Archive for December 2022

Ferret: Fire and Water   43 comments

(All prior posts on Ferret here.)

Oddly enough, we’ve started to close in on a finish for Phases 9-15. As of the events mentioned in this post:

9: probably complete

10: probably complete

11: more than half complete

12: mostly complete (still haven’t dealt with the cyborg, but it might be optional)

13: probably complete

14: probably complete

15: ???

16: still haven’t gotten anywhere yet

For the small glimpse players had of 17 (Guru) it seems to be more of a meta-section as opposed to a region to explore, and there probably is a separate “endgame” after. Still not sure on a finish time; I’d really like to at least wrap up the 9-15 region by the end of the year but I don’t think we’re quite going to make it. (Also, 16, where we are currently blocked by a ticket slot, might have some new information which requires a revisit to a past phase.)

From a 1953 booklet on Operation Doorstep, making a simulated town to test the effects of a nuclear blast.

To recap from two posts ago, we had left off on what appeared to be an Oscar Wilde puzzle where you were given the initial letters of a quote and had to type what the quote was, with all the spaces removed.

type amancanbehappywithanywomanaslongashedoesnotloveher
type alwaysforgiveyourenemiesnothingannoysthemsomuch
type americahadoftenbeendiscoveredbeforecolumbusbutithadalwaysbeenhushedup
type anyonewholiveswithintheirmeanssuffersfromalackofimagination
type argumentsaretobeavoidedtheyarealwaysvulgarandoftenconvincing
type biographylendstodeathanewterror
type consistencyisthelastrefugeoftheunimaginative
type everyportraitthatispaintedwithfeelingisaportraitoftheartistnotofthesitter
type experienceisthenameeveryonegivestotheirmistakes
type fashionisaformofuglinesssointolerablethatwehavetoalteriteverysixmonths
type geniusisbornnotpaid
type iamnotyoungenoughtoknoweverything
type ithinkthatgodincreatingmansomewhatoverestimatedhisability
type ifyouwanttotellpeoplethetruthmakethemlaughotherwisetheyllkillyou
type illusionisthefirstofallpleasures
type itisaverysadthingthatnowadaysthereissolittleuselessinformation
type itisalwaysasillythingtogiveadvicebuttogivegoodadviceisfatal
type moralitylikeartmeansdrawingalinesomeplace
type oneshouldalwaysplayfairlywhenonehasthewinningcards
type patriotismisthevirtueofthevicious

Curiously, at least two of them are misattributed Wilde quotes; “illusion is the first of all pleasures” is from Voltaire, for instance. “Genius is born, not paid” also is misattributed. Despite that, both are commonly attributed enough to Wilde that the difficulty was in finding the rarer quotes (like Sha1tan spotting “Biography lends to death a new terror”) as K managed to plow through a number of them but collecting some Wilde texts and using a regex tool.

The puzzle resulted in giving us a scroll, mentioned in my “One Puzzle” last post.

As noticed by Andrew Plotkin, you can word-for-word change #2 into Radio Detection and Ranging, that is, RADAR.

This was enough for others to pile on and solve the puzzle. All the acronyms turn out to be military ones:

PATRIOT (Phased Array Tracking to Intercept of Target)
RADAR (Radio Detection and Ranging)
AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System)
NAAFI (Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes)
SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe)

I’ll refer back to how these get used later, as the direction of solving actually went from Phase 9 (done?) to Phase 10 and the fire in the theater.

The problem was that downstairs in the theater is dark, and turning on the lights requires flicking a switch which also starts a fire.

-> turn switch
Click.
There is a not inconsiderable explosion as the ancient workings of the brass switch generate a miniscule arc of electricity which, combined with the methane gas, causes a conflaguration that knocks you bodily down the stairs.
Rehearsal Room
You are in a large circular area with a low roof. There is a stairway leading up from the room. In the middle of the space is a podium mounted upon which are four pads. The pads are designed in the shapes square, triangular, oval and round.
Exits: -S– ——– U-

There’s a zinc key nearby as well as a PVC vessel that explodes when you shake it and wait, but neither was a help for solving the puzzle. The mystery of the pads had the triangle give a long beep, and all other buttons give short beeps followed by long beeps.

Some major lateral leaps made by Voltgloss and The Larch led to the thought that the buttons are differentiated by number of sides; we can say the circle is 1 side, the oval is 2 sides (kind of?), the triangle is 3 sides and the square is 4. So there’s something to differentiate them.

Then if we think of it in a sort of binary system (where 1s, 2s, 4s, 8s, 16s, etc. make up numbers) then the 1, 2, and 4 buttons are for typing the numbers, and the 3 is for entering them in. We were needing to form the number 119 (Dial 911, “a retrospective”, from the poster in phase 9); for the “1” digits just pressing the circle sufficed, and and to input a “9” we needed to do 2 + 1 + 2 + 4 to get a sum of 9.

-> press round;press triangle
Pressed. The pad emits a short beep.
Pressed. The pad emits a long beep.
-> press round;press triangle
Pressed. The pad emits a short beep.
Pressed. The pad emits a long beep.
-> press oval;press round;press oval;press square;press triangle
Pressed. The pad emits a short beep.
Pressed. The pad emits a short beep.
Pressed. The pad emits a short beep.
Pressed. The pad emits a short beep.
Pressed. The pad emits a long beep.
The podium gently levitates as a hidden trapdoor opens above you. The base of the podium stops moving once it is flush with the stage which is currently participating in a significant conflagration.
Well, that’s saved the crematorium a job.

This apparently resembles the old Data General Nova in form, so I’ll let the Ferret authors themselves give some more detail:

The pads are enumerated according to the number of sides.

Short beep = Add.

You can’t enter the same number twice in a row as this resets to 0 (just to make the puzzle interesting and stop repeat, repeat, repeat).

Triangular pad emits long beep so not part of the sequence.

There are such things as Triangular Numbers (0, 1, 3, 6, 10…) so there was scope for trial and error by experimenting with different values.

The Triangular Pad is Shift Right, effectively Multiple by 10 (Long Beep = Long Add, i.e., multiply).

PRESS ROUND PAD: 1
PRESS TRIANGULAR PAD: 10
PRESS ROUND PAD: 11
PRESS TRIANGULAR PAD: 110
PRESS SQUARE PAD: 114
PRESS ROUND PAD: 115
PRESS SQUARE PAD: 119
PRESS TRIANGULAR PAD: Enter

It will be interesting to see if you think this is the hardest puzzle in the game?

I’m not sure about “hardest” (that’s difficult to measure) but I will say it is the only puzzle that seems to be a fourth-order one. You need to realize:

1. the sides on the buttons are what matters (and oval counts as 2)
2. the triangle lets you “input” numbers
3. the numbers are being added
4. the sequence needed is 119

None of these have any feedback if you are on the correct trail! So essentially, four puzzles need to be solved all in combination with only the hope that it might work.

So no, I wasn’t a fan of the puzzle design, although the bit after was neat: how do you survive the fire? Notice pushing the buttons does not bring you back up to the green room (where the fire was) but into the center of the stage (where the fire has spread after starting). So really, the puzzle is: how do you keep the fire from spreading? Fortunately, due to being stuck on the buttons for long and suspecting some other gimmick, I already knew about the oddly-placed doors on the map that could be closed, which I have marked in orange below.

Closing both doors before activating the switch gives you a route to walk out of the theater before it collapses in dramatic fashion. I’ve already gone on the record as “preparation puzzles” being highly satisfying, and the case here was not an exception.

The explosive and the key turned out to both be immediately helpful in Phase 11. I was able to hop onto a ferry over to Treasure Island, where a new location awaited.

Alright Corral
A road running from north to south with steep rockfaces on both sides of the road which is blocked by a mass of fallen rock possibly from a mountainous outcrop overlooking the road. In front of the rockfall is a giant slab of rock with an irregular crack running from top to bottom.
Exits: -S– ——– —
-> shake vessel
Whatever internal partitions that were keeping the vessel’s contents separate appear to have been demolished by your violent behaviour.
The vessel appears to be ticking now.
-> put vessel in crack
Done.
-> s
Treasure Island
-> wait 2
Time passes (yawns).
There is a small explosion nearby.
-> n
Alright Corral
A road running from north to south with steep rockfaces on both sides of the road which is blocked by a mass of fallen rock possibly from a mountainous outcrop overlooking the road. To the north, apparently blown out of the mass of the rockfall, is an entrance to a cave.
Exits: NS– ——– —
-> n
Cave of Despair
You are in a small rock cave formed by an explosion within a rockfall. There is a brightly lit exit to the south. Set into the road is a manhole cover.
Exits: -S– ——– —

The cover is locked but the zinc key works on it, giving what appears to be a one-way trip down.

Graveyard
You are in a small room with concrete walls that appear immensely strong as rusty reinforcing bars are visible in various places. The room is gloomily illuminated by a dim light entering though a hole in the roof. The east wall of the room is formed from a mound of rubble.
There is an emblem on one wall.
Partially buried in the floor is a juvenile’s skeleton.
There is a rubber ball here
There is a rigid pvc hoop here
There is a birch cane here
There is a weathered satchel here.

