Archive for January 2023

Ferret: The Penultimate Post   17 comments

(Prior posts on Ferret here. Also, I semi-spoil the endings to some 70s TV shows.)

No progress, alas. We have failed to reach the endgame.

Sorry, Link.

I thought of maybe likening this post to the ending of Blakes 7 (which has a super-high body count and the evil Federation wins) but maybe The Little House on the Prarie is more appropriate. After 8 regular seasons and a 9th “New Beginnings” Season there were some TV movies, including A Last Farewell, where an evil tycoon buys up Walnut Grove. The response of the townspeople is to blow everything up.

Having the sets blown up meant that it was of course the last piece of Little House of Prairie TV made, but oddly enough, it was not the last TV movie. Despite shooting earlier, the special Bless All the Dear Children showed after the explosive finale.

Such as it is here: we’ve been playing Ferret since the start of October, all the way to the end of January, setting a new record (Warp, even given the fact I broke it in two parts, took three months to finish). The patience of my dear readers desperately hoping for an Apple II game with a soothing phosphor beam or maybe some janky ZX Spectrum art has been pushed long enough, and I need to write about new games. But we really are one room away from the endgame (we know this, not just guessing) and we have some folks determined to see things to the end, so action will continue in the comments here.

How do we know we’re one room away? Well, in an earlier version the authors made an error which let us jump into phase 17 early. I’m going to wait until the last post proper to share too much, but you land in the escape ship we’ve been trying to get to, and end up in a disorienting place similar to Adventure 550. Then something slightly unhinged happens and maybe even transcendental which seems to be some sort of grand meta-puzzle. So it is worth waiting for, and I’m hoping to write up The End, on, say, February 28. (No promises, though. Maybe it’ll even happen sooner.)

Anyway, on progress: we kind of devolved. The game was updated today to 10.30, and we found that the trick of putting radioactive pellets in a leather wallet no longer worked to protect us. (I mean, fair, that wouldn’t work in real life: but the game has had a few bits of science fantasy so it didn’t feel too absurd either.) So that means we are back at square one as far as what to do with the broken warehouse.

Shadow of a Warehouse
A large open area exhibiting the ground shadow of an immense warehouse. The remainder of the warehouse is to the south. To the north is a fenced lane. To the west is a set of railway tracks, to the east is the rear end of a train locomotive which appears to be sinking very slowly into the ground.
Exits: NS-W ——– —
There are some shards of timber here
Score increment of 10 points.
-> s
Warehouse
A large open area in the remains of an immense warehouse. There is another
large open area to the north.
Exits: N— ——– —
There is a thallium receptacle here
-> open receptacle
Opening the thallium receptacle reveals:
some radiant pellets

Maybe the pellets are a red herring and we really want some broken wood? Maybe there’s some alternate way to carry the radioactive material with us? (If the latter is true, we could just use a prior version to make it through.)

Incidentally, the update did fix the map, so we can reach all the rooms whilst in space that we are supposed to. As predicted, the Escape from Hot ITV room is the missing one, although now you can see the location via asymmetry:

I don’t have too many other insights to share. I’ve tried naming locations to teleport to in every way I can think of, and typing in the same manner. I’ve tried stuffing various random items into slots rather than just identity cards and those don’t work either. I’ve tried eating the ooze.

Not such a good idea. Your stomach starts to implode. You are being positively gut-wrenched. As you start to suffer from severe convulsions you realise that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to eat something that might be poisonous.
It’s time to meet the big Ferret in the sky.

I’ve tried various actions with the space suit, but there’s no pockets in the suit and you can’t wear the teleport bracelet at the same time as the suit.

Finally, I tried various whacks at the mysterious Blake sarcophagus message. Let me just give all that text again, in case any puzzle solving maven has some idea even if they’ve not been playing Ferret at all.

Clue #1

The sarcophagus glisters and sparkles in a most tremendous way. You are bedazzled and, not to a small degree, hypnotised by the beauty of the object. Strange that such wonder should be associated with the morbidity of death. Any road up, you may be interested in the inscription on the side of the gaudy object which reads:
The Most Exulted
The Highmost
The Leader of Freed Men
The Champion of the Underdog
The Most Betrayed of All
Put to Death this Day
ABCDXY0123789
By Federation Termination Order
May his Magnificence Rest in Peace

Clue #2

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.

Clue #3

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

Clue #4

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”.

Clue #5

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

Clue #6 (possibly irrelevant, but here just in case)

I need to explain this before I expire. My life’s research has led me here. Sadly, I think my mind has been failing over the most recent years, things not having the clarity they used to possess. For what it is worth, and I hope it is worth something, otherwise my life has been for nought, my findings are as follows. Please pass on to Prof. Anderson of the Anthropology Department of Springfield University if you can.
“Every story of lore had three protagonists, they say. Let’s call them A, B and C. These lovely three were not related but they were from the same family, which means they are related, if you see what I mean. The first degree of freedom is the order of significance, which, in this case only, is reverse alphabetic order with a small, but significant, amount of moistness. Now, each of A, B and C can represent an individual digit, number, equation or some combination of some or all of the parts. Suffice to say the permutations are nearly endless, but in this case, think of some bears with a propensity to sugary conserves. The second degree of freedom is magnitude, for which an analogy with the late 20th century telephone will suffice coupled with the standard innuendo. The third degree of freedom is position within the arithmetic equation (or it is not how big it is, but what you do with it, to use televisual allegory). In this case we need to look to X and Y. If X is larger than Y then B is below the line, whereas if you are playing bridge it would be definitely above the line, if not straddling it. If Y is larger or equal in magnitude to Y then all are above the line with a straightforward multiplier effect. Not forgetting, of course, the geographical offset.”

One more Data General Eclipse ad for good measure. Computerworld, Nov. 15, 1976.

Posted January 31, 2023 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Ferret: Overwhelming Power and Imminent Danger   28 comments

(Continued directly from here.)

Okay, based on what I know of Phase 17, we aren’t going to beat that superfast. But we’ve made enough progress we might get there by tomorrow, and that would be highly satisfying since, as earlier mentioned, I’m making my second-to-last post on Ferret tomorrow, and I will save any follow-up for when (if?) “Won!” happens.

But first: the worst puzzle in the game. And I am not exaggerating.

So: broom closet attached to a Mastermind puzzle. Hours of various efforts thrown at it by myself and others (thanks to everyone who joined it!) and the authors needed to explicitly give the solution anyway: you need to input the answer to the Mastermind puzzle but not hit the rainbow button. (The one that gives black-black-black-black.)

-> west
Broom Cupboard
A very small room with an aluminium door set in the east wall.
There is a book here
Score increment of 20 points.
-> close aluminium door
Closed.
As the door closes the floor descends taking you and the room with it.
Base of Shaft
A very small room.
Exits: –E- ——– —
-> east
Pipeline of Despair
Corridor running east west.

They explained that the general process behind the game was to slowly optimize a play-through, dropping things unneeded, until the perfect run is arrived at. But why would we expect the Mastermind mechanism to work without pushing the button? There is no clue to this behavior whatsoever. What’s more, the point increases at the Broom Closet when the game has been softlocked, which violates one of the central tenets of the game: that you can rely on point increases as a signal that you’re on the right track. It certainly has been possible to skip things, but unlike, say, getting points for a later phase (where it is obvious a skip is happening) this was a subtle and non-obvious softlock. Also remember this was 100% a secret exit, and unlike the pier which had no items at all, the book may have been considered important enough to warrant 20 points.

To explain things in a more theoretical way, dropping an elevator controlled via Mastermind puzzle is an intentional non-realistic abstraction of a puzzle into a universe (commonly known as a “soup cans” puzzle). I’ve defended such puzzles before, with the notion that movie musicals don’t wring their hands every time they stop and break out in song, and as long as a game is clearly in a particular style, having a random 15 puzzle or crypto-crossword spelled out in room tiles fits in with the story. However, such a conceit needs to recognize that the abstraction is happening and not hinge something critical on thinking of it as a realistic mechanism. As there is no realistic basis for Mastermind opening an elevator, there is equally no realistic basis for putting a “color input” in a different way operating differently! At the very least, there needs to be a solid mechanic feedback, which is lacking here: the only thing presented is the abstraction.

Let’s not linger any longer:

Vessel of Dreams
End of corridor.
Exits: NS-W ——– —
-> south
Prince of Wales
A large gloomy room. In the centre of the floor is a carved pillar, atop which is a beige ball. The ball is emitting regular light pulses which cast an eerie glow over the room.
Exits: NS– ——– —
-> south
Couloir
A long room.
Exits: NS– ——– —
-> south
Amaurotic Ambulatory
A short room.
Exits: N— ——– —
There is an identity card here
-> take identity card
Taken.
-> look at card

Not only did we get the long-sought-after identification, but on the other branch we found the questions to go with the answer key that we found a while back. That is:

1,1 First named building.
1,2 Should be repressed according to the open diary.
1,3 Age when she left.
1,4 Near at the start of work.
1,5 Movement of lunch queues.

goes with:

The clues are all about the book 1984 (which is the reason that clue was there in the first place — in order to answer these questions).

VICTORY M(A)NSIONS
BIG (B)ROTHER
TEN OR E(L)EVEN
TEL(E)SCREEN
JER(K)ED

The letters rearrange to, as expected, BLAKE, and go with ROJ BLAKE. This means the long sequence of theater (with the enormously complicated puzzle which the authors self-admit is the trickiest in the game) leading to the island and the answer key was — by appearances now — solely in order to derive the Roj Blake reference. This is deeply odd because there are enough other Blakes 7 references to catch on; people started noticing as soon as I produced map with character names, there’s the bit with the intercepted message in the headphones…

This is Civil Administration ship London. We are in transit from Earth to Cygnus Alpha, transporting prisoners to the penal colony. We have Federation clearance for direct flight, authority number K-Seven-Zero-One.”

…and there’s a paper near the same headphones that gives explicit detail:

Phases are an important part of the game as it was designed and released in batches of rooms called Phases – originally a limitation of 16-bit technology, the authors leveraged it to allow the game to continue development in an incremental fashion. 40 years (yes, 40) after inception a final release was posted with an end game – which, as far as we can ascertain, has never been cracked. The final conceit has heavy overtones of a TV series popular at the time of the games’ original release – an innovative (for British TV) series called Blake’s 7 (this was in the early Star Trek era). Players have noted that the Phase is called Liberation (Blake’s ship is called Liberator), that there are 51 rooms (with curious names) on the ship, yet 52 episodes in the TV series. Many theories have been expounded but most seem to revolve around the notion of finding Room 52 – there is a Teleport that understands the room names of the ship so that might be the way in.

We’re about to get to the boldface part in a moment.

So, with identity card in hand, we can head back to phase 16 and the lift up into space. (Which originally didn’t work, because I was carrying too much stuff — your inventory needs to be light enough.)

