Ferret: Chasm of a Thousand Cuts   27 comments

I’m honestly still flabbergasted. (Backlog of posts on Ferret here.)

Computerworld Mar 13, 1978.

The game certainly tries to give a strong sense of Things Are Different once entering Phase 9; in addition to the odd message from last time

Arise Ignorants, for you have been summoned by the Master of Knowledge. Your labours will no longer be in vain, for you will have a common goal. The secrets of past technologies will now be unlocked and will allow you to utilise the mysterious powers discovered by your forefathers prior to the big heat.

there is a new “mode” unlocked.

Entering Phase 9 (Navigation) activates Master Mode. Certain existing and new verbs will start to work once in Master Mode.

I haven’t talked about modes before, so let me backtrack a bit. When hitting the 300 point threshold the game enters “Expert” mode, which removes some randomization and makes it so the timecard puzzle (the one where you had to set your real computer clock timer) no longer needs solving. The general intent is to allow easier walkthrough creation and experimentation (one player, K, isn’t even bothering with save games, and is using a transcript that the game plays through instead).

The interesting (and fairly unique) thing about Expert mode is that it applies to new games. That is, once reaching Expert mode, you can restart to have the new behavior happen. So progress on the game holistically affects even restarts of the entire world-universe.

Master mode is more mysterious:

You are currently in Master Mode, which entitles you to certain privileges.

At this level you are expected to be able to find or postulate what the new privileges might be, given your experience with the game. For example, “Wouldn’t it be great if…”.

I’m still not quite sure what the new verbs are, but any restarts now put the game in Master mode, so I do wonder if there are some different scenes possible with new meta-skills (?).

This wasn’t the flabbergasting part; what I mentioned with the modes was already spelled out in the documentation so I knew it was coming. Let me save it a bit longer and tell you about my exploration of Phase 9:

You disembark from the train to find a “Richmond Station” sign and some graffiti.

Yo, ya kno’ that Graham geezer and his massive number. Well, like, X is the spot an’ it’s the last free digits, dig it?

Graham’s Number is a colossally humungous number famous for being “the largest number ever used in a proof”. I don’t if that’s still true, but even quantities like “the number of atoms in the universe” are minute comparisons, and it isn’t coherent to talk about something like “how many zeros it has” — you have to think in terms of something called “up-arrow notation” which isn’t worth a sidetrack into. The last digits are


Is this “the last free digits”, though? Is that supposed to be “three digits”?

You may have noticed numbers on the map; that’s because connected to the train station is a five by six grid where each location has a number.

Open Area
You are in a large open area. Inlaid into the design of the floor surface is
the number 1.
-> e
Open Area
You are in a large open area. Inlaid into the design of the floor surface is the number 19.
-> e
Open Area
You are in a large open area. Inlaid into the design of the floor surface is the number 7. Attached to the north wall is a tall wardrobe.

I’m currently a long way from deciphering what the numbers mean, but given the 5-by-6 layout they might connect to a parchment found later which I’ll just give the clip of now (6-by-6, alas, but still suggestive):

I’m happy to take speculation from anyone on this one, even people not playing the game.

Moving back to the large area, it isn’t just numbers; for example, the wardrobe I showed off contains an automaton.

Nearby is a “portable generator” with a knob, and if you turn the knob while at the automaton you can get it to follow you around. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a way to give it any other commands. You can drop the generator and watch the automaton scoop it up and wander on its own, but that doesn’t seem to be useful either.

Poster on a random position of the grid.

There’s also a “large statue” which seems to be immobile, and a garden off in the southeast corner that has a locked gate.

Small Kitchen Garden
You are in a walled area that was probably used to grow fruit and vegetables in past times but all evidence of gardening has long disappeared. To the west is a building. There is a gate set in the south wall.
-> open gate
It’s locked.

Incidentally, I did try to get the automaton to break the gate open for me, but to no avail. There’s a key elsewhere I’ll show in a second, but I haven’t been able to bring the key to the gate. Let’s go there now:

This is the east part of the phase 9 map, with a pyramid you can enter to find a sewer.