This appears to be another “information trip” where the whole point is to gather knowledge but otherwise the only way to escape is to restore to a previous game; yet another doomed quantum echo. The emblem and answer sheet I gave last time; the answer sheet never got solved so I’ll give it again:

The emblem technically gave a hint (mentioning NORAD) for the scroll with military acronyms, but surely that’s not the whole point of the section? (I’m not even sure if Andrew was referring to this when he made his breakthrough; it doesn’t seem necessary given the clues on the scroll already present.)

Back to the scroll’s solution: we knew (from explicit hint of the authors) that the scroll served to give a hint for a mobile phone hooked up to some explosives.

Asylum from Enmity
A dank crepuscular room made from reinforced concrete as if to survive a blast overhead. There is some form of opening in the ceiling apparantly to permit the ingress of light and ventilation. Against one wall is a safe surmounted by a resin slab.
Exits: —W ——– —
The resin slab contains:
a mobile phone
some Semtex explosive
-> type 219934875
Typed.
The communicator emits a beep followed by a ring tone. After 2 rings the line clears and you hear a voice that says “Text Sequence commenced”.

We now had the list of acronyms to follow up, but just trying to “type” the words doesn’t work; they need to be numbers. I (and Voltgloss, in the comments) thought of old phones and how they will “cycle” to do texting (that is, a number says ABC, so you press it twice to get a B and three times to get a C) and tried translating the five acronyms into numbers:

dial 7287774446668
dial 777232777
dial 2922227777
dial 6622333444
dial 7777442733

This works, if you’re next to the explosive, but that kills you. It also kills you if you are a few steps away, and I was stumped trying to survive.

Voltgloss mysteriously got through by standing far enough away, but I kept getting a busy signal.

What we eventually discovered (after some back and forth) is that when the message about “you have failed to register with The Department” the communicator is charged enough to send messages, but if you wait an extra turn, the communicator gives off two more beeps and is now “fully charged”. This gives it slightly more range, which is sufficient to dial and live.

There is an explosion nearby that causes the ground to rumble and dust to rise as a blast-wave hits the air in the immediate vicinity. Thankfully you are far enough away to avoid any concussion.

Going back to the safe reveals we have found…

Asylum from Enmity
A dank crepuscular room made from reinforced concrete as if to survive a blast overhead. There is some form of opening in the ceiling apparently to permit the ingress of light and ventilation. Against one wall are the remnants of a safe, the top has been sheared off leaving a ragged edge. The room appears distressed, as if it has suffered a recent explosion.
The rusty safe contains:
an asbestos bag
-> open bag
Opening the asbestos bag reveals:
a diving suit

…a third diving suit! We knew the one in the sewers was a red herring, the one under the trapdoor was probably a red herring, and here we have one we can finally access. It feels like the end of a long shaggy dog joke. (There was some ultimate use in seeing them earlier — K somehow discovered the presence of “pockets” while noodling with the suit. There is no mention in the description.)

Moving on, the issue with the suit it is too big to move around in unless underwater. So normally we’d go to the end of the pier and fall in the water; DIVE does exactly that but seems to be a bug; the idea being we can’t move enough at all.

Pier
The pier overlooks a wonderfully picturesque lake. In the middle of the lake is an island. The pier is made from ancient cedar planks. There is a rocky path to the south.
-> DIVE
Weeeeeeeee … splash! Oh, this is fun, splishy, splashy, splishy, splashy. Uh oh! There appears to be some undercurrent here. It is dragging you beneath the surface. You are beginning to fill with water.
You seem to be all drowned init.

We did know that the entry point surely had to be the pier, because entering the room gives 50 points! One of the general observations we’ve made is that point-increase usually indicates a hint about an important room. For example, the room near the gate in phase 9 increases points, yet is apparently a dead end; that’s supposed to mean you can bust through.

It turns out the pier’s description contains a very small clue “The pier is made from ancient cedar planks.” The ancient is supposed to hint they can break. Unlike a similar situation in the phase with the number riddles, jumping doesn’t work. What does help is crating over a bunch of heavy items (I used the rug that was covering the trapdoor in phase 9, plus the “security casket” from back in phase 8 that had the card and was now empty) which causes it to break.

-> n
Pier
The pier overlooks a wonderfully picturesque lake. In the middle of the lake is an island. The pier is made from ancient cedar planks. There is a rocky path to the south.
Exits: -S– ——– —
There are some interesting objects here:
a colourful rug
a security casket
The pier emits an ominous creaking sound.
-> wear suit
Dropped.
Done.
The pier emits an ominous creaking sound accompanied by a worrying snapping sound.
-> wait
Time passes (yawn).
The pier emits an ominous creaking sound accompanied by a worrying snapping sound followed by a terrifying splintering sound as the ancient timbers of the pier give way. You feel briefly weightless before plummeting into the icy depths. Good job you took your preparation seriously as the diving suit appears to be performing its function, albeit not too well as the suit starts to fill with water.
In a Lake
You are at the bottom of a lake. The water is very murky here.
Exits: NSEW NENWSESW —

Fortunately it doesn’t take too much searching to find there is an “airlock” nearby.

Airlock
You are in a very small room that is full of water. Set in the middle of the floor is a curved pipe surmounted by a big rusty wheel. There is a steel door in the south wall and an armoured door to the north.
Exits: -S– ——– —
The diving suit continues to fill with water.
-> turn wheel
It won’t budge.
The diving suit continues to fill with water.

Part of the issue is parser-related; CLOSE DOOR, which you think might logically apply to the open door (the one to the south, the steel door, which we had to open to enter the airlock) actually gets applied by default to the armoured door, the one to the north that is already closed. You need to CLOSE STEEL DOOR specifically. (I mention this because I surely won’t be the only person passing through who makes the same mistake.)

The other issue is the wheel being stuck. We had a “spanner” from an earlier phase which seems to fit the bill, but how to get it underwater? (Anything on the pier when it breaks disappears.) I mentioned already the discovery of mysterious pockets. What you can do is put the spanner in the pocket, cause the pier-breaking sequence, and when you get in the airlock and close the steel door, drop the suit; this gives you exactly one turn to do one more action.

-> close steel door
Closed.
The diving suit continues to fill with water.
-> drop suit
Umm, it’s a bit of a struggle with all this water around but I think I can just about…. Oh no, I haven’t. Oh, I have. Silly me. What came over me. A lot of water apparently.
-> turn wheel with spanner
Taken.
Eek, eek, squeak, squeak and other onomatopoeias. The wheel requires a tremendous effort to release it from years of disuse, but once freed the water is rapidly emptied leaving you in a small room.

Phew! This opens yet another brand-new area I haven’t experimented enough with, containing a dam which begs to be blown up with the explosive and an inflatable boat seemingly taken straight out of Zork.

Control Centre
This is a large area that has been thoroughly ransacked. Only a few items of the original equipment remain, possibly because they appear to be immovable or of little value. Attached to one wall are a green button and a red button together with an electrical contact breaker. Near to the green button is a tiny slot. To the right of the slot, embedded in the wall, is a copper spigot. Set in the middle of the floor is a curved pipe surmounted by a big rusty wheel. There are tunnels leaving the area to north and south.
Exits: NS– ——– —
-> n
Maintenance Tunnel
This tunnel-shaped area is quite claustrophobic with little room left for your passage due to many pipes running the length of the room.
Exits: NS-W ——– —
-> w
Storeroom
A featureless undecorated chamber ground out of rock.
Exits: –E- ——– —
There is an inflatable dinghy here
There is a pvc bin here

My suspicion is we can now go across the lake with the boat and explore, but I haven’t done enough yet in this section to give a full report, so we’ll save that for next time.

Two of the mannequins used in Operation Doorstep, hiding behind a ladder.

Posted December 28, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Ferret: One Puzzle   19 comments

(All prior posts on the super-long adventure game Ferret are here, in chronological order.)

Rather than narrating absolutely everything from last time, I wanted to just focus on a single puzzle we’ve gotten up to, since this is the sort of thing random visitors (including you, the one reading this right now) might be able to help solve. I will loop around and describe the dramatic collapsing theater escape next time.

We’ve found, after some fussing with a puzzle involving Oscar Wilde quotes, this scroll:

The bottom part (astutuely solved by Matt W.) is a number written in calculator digits, but you have to look at the negative space. That is, look at the grey on the image below:

The number lets us make a phone call but then we are asked to text a “sequence”.

-> type 219934875
Typed.
The communicator emits a beep followed by a ring tone. After 2 rings the line clears and you hear a voice that says “Text Sequence commenced”.
-> type Donne
Typed.
The communicator emits a beep followed by a series of tones. After a short pause you hear a voice that says “Sequence failure”.

The first five questions seem to be relevant for the next discovery, a “graveyard” with an emblem…

The emblem is circular with a crest illuminated with a large bird, possibly an eagle. There is some wording around the crest which is illegible due to age. Beneath the crest is written “Project Casper. ICBM Silo 6”.