Bottom of Lift
You are in a small aluminium-lined room. To the south is a steel door. Next to the door is a red button, under which is a chrome plate.
Exits: -S– ——– —
Score increment of 10 points.
-> close door
Closed.
-> push button
Click.
The lift ascends.
Top of Lift
You are in a small aluminium-lined room. To the south is a steel door. Next to the door is a red button.
-> open door
As the door opens you are sucked with extreme prejudice across a room only to discover a hard surface (commonly known as a wall) to arrest your progress.
You’ve croaked like a frog (widdip).

Of course, in typical Ferret fashion, the game then causes immediate death. You need to wait a few turns for the airlock to cycle properly.

-> s
Airlock
You are in a featureless airlock. There is a steel door to the north.
Exits: NS– ——– —
Score increment of 10 points.
-> s
Airlock
You are in a featureless airlock. There is a door to the south.
Exits: N— ——– —
-> open door
Opened.
-> s
God Washed Font
Airlock. South. Small. Bare. Door. Ooze.
Exits: NS– ——– —
Score increment of 5 points.
-> s
Not Dun Cow
Antechamber. North. East. West. Ooze.
Exits: N-EW ——– —

Now things get very odd and terse, almost like a TRS-80 game. All room descriptions (except for one I’ll get to) are done in a short, single word style. All the rooms include “Ooze”.

-> s
Gauss Carhop
Corridor. North. South. East. West. Ooze.
Exits: NSEW ——– —
-> e
Lude
Navigation. West. Keyboard. Slot. Ooze.
Exits: —W ——– —

There’s plenty of rooms with items you can’t refer to (like a medical bay) and the above is the first one that seems to have a gizmo you can work: you can put things in the slot and type in the keyboard. Does that mean you insert the id card and type a code on the keyboard? Perhaps.

There’s also a room with a space suit (“Nut Boy” above, and I’ll talk about the funny room names shortly). The space suit operates like the diving suit did, where you can’t walk around while wearing it. One might expect wearing it and popping open an airlock, and there’s an escape hatch on one of the ship that might fit the bill, but the game does not let the player refer to it in the parser, so I’m guessing that’s a bust.

The third location of major interest is the teleport room.

Thatch-Wade
Teleport. East. West. Up. Bench. Control Panel. Slot. Ooze.
Exits: –EW ——– U-
Score increment of 20 points.

The slot is the only thing you can refer to. If you’re wondering where the Ooze is coming from, Up from this location gives the answer.

Senator
You are on the flight deck of a high-gain constant acceleration max-thrust Interstellar Transport Vehicle. Around the flight deck are many instruments including illuminated orange, amber, green, white, yellow and pink buttons, a slim lever, a chromed lever and a round knob. In the centre of the room is an array of flight-control positions consisting of high-backed gravity-lock seats each with their own set of controls, monitors and gauges. There are specific and dedicated seats for the astro-navigator, pilot and ship’s master. The pilot is provided with additional controls that look like counterpoise lampstands. There is a stairway leading down from the flight deck opposite of which is a deep cavity set into the hull of the ship. Above the cavity is a television screen. To one side of the screen is a vertically mounted section of a dome, the highest point of the dome pointing directly into the room. Various random light patterns play on the inside of the dome. On the other side of the screen is an area of racking containing strange devices that appear to be hand-held haircare products. Seeping through the joins of the structure of the flight deck is a most disgusting ooze; it appears to be alive as it pulsates and gradually expands across the surfaces of the ship.
The ship is throbbing gently.
Hovering in mid-air, in the middle of the flight deck, is a most awe-inspiring, pulsating plasma ball. The atmosphere around the ball is highly charged, as if with some form of electricity, creating the impression of overwhelming power and imminent danger. You feel incredibly strange as if experiencing a dream-state, is this reality, a hallucination maybe, or has something deeply alien taken control of your senses.
Exits: —- ——– -D
-> d
The plasma ball appears to consist of matter and forces hereto before unknown to your puny species. Its role in a strange life is to protect and it expedites this function with considerable flare. A flare of ectoplasm in fact, which is ejected with utmost force towards your snivelling form. You are reduced to items of matter smaller than quarks.
Quark, quark, dead duck.

If you eyeball the description carefully you’ll notice lots of buttons and some levers, but none of them can be referred to by the parser, so I’ve got relatively high certainty (let’s say 70%) that this room is a trap and should not be visited.

The problem is the ooze is also causing you to slowly die, so whatever is being done needs to be done quickly. I would assume the instructions earlier about finding the room to teleport to is the ticket. Every room available on the ship past the airlock is an anagram of the name of an episode of Blakes 7.

In Pert Mode -> Redemption
He Cared To Fly To Get With Ed -> City at the Edge of the World
Drown Bake -> Breakdown
Fakir Shares Hot Vote -> The Harvest of Kairos
Caro -> Orac
Trail -> Trial
Glod -> Gold
Lude -> Duel
South Of A Murder -> Rumours of Death

Etc. Some rooms we couldn’t get to (because of what seems like a bug, one room has an exit that loops) but managed to do anagrams of anyway by using the GOTO command and the room name and seeing if the room exists. One anagram was really stumping us, though: Voice from the Past.

Being a longer text than the others, it has many, many, possible anagrams and was resisting solution until Voltgloss noticed that the funny paper with five sort-of-cryptic clues from a few posts ago…

1. Hector can feel the pressure (8, 2).

2. Right in tout in large stream (5, 5).

3. Get away, morf back, too much heat on Independent Television (6, 4, 3, 3).

4. Top footballer, winning trophies (6, 4).

5. Bristling with fame, loves anchovies, participates (1, 6).

…had, if you take number 3 as a charade clue with no secondary definition, ESCAPE FROM HOT ITV. This is an anagram for Voice from the Past! The extra bit of effort nearly guarantees that this is the secret room we are supposed to teleport to. However, to get there, we need the teleport to work!

The most logical action, wearing the teleport bracelet (from way back in Phase 9), putting the id card in the slot, and saying the destination doesn’t work. This also matches roughly what goes on in the show, although there may be some details from said show that will help work out what we’re missing (so Blakes 7 experts still welcome!) Damian Murphy suggests in the comments to use the navigation computer first to go to a particular location, then teleporting from there.

There’s still a decent chance the text at Blake’s sarcophagus is relevant, but rather than dropping all the text again I’ll leave the link there; that has the inscription with the odd message “ABCDXY0123789” on it.

Whatever’s going on, we’ve got 24 hours to figure it out.

(Sort of. Again, I’m happy to continue in comments, but I really would like to crack into the Guru phase by January 31, it seems like it’d make a sort of capstone.)

Posted January 30, 2023 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Ferret: Big Brother is Watching You   36 comments

(Directly based off my previous post.)

No progress at all! But time is tight (see above) so let me update anyway.

After a number of increasingly absurd attempts at setting the system date, and looking into creating a giant batch file script that would check every possible system date from 1984 to 1988, we received another missive from the author hivemind:

The Broom Cupboard. The answer is not related to the date and you don’t need to change the settings of your computer.

Phew. Saved by the bell. But also:

There is something anomalous about the Foyer and Broom Cupboard.

There is a very subtle clue in the first sentence/page of the book, but that wasn’t designed to be the way to solve the problem, it just happens to be there.

Hmm. Curious. Here’s the two descriptions again:

Foyer
In a derelict warehouse. Large open area. Lit through semi-transparent skylights. Main warehouse to the north. To the west an aluminium door.
Exits: NS– ——– —
-> open door
Opened.
-> w
Broom Cupboard
A very small room with an aluminium door set in the east wall.
Exits: –E- ——– —
There is a book here

I certainly fiddled more in the cupboard than in the Foyer, so spent some time looking for oddities there. On the face of it, the big difference is that one is large and the other is very small, but I already knew that. (I had suspected that perhaps this indicated the room was really an elevator, but this suspicion led to no specific action.)

The Foyer lacks a “skylight” object even though the description of skylights is identical to other rooms in the warehouse, but that seems like a glitch more than a clue.

Fine, maybe the book will be revealing? The clue was unclear if what was meant was the first sentence upon reading the book’s description, or the first page of the real book 1984, so let’s consider both.

The book is very old and appears to have been damaged by immersion in water.

I never thought much of the water here — it makes for a good way to have identify-the-book be a naturalistic puzzle rather than a forced one — but maybe there’s something more to this comment. Specifically, maybe the book was left in the broom closet intact, and was only damaged by water later? In that case, where did the water come from? Leaks in the room? The ability to slide down and get submerged? This thought led me (and others in the comments) to prod heavily and the ceiling and floor, at least more heavily than before, but nothing came out that wasn’t a default message.

We tried bringing actual water in the room (akin to the well in Zork) with no result. I even tried ritually dropping the book into the water, theoretically giving it even more damage, but nothing changed (I don’t think the physics modeling of Ferret even is handling it properly).

Fine, what about the actual Orwell book? What counts as the first page depends on what font things get printed in, so let’s just give the first three paragraphs:

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind, slipped quickly through the glass doors of Victory Mansions, though not quickly enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from entering along with him.

The hallway smelt of boiled cabbage and old rag mats. At one end of it a coloured poster, too large for indoor display, had been tacked to the wall. It depicted simply an enormous face, more than a metre wide: the face of a man of about forty-five, with a heavy black moustache and ruggedly handsome features. Winston made for the stairs. It was no use trying the lift. Even at the best of times it was seldom working, and at present the electric current was cut off during daylight hours. It was part of the economy drive in preparation for Hate Week. The flat was seven flights up, and Winston, who was thirty-nine and had a varicose ulcer above his right ankle, went slowly, resting several times on the way. On each landing, opposite the lift-shaft, the poster with the enormous face gazed from the wall. It was one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, the caption beneath it ran.

Inside the flat a fruity voice was reading out a list of figures which had something to do with the production of pig-iron. The voice came from an oblong metal plaque like a dulled mirror which formed part of the surface of the right-hand wall. Winston turned a switch and the voice sank somewhat, though the words were still distinguishable. The instrument (the telescreen, it was called) could be dimmed, but there was no way of shutting it off completely. He moved over to the window: a smallish, frail figure, the meagreness of his body merely emphasized by the blue overalls which were the uniform of the party. His hair was very fair, his face naturally sanguine, his skin roughened by coarse soap and blunt razor blades and the cold of the winter that had just ended.

As Voltgloss observed, the bit about the lift being shut down during daylight hours might be kind of like a hint, and it does align with the room being an elevator. I then tried various ways of convincing the game the room was dark, but no joy, including absurd commands I knew just weren’t going to work, just in case there was a helpful error message.

-> cover skylight with linen
I can’t see anything like that around here.

Other efforts include getting the game to hardlock by using the cyborg. I was slightly incorrect last time about the cyborg; she does have a random chance of making it all the way up to the Foyer (I think the reason WAIT FOR wasn’t working is that she is more likely to get stuck at the Waterfall.) I tried going south and typing WAIT FOR CYBORG and the game completely locked up and I had to hit control-C to quit out. Voltgloss had something similar when he trapped the cyborg in the broom closet by closing the door. I suspect this means the cyborg still isn’t our candidate for solution, but at least crashing was a result other than futility.