You are standing in front of an enormous pyramid. Despite its incredible size it is completely featurlesss apart from a strange flap arrangement set into the side of the pyramid in front of you.
-> push flap
The rather strangely designed flap appears to pivot about a linear horizontal axis near the top of the flap. This behaviour causes you to lean forward and discover, like many, many before you, the force known as gravity. You tumble heels over head into the void. The brunt of the subsequent significant impact is taken by your head so no serious damage results from your incautious act.
Bowl of Gyration
The floor here is formed into the shape of a bowl which is suffused by a dim light from the pyramid-shaped roof. There are strange patterns on the floor giving the optical illusion of ever-circulating paths. In the middle of the floor is a dark tunnel leading downwards.
-> d
Whaooah! You appear to have stood on some very slippery slime causing your rear end to impinge upon a significant downward slope that deposits you most ungracefully in a very unpleasant place.
The walls here are curved as in a tunnel and their covering is not pleasant but the stench is far, far worse. The disgusting passage is blocked to the south. Overhead is a very dark opening in the tunnel roof.

Unfortunately, this is a one-way trip and I haven’t found an exit. Also, the sewer is timed: after enough turns, you die from the smell. There’s a diving suit nearby that is no help (you’d the wearing the suit would protect you, but no — also, no verbs I’ve tested work on it). Even more curious is a “putrid rucksack”;

-> open rucksack
Opening the putrid rucksack reveals:
a slimy fleece
a sandwich pail
a cake tin
a rusty key
an oblong of parchment

The parchment you’ve already seen with the 5 by 6 grid. The cake tin has a cake that you can break open to find a ticker tape:

-> break cake
The sponge crumbles to dust revealing a strip of ticker tape.
-> read tape

You can see Damian Murphy’s translation here, and no, I don’t know if there’s anything useful here, but it is quite possible some of what we’re meant to gather here is information for later.

This would seem to be a dead end, except: you can get back on the train and keep going! Here we get to the mind-blowing part. We haven’t just unlocked Phase 9, we have unlocked Phases 9 through 16 inclusive, and we can access all of them right away.

Phase 10 (Foundation) has a “translucent fruit bowl”…

This room appears to have be used by the station staff during their rest periods. There are some basic facilities including a worktop with an opening for a sink and a broken tap. Under the opening for the sink is a cupboard. Above the worktop the ceiling is angled at 45 degrees as if the room is built under a sloping roof. There is a wooden door to the west. Set in one wall is a sheet of opaque plexiglass under which is a wide slot. To one side of the plexiglass is a vandalised keypad.
There is a translucent fruit bowl here

…and a series of “open areas” just like Phase 9, also with numbers on the floors. Are the puzzles connected?

Way back at the Cathedral we needed to use a piece of information from The Future to affect the past. Is this the case here? Do we have to visit all the different phases to solve earlier ones, even though the train doesn’t turn around, and gather information that will help?

Phase 11 (Compression) contains a weird progression of locations with colorful names.

-> w
Chasm of Dreams
The path runs through a ravine from east to west. There are steep rockfaces on both sides of the path.
-> w
Gorge of Pyrocleese
The path runs through a ravine from east to west. There are steep rockfaces on both sides of the path with another similar path running off to the northwest.
-> nw
Chasm of a Thousand Cuts
The path runs through a ravine from southeast to northwest. There are steep rockfaces on both sides of the path.
-> nw
Silo of Screams
The path runs through a ravine from southeast to northwest. There are steep rockfaces on both sides of the path. To the northwest the path changes to sand.

Phase 12 (Delinearisation) has you greeted by a cyborg.

Ticket Office
You are in what was probably a ticket office, though it is now hard to tell as the room appears to have completely looted.
There is a voluptuous cyborg here
The cyborg has noticed your existence, but considers it quite trivial.

Phase 13 (Concatenation) involves ominous and dark craters.

Phase 14 (Fascination) has a floor you can bust through…

Entrance Hall
A large spacious area without seats and benches probably provided for the convenience of the passengers using the railway.
The flooring seems a little strange and has a hollow feel to it.
-> jump
Boingey, boingey, boinge! This is jolly wizzer fun. Uh oh, the floor appears to be suffering from your bouncing affections. Lordy, you seem to have hit the resonant frequency of a section the floor timbers which becomes dislodged and clatters to the floor of the room below. As you were jumping on the floorboards at the time you are rudely deposited in the room below with a resounding thump on your little botty.
You are in a small dimly-lit area with a steep ramp providing a route upwards.

…and cryptic voices giving numerical riddles.