…and a satchel with an “answer sheet”.

Our assumption (which might be false) is that the two papers go together, and the solutions to the clues in the first set (cryptic crossword clues? something else?) fit into the second set of clues. I will just add that the list of famous English poets whose last name is composed of five letters is not terribly long. Of very recognizable ones I just get

Blake, Byron, Donne, Eliot, Keats, Hardy

and maybe Wilde or Yeats (who are Irish but someone might confuse for British) could count. (Eliot was born in the United States but moved and became a British citizen.) For more obscure poets there’s

Brock, Clare, Carew, Guest, Green, Jones, Noyes, Nixon, Prior, Padel, Raine, Smith, Smart, Watts, Wyatt

although I suspect the missing poet is off the first list.

As I hinted at earlier, solving here is open to everyone, and for this post (if it is about this specific puzzle) let’s avoid making comments in ROT13 encryption to make it easier for anyone to join in.

Posted December 24, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Puzzles, Video Games

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Fun House (Ramella, 1982)   4 comments

Every once in a while, just for fun, I dig amongst my pile of “unsorted” games; no year, probably no author, possibly not even a title. Today’s game is just listed as “Adventure” on the TRS-80 site willus.com, which has just the sort of genericism I was looking for.

Adventure (191)   1,3   BAS   19xx   Author Unknown

What also caught my eye is the extraordinarily tiny file size of 2353 bytes; even the absolutely minimalist VIC-20 games we’ve seen had more to work with. Surprisingly enough, the game was playable, and while simplistic, had some unique elements and atmosphere. With a little more research I managed to figure out not only who the author is, but where and when it was published, and why the game is so small.

80 Micro, September 1982.

In 1982, Richard Ramella wrote the book Computer Carnival, with sixty very small computer programs intended for children. Quoting a later volume of Microcomputer Magazine:

Children will find mazes, word games, graphics, puzzles, and quizzes.

I haven’t figured out a publication month, so I’m unclear if it started before or after, but in September 1982 Richard Ramella started a column with 80 Micro with a similar aesthetic. Very friendly, small code, meant to be complete in one or two portions of a page; not long to type, and easy to study. The “study” part is somewhat incidental, as Ramella stated:

Fun House is not meant to teach programming, though the simple methods can be good material for the beginner.

I think a similar thread can be drawn with Andrew Colin’s game Dungeon which was part of a VIC-20 tutorial; putting out something that invites the user to tweak the code on their own, without any hand-holding.

The programs (not always games, but at least “fun” in some way) are short enough that the column includes multiple programs, like Pachinko, Motor Mouth, Hot Dog, and today’s game, Fun House. All the games are short; not only does the reduced length make them easier to type in, but it gives room for expansion. Fun House involves escaping a dark maze, and if the player is displeased with the size of the maze, they can easily add more material without breaking the memory limit of their TRS-80.

With such a small file size no parser is possible — but if this is intended for kids to learn programming, this seems an appropriate choice. The only actions are movement directions, and at the exit, typing in a code (more on that in a moment). You’re walking “blind” without described exits but it is appropriate here, as the player is just getting IMPRESSIONS if each room while walking through the dark; one room laughter, another with a cold hand.

This Fun House is a building about 80 by 40 feet. I won’t be exact act because you travel through in complete darkness. You will know how many feet you’ve traveled, and you will know your location only by what you hear, smell or touch in that location.

If you walk in a direction that doesn’t work the game will explain why.

Adventure games almost never give exact positions, but here, it tells you number of steps taken as you move around.

A little way in there’s a choice like Nightmare Park, but less deadly: if you pick the wrong door you just get sent back to the entrance.

Halfway through the maze there’s a room where you get a code you are supposed to memorize; just a little later the game needs you to type in the memorized code to exit.

So: navigate a small maze, pick the correct one out of three doors, briefly remember a three-character code. This is decidedly not a complex game, but that isn’t the purpose. And despite that, the game has three distinct novelties. First is the use-of-other-senses concept; typically in an adventure of this era (…really, any era?…) darkness means a complete lack of navigational means; other senses are not available. Here, scents and sounds make up the room descriptions.

110 DATA GIGGLING,SPIDER WEBS, AROMA OF PERFUME
120 DATA SOMEONE CRYING ABOUT BEING LOST,SILKEN CURTAIN
130 DATA MANIACAL LAUGHTER,SMELL OF POPCORN, HOLLOW KNOCK
140 DATA A COLD HAND ON YOUR NECK,WHISTLING IN THE DARK

Second, as already mentioned, is the positional idea; the game is not oriented around a graph-theory construct. Let me show my map and the author’s map (printed in the next issue of Micro 80) to show what I mean:

The author was thinking in terms of coordinate positions, so all step counts are measured accurately; when I first made my map I had “overlap” because I wasn’t extending the longer passages in terms of step count. (As sort of a combination of the two ideas, it is also reasonable that movements would not be all the same length, since the player keeps walking until they hit the next stimuli.)

Novelty three (or perhaps two-and-a-half) is that the room descriptions are randomized at the start. You always start at an entrance followed by “Whistling in the Dark”, but the placement of the smell of popcorn, someone crying about being lost, etc. are placed differently each game. This isn’t the full adventure-roguelike experience (like with Madness and the Minotaur and Lugi) but it is interesting to see even in an absolutely minimal context the author decided to add randomization.

The author kept his column until 1984 (when 80 Micro became less games-oriented). He eventually switched to the Amiga, editing the diskmag JumpDisk from 1986 all the way to 1993.

We will see him again at least once, as he wrote the graphical adventure Lurkley Manor in 1985. In the meantime, I appreciated the chance to rescue another game off the 19xx bin; even these odd experiments that would otherwise be passed over can be fascinating when studied more carefully.

Posted December 21, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Ferret: A Level Only Just Below Living   57 comments

Just when I think this game has reached maximum chutzpah, it ups the ante again.

(Prior posts on Ferret here.)

Close-up of a dusty Data General Dasher keyboard, via Reddit.

Perhaps moreso than any previous traditional adventure game I’ve played, the Phases 9-16 section of Ferret has felt like a Puzzle Hunt of the same nature as Masquerade or Alkemstone; lots of clues spread out where they have to be fit into a larger structure but without much guidance, and a large enough “landscape” (given the number of locations available) that the ability to “go anywhere” in a real-life Puzzle Hunt is mirrored here.

This carries the same unfortunate issue many Puzzle Hunts share which is combinatorial explosion. There are no so many clues and cryptic words and numbers that it is non-obvious what might match with what. If there is a clear surface similarity (like the giant red herring ADFGVX code) then the pieces can easily fit together, but otherwise there needs to be a second-order leap which isn’t highly motivated or obvious, making what might be a simple puzzle into something much harder. The best example of this is the crypto-crossword having some “starter clues” in a later phase, but it took a lateral leap of faith to try to apply one to the other. In retrospect the connection seems obvious, and maybe from the author’s standpoint it is, but from the player’s perspective there is no guarantee an attempt at connection will be fruitless. My discussion of second-order puzzles here is highly relevant, as are my thoughts about how adventure game puzzles typically involve abductive reasoning, yet authors don’t often account for this:

…with deduction, we have fully known rules and circumstances that when together force some kind of conclusion. With abduction, we have circumstances where we have to infer the chain of events, but it’s a probabilistic guess.

Abduction can be highly satisfying when it works, but the lack of guarantee of it working can cause a fair amount of strain in adventure game if there’s a long route between forming a guess and testing it.

Let me first get into a satsifying use of abduction. One room I mentioned in passing last time was a Bibliotheque with no books.

This room is very large and softly lit. The walls are covered with shelves all of which have been deprived of their contents. One bookcase remains, apparantly still resplendent with books. There is a spiral staircase in the middle of the room that leads up.

The bookcase can be pushed, which suggests a new area.

The bookcase revolves around a central vertical axis carrying you with it. After one revolution the bookcase grinds to a stop returning you to your original position. During your journey you perceived a brightly lit tunnel, possibly carved from rock, leading away from you.

However, the bookcase’s full revolution is an issue; it seems like it would be helpful to jam something, but none of the items I was trying were helpful. The leap here is to realize that this is similar to a scene way back at the Deslination Plant which involved riding a canoe. If you’re holding a long pole (which is a pretty natural thing to do at this puzzle, I assumed it was going to be used for paddling) it gets jammed up all on its own:

As you surge onward down the canal the banks narrow to a width where the pole wedges itself between the banks. As you were holding it at the time you are physically lifted out of the canoe which charges off down the canal.
The flow of the canal reduces to a mere trickle and then to nothing.
Swinging on a Pole
You are swinging on a pole above a dry area of canal bed. It’s very cold here.

This is what we want to happen. So, we’ve had precedent that long objects will automatically jam into things if carried, and we need to jam something. This suggests a “javelin” that has been sitting out the open would be useful to be holding (it is heavy enough it is not likely it would be in the player’s inventory accidentally).