I’m completely stumped from here. Usually in this scenario the issue requires something outside the puzzle, like messing with power elsewhere, but my minor attempts at doing alternate button presses at the lake yielded no results. Is there some other method to convince the warehouse that “the rave is open” so to speak and it is fine to open any kind of secret night-time passage or elevator? I can’t think of any.

ADD: We had a breakthrough due to a much more explicit hint from the authors — details in the comments. Updated save at the start of Phase 16 here for anyone playing along (note that nothing is done yet in Phase 16 in the save, including releasing the handbrake or putting in the tickets).

But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.

Posted January 29, 2023 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Ferret: One Room   33 comments

After all our efforts and travels, our final act of desperation might boil down to one room. (Prior posts on Ferret here.)

From a Data General Eclipse C/330 Computer System, via the Computer History Museum.

Before getting to the Jean-Paul Sartre simulator single puzzle of doom, I should mention we do have progress! But on the “backsolve” part of the game: how to make a projector.

Namely, Mustelid observed that the various “staffrooms” that have appeared in a few phases all have a tilted ceiling that resembles that type used with some projectors.

Staffroom
This room appears to have been 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.

Some playing around with the lit orb yielded far more results than we ever had before.

-> turn knob
Clunk.
The orb starts to emit a bright light.
-> put orb in sink
Done.
A rectangular area of the angled ceiling is brightly lit.

The fruit bowl I mentioned last time worked as a lens; if you put in one of the transparencies we’ve been toting around, symbols result:

-> put orb in sink
Done.
A rectangular area of the angled ceiling is brightly lit.
-> put bowl in sink
Done.
The rectangular area of the angled ceiling is diffusely lit. There appear to be
some symbols projected on to the ceiling.

You need to lay down both transparencies at the same time in order to get a full picture:

The map we already have, via brute force: it is the dark maze that had the leather wallet and the life vest.

It also, curiously enough, has one of the transparencies. The intended game flow (assuming you don’t sequence break like we did) is to use the bottom half of the map to obtain a second transparency, then do the combined transparencies to get the top half of the map.

The “key” (read top to bottom) is allegedly the clue we need to get at the plum ticket. We should likely say something like “state of enlightenment” at the Archive of Angst, but I wasn’t able to get it to work. I didn’t experiment that hard, though.

Archive of Angst
Cramped, poorly lit, smelly hovel. This room appears to have been partitioned from a previously larger room as, incongruously, there is a brass plate set off-centre in one wall. The plate features a grille under which is an engraved instruction. Sprayed across one wall is a graffito that reads: “Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be”.
Exits: N— ——– —
-> read instruction
The engraving mandates: “State your destination”.

I didn’t experiment that hard because I’ve been focused on the puzzle of doom. Namely, trying to find the identity card in order to get into the last part of Phase 16. That is, where is this room?

Amaurotic Ambulatory
A short room.
Exits: N— ——– —
There is an identity card here

The Authors, in their mercy, have dropped notice that the Broom Closet is in fact the important place for finding a secret, and the 20 points acquired are not just from finding the book inside. (The book, a copy of George Orwell’s 1984 with a mangled cover, may even be a red herring.) So efforts need to be focused there. But there just isn’t much to say:

Foyer
In a derelict warehouse. Large open area. Lit through semi-transparent skylights. Main warehouse to the north. To the west an aluminium door.
Exits: NS– ——– —
-> open door
Opened.
-> w
Broom Cupboard
A very small room with an aluminium door set in the east wall.
Exits: –E- ——– —
There is a book here
Score increment of 20 points.

Our vision of the future showed the secret room with an entrance from the north, so assuming this doesn’t lead to something more complex, there is some way to open the south wall here.

The way to unlock the visible door was to win a game of Mastermind. So possibility one is that there’s something additional to be done at the game. It consists of a giant, 20 by 4 block of rooms.

Broom closet marked in blue.

For each row, the westmost room has a “rainbow button” that will let us register a guess, and there are “rotary switches” that allow picking colors in any of the four rooms in a row:

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

I found out, via prior experimentation, that the right sequence from west to east is Violet, Yellow, Orange, Yellow. This results, when the rainbow button is pushed, an “all black” light configuration (just like the black pegs of the real game). This sequence can be delivered in any of the rows. One possibility might have been that there is really a second combination the layout switches to after the first “all black” that needs to be solved for, but no: it’s still always Violet-Yellow-Orange-Yellow. I even tried setting every single one of the rows to all-black to no effect.

This doesn’t completely discard the possibility the Mastermind is relevant, but I can say I haven’t eked out any extra clues.

Another possibility might be that the wandering cyborg (the one we killed to get an orb to solve that projector puzzle I just mentioned) could come into play, maybe having her wander into the broom closet can have some effect? But the “chunky bracelet” which influenced the movements of the automaton in phase 9 (I think? … still unclear there) does not do anything with the cyborg, and if you just sit at the broom clause at WAIT FOR CYBORG the game just says “Looks like a no-show.” If you head to the room just south (Terminus) and do the same thing: “The cyborg has just slinked into the room.” It is clear the limit of the cyborg’s range cuts off right before the broom closet.

That leaves shenanigans in the broom closet itself, literal pounding on the wall in an empty room. I’ve tried saying various words important to the book 1984 (FREEDOM IS SLAVERY), poking and prodding at each of the wall directions (you can refer to SOUTH WALL, NORTH WALL, etc.), doing DANCE and SING, and probably most absurdly yet more promisingly, changing the system clock. And yes, I mean the date/time feature on the computer I am using to play the game.

To back up a bit, there was a puzzle I solved more or less by pure luck way back in Phase 2 where a particular device only worked at a particular time of day. I only realized this because when I first played through the section I was playing during the correct time span, but when I tested the same actions later they didn’t work. Here, the suspicion is we may or may not be setting a time, but the important thing is the system date.

The reason for this suspicion is the flier I mentioned last post out in the Mastermind puzzle is in a room called Timeshift Passage:

MC Emsee and the Enormous Possie
present
A Rave to Remember
featuring
* DJ Spong
* Fardy Snapwit
* The New House Bandeleroos
* Aching Vomit and the Wretches
12th December, Late till Later
Warehouse on Conduit Road
Zonndo Promotions init
Max schtumm to avoid babylon

The 1984 book also contains a second date reference (a copyright of 1987, but based on the edition the ASCII seems to be based on that’s technically correct) and of the voucher and placard I also mentioned last time one makes a 1984 reference (kind of) and one makes a specific date reference:

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

Jenny Taylor’ Promotions
In association with the Rigid Digit Troupe
are delighted to announce a new collection
Juicy Lucy and the Suppurating Slits
with Hardlong Pipe and the Plumbers will play
The Come and Get It Adlib Concert
for one night only
Do not miss this once in a lifetime show
31st October 1985
An aural orgasm – The Voice of the Streets
Promoting Agents: Throbbing Vain Acts

So, I’ve changed my system clock to 31-OCT-1985, 12-DEC-1985, as well as 84, 86, and 87 permutations of the same. None seem to have any effect. I did not know what to set the timer to — none of the clues seem to be specific about that — so I tried 10 pm as a good “late till later” approximation. I also mucked about with 1 pm, in reference to the clocks ringing thirteen in the first sentence of 1984.

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

Of course, this sentence suggests April but… when? I’ve come up with all sorts of weird combinatorial possibilities but none of them seem justified past the obvious dates I’ve tried. I’m starting to think this is again the wrong path, especially because there are computers where changing the date that far back is not something accomplished with ease. (Also, did you know browsers will think your computer is hacked if you change your system date to the 1980s?)

And, just as a reminder, three days remain.

Posted January 28, 2023 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

Tagged with

Ferret: Feeling Well Dead   23 comments

So painfully, painfully close.

(Prior posts on Ferret here.)

From Major Activities in the Atomic Energy Programs, January – December 1960.

We have since last time managed to wrangle through the crossword, which I’ll give the solution of first.

(As observed by a couple people, “Live back against the ten commandments” should probably be “Lived back”, so that reversing “lived” gets “devil”, otherwise “evil” would be the better answer.)

The missing clue, 7 across, is just SEVEN. It is unclear (like so many things) if this puzzle is meant to go anywhere; we’ve already had ample warning about BLAKE’S (or BLAKES) SEVEN being important, but maybe it is meant to just be a little extra. There is incidentally a signal nearby which relates; I mentioned there was an “audio guide” that activated upon wearing some headphones. At a random time while walking around there is a special message having nothing to do with the location you’re in:

There is a sharp click followed by a blast of white noise. Then silence. After a few seconds, initially faintly, then more strongly, you hear: “This is Civil Administration ship London. We are in transit from Earth to Cygnus Alpha, transporting prisoners to the penal colony. We have Federation clearance for direct flight, authority number K-Seven-Zero-One.”
The radio broadcast finishes and the original presentation starts afresh.

This is in direct references to Blakes 7; this is the prison ship that transports Blake in the opening episodes.

A moment from the first episode where they discuss lack of identification.

This all suggests “K701” will be used somewhere, but we haven’t reached it yet.

One of the other unsolved sections in Phase 16 was a “blast control” area.

Hooter must be sounded no more than minute(s) before blasting.
Wind plunger turn(s) to prime blaster rotor.
Depress plunger to initiate blast sequence.

Blasting is forbidden between the hours of and .
In event of problems call Central Mining Control Centre.
Operations out of normal parameters contact neighbourhood liaison on red.
Last safety check completed:

A nickel key (from the water maze in Phase 15) was required; after some fiddling I realized “winding the plunger” meant turning the aforementioned key, so getting the explosion to happen was a matter of guessing how many turns were required.

-> put nickel in keyhole
Done.
-> press toggle
A siren wails, echoing around the mine workings.
-> turn nickel;turn nickel;turn nickel
Clunk.
Clunk.
Clunk.
-> lift plunger
Done.
-> push down plunger
Done. After a fractional pause there is an enormous explosion in the bowels of the mine workings.

LIFT and PUSH DOWN would both be absurdly hard to find but I just used TEST PLUNGER twice causing the game to magically come across the right verbs for me.

My dilemma now was, having caused the explosion, what use it had. Nothing seemed to move or change. It took some hints from Voltgloss to move things around, and most specifically the observation that if you go down to the first branch the “boring” one which just leads to a dead and at a warehouse, you can briefly observe a railway track whilst heading to the dead end.

Lane
On a fenced lane running east west parallel to a railway track. The lane slopes down from west to east.

This track is extremely important: what it indicates is the track we’ve been riding the train on for a very long time now keeps going! Normally, if you try to drive the train past Phase 16, it just gets stuck:

You are in the cab of a locomotive which is currently resting very firmly against the buffers at the end of a siding.

