Ferret: Overwhelming Power and Imminent Danger   29 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
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
A long room.
Exits: NS– ——– —
-> south
Amaurotic Ambulatory
A short room.
Exits: N— ——– —
There is an identity card here
-> take identity card
-> 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).


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
-> push button
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
You are in a featureless airlock. There is a steel door to the north.
Exits: NS– ——– —
Score increment of 10 points.
-> s
You are in a featureless airlock. There is a door to the south.
Exits: N— ——– —
-> open door
-> 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
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.

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.

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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29 responses to “Ferret: Overwhelming Power and Imminent Danger

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  1. So the whole point of the Broom cabinet is to make sure you won’t finish the game unless you are a very serious case of OCD and even then I consider it difficult… might be that this was not uncommon in 1982, to me it is still not cricket.

  2. Have the authors confirmed whether this is solvable despite the south exit from “RH In Zoo” being broken (and just looping back to “RH In Zoo”)? (I am guessing the answer is *probably* “yes” but it would be nice to confirm.)

    I share in the suspicion that the plasma ball room is something we can’t do anything about. It does give the hint that we are in an “Interstellar Transport Vehicle” – an ITV. That, coupled with the fact our death timer is from inexplicably getting hot (enough to boil), further clues that we are literally trying to “Escape From Hot ITV.”

    I suspect some of the more over Blake’s 7 references have been added to Ferret over time and the whole theater-to-answer-sheet sequence was more important back when those overt references didn’t exist. The meta ifdb review in Phase 16, in particular, requires “charcoal” from Phase 15 – which was *added during our play sessions*. It didn’t exist back when Ferret version 10 was first releases to the public.

    • To elaborate re: my concern about the broken RH In Zoo exit (which has actually increased a bit as I mull the question further this morning): one thought I had is that the teleporter isn’t working because it isn’t sufficiently *powered*. We have something that might serve as power: the radioactive pellets that were our reward for solving the crash-the-train puzzle. But we haven’t found any place yet to use them in the ship (they don’t fit in either of the two slots). We *also* haven’t found a location in the ship that suggests a “fuel repository” or similar. If we need to take the pellets to such “fuel repository” to load them somewhere before the teleport will work, and if that “fuel repository” is located south of RH In Zoo, then we’re not going to be able to progress until the authors fix the broken exit.

  3. Just filling in some thoughts about the cryptic… I wondered if the other clues might work for other anagrammed episode names, but it looks like three of the solutions have ten letters, and none of the missing episodes have ten-letter names. Is that correct?

    “Escape from hot ITV” looks much fairer now that this part of the game introduces an ITV, and there’s the additional cue about anagramming “Voice from the Past”–“too much heat” for “hot” isn’t great but it’s fine overall. (I’m still kind of miffed about “ten” for “d.”)

  4. Just to save time, I’ve classified our Phase 16 starting inventory as follows:

    Fits in slot and exactly one can be brought in along with all of the four apparently needed items (identity card, leather wallet, nickel key, and teleport bracelet)
    – exam paper
    – identity card
    – indigo pin
    – nickel key
    – pair of tweezers
    – puce transparency
    – silver obol
    – smudged pamphlet
    – tiny rectangle of mica (scuffed)
    – tiny rectangle of mica (clean)
    – vermilion transparency

    Fits in slot but can’t be brought in with all of the four apparently needed items
    – iron ring
    – piece of fur
    – rubber charger mat
    – silver key
    – zinc key

    Can technically be brought in (with just the identity card) but doesn’t fit in slot
    – asbestos bag
    – blank manila envelope
    – book
    – cellophane bag
    – chunky bracelet
    – damaged communicator
    – glossy voucher
    – laminated scroll
    – leather wallet
    – long duralium spanner
    – piece of linen
    – pvc envelope
    – ruby rod
    – security capsule
    – silver key
    – teleport bracelet
    – transistor radio
    – translucent fruit bowl

    Can’t bring through turnstile at all
    – acrylic orb
    – dirty reticule
    – gaudy mirror
    – human skull
    – jade globe
    – life jacket
    – mobile generator
    – perspex rod
    – photographic flashgun
    – picnic box
    – pvc bin
    – sealed pvc vessel
    – security casket
    – slender black cylinder
    – toy robot
    – toy truck

  5. Ferret v10.30 is now out at https://www.jugglingsoot.com/ .

    It adds these new commands:
    * FIXES command added to display list of issues addressed in each version.
    * LIST of commands added.

    Truncated output of FIXES:
    “Corrections, shown against the related release, are listed below. These are fixes to issues that affect the game process, they do not include such things as cosmetic issues, spilling mitakes, etc.

    Revision 10.30
    1. Commas in comments causing crashes.
    2. Items in containers getting lost when proceeding to new phase.
    3. Some inapproriate actions were working in the dark.
    4. Items dropped in cradle not handled correctly.”

    Output of LIST:

    I have not had the opportunity to play the last two days, good luck to everyone who is playing!

  6. -> EAT 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.

    really not having much luck :-(

    Neither teleport nor navigation registering what I’m throwing at it. I am suspecting it is solely a matter of teleport though.

