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:

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

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
-> press 6
-> press 8
-> press 2
-> press 4
-> press 5
-> press 2
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

…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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18 responses to “Ferret: central heating for kids

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  1. I’m not sure how many UK people these days would really be aware how bad and serious an incident the Windscale fire in 1957 actually was, although it’ll be brought up in documentaries every so often, but we are probably still a lot more wary of nuclear power than other European countries. Even Terry Pratchett couldn’t sell it to us. ;)

    You’ll hit some games, at least as early as 1984, that explore some of the fears of UK folk at the time regarding nuclear disasters & war, as well as reflect the fact that some people thought the government wasn’t taking the threat seriously; adventures such as “Ground Zero”, and “I Will Survive”.

    Some people did get fairly hysterical here in the UK about the whole nuclear power and nuclear war thing… but, yeah, perhaps we were more comfortable spending time making jokes about it than we were digging bunkers… We did still have plenty of bunkers, though, for the rich and powerful.

    Radiation, nuclear power, mutants (e.g. Daleks!) & mutations… were all common themes running through media in my childhood. I remember being subjected to the British TV version of the American novel Z for Zachariah at school, which was frightening for other reasons… but probably the most affecting was the book (and later film) “When the Wind Blows” by Raymond Briggs, better known for The Snowman.

    • I thought the episode of Only Fools and Horses where they built the nuclear bunker felt a bit funny. Interesting to see there was a bit more to it. Guess Brits combination of cynicism and being fairly close to Russia created quite an atmosphere of pessimism.

  2. I couldn’t believe that NTNOCN was only running for those four years. I remember it as a staple for a long time of my childhood, when it was also showing in my country (subtitled).
    Checking the facts it turns out that it was only shown here between summer 1982 and the end of 1983, for a total of 21 times including 5 rerun episodes. It surely made an impact on me and my friends’ young impressionable minds at the time though.

    Further off-topic, I thought about a comment I made some Ferret posts back (comparing the monk to the NPCs of The Hobbit). I see that All the Adventures has not come up to The Hobbit yet but it seems to be pretty close in chronology and I am very much looking forward to revisit this game, despite (and thanks to!) the often frustrating NPCs. Maybe I will find out how to get a 100% score. :) I remember a friend had a guide book from the game publisher that I thought was quite interesting, with not just documentation/hints about the game but also some good thoughts in general on approaching text adventure games.

    Google-found the guide book now, available here if anyone is interested: https://ia801809.us.archive.org/17/items/guide-to-playing-the-hobbit/GuideToPlayingTheHobbit.pdf

  3. Just for reference, I got the map mostly complete, and have the puce transparency again. It says there is insufficient light when trying to look at it.

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

    Going to assume some place in phase 14 is well-lit so you can check? Haven’t explored that much yet.

    • Just for reference in case it takes a while for me to get back and someone is wanting to try out the transparency

      current incomplete map

      The northeast area leads to the life vest but I’m not sure the exact room exiting lands.

      • Excluding the Big Dark Maze 9×10 area, look for at least two more rooms here that I don’t see on your map. No special equipment prerequisites, just thorough exploration work. Might be even more rooms of course. :)
        I hope this is not too spoilery?

    • I believe I have a quite thorough map of phase 13. I wonder though, for those who may have suffered mapping the whole Big Dark Maze 9×10 section, did you also end up with a map including all “standard locations” of this 9×10 section, or do you still have one blank spot? I do have one blank spot left, and it bothers me. I have been trying to see if there could be any secrets related to it but haven’t found any so far.
      Also, don’t give up on exploring phase 13 (the whole, not just the Big Dark Maze) until you’ve found a lemon(!) ticket…