The ethereal voice is somewhat indistinct and appears to be repeating: “The average hydrogen atom, number of neutrons it has?”
-> s
Old Nick
A pleasant airy space with a high ceiling. Hanging from the centre of the ceiling is a microphone. The flooring seems a little strange and has a hollow feel to it. You can just discern what appears to be a soft voice whispering around the room.
Exits: N— ——– —
-> listen
The ethereal voice is somewhat indistinct and appears to be repeating: “Normally represented, the square root of what, the letter i by?”

Phase 15 (Imagination) has a dark subway.

Phase 16 (Liberation) is immediately blocked by a ticket office.

Ticket Office
You are in what was probably a ticket office, though it is now hard to tell as the room appears to have suffered from a number of nearby explosions. The north end of the room appears to consist of an automatic barrier, to the right of which is a turnstile and a slot. Unfortunately all of the guidance instructions appear to have been obliterated at some time in the past.

And Phase 17 … well, that’s the end of the line. You can’t reach Phase 17 on the train. There was a bug (now fixed?) that allowed this to happen, with tempting glimpse of the future. For now, there’s quite a few angles to prod at while solving puzzles, but as Phase 16 illustrates, we may still need objects from earlier phases in later ones, and eventually the sequence will be consecutive. But even if information from the future isn’t strictly necessary, knowing if particular items will get used can help work out what needs to happen in previous phases.

Is the rest of the game one big quantum state, where the garden of forking paths is both branching and linear at the same time?

Posted November 22, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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27 responses to “Ferret: Chasm of a Thousand Cuts

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  1. One quick speculation on the grid

    It might be a Polybius square.

    It has all 26 letters and 10 digits, so you can encipher anything with a row and a column digit making a two-digit number. i.e. “15” is the letter E.

  2. Hey Jason, the last several months of your posts I’ve not recognized any of the titles you’ve been playing. I was looking forward to seeing some of my obscure Apple ][ favorites like The Coveted Mirror, but I don’t think I’ve recognized much that you’ve covered since you completed Time Zone. Are you taking a different strategy in how you cover your games? Very curious. Thanks

    • Not really — it’s just that the British finally got their floodgates opened so some of them are Famous in Europe. There’s also more platforms to deal with.

      Surprised you hadn’t heard of Blade of Blackpoole though! (ADD: Just looked back through the comments, you owned it but didn’t remember much about it.) I’ve got an Apple II game one-shot lined up two games from now (during Ferret) but you probably won’t have heard of that one (it’s “educational”) but the next big one (which has to go after Ferret, it will be multi-part) on my list is Kabul Spy.

      I do take requests to bump things up the queue if there’s something from ’82 you want to see. Coveted Mirror is ’83.

      • Ah I see. Maybe I missed that you addressed the flood of British adventures. Yes, I definitely remember playing Blade of Blackpoole and enjoyed reading along with that one. The reason I was confused was that your pattern for playing and reviewing these games tended to swap between an Apple game I had played in my childhood and then one or two TRS-80 or magazine published games that I had not, only to switch back to one of the Apple games I was familiar with. It’s fun to dip into the obscurity pool but then the main course for me is always when you cover an Apple game that I hadn’t played in 40 years. I just feel like I’ve been out swimming in the open ocean for quite a long while now :)

      • We certainly have some Apple II coming in the near future.

        And yes, it was more possible to alternate when it was mostly US software — it had TRS-80 and Apple II with a little Atari tossed in. Now we’re at the point where the ZX Spectrum and BBC Micro folks need their warm fuzzies too!

      • Of course I understand.

        I just migrated to New Zealand s free months ago from the USA so I’m particularly sensitive to nostalgia right now! I did connect with a fellow who has an archive of old computers here, though he tells me the Apple never wore made the soak in NZ as it did in the US. I would be curious to know if there are any homegrown NZ adventures… Does such a thing exist?

      • that’s definitely one of the things that’s been nagging at me — got some Aussie games, nothing NZ yet

        but if one exists, it is probably TRS-80, they had a clone that was decently popular

        (If you’re familiar with Path of Exile, that’s a NZ studio, but that’s a recent game.)

      • found some Sega SC-3000 adventure games that were NZ-made


      • two other bits of note, these are both from a NZ magazine, 1982 issues

        rundown of adventure games (these are all one we have featured for trs-80)


        clue clone (there were a lot of these, not really an adventure but the closest I could find)


  3. From your description, my assumption is that to beat the game, you’ll need to activate a new mode, then restart the whole game and do something different with your new powers along the way.