The bookcase revolves around a central vertical axis carrying you with it. The javelin you are carrying is forcibly jammed between the bookcase and the wall, unceremoniously throwing you forwards.
Adit
You are in a brightly-lit tunnel cut through rock.

There isn’t enough data to call this induction; this was still clearly a guess based on the information that could have failed. If the javelin had failed, though, it isn’t too long a side-trip to pick it up, and more solving attempts could have easily been made after.

On the other hand, there is the puzzle I solved which still involved picking up on a subtle clue, yet required so much work to even test that it brought annoyance rather than satisfaction. Let me go back to the ghost house:

Study
A small room with a writing desk, sideboard and chaise longue. There is a marble fireplace in the east wall.
There is a security capsule here
-> examine capsule
The capsule appears very robust, possible because it is designed to be a secure item. It is cylindrical in form. Embossed along one side is the legend: “Property of FTS (Subway) Systems Ltd. If found, deposit in any mailbox with your name and address and a reward will be payable. Thank you.”
-> climb chimney
Initally the chimney is wide enough to allow ingress but eventually, just as you expect to become stuck, you hit daylight. Oh joy. As you leave the chimney you feel wonderfully light-headed, oops, oh no, its falling, falling, falling, not light-headedness. You slide down the roof of the cottage and land on the ground with a sickening thud.
Your health has become constrained to a level only just below living.

Oops, I didn’t mean the last part (as discovered by K, a reverse-Santa in the holiday spirit)! I meant just the security capsule. Usually, when typing UNLOCK ITEM WITH KEY on a locked item, the game states:

“Shan’t” returned Algy, teasingly.

and if unlocking is to occur, it is to be by means other than a key. However, in the case of the capsule, I got the message

I don’t think that will work somehow.

suggesting that a key does really work here.

I need to rewind a bit to right after landing the helicopter and entering Phase 8. I had a pile of items that fit in the helicopter…

an orange pin
an indigo pin
a white pin
a black pin
a brown pin
a shining silver disc
a silver key
a gold key
a pretty envelope
a short letter

…but I now needed to go down a hole, and not all the items would fit, so I had to prune down further. I found I could take all the pins + one and only one key. Since I had used the silver key already to drive a subway car, I took the gold key, as it had not been used yet.

In any normal game, this would be sound logic. You’ve got an item unused in any puzzle, that’s the one that should be moved forward. Ferret is not a normal game. You need to take the silver key even though it has already been used; the gold key is a red herring.

I want to emphasize the silver key was dumped all the way back at the start of phase 8. I had to play the entirety of phase 8 again to get here, with no confidence this would even work:

-> unlock capsule
Done.
-> open capsule
Opening the security capsule reveals:
a teleport bracelet
-> examine bracelet
The bracelet is circular and quite thick. It is large enough to slip on quite easily. Around the outer edge of the bracelet are some strange hieroglyphs.

I have yet to get the bracelet to activate, but I suspect it only occurs somewhere special. In the meantime, back to that passage that I jammed with a javelin:

New locations are in orange. Rather straightforwardly I found a spanner, some tweezers, and yet another clue to toss onto the pile:

Crypt
You are in a dimy-lit room carved into the rock.
Along one wall are a number of stone tombs, opposite is a solitary marble tomb with an rococo inscription.
Exits: –E- ——– —
-> read inscription
Here lies the most distinguished and exulted family of Jocasta.
Theirs was the misfortune to be the most gifted yet the least loved.
They gave their lives for their country, every last one.
Their legacy is the freedom we all enjoy in a beautiful land.
If only you had one hundreth of their dignity and honour.

The tweezers let you get the “rectangle of mica” unstuck from the trapdoor (PULL RECTANGLE WITH TWEEZERS) so you can open it and go in and find it closes behind you and you are stuck forever. Terrific! Also, there’s yet another diving suit (like in the red-herring sewers) to rub salt into the wound.

Weee, oh, woe is you. The trapdoor has slammed shut behind you.
Chambre Forte
Obviously designed for sanctuary this hideaway was probably once stocked with provisions. All, of course, are long gone, leaving a squalid little dingey bolthole.
There is a diving suit here

I did make one more piece of progress — I mentioned another “password computer” with a strange message. What I hadn’t tried before was the HINT command. Every time the game has had a “riddle sequence” the HINT command has worked.

-> push rocker
Click.
There is a whispering of fans and a hum of mains flow.
After a brief delay you hear a computer generated voice intone:
AMCBHWAWALAHDNLH
-> hint
An aphorism is a clever, usually short, saying that is used as an expression or metaphor for a generally recognised truth. They were much liked by Oscar Wilde (to quote Python: “his majesty is a stream of bat’s piss”).

So the letters AMCBHWAWALAHDNLH spell a phrase. This comes from The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. You have to jam the phrase together all as one word.

-> type amancanbehappywithanywomanaslongashedoesnotloveher
Typed.
After a brief delay you hear a computer generated voice intone:
AFYENATSM

This one’s easier to find: “Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.” Also Wilde.

-> type alwaysforgiveyourenemiesnothingannoysthemsomuch
Typed.
After a brief delay you hear a computer generated voice intone:
AHOBDBCBIHABHU

This last clue I have no idea. I scoured common Wilde quotes thoroughly, but it could be a completely random phrase from any of Wilde’s works. (The HINT hasn’t changed, so I think it is still Wilde; this would be untenably hard otherwise. Not like the authors wouldn’t be willing to go that far!)

Posted December 20, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

Tagged with

Ferret: No Real Conception of Barriers As You or I Might   58 comments

(Prior posts on Ferret here.)

From the British “Operation Hurricane” atomic bomb test, October 1952.

I managed to wheedle out a few more hints from the hive-mind collection of Ferret authors; including the one from last time I still haven’t been able to utilize yet, they are

1. Regarding the exploding mobile phone:
Have you found a scroll by The Honourable Society of the Party for Freedom from Persecution?
Have you found a communicator?

2. You can lead an automaton to water…
You got very close before. Once you have taken the automaton to the gate you have to do something.

3. We can make a start on one of the harder puzzles in the game:
The pads in the theatre – have you found anything that may relate to a theatrical production given that the theatre might be on fire?

4. You found the Pier at the lake – notice anything about it?

Number 2 is the one we’ve made progress on, but brief discussions on the other three first:

1. Still not sure what scroll is being referred to here; last time I guessed the ticker tape…

-> empty tin
Done.
-> break cake
The sponge crumbles to dust revealing a strip of ticker tape.
-> read tape
CMRD SMLNSK + PRCD STNDRD DRPFF PNT + NJY CHCLT BR + DSRPT CPTLST PGDG PWR SPPLY + NRCH TH LDRS T FR TH PPL + STOP

…which as John Bruce observes, has + signs, suggesting addition, but I still haven’t gotten anything productive out of this. It is possible there is still a missing clue. The only other sincere clue might be that when getting scanned upon activating the communicator with the charger back in phase 10:

Darkins, you have failed to register with The Department for an excessive period. According to standard protocol you must text the first 8 characters of your Security Pass Number to 80085 immediately, whereupon you will be notified regarding your court hearing.

This suggests maybe the system uses five-digit numbers, but that’s very tentative. After the communicator activates you can type an unlimited number of times to test out designations, but I’ve always got a error signal.

3. The theater in question is one where if you pull a switch, you get a light going, but you also get blasted downstairs and blocked by a fire.

Click.
There is a not inconsiderable explosion as the ancient workings of the brass switch generate a miniscule arc of electricity which, combined with the methane gas, causes a conflaguration that knocks you bodily down the stairs.
Rehearsal Room
You are in a large circular area with a low roof. There is a stairway leading up from the room. In the middle of the space is a podium mounted upon which are four pads. The pads are designed in the shapes square, triangular, oval and round.

The triangular button consistently causes long beeps. The other three cause a short beep, and if pressed again, a long beep (but only if the same button is pressed twice in a row). This allows for morse-code type messages, although there are multiple ways of causing the short and long beeps.

This clue here suggests this particular poster is relevant:

I have now tried every version of 9-1-1, where 9 is long-long-long-long-short and 1 is short-long-long-long-long, but with no success.

One extra wrinkle to the whole proceedings is that the building eventually collapses.

There is a catastrophic crashing of blazing timbers as the theatre collapses. You are reduced to dust in the ensuing fireball.

However, if you duck into a nearby closet, the collapsing timer stops entirely. I highly suspect this is just a bug, but I wanted to mention it anyway. If we assume the timer limits our typing, the full text D-I-A-L-9-1-1 isn’t possible to enter, although it is possible to barely make it to N-I-N-E-O-N-E-O-N-E spelled out as letters.

I get the intuition we are on the right track but missing a small thing to make the result work.

4. I have noticed nothing at all special about the pier, but since I skimmed by it last time, let me excerpt the process of getting a ferry.

