third A Thought Of You
My Last How Far I May Go
And When I Get There
I Will Watch Them Play

The first two on the “three linked clues” you give feels a lot like it’s cluing to “Home on the Range” (so “them” would be deer and antelope, I suppose). “Home” is “Where I Live”, of course. “On” is another word for “Upon”. “Range” is (in the sense of a travel range) indeed “How Far I May Go”. I have no idea how “A Thought of You” would become “The”, but a clue for a definite article might be opaque in ways I don’t understand (is “You” somehow connected to the letter “U”, and some sort of character-level transformation from “A Thought of” gets us to the three letters “the”? This is mostly trying to back-solve a justification because the other three clues really fit the answer well).

Matt W. followed up with noting “you” could be “thee”.

I’m tentative about this one, just because it originally suggested to me the categories clues could fall in (that the D.C. references were all My First Is Where I Live, the number-type references might be How Far I May Go, etc.) but a traditional riddle is quite possible, and of course Home on the Range goes together nicely with the Paint Your Wagon reference.

Three more new clues to round things off…

…and then let me state that I’m going to delve back into traditional adventures now, and only give the occasional Alkemstone update. I (and hopefully others) will still be active in the comments, so the search for the Alkemstone continues.

One open question I’d really like resolved is the meaning behind this clue:

It has had no comments but I think it might be a straight self-contained riddle? I’m pretty bad at riddles, so I don’t know.

Posted February 12, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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17 responses to “Alkemstone: I Was Born Under a Wandering Star

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  1. My first is sixth – the letter F?
    My second is content – second letter of content is O?
    Followed by the rest – REST?
    Finally a child could play – FOREST?

    I could be barking up the wrong tree!

    • I wonder if “My first is sixth” could be JUNE (the sixth month of the year).

      Then, with very approximative pronunciation, “Finally a child could play” might be JUNGLE GYM (???) and “My second is content” might be GLAD. But I can’t find a word meaning “the rest” and sounding more or less like “gym”; any ideas?

      It’s pretty far-fetched, but I’m still posting this in case it might be helpful anyway!

  2. The arrow pointing up to what could be a roof might suggest an attic.

  3. It’s not right. Well, the Latin for left is Sinister which might tie in with forest.

  4. I find it hard to believe such objects could remain concealed at major national monuments for any length of time. The riddle really is like a clue straight from a cryptic crossword.

    • I’ve been assuming if the monuments are used directly they’re going to be triangulating, rather than have something directly there. (That’s not to say for sure they buried it sensibly, but with a lawyer involved, I can’t imagine they dug up a gravesite, say.)

  5. I read the framing story in the manual (the quality of which pleasantly surprised me), and I think the following passage may be important. This is after the “Youth” (the character in the box art with two faces) has found and hidden the Alkemstone, and just been poison-stinged by the “Chimera” before falling into a chasm (i.e., exactly what the box art depicts):

    “…In his [the Youth’s] delirium he ran all around the maze of tunnels, writing strange messages and riddles on the walls, and drawing odd pictures and diagrams. For in his delirium he did not quite know where the hidden Alkemstone must be, yet each of his heads held half the answer. He reasoned – if such a state can be called reason – that if his two heads would only stop arguing and talk to one another he would remember. And more importantly, he knew the poison was killing him. Not wanting the Alkemstone to be lost forever, he tried his best to leave us clues for finding it, my friends.”

    Note the “two heads each holding half the answer” concept. Maybe this is all fluff, but it seems to me equally possible that there are two distinct “threads” running through the clues, with each clue being part of one or the other thread, and the final solution involves putting those two threads together.

    Finally, one mechanics point I noted: the manual says that “by pressing Control P, you will get an outline showing your position in the maze.” Does that command work and/or show anything useful or interesting?

    • I just hadn’t found a good time to fit in discussing the backstory; that’s an interesting theory that we’ve really got two subdivisions here. Maybe a “Western” (Home on the Range, the Paint Your Wagon song, the DENVER reference) and an “Eastern” one (the Washington presidents and possibly places)?

      I’ve used the map a little to figure out I was doing the ladders right (it’s actually upside down how I did it, but I was about halfway through before I discovered ctrl-P so I wasn’t going to change it).

  6. I’ve been looking for that “MIDDLE AGE IS THE TIME WHEN…” quote and there isn’t an original source I can trace back. The earliest source I found was 1958 in the Union Voice publication of the Connecticut Union of Telephone Workers, of all things. It’s been wrongly attributed to lots of people after, so I guess it could be one of those.

    It almost feels like a straight-up red herring. Maybe it’s just suggesting some specific wordplay with swapping the broad mind and narrow waist.

  7. The pyramid with an arrow pointing to its base is likely an allusion to the Great Seal of the United States, whose reverse features an unfinished 13-course pyramid crowned by an all-seeing Eye, and the Roman numeral MDCCLXXVI (1776) at its base.

  8. The “close-up of … something?” picture looks to me like a railroad track.

  9. I agree; it looks like a railway track with two carriages on it.

    • It the department of very-long-shot-backsolves the closest park to railroad tracks in Washington D.C. that also is plausibly near all the downtown monuments seems to be Garfield Park. Crossing over to the orange cat with the same name as the president, there’s one reference to laziness in the clues and maybe the middle age quote got yoinked in somewhere for the Garfield comic itself.

      Yep, real long shot.

      I won’t have much time next week but two weeks from now I might try hacking a save file to sneak into that upper left room. Maybe it’ll give full GPS coordinates.

  10. Maybe the Paint Your Wagon reference would fit in with the railway wagon picture (if so it is). There doesn’t seem to be any common thread that runs through all the clues does there? I would certainly defer to those of you with a far better knowledge of american history / locations than this Angle Saxon.

  11. Anglo Saxon even!

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