I assumed that was that, but the game is being deceptive in the description here: if it were not for some blockage it could keep going farther north. In particular, by a nearby earthquake, like from a large explosion like you can cause at the blast area! However, this still seems unhelpful, since entering phase 16 is a one-way trip; however, if you think to RELEASE HANDBRAKE at the train before starting the explosion, the train will keep rolling along of its own volition.

End of Lane
On a fenced lane running north south. The southern end of the lane exhibits a ground shadow synonymous with the previous existence of an immense warehouse.
Exits: NS– ——– —
-> s
Shadow of a Warehouse
A large open area exhibiting the ground shadow of an immense warehouse. The remainder of the warehouse is to the south. To the north is a fenced lane. To the west is a set of railway tracks, to the east is the rear end of a train locomotive which appears to be sinking very slowly into the ground.
Exits: NS-W ——– —
There are some shards of timber here

I’ve gone on the record already as “preparation puzzles” being highly satisfying; this was no different, and I really do like the very subtle clue of the recurrence of railway tracks. I would be a little more pleased if the text upon trying to move the train too far was a little less deceptive.

Inside the warehouse, as our “reward” we can die again.

-> s
Warehouse
A large open area in the remains of an immense warehouse. There is another
large open area to the north.
Exits: N— ——– —
There is a thallium receptacle here
-> open receptacle
Opening the thallium receptacle reveals:
some radiant pellets
-> get pellets
Taken.

Alternately, we can take the whole receptacle along. Either way, the messages come:

You are starting to feel unwell.

You are feeling well bad.

You are feeling well dead.
Phase 16 (Liberation)
Mode: Master
You have scored 1515 (out of 1670) points in 3940 moves.
Rooms visited: 887. Rank achieved: Supremo.

Oops! Radiation safety, everyone! Which I discovered (including another insight from Voltgloss) in carrying in a leather wallet and putting the pellets inside; closing the wallet keeps them from causing damage, so we can now safely stick them as fuel somewhere.

Assuming the headphones section is a one-way “quantum echo” (and it certainly feels that way) the only thing left to deal with in Phase 16 is the lift with the mysterious NAPIVS warning.

I inquired directly about this from the authors and received a mysterious hint:

Amaurotic Ambulatory
A short room.
Exits: N— ——– —
There is an identity card here

Some further prodding revealed that if there’s a room you’re trying to find, typing GOTO ROOM will give an error if the room doesn’t exist (that is, you’re in the wrong phase) while typing GOTO ROOM in the correct phase will have the game try to pathfind a route there:

-> goto Amaurotic Ambulatory
Plotting a course…
No way, jose.

Using this trick we realized the identity card we needed was back in Phase 12, with the cyborg, waterfall, and Mastermind game. Solving the Mastermind game had unlocked a room with a book that I managed to decipher as being a particular edition of George Orwell’s novel 1984.

Broom Cupboard
A very small room with an aluminium door set in the east wall.
Exits: –E- ——– —
There is a book here

Arriving at this room gives the player some points. It is possible the points are there simply because the information about the existence of the book is simply later, but it was suspicious: could there be something more here? Unfortunately, all my attempts at prying open a secret door or the like have been for naught. I went back to the various Mastermind rooms and tried prodding at combinations to see if there was any other result to be found — maybe after solving Mastermind once it would be a totally different combo? This didn’t seem to be the case though. The sequence always remained Violet-Yellow-Orange-Yellow.

Stones and Soot
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.
Exits: NSE- ——– —
-> turn switch
The room is suffused by a glow of Orange
-> push button
Click.
The lights are showing: White Unlit Unlit Unlit

(That’s: one color correct but in wrong position, all other colors incorrect.)

I then resorted to going back to the broom closet and trying a bunch of words and phrases from Orwell, like IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH, but no dice. The game has been decently good about cuing when there is a voice signal (although we got tripped up in the pyramid on a series of riddle rooms where the last one had no clue) and I went through nearly every strongly-associated word/phrase so I think the trick must be something else.

There’s one more possibility, and that’s the fact that the warehouse includes, randomly in one spot, a flier.

MC Emsee and the Enormous Possie
present
A Rave to Remember
featuring
* DJ Spong
* Fardy Snapwit
* The New House Bandeleroos
* Aching Vomit and the Wretches
12th December, Late till Later
Warehouse on Conduit Road
Zonndo Promotions init
Max schtumm to avoid babylon

There’s both a voucher and a placard from back in Phase 9 which seem related:

Jenny Taylor’ Promotions
In association with the Rigid Digit Troupe
are delighted to announce a new collection
Juicy Lucy and the Suppurating Slits
with Hardlong Pipe and the Plumbers will play
The Come and Get It Adlib Concert
for one night only
Do not miss this once in a lifetime show
31st October 1985
An aural orgasm – The Voice of the Streets
Promoting Agents: Throbbing Vain Acts

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

How does this relate to the problem? Do we wave the voucher in a particular room to get in the secret disco club underneath the disco club? “Ampleforth” is incidentally a character in 1984, someone who rewrites poetry for the Ministry of Truth, but it is hard to turn that knowledge into a tangible action in the game.

‘These things happen,’ he began vaguely. ‘I have been able to recall one instance — a possible instance. It was an indiscretion, undoubtedly. We were producing a definitive edition of the poems of Kipling. I allowed the word “God” to remain at the end of a line. I could not help it!’ he added almost indignantly, raising his face to look at Winston. ‘It was impossible to change the line. The rhyme was “rod”. Do you realize that there are only twelve rhymes to “rod” in the entire language? For days I had racked my brains. There was no other rhyme.’

My last order of business here is to bestow a medal upon Mustelid for inquiring about bringing the remote generator and the orb together.

This marathon medal seems appropriate.

Some explanation: we’ve been still trying to make a projector, to back-solve the business with the plum ticket, with the clue that an “opaque orb” is important. There is an ultra-heavy remote generator from Phase 9 that an automaton follows around once you activate it. If you try to take the generator onto the train, and turn the knob to move the train, it appears maybe the generator is too heavy:

-> release handbrake
Done.
-> turn knob
Clunk.

The catch is the parser: it is getting caught by the fact that the remote generator also has a knob. The knob in the train is a “knurled knob” and you need to “turn knurled” in order to move the train rather than “turn knob” once the generator is onboard.

The upshot of all this is if you manage to bring the generator and orb together, turning the generator will cause the orb to glow! So we have a light source; now we just need to make a projector out of it. We can toss the orb in a “fruit bowl” which might serve as a lens, but otherwise the game is frustratingly unresponsive to any kind of command that involve combining objects (I might want to cover the bowl with linen and poke a hole, but neither is understood). Still, the projector seems tantalizingly close.

Will we get there, though? Only five days remain.

Posted January 26, 2023 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

Tagged with

Ferret: Bristling With Fame, Loves Anchovies, Participates   77 comments

Here’s another “brief update” post on Ferret (the almost-nearly done text adventure that has gone for 30+ posts to write) mainly intended to entice the cryptic crossword fans out there.

One of the rooms from last time, a Vestry in the zombie/cell area, had a secret passage. This passage is one-way, meaning you aren’t supposed to go in on the “main route”, but as has been typical for Ferret, the information might be useful anyway.

Vestry
A small dimly lit area with various coathooks and clothes racks. There is a bead curtained exit to the south. The east wall is panelled in dark wood, above which is a beautiful icon depicting a heavenly female figure. Set in the halo surrounding the figure in a spectacular jewel.
Exits: -S– ——– —
There are some wireless headphones here
-> press jewel
Part of the wood panelling springs back to reveal an opening.
-> e
The wood panel springs closed behind you as you squeeze through the opening.
Priest Hole
A very small dark room only large enough for a person to crouch. The west wall consists of badly made wood panels that allow a little light to enter.
There are some interesting objects here:
a newspaper cutting
a blank sheet of paper
a piece of notepaper

The blank sheet of paper is very meta and I’ll get to it in a moment. Here’s the “piece of notepaper” first:

Must remember to reach out to Jeff with these ideas for clues for his wonky crossword for the Parish Magazine.

1. Hector can feel the pressure (8, 2).

2. Right in tout in large stream (5, 5).

3. Get away, morf back, too much heat on Independent Television (6, 4, 3, 3).

4. Top footballer, winning trophies (6, 4).

5. Bristling with fame, loves anchovies, participates (1, 6).

Followed by the newspaper cutting, which requires an image:

If you are having trouble reading that, I’ve filled in some squares:

Note that the middle word (7 across) seems to not have an associated clue, suggesting the word is important for the main game (unless this is a red herring in general).

Now, the blank paper which I’ve been saving:

-> read blank paper
There is nothing written on the paper although it has a strange feel with a lustre that gives it the appearance of very faint highlights and shadows.

There’s a piece of charcoal from back in phase 15 that can be carted over here to find both an extreme meta-reference and a clue.

InFiRe The Retroview November 2056

Just 2 games for this issue, a classic and a wannabe.

Zork

—-

A game-changer written in the seventies (yes, 1970’s) that broke the mould of Adventure and Cave and created a new genre of full sentence parser games. It features all the classic tropes of mazes, dark tunnels and superficial puzzles, some requiring divine inspiration. Everybody should play this game if only to understand the development of games before the move towards more friendly devices. The game was significant enough to inspire a number of sequels and lookylikies. On the downside it appears that the original game is just a collection of ideas thrown into a big pot with no gesture towards an over-arching narrative or plot. This might be due to its origins in MIT where the science of the design challenge possibly offered more interest to the game builders than the need to tell a story. Despite that minor short-coming we awarded it 4.5 stars for its trail-blazing and parsing.

Ferret

——

This game admits to being inspired by Zork, or do the authors mean it’s a bit of a rip-off? Possibly not, due to the sheer size of the thing with a narrative going from end to end, featuring a B. O. Darkins being resuscitated in a land now foreign (after the [unspecified] apocalypse event – naturally). Said Darkins is then on a mission to find survivors and the game claims to contain all the information necessary to solve the puzzles – we beg to differ, it seems to assume access to a good search engine to find some of the more obscure references. Early parts of the game echo Zork with the standard puzzles of the time but once it gets into its stride it becomes more inventive with some elements straddling multiple phases of the game. Phases are an important part of the game as it was designed and released in batches of rooms called Phases – originally a limitation of 16-bit technology, the authors leveraged it to allow the game to continue development in an incremental fashion. 40 years (yes, 40) after inception a final release was posted with an end game – which, as far as we can ascertain, has never been cracked. The final conceit has heavy overtones of a TV series popular at the time of the games’ original release – an innovative (for British TV) series called Blake’s 7 (this was in the early Star Trek era). Players have noted that the Phase is called Liberation (Blake’s ship is called Liberator), that there are 51 rooms (with curious names) on the ship, yet 52 episodes in the TV series. Many theories have been expounded but most seem to revolve around the notion of finding Room 52 – there is a Teleport that understands the room names of the ship so that might be the way in. The Authors – a bunch of plucky Brits (this is definitely a British game) have stayed anonymous but are still accessible through their website. There are innovative features in the game, e.g., a Test feature that runs every action verb on an object – this may have been included due to the usual ‘guess the verb’ problem, and this game uses a lot of verbs. We have awarded this game 4 stars for sheer scope, but it does seem old-fashioned by modern standards.

