Archive for the ‘alkemstone’ Tag

Alkemstone: Minor Theories and an Interactive Map   7 comments

I was planning on doing some save file hacking and finding out what was at the missing corner of the map.

Although I worked out the exact space on the disk that stores the location of the player (00011e01 if you’re curious), I think it’s possible the corner just doesn’t have a location at all. Immediately below the corner is FF 01, and immediately below that is FE 01. (This is in hexadecimal, so FF is the largest possible number; 255, one byte.) You would think based on the pattern the next value would be either 00 02 or 01 02, but modifying the save file to that number just puts the player somewhere random.

I should incidentally say “below” because my map is technically upside down; there’s an automap in the game (not a very helpful one) and I realized only about 3/4 in I was out of synch.

That is, the upper left corner on my map is the lower right corner on the screenshot.

It ends up not affecting anything unless there’s something literal about the map placement.

Speaking of map placement, Casey Muratori made an interactive version of the map. You can click on a square and have the corresponding clue come up.

I have no idea if these being adjacent is significant. I have been running the theory the middle clue refers to the DC Natural History Museum.
The thing I’ve previously noted as an “omega” symbol might just be a picture of a tree. It’s drawn imbalanced for an omega.

I wish I had more to update on; the only “solving” I did was realizing “DENVER/10” has a good chance of meaning “a tenth of a mile” (Denver being the Mile High City). I originally tried zip codes, phone codes, and all sorts of shenanigans before it struck me as likely a distance, but of course I have no confirmer to work with yet.

I might as well throw out the Zodiac angle-thing I’ve hinted at possibly being relevant.

There’s been a direct reference to Aquarius, and a symbol that looks like Sagittarius (although turned on its side).

My theory is an angle is indicated somehow by combining the two, but unfortunately, astrology charts are all over the place and there doesn’t seem to be a consistent “up/down/left/right” to the angle chart shown above. I can say potentially the “avoid winter” hints indicate we want Sagittarius
to be the primary symbol (Aquarius starts in February, Sagittarius starts in November) but again, this is flailing without some kind of confirmation.

So I mainly have nothing at all to report, but Casey’s map is so slick you really should give it a look. I’m still keeping an eye on this one and will do at least one last stab with a mad-conspiracy-theory style chart with lots of arrows.

Posted February 26, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Alkemstone: I Was Born Under a Wandering Star   17 comments

There’s a point I’ve made before, but is doubly relevant for treasure hunt puzzles, so it’s worth repeating with a different example.

Suppose I wanted to give a message to decrypt.

DDZRQDK DGS ZLKRKZ

You might try approaching as a straight cryptogram and realize (even with a search program) that it doesn’t correspond to anything. You might try anagramming letters and get nowhere.

The correct approach is to try both. First, shift every letter forward one step in the alphabet…

EEASREL EHT AMLSLA

…then anagram the result.

RELEASE THE LLAMAS

I can see from the perspective of an author how they might consider this “simple”. One-step Caesar ciphers, no problem! Anagrams, sure! But when combined together, they form a second-order puzzle where two entirely different steps are needed with no confirmation between the two that one is on the right track. Both cryptograms and anagrams might be “easy” puzzles, but they can become vastly harder to solve when combined together because they are only two forms of wordplay out of an immense variety. (This particular puzzle is borderline fair in that when eyeballing the alphabet shift it looks close enough to English that the anagram seems natural.)

With most treasure hunts I’ve seen there is a strong and almost necessary temptation to have second-order, third-order, or ludicrous-order puzzles. If a treasure hunt is well designed there will be “confirmers” along the way, other clues that help let the player know they’re on the right track.

This raises the question: is Alkemstone well-designed in that sense? I don’t know yet. I do know it likely suffers a related problem common for treasure hunts — spurious solutions. The wide-open unmoored nature of the puzzles — a bunch of clues with no given categories — lends itself to multiple plausible ways to interpret clues.