Viewing Deck
The path runs from a ravine to the southeast into a wide area of rock overhanging a beautiful lake to the north. The rock overhang forms a pier, which is fenced on both sides. At the end of the fence on the east side is a steel post, attached to which is an iron chain which disappears into a mass of swirling fog which hangs over the lake. Also attached to the steel post is a nautical bell.
Exits: N— —-SE– —
-> ring bell
Clang, clung, clang. It seems to be a little out of tune.
-> wait;wait;wait;wait;wait;wait
Time passes (yawn).
Time passes (yawn).
Time passes (yawn).
Time passes (yawn).
Time passes (yawn).
Time passes (yawn).
-> wait;wait;wait;wait;wait;wait
Time passes (yawn).
Time passes (yawn).
Time passes (yawn).
Time passes (yawn).
Time passes (yawn).
Time passes (yawn).
-> wait;wait;wait;wait;wait;wait
Time passes (yawn).
Time passes (yawn).
Time passes (yawn).
Time passes (yawn).
Time passes (yawn).
Time passes (yawn).
You can hear a strange clanking noise apparantly coming from the fog on the
lake.
-> l
Viewing Deck
The path runs from a ravine to the southeast into a wide area of rock overhanging a beautiful lake to the north. The rock overhang forms a pier, which is fenced on both sides. At the end of the fence on the east side is a steel post, attached to which is an iron chain which disappears into a mass of swirling fog which hangs over the lake. Also attached to the steel post is a nautical bell.
Exits: N— —-SE– —
A chain-powered ferry has hoved into view and neatly docked itself at the pier.

I included all those wait statements to emphasize just how much waiting is involved (and to explain why prior to getting a hint I bailed and went somewhere else before seeing the result). After landing:

Treasure Island
A wide area of rock overhanging a beautiful lake to the south. The rock overhang forms a pier, which is fenced on both sides. The north aspect of the pier continues as a road. At the end of the fence on the east side is a steel post, attached to which is an iron chain which disappears into a mass of swirling fog which hangs over the lake.
Docked next to the pier, to the south, is a ferry.
Exits: NS– ——– —
-> n
Alright Corral
A road running from north to south with steep rockfaces on both sides of the road which is blocked by a mass of fallen rock possibly from a mountainous outcrop overlooking the road. In front of the rockfall is a giant slab of rock with an irregular crack running from top to bottom.
Exits: -S– ——– —

Incidentally, despite the crack feeling like it could use some manner of explosive, it might not be the same explosive as the mobile phone. That’s in the same Phase as this lake scene; let me reproduce this image just as a reminder of the Phase order:

Back at the fire-theater (Phase 10) there’s a zinc key and a “sealed pvc vessel” downstairs, and if you shake the vessel and set it down it eventually explodes. While it could be related to the beeping puzzle it may be just that you need to survive the fire long enough to bring the vessel here.

All this lack of progress is counterbalanced by the “Once you have taken the automaton to the gate you have to do something” hint, referring back to Phase 9. Solving the puzzle opened a large new area which could almost have been a new Phase in itself, Phase 9b if you will.

Voltgloss managed to crack open the case more or less by fiddling until getting lucky, than reverse-solving what happened. This happened in the area with the automaton and the a very heavy “portable generator” which the automaton will follow when it is activated.

In the southwest corner of the area (where the map is a bit broken, that’s likely a bug) there is a bracelet.

The bracelet is rather chunky and ugly, not apparently designed for decoration nor adornment. Etched into the surface of the object is a caption: “Super Tag. 100% reliable, will not fail (excludes wear and tear, faults in manufacture, malfunction, act of bod, unexpected faults, misuse, unauthorised repair, high humidity, low temperature, frost, excessive heat, general use, authorised repair or any circumstance not foreseen or otherwise by the manufacturer. Terms and Conditions may be changed without owners consent, permission or notification. Changing the battery invalidates the warranty).”

The bracelet is the key for manipulating the automaton further. Sometimes it will try to pick up the generator and move around on its own; however, for some reason, it actively avoids the room the bracelet is in if it is moving independently (but it will still happily follow you into a room with the bracelet). There is no clue whatsoever to this. (I would expect maybe the bracelet to vibrate in the presence of the automaton, or something like that?) So if you go to the southeast corner of the map, which has a locked gate to the south, and lead the automaton there, and then seal off its exit by placing the bracelet to the north, rather than moving back and forth to the north and south in the two already-accessible rooms it will bust through the locked gate to the south and let you in the new area.

The automaton has liberated the generator and then decided to leave the area. Being an automaton it has no real conception of barriers as you or I might. Accordingly, it takes the one available route out and trundles serenely into the gate, bursting it open in the process. The automaton has left the scene.

I am frankly still baffled and I suspect something is broken in the code. But hey, progress!

Phase 9b starts with a “raised path”; not much to comment on about it, other than a “gated deadend”.

Raised Crossroads
A grassy pathway. The ground to the side of the pathway falls away rapidly and prevents access below.
Exits: NSEW ——– —
-> w
Gated Deadend
A grassy pathway. The ground to the side of the pathway falls away rapidly and prevents access below. To the west is a long high wall with an enormous wrought-iron gate set between two high stone columns. Atop one of the columns is a granite spheroid, the other column is vacant. Through the gate you can see another path heading towards the horizon in beautifully cultivated gardens which stretch as far as the eye can see.

It is tempting to think the same “automaton smash” trick works here, but my test came out negative. The automaton’s tendency is to move north/south, and additionally, the word “gate” isn’t even recognized by the parser at the gated deadend, suggesting the item doesn’t get used.

To the east is a cottage with a ghost.

The ghost starts to the room immediately to the north upon entrering, and seems to travel to one adjacent room if you move in any direction.

Hallway
A narrow connecting room.
Exits: NSEW ——– —
-> n
As you enter the room you are greeted by the incredible sight of a spectre in full frenzy. The ghost seems a triffle upset at your invasion of its privacy. The ghost aspect may be a little exagerated as your body is most manifestly invaded by an energy form you cannot comprehend.
Anyone got the marmalade, the toast is ready.

The big loophole is that it only is worrying about movement, and in at least one room you are allowed to attempt to move (even though it doesn’t work) causing the ghost to change rooms by one step. Fiddling with this allowed me to run and grab the two apparent items, a jade globe (probably a red herring but you never know with this game) and a security capsule, which is very interesting indeed.

Study
A small room with a writing desk, sideboard and chaise longue. There is a marble fireplace in the east wall.
Exits: N— ——– —
There is a security capsule here
-> examine capsule
The capsule appears very robust, possible because it is designed to be a secure item. It is cylindrical in form. Embossed along one side is the legend: “Property of FTS (Subway) Systems Ltd. If found, deposit in any mailbox with your name and address and a reward will be payable. Thank you.”

The southern portion is a little more elaborate, being manor with multiple floors.

Salon
This room is quite large. It appears to have been looted as all the contents of the room are absent. There is a spiral staircase in one corner of the room that leads down.
Exits: –EW ——– -D
-> d
Bibliotheque
This room is very large and softly lit. The walls are covered with shelves all of which have been deprived of their contents. One bookcase remains, apparantly still resplendent with books. There is a spiral staircase in the middle of the room that leads up.
Exits: —- ——– U-
-> read books
Although there is the appearance of books, in reality it is one of those illusions popular in Victorian England whereby the wall is painted in such a way as to mimic a bookcase full of books and thereby hide itself amongst the other bookcases in the library. Unfortunately, in this case, as all of the real books have been removed the false books stand out like a sore thumb.

One room might have another computer-where-you-type-riddle-answers sequence, like back in the office building. The problem being I can’t solve the first riddle, assuming it even is one.

Cabinet
A bare office. Running along the north wall is an old Pomme.
Exits: –E- ——– —
-> examine pomme
A standard edition Pomme consisting of an enormous cabinet running the full length of the room. The cabinet is surmounted by an industrial strength keyboard. On the front of the cabinet, below the keyboard, is a rocker switch.
-> push switch
Click.
There is a whispering of fans and a hum of mains flow.
After a brief delay you hear a computer generated voice intone:
AMCBHWAWALAHDNLH

One passage gets you stuck into a “Tres Tres Petite” chamber, whose only purpose for entering is to read a “scribble” (you can’t back out, but by now we’re seen plenty of circumstances where information is given in ways that can’t be part of the main save file.

-> read scribble
It appears that a builder from some distant time in the past (the language appears to be ancient estuarine) has left his calculations inscribed for posterity on the wall.

Wifdf = AX
Hiftf = BY
Lemff = 9782C310

This suggests a home for the “X” and “Y” graffiti moments earlier (Graham’s Number and Pi) although I’m unclear what the ramification is.

A “Bureau” has a table on a rug that can be moved to the side to reveal a trapdoor.

The trapdoor is somewhat ordinary and non-descript although the oak wood is quite beautiful. The trapdoor appears to be jammed by what looks like a tiny rectangle of mica.