As always, games reviewed here can be found on ifdb.

Interactive Fiction Review Draft Page 20

For those who don’t want to stare at that block of text trying to find the clue, the part about “Players have noted that the Phase is called Liberation (Blake’s ship is called Liberator), that there are 51 rooms (with curious names) on the ship, yet 52 episodes in the TV series. Many theories have been expounded but most seem to revolve around the notion of finding Room 52 – there is a Teleport that understands the room names of the ship so that might be the way in.” is quite suggestive of something useful for later.

Just as a reminder, I’ve set the game-finish deadline as the 31st, so 9 days remain. Again, I’m willing to have a bit more work happen in the comments if we’re not quite but almost there, and I’m willing to make one more “finished” post if we hit the actual end of the game past deadline, but I’m otherwise switching gears from Ferret to elsewhere.

Posted January 22, 2023 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Puzzles, Video Games

Tagged with

Ferret: Last Ticket   25 comments

Prime Minister:
Good heavens — listen to this. “Dear Mr gladstone, tonight I will commence to destroy the following ancient London monuments: Nelson’s Column, Albert Memorial and Anna Neagle. Finally, I shall blow up Greater London!”

ANTHONY:
I say, naughty fellow.

PM:
This is, this is terrible! Look he… he’s spelt my name with a small g!

ANTHONY:
Oh, Mr. Gladstone, if London is blown up at midnight, hadn’t we better have some dinner earlier?

PM:
Oh nonsense, nonsense Anthony. This is the work of a practical joker. No man would dare…

[Explosion. Sound of bomb dropping followed by glass smashing and destruction]

PM:
What was that?

ANTHONY:
Nelson’s Column just landed in the garden.

— From The Goon Show episode The Man Who Tried To Destroy London’s Monuments, first broadcast October 9, 1953

(Prior posts on Ferret here.)

Well, if you thought 70s TV sci-fi references were out there, how about a British comedy radio show from the 1950s?

From the cover of a 1971 vinyl LP of one of the radio broadcasts.

The Goon Show was originally — for Series 1 and 2 anyway — actually introduced as

Crazy People, featuring radio’s own Crazy Gang: “The Goons”.

before being renamed. Its regular episodes ran from 1951 to 1960, and it was a strong influence on The Firesign Theater and Monty Python. The Goons also make an appearance in Ferret:

Milligan is the entry room, Sellers and Eric have the projector of doom and the stove.

That’s the names of various people involved spread throughout the map of the office building in Phase 15, like Spike Milligan, co-creator and main writer for the show. And no, none of this turned out to be helpful to observe to solve the puzzle of the last ticket, but Ferret has gotten so difficult I couldn’t leave any possibility behind.

(And if you’re wondering “what happened to Blakes 7 from last time?”, well, that’s still up in the air, but apparently all that information from last time is meant to apply to Phase 16, titled Liberation; there’s at least one reference already in that area, as you’ll see.)

Last time the biggest relevation came from a clarification from the authors; I had previously asked how many tickets phases 9-14 had, and they said five. We found four, so I spent roughly a week going through each one for the fifth ticket. I then found they must have misread and though I was including 15 in my span; the fifth ticket is in phase 15! Furthermore, they clarified in a way that indicated the ticket was in the mysterious Goon Show floor with the projector and the stove where you did not need to bring any outside objects with you.

To recap, you enter the floor of the building via a window washer cradle, into the room “Milligan”:

Milligan
Apparently an office 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 a corridor to the east.

I had, at the time, the extra problem here that the cradle was going back up after entering the building, and trying to escape the way I came led to going splat.

Yee-haa! As you somersault out of the office block you catch a brief glimpse of the building rising above you with the window cleaners’ cradle near the top. The glimpse is all too brief as you splatter all over the ground at the base of the building.

This turned out to be a bug (?!) but more on that in a moment.

Then there was a stove which just melted everything:

Eric
Apparently a kitchen in an office block. There is a corridor to the east. Along one wall is a worktop above which are three cupboards. Set into the worktop is a sheet of plexiglass, in the centre of which is a circular depression. All other kitchen facilities and furniture appear to have been stolen.
-> put basket in depression
Done.
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.
The vinyl that melted in the chip basket has cooled to form a shallow pool.

And a projector that kills you:

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.
-> pull short cord
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).

(Yes, I’ve gone through all this, but there’s so much stuff in this game even I need reminding.)

Knowing that no outside objects were used helped restrict our thought process. None of the items in the stove room seemed to be helpful (including a cabinet that was empty in an earlier build and filled in a later one, suggesting those objects were a red herring!) as they all either vaporized entirely or melted as in the text I’ve already given. The projector was particularly frustrating as the short cord resisted any kind of manipulation I tried.

Voltgloss in the comments eventually hit upon tying the two puzzles together:

-> tie short cord to basket
The cord is tied to the wire basket.
-> w
Your attachment to the cord prevents your egress from the room.
It does however activate 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. The screeching changes to a series of clicks followed by what sounds like cogs and belts engaging. Achingly slowly the screen retracts and then disappears into the ceiling. At the end of its travel the projector screen emits a rather unpleasant and expensive graunching sound. The removal of the projector screen has revealed a wall safe.

No other item seems to work to accomplish this, and I previously was under the impression (based on being rebuffed by the parser earlier) that the short cord was untieable.

The wall safe has a “vinyl block” which can be melted just like all the other vinyl things, with the difference here being it reveals something useful.

-> put basket in depression
Done.
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.
The vinyl that melted in the chip basket has cooled to form a shallow pool. During the intense heat a petite waxed envelope has floated free of the vinyl block and is now stuck to the surface of the pool of cooled vinyl.

The envelope has the fifth ticket!

Usually. In one of my saved games when I try to go through this process the envelope is empty. Yes, the later phases of this game are buggy, and this really got borne out trying to escape from the office floor. You see, commenter K had, every time upon arriving at the building, had the cradle stop at the floor and not leave, so it was easy to escape. I always had it go up (I’d never seen it stop). Voltgloss had sometimes one and sometimes the other. I assume this is the same sort of bug that causes the envelope to not have a tangerine ticket in it.

Fixing the problem required Voltgloss playing the game from the very beginning and making a save at the start of phase 9. I took the save and brought it the rest of the way, getting all five tickets (still playing in the version of the game with the easy-to-grab plum ticket, without the “destination” puzzle, I’ll come back to that). I have a saved game linked in the comments which has the player avatar standing at Phase 16 while holding all five tickets.

And yes, I did say Phase 16, the long gloriously sought-after mothership (dubbed Liberation).

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.
Exits: -S– ——– —
-> i
You are carrying:
  a lime ticket
  a lemon ticket
  a tangerine ticket
  a strawberry ticket
  a plum ticket
-> insert lime in slot; insert lemon in slot; insert tangerine in slot;
Done.
Done.
Done.
-> insert strawberry in slot; insert plum in slot
Done.
Done.
-> n
Entrance Vestibule
You are in a featureless room. There is a turnstile set into the south wall.
Exits: N— ——– —
Score increment of 20 points.

The order is simply determined by the destinations written on the tickets; phases 9 through 13 are Richmond, Ashford, Staines, Egham, and Virginia Water Station, as seen on signs at each location, so the tickets just needed to be inserted in that same order.

The game incidentally has one of those “inventory resets” here where quite a bit of inventory doesn’t fit. We know from prior hints that a teleport bracelet is required, and you’ll see in a moment that a nickel key (from that water maze with the key in the cage) is also needed, and there isn’t much inventory space past that, so we’re finally “out of the woods” for the most part in our Phases 9-15 nightmare (not that there might not be yet another piece of info squirreled away, but other than the plum ticket puzzle, it seems like we’ve prodded every corner).

I haven’t started seriously puzzle-solving yet, but let me at least give the lay of the land of the new area. It is essentially a “main route” with “branches”.

-> l
Car Park
You are standing on a vast tarmaced area surrounded by fences. The tarmac is marked with strange white stripes. To the south is the entrance to a Railway Station. A lane leads off to the east. A metalled road proceeds in a northerly direction.
Exits: NSE- ——– —
-> e
Lane
On a fenced lane running east west.
Exits: –EW ——– —

Branch one is fairly boring, and is just a lane that gets blocked off by a warehouse. Unless there’s a secret way to open it, or we loop back and use this place as an exit, this is just filler.

End of Lane
On a fenced lane running north south. The southern end of the lane is blocked by the side of an immense warehouse.

Branch two is more interesting:

A small hut with a bench running along one side under a window. On the bench is a large metal box surmounted by various instruments, notably a keyhole, a plunger, the toggle for a hooter, numerous terminals and wires. Attached to one wall of the hut is a framed notice.

The keyhole takes the nickel key, and will give a “clunk” if turned.

The toggle will given a siren with the specific verb PUSH DOWN:

-> PUSH DOWN TOGGLE
A siren wails, echoing around the mine workings.

(This would be extremely hard to find — PUSH alone doesn’t work — except for the TEST verb which has been useful the whole game.)

You can LIFT the plunger (the game just says “Done.”) and again, the game is very finicky about the syntax here and TEST saved a lot of experimentation..

What I have not been able to do is “wind” the plunger, as per the instructions:

-> read notice
Only parts of the notice remain legible as the handwritten elements have faded:

Conquest Mining Corporation

Blasting Procedures

Hooter must be sounded no more than     minute(s) before blasting.
Wind plunger       turn(s) to prime blaster rotor.
Depress plunger to initiate blast sequence.

Blasting is forbidden between the hours of   and  .
In event of problems call Central Mining Control Centre.
Operations out of normal parameters contact neighbourhood liaison on red.
Last safety check completed:

I’m guessing this will fall to a bit more experimentation (and maybe another nasty verb use) but let’s move on for now to the next branch:

Gaol
In front of a large building protected by an armoured door.
Exits: —W ——– —
-> open door
Opened.
-> e
The door closes behind you and emits an ominous click.
Jailhouse
A featureless room with a noticeboard on one wall. At one end are a table and chair securely fixed to the floor. The jail has just one cell separated from the main jailhouse by strong iron bars. The cell comprises the northern end of the jailhouse and is accessed through a barred iron door. Attached to the inside of the bars is a semi-transparent banner with writing that is indecipherable from the reverse side. To the east is a wooden door and there is a stairway leading down.
Exits: —- ——– -D
The prison cell contains:
a flesh-eating zombie
some rotting carcasses

The entry is one-way; getting out is the primary puzzle here. The wooden door is incidentally locked and gives the default message when using a key which suggests no key will unlock it. You can still die by kicking it, just like that red herring all the way in Phase 1.