      I use this FCF for basic teleporting-dark exploration:
      suppress;comment ————————————–
      drop cylinder;saveover temp
      restore temp;n;s
      enable;comment N;get all;suppress
      restore temp;ne;sw
      enable;comment NE;get all;suppress
      restore temp;e;w
      enable;comment E;get all;suppress
      restore temp;se;nw
      enable;comment SE;get all;suppress
      restore temp;s;n
      enable;comment S;get all;suppress
      restore temp;sw;ne
      enable;comment SW;get all;suppress
      restore temp;w;e
      enable;comment W;get all;suppress
      restore temp;nw;se
      enable;comment NW;get all;suppress
      restore temp;u;d
      enable;comment U;get all;suppress
      restore temp;d;u
      enable;comment D;get all;suppress
      restore temp;get cylinder;enable

      Always repeat the READFILE 2-3 times, since you could be (un)lucky with some connection and get a false positive sometimes, it is much more common than I would expect.

      That one is easy to scan for “proper” two way connections, but could hide interesting one way or more complex connections. If I suspect that there could be such trickery (e.g. around the edge of a maze or otherwise close to suspicious empty spots) I use another script which does not hide as much of what is happening:
      suppress;comment ————————————–
      drop cylinder;saveover temp
      restore temp;enable
      n;s;get all;suppress
      restore temp;enable
      ne;sw;get all;suppress
      restore temp;enable
      e;w;get all;suppress
      restore temp;enable
      se;nw;get all;suppress
      restore temp;enable
      s;n;get all;suppress
      restore temp;enable
      sw;ne;get all;suppress
      restore temp;enable
      w;e;get all;suppress
      restore temp;enable
      nw;se;get all;suppress
      restore temp;enable
      u;d;get all;suppress
      restore temp;enable
      d;u;get all;suppress
      restore temp;get cylinder;enable

      There are theoretically still many complex connection tricks (e.g. just a one way connection to a standard dark room with teleporting “return” connection) that may go undetected, but they help a lot with the basic mapping work in cases like phase 13. If more thorough analysis is indicated I do it manually.

      • This spoiler image shows my map of only the internal workings of the 9×10 maze area of phase 13 – no external connections. If you think it is fun or proper to map this area yourself first then don’t look at the linked picture.

        You can recognize the marker for the location that bothers me by its outstanding color and general disconnectedness…

      • I filled in the whole grid. No idea where the lemon ticket is. Can you just tell me?


      • Manipulate the rickety staircase!

      • That’s sneaky!

        Got through the number riddle puzzle (I had to use my C program only once before I caught on to the general gimmick)

        Any thoughts on how to interpret the quotation on the wall?

        “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.”

  4. For anyone who, like me, was unfamiliar with the term “holloway”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunken_lane
    I first thought it was something made up for the game.

  5. I can’t help but think the key to the puce transparency lies in phase 14. One of the epithets that hasn’t appeared so far is ‘Lucifer’, ie: the light bringer (a title of the morning star, which is Venus rising with the sun, FWIW). Also notable is that answering the first question turns the light on in the ‘prototype’ room south of the sub-basement, feeble though that light may be. The light is shining through the ceiling in Prototype, which makes me think it’s just below Old Nick, and further, that there are other accessible rooms below the rooms with “hollow-feeling” floors upstairs.

    Another thing I noticed is that the exact phrase that gets you from the first Beelzebub room to the second is ‘say 10’, which sounds phonetically like another of the missing epithets. Somehow, I don’t think this is accidental.

    • Got past the phase 14 devil rooms and found another object. The solution was absurdly simple.

      ROT-13: Gur ahzoref sbe gur erznvavat ebbzf ner n fvzcyr frdhrapr. Vg’f rnfl gb cebprrq xabjvat gur svefg fvk.

  6. Incredible progress, everyone. I’ve been tied up with work this week but looking forward to digging back into Ferret!

  7. Incidentally to those of you who may not be familiar with Not The Nine O’ Clock News (and I suspect this is most people) it is thoroughly worth watching episodes on YouTube. Some of the political satire was of course very specific to the UK in the late seventies / early eighties but there is enough genius there to appeal to almost anyone.

    The Hospital Beds sketch has always been one of my favourites.



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