  4. I am familiar with Graham’s number since before, but checking it out again now I liked this for getting a resemblance of an idea of how to think about it: https://waitbutwhy.com/2014/11/1000000-grahams-number.html
    (For those who want to go into the rabbit hole of very large numbers there are some good leads to further reading in the comments there.)
    Still puzzled by “free digits” though. As well as why I can’t get the diving suit to “work”, it seems it should work if you try smelling while wearing it.

    • I have one, very small, step of progress with the diving suit. This is something that took me a lot of blind testing to discover, but which I have not found any use for yet. I think it is probably going to be useful at a later stage and that it will not help with the current issue of surviving in the sewers.
      [Gur qvivat fhvg unf gjb cbpxrgf, gel PBHAG CBPXRGF. V unir fb sne abg orra noyr gb pubbfr juvpu bar bs gurz gb nqqerff, ohg gurl frrz rzcgl naq gur guvatf V unir gevrq gb chg va gurz unir abg svg.]

  5. I wonder why the room with the microphone is called “Old Nick”. Some Briticism I’m not aware of, perhaps? Also, is it significant that the voice asking riddles appears to be talking like Yoda?

    • I Googled it and apparently “Old Nick” is a nickname for the Devil (possibly derived from St. Nicholas, aka Santa Claus). Not sure why that would be appropriate as the name of a room in a train station (with or without microphone), or what it might have to do with the voice talking Yoda-speak.

  6. I have figured out a verb that now works in Master mode which didn’t work before.

    [Gur ireo vf TB (be TBGB).]

  7. Just a quick note on Phase 10 – drop the charging mat and the broken communicator in any outdoor area and wait a couple/few turns for an interesting message.

    I’ve tried every possible combination of security pass numbers and text message number and have never received anything but the same, generic response.

    • I’m thinking the communicator is use [gb frg bss gur obzo va gur ohaxre va cunfr ryrira. Whfg arrq gb qvfpbire gur zbovyr cubarf ahzore.]

      Also the diving suit is likely for [fjvzzvat npebff gur ynxr va cunfr ryrira.]

  8. A couple more possible random observations:
    1. The pads in the rehearsal room in phase 11 emit either long or short beeps when pressed (the triangle is always long, while the others alternate between long and short, but will always return to short if another pad has been pressed.) Morse code is the obvious thing. SOS doesn’t seem to do anything. Maybe the last 3 digits of Graham’s number?
    2. I’ve gotten 2 of the answers to the whispered riddles in phase 14 (not counting the preface, which seems to be irrelevant.) Since ROT13 doesn’t encode numbers, I’ll use ROT47: ~=5 }:4< :D _ 2?5 $2E2?249:2 :D \`]

    I found the latter by sheer luck. The connection to the question seems tenuous at best. The 3rd question has me baffled. I've tried any number of obvious answers, but none have worked.
    Answering the riddle in Old Nick turns the lights on in the room south of the Sub-basement, FWIW.

    • 1. Tried 911 in morse on the pads because of the poster, and well…fire. Nothing. Shapes must play into it somehow.

      2. I got the rest of the answers for the ‘devil’ rooms.
      Gur pbeerpg erfcbafr va bar ebbz vf gur nafjre gb gur dhrfgvba va gur cerivbhf. Fb mreb vf gur nafjre gb gur ulqebtra dhrfgvba va Cersnpr. Artngvir bar sbe gur fdhner ebbg bs v.

      Sataniacha riddle
      ‘Gur ahzore orsber gur ghea ba gur evire’ vf guerr sebz Grknf Ubyq’rz.

      Goat Stall
      ‘Bar sebz gur qrivy yrff gur qvfpvcyrf?’ vf artngvir fvk, bar qvtvg bs ahzore bs gur ornfg zvahf gjryir qvfpvcyrf.

      The Old One
      ‘Qvtvgny Onfr’ frrzf boivbhf gjb, ohg gbbx zr n ovg bar mreb vf ovanel sbe gjb

      ‘Fbbg jvgu gur rxnobeba erzbirq?’ Pneoba ngbzvp ahzore rvtug zvahf Fpnaqvhz (gjragl-bar) vf artngvir svsgrra

      But no obvious way forward from here. Hollow floor description is the same as the Entrance Hall but no result from jumping.

  9. Pingback: Ferret: You Have Failed to Register With the Department for an Excessive Period | Renga in Blue

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