-> kick wooden door
Your foot goes clean through the wood of the door causing you to lose balance. As you fall forwards you impale your anal sphincter on a very sharp splinter of wood, resulting in massive internal injuries and severe bleeding.
You’ve curled your toes.

Also, yes, the zombie feels “out of genre”; we have had some a mutant creature (that we had to hand a defective weapon to in order to defeat) but nothing like a zombie. EXAMINE ZOMBIE incidentally crashes the game.

The lower section has a pair of headphones which give an audio tour of the surroundings.

Vestry
A small dimly lit area with various coathooks and clothes racks. There is a bead curtained exit to the south. The east wall is panelled in dark wood, above which is a beautiful icon depicting a heavenly female figure. Set in the halo surrounding the figure in a spectacular jewel.
Exits: -S– ——– —
There are some wireless headphones here
-> wear headphones
Done.
Over the headphones a pre-recorded message is looping through a presentation:
Welcome to the Liberty Tours Audio Guide.
You are in the Vestry. A robing area used by the resident priest.
-> s
Dock
A small enclosed area that overlooks a courtroom. There is a solitary chair and a stairway leading down.
Exits: —- ——– -D
Over the headphones a pre-recorded message is looping through a presentation:
Welcome to the Liberty Tours Audio Guide.
You are in the Dock. Suspects were required to sit in this area while their trial proceeded in the adjoining courtroom.

On to the last branch:

There’s presumably a lot more to see, but I’m fairly immediately stuck.

Antechamber
You are in a corridor with walls made completely from a weird opaque substance.
There is a steel door to the north.
Exits: -S– ——– —
-> open steel door
Opened.
-> n
Bottom of Lift
You are in a small aluminium-lined room. To the south is a steel door. Next to the door is a red button, under which is a chrome plate.
Exits: -S– ——– —
Score increment of 10 points.
-> push button
Click.
-> read plate
FEDERATION SECURITY
PROCEDURES DICTATE
THAT VALID AUTHORITY
(E.G. NAPIVS) MUST
BE CARRIED AT ALL
TIMES WITHOUT EXCEPTION

The Federation indicates pretty clearly we’re in Blakes 7 territory here, but wearing the Teleport Bracelet gives no change to the red button. I think it likely the other branches need to be finished before this one does anything.

That’s almost all the new discoveries for now. We’re still trying to retro-solve the business with the plum ticket (that is, the puzzle that only got added in the most recent version, but we can play an older version and skip it); we have received the info that we do need to say a particular word at the Archive of Angst in order to get the ticket, and this word can be found by forming a projector (out of items we have on our person) and use that projector to look at two transparencies that we’ve found in odd spots in the game. However, we have made no progress on this at all. Many “assembly” puzzles in games are naturally easy in that you can accidentally fit two pieces together without knowing what’s going on, but the verbs in Ferret are finicky enough you might be properly intending to fit item X into item Y (say, a piece of linen and a plastic fruit bowl) but not using the right verb. There is a conspicuous lack of a light source; we still have a flashgun but the button only worked when we were using it way back in Phase 8.

I did also resolve the book! I’m going to skip how I figured out the puzzle (check the comments of my last post if you’re dying to know) and just do this without words:

Posted January 21, 2023 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Ferret: I Plan To Live Forever or Die Trying   73 comments

The title here is a quote from Blakes 7, or possibly Blakes7 or Blake’s 7, depending on what reference you’re looking at (modern fan works go with Blakes 7 with no apostrophe so let’s stick with what the superfans say). And yes, a relatively obscure sci-fi TV show from 1978 is relevant to Ferret. (Prior posts on Ferret here.)

The creator, Terry Nation, described it as “The Dirty Dozen in space”; if you imagine the Rebel Alliance in Star Wars being even tinier and scrappier you can get roughly the idea. Oh, and the Bad Guys (or True Bad Guys, I suppose) are the Federation, which includes Earth, so maybe the evil-goatee-Spock parallel universe of Star Trek went terribly wrong.

Blake: I meant what I said on Goth, Avon. We are not going to use Star One to rule the Federation, we are going to destroy it.
Avon: I never doubted that. I never doubted your fanaticism. As far as I’m concerned you can destroy whatever you like. You can stir up a thousand revolutions. You can wade in blood up to your armpits. Oh, and you can lead the rabble to victory — whatever that may mean. Just so long as there’s an end to it. When Star One is gone, it is finished, Blake. And I want it finished! I want it over and done with, I want to be free!

So what happened is I had innocently posted my maps of the mysterious phase 14 section just after Satan’s Bumhole (with one error I have now fixed — Jenna was repeated twice).

While I have seen some Dr. Who from that era, Blakes 7 had passed me by, and so I did not spot that the location names in the first map matched up quite closely with proper nouns from the Blakesiverse. Just to make a proper list out of it:

Avon, Blake, Cally, Jenny, Soolin, Tarrant, Travis, Vila, Dayna, Gan, Servalan, Zen, Orac, Scorpio, Slave

The “sarcophagus” from last time is at Blake, which I’ll re-quote in case it is relevant:

The sarcophagus glisters and sparkles in a most tremendous way. You are bedazzled and, not to a small degree, hypnotised by the beauty of the object. Strange that such wonder should be associated with the morbidity of death. Any road up, you may be interested in the inscription on the side of the gaudy object which reads:
The Most Exulted
The Highmost
The Leader of Freed Men
The Champion of the Underdog
The Most Betrayed of All
Put to Death this Day
ABCDXY0123789
By Federation Termination Order
May his Magnificence Rest in Peace

To the south of this is another roughly similar grid (with some rooms missing) where a convoluted route was needed to open various exits and get to the end.

In the version I originally played, the objective (a plum ticket) was already sitting there; in the most recent update, there is much more description:

Archive of Angst
Cramped, poorly lit, smelly hovel. This room appears to have been partitioned from a previously larger room as, incongruously, there is a brass plate set off-centre in one wall. The plate features a grille under which is an engraved instruction. Sprayed across one wall is a graffito that reads: “Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be”.

This configuration raised suspicions that a “teleport bracelet” from earlier in the game is relevant. (It initially gets described as having hieroglyphics, although examining the bracelet later shows no description.) Teleport bracelets are a big part of the original show, and the suggestion of stating a destination makes it likely the idea is to a.) wear the bracelet while standing at the Archive of Angst and b.) state the correct destination. I have no idea what this destination would be. It could be some sort of encoded thing (see the numerical message at Blake) or it could be some sort of Blakes 7 trivia, in which case I might want to just run through a big list of proper names of planets and the like to see what happens.

The odd thing about all this is it seems terribly unlikely the teleport bracelet business happens at all in the original just-find-the-ticket version of the game. Since I do technically have a way through, and others have watched more episodes than I have, I toss this riddle out to my readership with the hope someone can break through. To keep things organized, these clues from elsewhere in the game might also be relevant:

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

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”.

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

In the meantime, I still have a ticket to find amongst phases 9-14, and I was given the fairly explicit hint that it was to be found near an vinyl block, which was also going to be useful.

So I set to work combing over every phase and every loose thread we’ve ever had. And dear reader, I failed. I revealed nothing, despite re-checking:

– the house with the ghost (phase 9)
– the gate with the spheroid (phase 9)
– the ticket office with the keypad (phase 10) including trying every 7-digit combo possible, since one combo reveals a tan block and maybe I thought an vinyl block would come out, no dice
– the cave of despair/graveyard that seems to be a dead end (phase 11)

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

– the giant Mastermind puzzle set-up in phase 12, and the book that comes out of it
– the ticket office at phase 13 (other ticket offices are blown up, and I had some explosives, so I tried to use them)

The game manages one bit of meta for clues in terms of useful locations. The SCORE can only go up in places that are useful to visit, or at least don’t go to dead ends.

-> n
Station Platform
You are standing on a station platform. Set high on the north wall is a sign.
There is a locomotive waiting on the tracks to the south.
Exits: NS– ——– —
Score increment of 5 points.

The game is guaranteed to let you arrive at a full score, so, for example, the lack of score in the Sewers of Phase 9 are a hint that they are a red herring. (The Graveyard above also gives no score, but I never got absolute confirmation from the authors it was a dead end.) This turned out to be very helpful at a pier at phase 11, which appeared to have nothing remarkable but gave a healthy slice of 50 points. The room was key to getting over to the other side of the lake.

Similarly, the room with the book — just a broom closet — gives 50 points. Given the lack of room description that suggests the book itself has a secret, but I’ve been baffled ever since I’ve found it. The closest I can think of in regards to the ASCII art is it depicts the projector-falling-and-hitting-you-in-the-head from phase 15.

Any ideas? I’ll take even extreme stretches at this point. I’m still serious about my deadline; I have 14 days to complete Ferret, and I’ve gone an entire week with no progress whatsoever.

Posted January 17, 2023 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Ferret: Brute Force   16 comments

While we’re very, very, close to finishing off the long multi-phase section of the game, that doesn’t mean the last part of the haul is easy.

(Prior posts on Ferret here.)

From the Department of Defense booklet Facts about Fallout Protection, 1961.

I left off last time entering a water maze in Phase 15, and said I got through, but I didn’t say how I solved it. See the title? Heh.

-> n
Sunken Plot
Floating in water in a dark area between very high walls. To the south is a stairway leading to a raised area. High above you is a wire cable.
Exits: NS– ——– U-
-> n
Holloways
Floating randomly in swirling, turbulent water between high walls. Hidden low level currents occasionally pull you below the water level but the life jacket eventually pulls you back to the surface.

Being in water, you are not allowed to drop any items. However, I started to notice something very quickly about the structure of the maze.

-> w
Holloways
Floating randomly in swirling, turbulent water between high walls. Hidden low level currents occasionally pull you below the water level but the life jacket eventually pulls you back to the surface.
-> w
Holloways

I have the game here turned on BRIEF mode. That means it will only give the full description of a room the first time you enter it. Notice that after moving west twice I get just “Holloways” which means I have re-entered a room I have already been in.

I realized, after a little experimentation, that this was an all-or-nothing maze, where you need to do exactly the right steps, or otherwise it drops you off the path. Not only that, it drops you off the path in a room that “loops” with no escape.

This might seem overly cruel, but it is in fact helpful. Because the pattern simply is:

a.) if you go in a wrong direction followed by another direction (of any kind) you will see “Holloways” with no room description

b.) if you go in a right direction followed by a wrong direction you will get full room descriptions both times

c.) if you go in a right direction followed by a right direction you will get full room descriptions both times

It doesn’t really matter you can’t tell the difference between b and c. What matters is knowing if you’ve fallen into a. That means you can test an exit, and if you find that is a wrong exit, mark it off your list. This process leads to:

There is likely some clever solve, as all this leads to a Pylon of Xephelous…

Holloways
Floating randomly in swirling, turbulent water between high walls. Hidden low level currents occasionally pull you below the water level but the life jacket eventually pulls you back to the surface. To the north is a stairway leading up out of the water.
-> n
Floating Platform
A floating platform at the base of a pylon. Attached to the side of the pylon is a ladder.
Exits: -S– ——– UD
-> u
Pylon of Xephelous
You are on a small ledge commanding a spectacular view of the surrounding country. Unfortunately, the vistas are quite depressing, showing as they do, a world of total devastation. There are extensive earthworks creating a lunar landscape of deep trenches and spoil strewn with filth and rubbish and smouldering heaps of rotting flesh. High above you is a wire cable. Suspended from the cable is a maintenance cage. A ladder leads down the pylon from the ledge.
Exits: —- ——– -D
The maintenance cage contains:
a nickel key

…and there is a very similarly named pylon in a poem from way back in Phase 9.