    • btw, was messing around with Guru (I have an earlier version with the bug still) and I notice in the last room there’s

      -> hint

      I guess we do need to have it optimized! This does suggest this really is The Last Thing though.

      I got the 111 message, I’m not sure how Voltgloss got a different one.

      • So, my own “glimpse” of Guru mode wound up… more extended than others’, shall we say. (A thing I didn’t realize at first but have since come to understand.)

        I am purposely *not* sharing what else I know, even ROT13’d, because it really should *not* be spoiled prior to achieving Guru mode “properly” (and not something that would help anyway with our current predicament). Once time is right, if others become stuck at the cusp of enlightenment, I can help.

        I will say this: out of everything in Ferret, it’s what has impressed me the most.

        That all said, one thing that is apparent from even the shortest glimpse of Guru mode: “Escape From Hot ITV” appears to be an *escape pod* (literally). Which I’m not sure how that helps us, but it does make me more suspicious of the Escape Hatch even though we can’t interact with it directly via the parser. Perhaps something we can do/type in Navigation or Teleport might have an effect at the Escape Hatch?

      • incidentally, is it just me, or in 10.3 the wallet doesn’t work any more for pellet storage?

      • Oh I haven’t updated/tried that.

        …That suggests we might be barking up the wrong tree with respect to the pellets. Perhaps there’s another use for them. Perhaps the purpose of the whole train-crash-into-warehouse scenario is even something else. Hmm.

      • Asbsetos bag doesn’t work either

        this does suggest we’re maybe missing some info before going into space

      • Neither the wallet nor the asbestos bag work to move the pellets safely in 10.3.

        This leads me to think the authors quietly fixed that because it was throwing us off, and the purpose of the pellets is something closer to where we find them. (Or the purpose of the train crash isn’t even the pellets!)

  7. I’ve confirmed that, in the latest version, you can get past RH in Zoo. Also, perhaps significantly as it affects what you can carry on board, you’re no longer protected from the pellets while they’re in the wallet.

  8. Completely baffled with the pellets. Even given the cheap bit with the mastermind the score _technically_ needed to go up, so the train/warehouse setup still needs to happen. Without pellet storage so we’re moving them … ???

    Is there something we can do with the electrified track?

    Thinking perhaps that we’re meant to charge the teleport bracelet (the chunky one describes unlimited battery, but maybe the teleport one needs a boost) and I tried putting the pellets together with the bracelet in various ways but no dice.

    Also tried hacking at the sarcophagus message some more. Something like

    Wifdf = AX
    Hiftf = BY
    Lemff = 9782C310

    I might be tempted to think we can solve crypto-math style, where we do AX * BY * 9782C310, but that multiplication has to end in a 0 and that doesn’t match the Blake message or anything else we’ve run across. Something like AX * BY = 9782C310 would make more sense but Graham’s doesn’t end with a zero, and pi has to go for too long to reach a 0 (3.14159265358979323846264338327950) so it can’t be that either.

    • oh, I also checked unloading the train entirely of weight to see if the result of the crash is different, and it is not

    • Thoughts I don’t yet have time to test:

      1. Is there anything in particular that can be *left on* the train that causes something else to occur with the crash?
      2. Can the rubber charger mat be introduced meaningfully to the electrified track?
      3. Maybe the pellets are a red herring, and what we need is the shards of timber? Somehow? (The timber *can* be brought up the Lift if we’re not carrying anything else besides the id card. It’s also possible to go up and down the Lift multiple times to ferry a larger quantity of items up to the spaceship.)

      • 1. I usually leave _everything_ on the train. I guess you mean one specific thing? That might take a while to test.

        2. I did some mat tests but nothing happened.

        3. No joy yet. The other possibility is the timber helps us escape the zombie area (the pellets can’t even get that far) but I don’t know how. I’ve tried lots of crude attempts to just wedge the front door with the timber but the game doesn’t cooperate.

      • 1. No, I was just thinking the “everything” aspect – I suppose it’s *possible* just one thing by itself may make a difference, but I wasn’t considering that (and nothing jumps out as particularly fruitful in that regard).

        3. Yeah, I recall trying things like that as well sometime back. I’m… call it 75% convinced that the zombie area is a quantum echo, the point of which is the cryptic crosswords (especially now that we’ve uncovered at least a key part of their significance).

        I note there are *just enough* turns to bring the thallium receptacle itself (without opening it) to the Car Park immediately south of where you turn the key to trigger the explosion, take one more action, and then leave (without dying). Not sure what that action could be though. There doesn’t seem to be any way to make Ferret understand, say, “throw receptacle over fence” to get it to the mine – nor can I see what purpose that would serve.

        Apologies I likely won’t have time the rest of the evening to tinker with this before your deadline. Most of my productive Ferreting has been on weekends. I’ll definitely continue working on this. (Given what I’ve seen from Guru mode, I *really* want to bring this to a successful resolution, even if it continues for more weeks or even months.)

    • It seems like surely this has to do with the “ABCDXY0123789.” I’ve tried a little bit to think about how you might rip up the bits of text corresponding to AX, BY, and 9782C310 and glue them back together, but I’ve had no insights at all, and the string also has a D that is unaccounted for.

  9. Pingback: Ferret: Place of Final Rest | Renga in Blue

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