Another made-up example: suppose I gave the phrase

Absent Tithed Hue

You might find the combination of words strange, and do an anagram…

Thine Debate Thus

…and maybe think it was indicating the site of a famous debate. Or maybe it is

Beneath Hides Tut

indicating an Egyptology theme, or

Behind The Statue

with a more literal location.

The only “solution” so far that I’m safe in saying is a slam dunk involves two new clues (I posted them early in the comments of a thread).

Roger Durrant pointed out that both names appear in the song They Call the Wind Maria from the musical Paint Your Wagon.

A way out here they got a name for rain and wind and fire the rain is Tess the fire’s Joe and they call the wind Maria

Both rooms are immediately adjacent to each other on the overall map.

Click here for a full version of the map. TESS and MARIA are at the lower left.

Also adjacent to TESS and MARIA is a room with the word JOB, which suggests the author misspelled the actual song word (which apparently is either JO or JOE based on where you get the lyrics from).

These two pictures are also placed close (although not immediately adjacent).

I’m extremely curious about the second, which looks like it’s a close-up of … something? It incidentally was very hard to get a screenshot of; when it appeared during the game it only came up very briefly, and I had to resort to using recording software and then pause the video I made on the exact right frame.

Speaking of songs, Matt W. noted the clue above suggests the song Faded Coat of Blue, a song by J.H. McNaughton associated with the Union side of the American Civil War.

Sticking with finding Washington, D.C. spots, that definitely suggests Arlington Cemetary which is quite close to everything else. Let me also add marks for the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, possibly referencing the ruby slippers from Wizard of Oz (which have been there since 1979)…

I finally found this one in-game (I previously only had the Mobygames screenshot). I still never found the -ION clue anywhere. My theory regarding the gap in the upper left corner of the overall map is that all other clues need to be found first before it opens, although it could just be a bug.

…the Washington Monument, associated with the death of Zachary Taylor, and the Lincoln Memorial, where Martin Luther King Jr. made his famous I Have a Dream speech. (Both of these were clues from previous posts.)

I’m finally going to put in the D.C. War Memorial for long-shot reasons, but I do have some logic to it.

There’s a “144” clue which possibly references the fact that with 12 zodiac signs you can pair them with another 12 to get 144 angles. There’s also one direct zodiac reference (“this is almost the age of AQUARIUS”) and one actual sign (Sagittarius, but drawn so the arrow points upright). The War Memorial has a domed building with a 12-direction arrow directly on the floor.

Here’s a Google Street View of someone standing next to the arrows.

Here’s a Google Street View of someone standing directly on top of the arrows.

I found this by hunting around for domes in DC, based on this clue from an earlier post.

There’s also this clue which faintly suggests looking between columns.

We’ve also had month and seasonal references to go along with the Zodiac ones.

“Toe warmers”, probably just meant to reference winter again.

Maybe T.S. Eliot, “April is the cruelest month.”

Without any kind of confirming puzzle, I still feel like I’m chasing shadows. It’s possible all of this is a coincidence, especially since I can’t fit the Paint Your Wagon reference at all, nor a riddle solution Jake Wildstrom came up with.

My First Is Where I Live
My Second Will Be Upon
My Third A Thought Of You
My Last How Far I May Go
And When I Get There
I Will Watch Them Play

The first two on the “three linked clues” you give feels a lot like it’s cluing to “Home on the Range” (so “them” would be deer and antelope, I suppose). “Home” is “Where I Live”, of course. “On” is another word for “Upon”. “Range” is (in the sense of a travel range) indeed “How Far I May Go”. I have no idea how “A Thought of You” would become “The”, but a clue for a definite article might be opaque in ways I don’t understand (is “You” somehow connected to the letter “U”, and some sort of character-level transformation from “A Thought of” gets us to the three letters “the”? This is mostly trying to back-solve a justification because the other three clues really fit the answer well).