(Yes, we have one of those — from solving the complicated crypto-crossword and getting the number sequence, we got a tan block where after trying to eat it we were granted a mica rectangle. This indicates a common pattern such that other rectangles are _very_ important or it indicates a common pattern where other rectangles are totally irrelevant red herrings.)

Finally, there’s a grab bag of other items in a side room, like a mirror, a transistor radio…

Although the box seems to be from an old-fashioned transistor radio it appears to have been modified to fulfill a different function. The top half of one side of the box features the original LED display, beneath which, etched into the surface of the box, is:
Model ZR186B
Prototype 7 (Multi-Terrain, All Weathers)
Get-u-there
Produced in association with
Phlegmatic Terrestrial Positioning Systems Ltd
All Rights Reserved.
All of the conventional radio controls have been removed and the box sealed. The surface coating of the box looks as if some form of water-proofing has been applied.

…a smudged pamphlet…

Report of the Vlandorf Expeditionary Force
Date: 27 November 1957

How long is it since we took a good look?
Could we ever find what we were looking for?
Once we analysed the text and found the missing “the”.
Luckily that led us to the location of the pylon.
Another thing that we should have thought of.
Unless we had made that expedition to Xepherous.
Xepherous gave us lots of clues as to when.
Eventually, though, we may just end up floating.

Your humble servant Obcequs, the Tharp of Tranydore.

…and an envelope with a “glossy voucher”.

A Jenny Talls Promotion

The Fashion Event of the year featuring:

Heady Grobuttucks

Noni Nonutts

Hugh Ampleforth

This voucher admits one only.

Non-transferable. Not for sale.

Validation Number: 55378008

(Ooh, a number! Toss it on the pile with all the other numbers.)

So in summary, this makes for concrete progress, but the kind of progress that provides more questions than answers.

Posted December 17, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

Tagged with

Ferret: Herring, Colour of Red   27 comments

(Prior posts on Ferret here.)

Data General Eclipse 32-bit, from Novas Are Forever.

Last time I had left off in phase 15, on a roof with a “Cradle of the Window Cleaners” which I could, if holding enough items, cause to move downwards.

The ancient, and probably malfunctioning, automatic equipment that controls the cradle grinds into action, transporting the cradle down the building.
Cradle of the Window Cleaners
You are in a window cleaner’s cradle. To the south is a large building, to all other points of the compass nought but a view of terrible devastation.

I inquired from help via the authors who indicated that there was more to be found here; specifically the floor the cradle goes down to is determined by the player’s weight. So finding different floors is a matter of finding different weights.

Eventually I came up with holding the truck and robot from way back in Phase 8 (which I had been toting around not really expecting to use) gave enough weight to land on a floor:

Cradle of the Window Cleaners
You are in a window cleaner’s cradle. To the south is a large building, to all other points of the compass nought but a view of terrible devastation. The building has lost its curtain walls permitting access to the building.
Exits: -S– ——– —
-> s
Bluebottle
Apparently a conference room in an office block. The external curtain wall on the north side of the office block is missing allowing egress from the room. There is something written on a Nobo Board attached to one wall. There is a corridor to the east.
Exits: N-E- ——– —
You hear the cradle machinery whirring and receding into the distance.
-> read board
1. AVG
You hear the cradle machinery whirring and receding into the distance.

What follows is a giant office corridor, 10 tall, with rooms to the west and east, each with a letter excerpts as shown above.

Wallace Greenslade
Lobby area giving access to a pair of swing doors in the east wall and a corridor to the west. Painted on each door is a large number 4. There is\ some writing etched on one wall.
Exits: —W ——– —
-> read
20. GX

When listed in order, the excerpts came out to be

AVGVAGFFDVGGFXFVAAGFDGGGAAXFGVFGFXXXGAVFDGGVGVGGAXGX

which I already knew immediately how to solve. As I observed from a message in the sewer way back in Phase 9, there was a ADFGVX code grid that could be used for decryption as long as I had a message that only used those letters.

A code word is also required, but that turns out to be just FRET. The process of decipherment was then quite easy as I had already found a website to do it for me, so I eagerly awaited to see what new secrets I would learn, and found:

THIS AREA HERRING COLOUR OF RED

The entire 30-room floor is a red herring, as was the setup message from the Sewers. I’ve never played a cheekier game in my life.

Regarding the sewers, I already asked about a weird poster about someone’s “life’s research” to be passed on

Every story of lore had three protagonists, they say. Let’s call them A, B and C.

but I already inquired of the authors who indicated this bit was a red herring. So the only piece of information from there that might be left was hidden in a cake tin.

-> empty tin
Done.
-> break cake
The sponge crumbles to dust revealing a strip of ticker tape.
-> read tape
CMRD SMLNSK + PRCD STNDRD DRPFF PNT + NJY CHCLT BR + DSRPT CPTLST PGDG PWR SPPLY + NRCH TH LDRS T FR TH PPL + STOP

I’ll get back to this message later, but I will also say (inquiring further) that I have confirmation that the sewers from Phase 9 are a one-way trip. Assuming the information above is useless, that means the entire sewer section also is useless as there is no way to get what might seem like useful items (like the diving suit and the key) out.

But back to the Cradle first: it turns out while that particular floor was a red herring, with a little less weight you can visit the floor right before and get inside as well. There are no doubt many combinations that work; this one in particular does:

-> i
You are carrying:
an indigo pin
a gold key
a beautiful ruby rod
a security casket
a piece of linen
a puce transparency
a lime ticket
a chunky bracelet
a translucent fruit bowl
a silver obol

No messages on the wall, but rather: two interesting rooms I haven’t had much progress on. One involves a projector screen I assume the puce transparency goes on.

Sellers
Apparently an office in an office block. There is a corridor to the west. Hanging from the ceiling in front of the north wall is a projector screen. Next to the projector screen are two cords, one long and one short.

For the longest time I thought of “cord” as electrical cord; no, they’re just pull cords.

The long cord does nothing. The short cord kills you.

Your yanking behaviour activates the projector screen mechanism which appears to be faulty as its initial movement is to fall rapidly to the floor accompanied by a loud screeching noise. Unfortunately, you are in the drop zone and receive a glancing blow to the head. You feel absolutely nothing of course, but the dull spark that was your life has finally been extinguished.
You’ll be an ideal addition to the nearest wormery (which might eventually turn you into something useful if you don’t poison the worms first).

The other interesting room involves a kitchen with a heating element that can be activated, as well as a bunch of cupboards:

Opening the left cupboard reveals:
an osmium cube
an ebony pebble
a stick of chalk
a stick of charcoal
a driftwood branch
Opening the middle cupboard reveals:
a wire chip basket
Opening the right cupboard reveals:
a vinyl cup
a vinyl beaker
a vinyl spoon

Putting the basket on the heating element causes it to activate, but it overheats and causes the basket to stick.

A strange ethereal humming noise eminates from underneath the plexiglass. The plexiglass starts to glow, first red, then orange then white. You smell the acrid stench of burning from a long uncleaned surface. You appear to have discovered an automatic induction hob. Bang! A faulty one too. The food detection system seems to have inappropriately calculated the cooking temperature required resulting in some overheating, thereby welding the chip basket to the surface of the plexiglass.

If you also have one of the vinyl items inside, it makes a puddle of vinyl. Otherwise (with everything I’ve tried) it just gets vaporized. Voltgloss theorized we could somehow construct a helmet this way, and the fruit bowl mentioned earlier seems like it’d be the right size, but no: the bowl just gets vaporized. The one extra interesting element is you can put things inside of things; that is, you can put a beaker in the wire basket, and then put another item in the beaker. I don’t know if this nested technique helps at all.

I did manage to wheedle a few more hints from the authors other than the ones already mentioned. One involved the explosive in phase 11, and let me just re-quote the room in full.

Asylum from Enmity
A dank crepuscular room made from reinforced concrete as if to survive a blast overhead. There is some form of opening in the ceiling apparantly to permit the ingress of light and ventilation. Against one wall is a safe surmounted by a resin slab.
Exits: —W ——– —
The resin slab contains:
a mobile phone
some Semtex explosive
-> examine slab
The solid resin slab is rectangular and semi-transparent. It appears to contain a number of structures, principally a lump of Semtex explosive, embedded into which is a mobile phone comparable to many a Hollywood big time stylie bomb.
-> get slab
Do you know what happens to old explosives?
They become unstable to the point where any kind of disturbance can cause them to blow – literally. Your fussings appear to have provoked that senario. The bluebottles are swarming.

The hints were:

1. Have you found a scroll by The Honourable Society of the Party for Freedom from Persecution?

2. Have you found a communicator?

I have no idea what scroll is being referred to. The ticker tape (from the cake tin that I quoted earlier) is not a scroll but that’s the closest I’ve found. The communicator (from phase 10, after you go through charging it) does let you try to dial numbers, but I haven’t had anything other than a dial tone. I’m up the point I might make a very hardcore script to try every single number from 1 to 9999999 in the hopes one of them will work, but as always, I’m happy to get assistance from readers. I’m fairly sure I’ve given nearly every scrap of text in the game so far, except for one bit of graffiti I missed at the start of phase 10:

Blap, blap. This is fierce. Y, oh Y, does the posse go mental when I jive some symbols at ’em? All I said was “pi and mash”.