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.

Look at the last word of each line: Look for the pylon of Xepherous when floating. If there’s some extra connected material amongst the other documents that hints at the zig-zag path of the maze, I haven’t found it. (The fact it is a zig-zag means it might not even be specific directions like we’ve had on other mazes.)

Moving on, you can grab the nickel key from the cage and BOARD it (not CLIMB or other verbs I tried).

Your enormous bulk causes the ancient brake mechanism of the lightweight cage, which was quietly suffering the ravages of time and rust, to shear completely, releasing the movement restraint from the trolley supporting the maintenance cage. It rolls down the cable, which due to its age, starts to stretch ominously. As the cage reaches its nadir it smashes into the ground disgorging its heaviest occupant (you) most unceremoniously. The relief from your great weight causes the cage and its contents to fly skyward, releasing it from the cable bogie and hurling it off the cable into the surrounding countryside.

Unfortunately, the nickel key doesn’t fit into anything else in the phase 15 area. There are many locked doors in the tall building…

-> u
Landing
A small diffusely lit area with stairways leading up and down. In the west wall is a pair of swing doors. Painted on each door is a large number 1.
Exits: —- ——– UD
-> u
Landing
A small dimly lit area with stairways leading up and down. In the west wall is a pair of swing doors. Painted on each door is a large number 2.
Exits: —- ——– UD
-> u
Landing
A small dimly lit area with stairways leading up and down. In the west wall is a pair of swing doors. Painted on each door is a large number 3.
Exits: —- ——– UD

…but alas. I guess it’s for phase 16?

Speaking of the building, we’re stuck on the roof-heating depression-projector that falls on your head section.

-> put chip basket in depression
Done.
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.

Placing something vinyl (there’s a vinyl cup, beaker, and spoon in a cabinet) will cause it to make a melted pool, but otherwise everything we’ve tried has vaporized. The asbestos bag would be quite promising but it doesn’t fit. This all suggests there’s some item there is missing, which is not unlikely, because we know we’re missing at least one section from all the past phases.

Let me loop back and talk about tickets.

You are carrying:
  a lime ticket
  a lemon ticket
  a strawberry ticket
-> read strawberry ticket
The strawberry-coloured ticket is very faded but appears to allow journeys from Egham Station to any destination in the local Western Transit Loop. The duration of validity appears to be perpetual.

We found the lime ticket at phase 9 (in the same cabinet that had the automaton), the strawberry ticket at phase 11 (the lake) and the lemon ticket at phase 13 (the dark maze). Each corresponded to a different station, suggesting to me perhaps there were more; some gentle inquiry with the authors led me to find out the are five tickets from phases 9 to 14.

Since this information we’ve found one of the tickets (in phase 14), but are still missing one. If we assume a phase has at most one ticket (not a safe assumption, but it is a starting point at least) then phase 10 and 12 and 14 were the ones worth study; it turns out there was already lingering suspicion something was missing with phase 14, so I’ll discuss what happened in detail and go back to talking about 10 and 12.

That sequence with Old Nick -> Sataniacha -> Goat Stall -> etc. was a series of riddles which all turned out to have triangular numbers as their answers. It turns out to be useful to look closely at the text that happens when one of the riddles is solved:

‘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 of sight.

The trick here is that this setup is over another one — notice the “Prototype” room marked on the map in blue. It is originally dark. After solving the first riddle:

Prototype
An area with a low ceiling. The feeble ambient lighting appears to be seeping through the ceiling.
Exits: N— ——– —

That seemed to be that, although it was a very curious stub indeed.

There used to be a way through, but it was blocked by the sliding of the wall when solving a riddle! When the room is still dark, you can navigate through, and it turns out the steps to get through are identical to the steps it takes to pass through the riddle rooms. It’s another reverse-info puzzle — you really need to have the entire layout of the riddle sequence in order for the dark layout sequence to make sense. That is, you have to block off the dark maze (making the dark maze unsolvable, but only in one quantum time-branch) in order to solve the dark maze.

I just cut and paste my walkthrough from the riddle section, which leads the player avatar to amusingly say answers to riddles that do nothing. (I mean, I could cut out the say statements, but overall move efficiency is not really a concern in this game.)

-> say 0;e;say -1;n;say 3;e;say -6;s;say 10;s
‘0’
You are in the dark.
‘-1’
You are in the dark.
‘3’
You are in the dark.
‘-6′
You are in the dark.
’10’
You are in the dark.

Curiously, the revelation here (from commenter K) came from an update to the game. The game has still been getting regular updates on the webpage and the most recent update mentions preventing brute force from working on phase 14. This led K to suspect brute force was related to navigating in the dark, leading to the solution! However, the message was referring to the next section after the dark one.

Looking Up Satan’s Bumhole
A small room with a low ceiling. The feeble ambient lighting appears to be seeping through the ceiling. There is a dark and foreboding stairway leading downwards.
Exits: -S– ——– -D
-> d
Underpass
You are in a narrow passageway very poorly lit from a room at the top of a staircase.
Exits: -S– ——– U-
-> s
Underpass
You are in a narrow passageway very poorly lit from an exit to the west.
Exits: N–W ——– —
-> w
Quadrangle
A square alcove off to one side of a large open area in a huge cavern cut from rock with lighting suspended from a very high ceiling. There is a vast lit area to the west but a dark and foreboding exit to the east. Affixed to the north wall is a poster.
Exits: –EW ——– —
-> read poster
Visit Jock’s Bar

Market Street next to the Seck’s Shop

Liquor in the Front

Poker in the Rear

Spit-roasts a speciality every Saturday

This leads to a 3 by 5 grid of rooms.

Each room is a “large open area” with some kind of artifact, but only one of the rooms I could refer to the artifact:

Blake
A large open area in a huge cavern cut from rock with lighting suspended from a very high ceiling. In the centre of the room is a spectacular sarcophagus.
Exits: -SEW —-SESW —
-> test sarcophagus
Begin test.
LOOK AT INTEREST
The sarcophagus glisters and sparkles in a most tremendous way. You are bedazzled and, not to a small degree, hypnotised by the beauty of the object. Strange that such wonder should be associated with the morbidity of death. Any road up, you may be interested in the inscription on the side of the gaudy object which reads:
The Most Exulted
The Highmost
The Leader of Freed Men
The Champion of the Underdog
The Most Betrayed of All
Put to Death this Day
ABCDXY0123789
By Federation Termination Order
May his Magnificence Rest in Peace

This might be related to the scribble back in the manor of Phase 9.

-> 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

0123789 also is mentioned in the dark maze:

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.

I’m also suspecting some signifcance to the the rooms in the grid beyond what is visible, because afterwards is a section of rooms with another 3 by 5 grid, kind of.

I’m honestly very puzzled what’s going on — all these rooms are “poorly lit hovels” and there are rooms that appear to be dead ends but if you revisit them they suddenly have exits appear.

Cataract
Cramped, poorly lit hovel.
Exits: N-EW NENW—- —
-> e
Arc of Oblivion
Cramped, poorly lit hovel.
Exits: N–W –NW–SW —

At the end is another “hovel room”, the Archive of Angst, which has a plum ticket. At least in version 10.20! If you have upgraded, something different appears.

Archive of Angst
Cramped, poorly lit, smelly hovel. This room appears to have been partitioned from a previously larger room as, incongruously, there is a brass plate set off-centre in one wall. The plate features a grille under which is an engraved instruction. Sprayed across one wall is a graffito that reads: “Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be”.

To explain what’s going on, I’ll just let the authors take over:

The brute force referenced on the website News page was the method for obtaining the route to the Archive of Angst.
There is a puzzle (not yet solved) that reveals the route to the Archive of Angst.
The tweak applied in 10.21 makes it necessary to solve the puzzle in order to get past the new grille.
You can still brute force the route but it doesn’t give you the complete solution.
If you have a saved game with the plum ticket available then you can continue with that.
If you transition from Phase 13 to Phase 14 then you will need to solve the grille puzzle to get the ticket.
It’s more for new players than the current group of expert game players (although it gives them something more to think about).

In other words, there’s some kind of puzzle that’s supposed to be happening — probably you need to step in the right rooms — in order to arrive properly at the plum ticket. However, it seems we also have the author’s blessing to keep moving if we got the plum ticket through the grace of playing with a prior version. This is unlike what happened earlier with a bug that let us jump straight to phase 17 without solving anything in the 9-16 section; the puzzle does work as originally designed, just it is easy to “luck out”. I would still like to retro-solve the puzzle, especially if it crosses-off some of the clues, because that means less clues to consider in solving other puzzles. However, I’m still moving on for the moment as if I’ve found the plum ticket.

So now: where is that fifth ticket? Neither phase 10 nor phase 12 seem that promising. Phase 10 had the theater fire and the giant crypto-crossword layout, phase 12 had the big Mastermind board. Probably the most suspicious “unfinished” part in 12 is a waterfall that traps you:

Vision of Moisture
The path here has been cut into the side of a mountain. The path runs from north to south, but to the north your passage is obscured by a most beautiful awe-inspiring waterfall.
Exits: NS– ——– —
-> n
Waterfall
You are standing in a most wonderful, beautiful awe-inspiring waterfall. The water has a wonderful cleansing effect but the sheer force of the water is totally disorienting.

This waterfall only is activated at full blast because of the spigot being turned on in phase 11. However, even without the waterfall active, you still get stuck in this section.

Waterfall
You are standing in a most wonderful, beautiful awe-inspiring waterfall. The water has a wonderful cleansing effect but the force of the water is quite disorienting. To the east is a dark and foreboding cave.
Exits: N-E- ——– —
-> e
Retreat to Desiccation
The cave is dark and foreboding, very gloomy and grey, most suffocating in its cloying damp atmosphere.
Exits: —W ——– —
There is a stone tablet here
-> read 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.
-> w
Waterfall
-> n
Irriguous Cul-de-sac
The path here has been cut into the side of a mountain. The path runs from north to south but becomes too narrow for further passage to the north.
Exits: -S– ——– —

Really, the whole point behind the waterfall activating seems to be to trap people who solved phase 11 before exploring 12; if you’ve not seen the cave, then you won’t get the clue about the crypto-crossword puzzle (on the stone tablet) because it now gets blocked by the waterfall. Having a blocked exit in both cases suggests to me this is really meant to be a one-way exploration spot, like the sewers in phase 9.

One last thing to mention: in my recent 1982 recap I announced I would be folding up with Ferret at the end of January. I still plan to stick to that, essentially: if I’m not done before the end of the month, the only other post I will allow myself to make is one with “Finished” or the like. Progress can still happen in the comments. While I know my readers do like my ultra-long-game writeups, things have gone on long enough to be a strain and I really need to be getting on with some more 1982 games.

Setting a time limit also serves as a good incentive to try to push to the end. This seems like a dangerous thing to say for Ferret, but I don’t think we’re that far away.

Posted January 11, 2023 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Ferret: No Damage Done as You Landed on Your Head   31 comments

(Prior posts on Ferret in chronological order here, and in case you’re curious, we’re now at Part 34.)

The lake is defeated! (Probably.)

Last time I had arrived at a mysterious “Control Center” after moving past an airlock under a lake.

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.

Past this there was a tower that you could climb in order to see a dam with a hole letting out water…

This circular area has a staircase leading down into the base of the tower. Your position commands a tremendous view of a wide lake surrounded by high mountains. One end of the lake disappears into mountains but at the other end is a dam. The concrete wall of the dam appears to be damaged as there is a vee-shaped disruption to the integrity of the wall that allows a torrent of water to flow out of the lake and away.

…and a waterfall, where entering the waterfall essentially sticks the player and forces them to restore a saved game.

Waterfall
You are standing in a most wonderful, beautiful awe-inspiring waterfall. The water has a wonderful cleansing effect but the sheer force of the water is totally disorienting.

Recapping my item list, I had put a “long duralium spanner” in the pocket of the diving suit I had used to enter the airlock, but otherwise wasn’t able to bring in any outside items. I also had access to a “PVC Bin” and an inflatable dinghy in a side room. None of these caused any effect from the parts of the Control Center. I tried pushing the buttons in various sequences, patterned and not. I tried turning on and off the spigot. I tried with and without pulling the contact breaker. I tried turning the wheel at various intervals.

-> push red
Click.
-> pull breaker
The contact breaker snaps downwards viciously, nearly smashing your fingers.
-> turn wheel with spanner
It won’t budge.
-> turn spigot
Done.
-> turn spigot
Undone.
-> push green
Click.

There’s also the “slot” in the description but the only plausible item to be slotted in was the spanner, which didn’t fit. So I switched to the assumption I was missing an item, and starting messing around with a “hogshead” (large cask) by the lake and seeing if I could get it to float over to the other side of the lake where the dam was. Mind you, the dam is placed such that you can’t actually reach the lake water, but I was low on options.

-> push off hogshead
It’s a bit of struggle given the weight of the hogshead, the roughness of the terrain and the unwieldy size of the barrel but eventually success is achieved. The hogshead is bobbing gently in the lake water.
-> get on hogsheqad
You are in the hogshead.
Lake
You are wallowing around in a hogshead on a beautiful lake. In the middle of the lake is an island.

The above works if you have no items, and no items stuffed in the hogshead. But you’re also stuck, and eventually float to your death:

Geronimo! Over the dam we go and you experience the sheer thrill of flying down a waterfall in a barrel. Unfortunately, the hogshead does not appear to have any form of braking (breaking yes, braking no). A fact that becomes strikingly evident as the hogshead explodes as it encounters a rather substantial rock outcrop snuggling under some shallow water at the base of the dam.
You have been smashed to smithereens.

It is still faintly possible — because the hogshead passes by the Treasure Island where we blew up a rock a little while back and got stuck underground — that there’s some relation to that, but I expect this is simply an extended red herring, as it turns out I was making things more complicated than I needed.

The diving suit has a second pocket!

-> look in suit
Peering inside you can see:
a comb pocket
which contains
a long duralium spanner
a coin pocket

The reason I missed this is a.) I had learned about the pocket second-hand, rather than seeing a direct message and more importantly b.) the game is very picky when it comes to verbs for looking at things. Specifically, LOOK AT, LOOK THROUGH, LOOK UNDER, and EXAMINE don’t work; the first three are included under the TEST verb (which if you remember, tries a whole bunch of verbs all at once). LOOK IN wasn’t included, and while I’ve used it with containers without prompting, I didn’t think of the suit as a container.

The coin pocket is enough to fit a “a tiny rectangle of mica” that I had been toting around — this is back when we solved the giant crypto-crossword and we got a code that got put into a keypad — and to the game’s credit, I almost immediately realized this had to be the item that I needed. Tucking it in my coin pocket, I went back to the control center:

-> put mica in slot
Done.
-> pull breaker
The contact breaker snaps downwards viciously, nearly smashing your fingers.
-> push green
Click. Off in the distance a tremendous rumbling starts and then gradually mutes to a distant hum.
-> turn wheel with spanner
Eek, eek, squeak, squeak and other onomatopoeias. The wheel requires a tremendous effort to turn. Once turned a distant whine appears to emanate from an unknown source.

This slows down the waterfall and lets you pass through, even finding a secret location in the process.

Waterfall
You are standing in a most wonderful, beautiful awe-inspiring waterfall. The water has a wonderful cleansing effect.
Exits: -SEW ——– —
-> s
Venus Crux
You are in a hollow in the concrete of the dam. There is a most wonderful, beautiful awe-inspiring waterfall to the north.
Exits: N— ——– —
There is a cellophane bag here
which contains
a strawberry ticket

Moving past the waterfall (and a hike of a fairly large number of “plain” locations) finally leads to a well, where two more puzzles awaited.

-> d
Wee. Oh. That’s no fun. Just looking forward to a good fly by no wire when the voyage is rapidly arrested by a jarring thump on something quite hard. No damage done, though, as you landed on your head.
Dog Leg
You are on a small ledge formed by a large rock intruding into the side of the well. The well does not appear to have been formed by hand nor machine, rather the shaft appears to have been rent in the earth’s surface, the contours of the shaft being irregular and uneven. The rock is only a short distance below the opening of the well so there is light from above.
Below you is only darkness.

First, surviving the trip farther down, which is just a plummet to death. As long as you leave it uninflated until this very point, you can carry the dinghy down here with you, drop it, pull a cord it has, and, well:

-> pull cord
Phsstt. Phssshhhh. Phsstt. The dinghy inflates to its full size. Amazing really considering the chances of an ancient dinghy still having enough compressed gas available to do the business. Lucky old you.
-> board dinghy
You are in the dinghy.
-> push off dinghy
It’s a bit difficult to launch when there’s no water around, let’s try pushing off anyway….
Wee. Oh. Great fun. This flying lark is wonderful. All the more so, by doing it in the dark, with no idea of the consequences. Let’s have a hard think while plummeting. What are the chances of a soft landing? Probably not good really. Squidgy plop. This dinghy is certainly a useful thing to have around as it forms a quite respectable bouncy castle cum emergency landing platform. After some considerable rocking and rolling you arrive at a reasonable level of equilibrium.
You are in the dark.

(Yes, PUSH OFF is also a weird verb choice, only used in this game as far as I know, but it dates back to Phase 1 now so I’m used to it.)

The problem is that you are entirely in the dark here with no way out. It took me not long to suspect I had done something wrong, and I’ll skip past some flailing (you can, through extreme shenanigans, take the teleport bracelet with you — it doesn’t work) to the point where I landed on something other than solid ground. Notice the difference in description below:

Wee. Oh. Great fun. This flying lark is wonderful. All the more so, by doing it in the dark, with no idea of the consequences. Let’s have a hard think while plummeting. What are the chances of a soft landing? Probably not good really. Squidgy plop. This dinghy is certainly a useful thing to have around as it forms a quite respectable landing craft, splashing as it does into some sort of fluid. Let’s hope it’s not dangerous. After some considerable rocking and rolling you arrive at a reasonable level of equilibrium.

What had happened is I created an unusual variant of the Parallel Universes Problem, which I’ll recap here to save you clicking the link:

Suppose you are a happy adventurer going from point X to point Z and manage to do so without any obstacles. However, you later restore a previous game (because you got eaten by a bear, say).

After restoring, you try going from point X to point Z, but get stopped in the middle at point Y this time. Something different happened! What changed? Perhaps you had picked up an item in universe #1 but didn’t realize it; perhaps there was some secret timing element that you lucked out on the first time. Either way, you ran across the frustrating situation of being in an alternate universe without being aware something had changed.

This time, rather than stumbling across a puzzle that was previously not encountered (due to it being invisibly solved) I solved a puzzle without understanding what had happened! (This is sort of like playing an adventure with a group, where a particular member of the group doesn’t have a new insight, but rather types things in a slightly different order so manages to get through. I created my own clone helper.) Fortunately, the game has ample scrollback and combing through my log I realized while I had in all iterations turned the spigot at the Control Center on, in the save that was working I had taken a brisker route to the well.

The water is timed: you have to turn the spigot, then make sure you move rapidly enough that you land in water.

-> wait
Time passes (yawn).
You are experiencing a strange therapeutic sensation, as if gently bobbing in water, which gives you slight feelings of elevation and elation.
-> wait
Time passes (yawn).
You feel a sudden rushing sensation as if you are being thrown sideways with quite considerable force. There is a period of buffeting with the sound of rushing water followed by a brief period of silence with a wonderful flying feeling as if you have been launched into free-fall. You confirm the falling sensation by falling into daylight followed by a slight bump as you come to rest on the floor of a cave.
Crux of Turbulence
A dimly-lit bowl carved out of solid rock. Above you is an angled hole in the rock roof. There is a similarly angled exit in the rock floor.
Exits: —- ——– -D
There is a human skull here

Going down leads you back out to the south side of the Lake, where you can get back on the train and leave.

Assuming this completes the Lake section, that means the only two left to tackle are Phases 15 and 16. As a public service announcement, I’ll mention the Holloway Museum in Phase 15 has a crash after all these activities:

-> n
Holloway Museum
A dark area between very high walls. To the south is a steel door, to the north a stairway leading to a raised area. High above you is a wire cable.
There is a mildewed infosign on the east wall.
Exits: NS– ——– U-
-> read infosign
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 exacerbated 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.
-> n
Raised Platform
A raised area between very high walls. There is a sunken area to the south.
High above you is a wire cable.
Exits: NS– ——– -D
-> n
Raised Platform
A raised area between very high walls. To the north is a staircase leading down into water. High above you is a wire cable.
Exits: NS– ——– -D
-> n
The Event that was expected wasn’t found; a situation that would cause Windows to crash, but in this world the next message will be wrong…

That’s because the area is now filled with water — dealing with the dam and control center has affected an entirely different phase! In order to prevent the crash (which is just a death that lacks description) you need to be wearing the life vest. (Which you can grab from the dark maze, which is way back like 7 posts or so.) This drops you in a watery maze, which I have solved (see in the comments if you are playing and need help), but I’ll get into it more next time.

Posted January 5, 2023 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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