Otherwise no clue. Can anyone help?

(Oh, and I also found I could ring a bell at the lake to summon a ferry as long as I waited long enough — I wasn’t waiting enough before and thought there was no effect. However, this gets you immediately stuck on a rock blocking my way with a suggestive crack, like it can busted open with explosives. No dice prodding around there, either.)

Posted December 14, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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TRS80GP New Version (exciting, trust me)   3 comments

So, the best TRS-80 emulator in the known universe, TRS80GP, has just received an update.

Download here

The emulator receives regular updates so this wouldn’t normally be good enough news for a post, but I want to mention some very special news.

That’s the top two options in the menu, there: save states! Yes, finally, in addition to impeccable emulator handling and fantastic visual options, save states are supported, and they work quite well with adventure games. Just in time for Asylum II! (…as soon as I can finally shoot down Ferret, which I will update on soon. Keep an eye on the comments of my last post if you want to see the meanest red herring from both sides of the Atlantic.)

Posted December 11, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

Ferret: Insufficient Light   24 comments

Sort of a matter-the-fact update this time, but I wanted to finish writing up the remaining phases.

(Prior posts on Ferret here.)

I’d left off last time in the middle of a dark maze which still needed mapping. I’ve finished that, at least:

This might look clean, small, and pleasant to map, but keep in mind (in addition to it taking a while to realize the map was on a regular grid) any “wrong direction” will teleport you to a random spot in the maze. So I had to test every direction, with something like (holding onto a picnic box)

DROP BOX; NE; SW; GET ALL

and see if this picks up the box. Then repeat for every single direction. I made a big cut-and-paste that tested every direction at once, but I still needed to check after which ones were valid.

As I mentioned last time, one room had a life vest, and one had a puce transparency.

-> look at transparency
There is insufficient light available to discern any meaningful information from the transparency.

I have not found a place with sufficient light.

The maze held one more secret (as discovered by K), back where I had found the life jacket.

-> D
Below Stairs
You are in a small poorly lit room carved from rock. Above you is another room with a low wall. There is a rickety staircase leading to the room above at the western end of the room.
Exits: —- ——– U-
There is a life jacket here
-> PULL ON STAIRS
The rickety staircase wobbles and groans and slides ungracefully to one side revealing a dark and dingy exit.
-> LOOK
Below Stairs
You are in a small poorly lit room carved from rock. Above you is another room with a low wall. There is a rickety staircase at the eastern end of the room.
Exits: N— ——– —
There is a life jacket here
-> N
Grizelda’s Chamber of Correction
You are in a small poorly lit cavern carved from rock. Scratched into the rock is a quotation.
Exits: -S– ——– —
There is a leather wallet here
-> READ QUOTATION
Mong the Magnificent, King of Throb, Ruler of the Vibrations, Artisan of the Pulsating Wobblers was universally revered for his insights into the art of personal pleasure, usually of an exotic nature. It is assumed that he had discovered some incredibly good blow before coining this wonderful quip, full of deep thought and liberating enthusiasm:

“It could be that 0123789 is a number pure and simple, representing, say, the number of days since a given start point, possibly denoted by some other equation. Alternatively, it could be symbolic, with, for example, 9 and 0 denoting some simple code, one that often stares people in the face.”

Or, just maybe, Mong has sustained such physical and mental abuse in pursuit of hedonistic pleasure that he had gone completely barking.

Curious! I might guess 0123789 is a “telephone” code (the way “2” stands for ABC on a regular telephone dial) but 0 and 1 don’t have letters attached. I have yet to get the number to do anything, but that can be filed under “information that might be sent backwards in time”. If we go with the “number of days” hint instead, that’s 339 years long. What would the start point be?

Moving on to phase 14! I mentioned glancingly on my quick survey that it has a fragile floor.

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.
Exits: N— ——– —
-> 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.
Basement
You are in a small dimly-lit area with a steep ramp providing a route upwards.
Exits: -S– ——– U-

Just past this is yet another set of riddles-in-rooms, with the twist that the riddle given has its answer in the room after the one it appears.

Preface
A pleasant airy place with a high ceiling and a stairway leading down. Hanging from the centre of the ceiling is a microphone. You can just discern what appears to be a soft voice whispering around the room.
Exits: -S– ——– -D
-> listen
The ethereal voice is somewhat indistinct and appears to be repeating: “The average hydrogen atom, number of neutrons it has?”

That is, the answer here is zero, but that gets typed into the next room.

-> 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— ——– —
-> say 0
‘0’
There is a tremendous grinding of gears and the hiss of compressed gas escaping as the floor shakes violently, closely followed by the lower part of one of the walls lowering out sight.

All the riddles are numerical:

“Normally represented, the square root of what, the letter i by?”

“The number before the turn on the river?”

“One from the devil less the disciples?”

And eventually, they just stop. There is still a microphone described in the room, but there is nothing to listen to in the room before. The trick is to realize the riddles have been giving a pattern…

0, -1, 3, -6, 10, -15, 21, …

so the “non-riddle” rooms are simply solved by following the pattern.

The 5th triangular number, 15, being made into the 6th triangular number, 21, by adding 6 blocks. The pattern is just +1, +2, +3, +4, etc., except that it also alternates positive-negative.

The pattern continues for maybe a little too long. I get the impression the author(s) here really wanted to avoid a brute force solution, but this was trying too hard. (At least this wasn’t like Hezarin’s pit puzzle, where the authors went as far as sabotaging the save game system in order to avoid people solving the puzzle through brute force.)

-> say 406
‘406’
There is a tremendous grinding of gears and the hiss of compressed gas escaping as the floor shakes violently, closely followed by the lower part of one of the walls lowering out sight.
-> l
Devil
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.
Exits: N–W ——– —
-> n
Satan
A pleasant airy space with a high ceiling. The flooring seems a little strange and has a hollow feel to it.
Exits: -S– ——– —
There is a silver obol here

The flooring does suggest further jumping carnage, but nothing seems to work. There’s also one dark room that gets lit up once you start solving riddles, but I haven’t found anything useful there.

Prototype
An area with a low ceiling. The feeble ambient lighting appears to be seeping through the ceiling.

Onward to phase 15:

Holloway Museum

Opened 1957

A system of deep trenches created through the woods during the War of The Three Forests.

To confuse the enemy in the event of invasion the trenches changed direction many times with curves, rises and falls to disorient anyone unfamiliar with the layout. The difficulty of navigation was exaserbated by the many dark, interconnecting tunnels between the trenches. An intrinsic feature of the deep sheer-sided trenches was the propensity to flood during rainy periods, which mandated the need for regular and frequent maintenance of the drainage system. Regular users of the Holloways knew to follow the green arrows painted on the wooden signs if the water level started to rise.

An infosign provided by the Trustees of Holloway Museum. Digest and Enjoy.

This area consists of a subway, a raised platform with a cable overhead, and a building where almost all the floors are closed off, although you can climb to the roof and get reminded that yes, this is still the post-apocalypse.

An area of roof commanding a spectacular view of the surrounding country. Unfortunately, the vistas are quite depressing, showing as they do, a world of total devastation. The extensive earthworks continue off into the where you can some form of tall construction, reminiscent of the power delivery system from the old world. Hanging over the north wall is the ladder of a fire escape.
Exits: NS– ——– -D
-> n
Cradle of the Window Cleaners
You are in a cradle used by the esteemed Guild of Professional Window Cleaners to, er, clean the windows. To the south is a large building, to all other points of the compass nought but a view of terrible devastation. Above you is the ladder of a fire escape.
Exits: —- ——– U-

From the Cradle you can still go Up and out. If you have anything in your inventory, the Cradle will activate when you enter and get you stuck. (This may be just an indication to Not Do That, but even if you can get out, there doesn’t seem to be anything useful to do in the cradle?)

The ancient, and probably malfunctioning, automatic equipment that controls the cradle grinds into action, transporting the cradle down the building.
Cradle of the Window Cleaners
You are in a window cleaner’s cradle. To the south is a large building, to all other points of the compass nought but a view of terrible devastation.

Try as I might, I couldn’t extract any more clues or make any systemic discoveries past the fact the Cradle responds badly to weight. So I had nothing to do but to proceed to Phase 16 (Liberation) and get immediately stuck again.

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.

The slot will eat items you put in there; nothing I’ve tried has activated it.

That means I’ve reached the end of the line! The book had some curious info, the lime transparency was unreadable, the number at the wallet was cryptic, but hopefully one of those will help on my next cycle through. Just to summarize:

It seems very likely that the information passing will then lead to getting new physical objects (other than the tan block I already mentioned), which then need to be taken forward in order to get a second round of information, which then itself needs to be sent back to the past, so we’re cycling through multiple times in order to truly finish this portion of the game.

I really want to lock in soon to focus on just finishing this before the end of the year, although I do have a one-shot Apple II game that will be dropping in (either with my next post or the one after). For anyone working on this, please feel free to amply drop whatever hints you want; this is far too messy for the solo approach.

Posted December 5, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Ferret: central heating for kids   18 comments

Before digging into the new breakthroughs, I’d like to point out a reference from an earlier section of the game mentioned by Roger Durrant I missed the first time around. This is in regards to the nuclear reactor section, where we casually strolled through and picked up a rod to use to unlock the next area. If you hang out too long you get one of the game’s many colorful deaths:

A terrible feeling of nausea radiates through your body.
-> wait
Time passes (yawn).
Oh dear, all the skin has shed from your body, closely followed by your limbs. Anybody fancy Windscale flakes for breakfast?

This is a really specific reference.

When people think of nuclear accidents in the US, usually what gets imagined is Three Mile Island. In the UK, the big incident was the Windscale fire, which happened in 1957.

A fire broke out in a nuclear reactor in northwest England and released radioactivity for several days. The report at the time, the Penney Report, was heavily redacted by the government and not released until 1988.

The obscure reference comes from 1982. There was a famous cereal ad (as much as cereal ads can be famous, in the US the equivalent would be “Mikey likes it” ads for Life cereal) for Ready Brek cereal, which you can watch in its entirety here. It notably has all the children who experience the warmth of Ready Brek to be surround with a strange glow: “Ready Brek: Central Heating for Kids”.

This isn’t even remotely a properly historically vetted source, but I want to quote a reply to the video anyway by “LF1971”:

I auditioned to be in this advert when I went to dancing school. I didn’t get a part in it and was really disappointed at the time. A year later I went to high school and one of the boys in my class turned out to be one of the boys in the advert. He was teased throughout his five years in high school by boys in our class singing the song when they saw him. When I saw how they teased him I was so glad that I didn’t get a part in the advert. Kids can be cruel sometimes.

The fame of the ad led to a parody for the comedy show Not the Nine O’clock News, which you can watch here.

This is the sort of fake ad that shows up on SNL, although Not the Nine O’Clock News ran for a much shorter time span, from 1979 to 1982.

I haven’t studied the UK reaction to the nuclear age as thoroughly as the US one, but I get the impression that there was a greater attempt to shuffle things under the rug, whereas the US almost went wild with hysteria in the other direction. It makes it more viable to approach the possibility of nuclear wipeout with dark humor, as the cereal parody ad or Ferret (“Anybody fancy Windscale flakes for breakfast?”) does.

Last time I left off on Phase 12, where I had found a tablet.

The tablet appears to have been engraved at some time in the past but the ravages of time have caused much distress to the surface of the stone. However, a little of the inscription is still legible.
On one side: 6, 26, 10, 11.
On the reverse side: M, V, X, Z.

This turned out to be essential for solving something in an earlier phase. While the movement of the train is only forward (I even checked with the authors to confirm this) so physical objects can only go forward, information can move backward. (Refer back to my discussion of the lack of a “single plausible continuous narrative” — while this lack was a minor blip back then, it absolutely balloons here into a feature.)

However, I wasn’t quite hit with enlightenment right away, and spent my time dutifully mapping phase 12. There was really only one more section, an absolutely giant rectangle of rooms 4 wide, with a locked door right below:

Each room had a colorful descriptor, much like near the lake in the previous phase. The far west room is always the same…

Theodore’s Spike
In a derelict warehouse. Partitioned area. Lit through semi-transparent skylights. On one wall a set of disco lights, rainbow button and rotary switch.
No way west.

…and the other three rooms on that column all were similar, except only having a switch.

Turning the switch rotates through colors of the rainbow.

-> turn switch;turn switch;turn switch;turn switch
The room is suffused by a glow of Red
The room is suffused by a glow of Orange
The room is suffused by a glow of Yellow
The room is suffused by a glow of Green
-> turn switch;turn switch;turn switch
The room is suffused by a glow of Blue
The room is suffused by a glow of Indigo
The room is suffused by a glow of Violet

Pushing the rainbow button causes a display of four lights:

The lights are showing: Unlit Unlit Unlit Unlit

Sometimes the lights are “black” or “white”. All this refers back to a phenomenon which was more of a 1970s thing, but I get to show another strange (real!) ad:

Mastermind is a game where you put pegs of various colors in an attempt to guess an opponent’s code; they put black pegs for correct-color-correct-position and white pegs for correct-color-wrong-position. (There are earlier precedent games, like Bulls and Cows, but Mastermind made the general category famous.) I realized after noodling with the setup enough times I was dealing with a Mastermind game.

Not a terribly hard one because you can save/restore your game, and the puzzle doesn’t change — I have the answer here if you’re working through Ferret and don’t want to bother. The end result is unlocking the locked door which has a book with some curious ASCII art.

I was then mostly done with phase 12, although there’s a deadly “voluptuous cyborg” wandering around that can kill you (and according to the authors, can be dealt with; I don’t know if that means we can optionally remove the random element, or if it is necessary to kill the cyborg to get access to some item).

The cyborg has been staring at you long enough to aim without risk of failure. You are consummately torched by a stream of high-energy particles that separate your electrons, protons and neutrons. Anyone for unmixed grill?

I then moved on yet again to phase 13, which consists mostly of a giant dark map. It uses the trick the game has done before where going in the wrong direction from a “regular” path teleports the player. After much distress I finally came up with an algorithm involving:

a.) dropping an item

b.) saving my game

c.) testing leaving the room, coming back, and using TAKE ALL, in all cardinal directions plus up and down, restoring the game after each test

d.) looking at the scrollback and figuring out in which cases was I able to leave and come back to the exact same place as before

For example, here I’ve tried an item in the dark, but trying to go back and forth leads to a different room, so I must have been teleported randomly instead.

You are in the dark.
-> ne
You are in the dark.
-> sw
You are in the dark.
-> get all
There is nothing here that you can take!

I’m taking a little leap assuming there are no “turns” where going E one way actually connects to S on another room, but I spent enough time I believe the above is the overall pattern. Still a monster to map and I’m not done yet.

Extremely slow to make; each room added represents maybe 4-5 minutes of careful checking to make sure everything is right.

The random-jumping thing ended up landing me with two new items, a life jacket and a “puce transparency”. I unfortunately didn’t have a chance to inspect the latter because I was busy racing through steps (a) through (d) from earlier. I need to find out where the objects actually are anyway since I’m “playing ahead”, but the transparency in particular might hold some useful info for a prior phase so I’ve still got finding it as a top priority.

Eventually I started to get very tired of mapping, and checked back in comments to see if anyone had made progress elsewhere. Damian Murphy had made a short comment pointing out that the phase 10 “number area map” was completely symmetrical.

This rung a bell of a possibility that occurred to me briefly but I hadn’t pursued much: could the grid be not a cryptogram but a crypto-crossword? That is, it has various letters that form a proper crossword, just they are encoded. Crosswords tend to have, as a general rule, absolute symmetry on their grids.

Additionally, I had not yet tried this clue on the phase 10 grid:

On one side: 6, 26, 10, 11.
On the reverse side: M, V, X, Z.

Using those starting letters, I had a ??M??V in the first row, which did not lend itself to many possibilities, although the name ASIMOV worked. V?X down could be VEX. This gave me enough letters to start cracking.

What made this tricky was that it wasn’t just “common words” but author names; I got near to a complete fill and had to go to bed, and woke up to find K had ran with the ball most of the rest of the way, making a very nifty Google Sheet to allow easy substitution. It also showed the substitutions in phase 9, which I’ll get to in a second.

A couple swaps and substitutions later and I realized if I put in a F for 7 I would get a very nice pattern indeed on the Phase 9 grid. It uses the same code as the Phase 10 one! It seems the point of the phase 10 code was to give decipherments that can be used on Phase 9.

These are spelled-out reading from top to down, left to right (some of them backwards, and some of the code numbers “spaces” which don’t get used). There happened to be, in phase 10, a room I didn’t describe enough in detail last time:

Staffroom
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.
Exits: —W ——– —
There is a translucent fruit bowl here
-> examine keypad
The keypad has been partially destroyed leaving only 5 nipples in the shape of a cross:

 
                O
            O   O   O
                O

The deciphered code is TWO / XIS / EIGHT / OWT / FOUR / EVIF TWO and if you look at a regular keypad and only the “cross”, the available numbers, are 2, 4, 5, 6, and 8. Voila!

-> press 2
Click.
-> press 6
Click.
-> press 8
Click.
-> press 2
Click.
-> press 4
Click.
-> press 5
Click.
-> press 2
Click.
There is a whirring of machinery followed by a clunk.

The previously empty slot now has a tan block…

The wide slot contains:
a tan block
-> get block
Taken.

…and that seems like a good spot to stop for now! Others have made some progress since but we’re still stuck on many things. For my part I’m going to trudge back to the dark maze and finally get the monstrosity finished before fiddling around with effects of setting the theater on fire.

Posted December 1, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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