Matt W. followed up with noting “you” could be “thee”.

I’m tentative about this one, just because it originally suggested to me the categories clues could fall in (that the D.C. references were all My First Is Where I Live, the number-type references might be How Far I May Go, etc.) but a traditional riddle is quite possible, and of course Home on the Range goes together nicely with the Paint Your Wagon reference.

Three more new clues to round things off…

…and then let me state that I’m going to delve back into traditional adventures now, and only give the occasional Alkemstone update. I (and hopefully others) will still be active in the comments, so the search for the Alkemstone continues.

One open question I’d really like resolved is the meaning behind this clue:

It has had no comments but I think it might be a straight self-contained riddle? I’m pretty bad at riddles, so I don’t know.

Posted February 12, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Alkemstone: Still Searching   9 comments

I’m slowing down a little on finding clues just because being thorough is incredibly tedious. My procedure when checking a particular room is to

a.) look at each wall and pause for about five seconds, then repeat 3 or 4 or 5 times

b.) look at the ceiling and slowly turn three full circles, pausing about 4 seconds each step

c.) repeat with the floor

and even then I have come near to missing things.

Let me bring out two theories posited in the comments last time:

1. Continuing from the idea that “Albert” is the Albert Einstein statue in Washington, D.C. (it was unveiled only two years before the game was made; the timely connection makes it more rather than less likely) I noted two JFK-associated locations and the natural history museum (there’s a reference to the Pleistocene).

These nearly form a line, especially because the JFK center extends south a little from where Google has marked it. Still easily could be a coincidence, but given the repeated JFK references and the mention of Zachary Taylor I’d say the chances this is the area we want are at least over 50%.

2. I need to explore this more, but note one of the clues read “144”. There are 144 angles across the sky that can be found by combining two astrological symbols, and there are two specific symbols mentioned (Sagittarius as the symbol itself, Aquarius in words) in addition to a reference to “billions of stars may show you the way”. This is combined with multiple temperature references (like “Warmer Than Others”) to suggest that we *don’t* want to use the dead of winter (since Zodiac signs represent both a time of year and an angle).

I haven’t sat down and fully worked out how this would play out on the map, though, so if anyone wants to go wild in the comments, feel free.

Here are the clues I’ve found since last time.

I am suspecting the assorted word fragments need to be joined and anagrammed. This was used at the start of Kaves of Karkhan, Level-10’s previous game.

You may wonder why the color is different here. This is from the opening area, a 6 by 10 rectangle on the lower-right corner of my map. Everywhere else has the white walls.

Are these signed initials?

Sometime next week I am going to get back to playing regular adventure games and intersperse these posts. I’d like to finish at least one thorough pass through Arkemstone looking for clues, first.

Posted February 7, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Alkemstone: More Clues   24 comments

I have filled in most of the map, although I haven’t thoroughly checked everything yet.

You might notice there’s the missing room in the upper left. I haven’t figured out what’s going on there yet. There is one clue right on the wall next to it

which may have been intentionally placed; perhaps there’s some obscure navigation trick I need to get into that spot.

There definitely is some intentionality to the clue-placing — maybe not a lot, but some — because one dead-end had three messages that clearly linked together.

I’m guessing this is a meta-clue, essentially telling what the result will be when all the clues are put together; ex: “The First is Where I Live” giving a general location, “The Second Will Be Upon” being more specific. “And When I Get There I Will Watch Them Play” suggests the stone is hidden in a park, also suggested by this image:

I found John F Kennedy a third time

suggesting it either a number is repeated three times or it’s a very important clue. I’m going with the latter theory for the moment. If we combine with the “Look to Albert for Help” from the very start, I think Albert may be the one in Washington D.C.

The podium and microphone (from my last post) suggest there may be a public speaking spot involved, perhaps a famous Kennedy speech location?

Here are the remainder of the clues I’ve found:

I’m ballparking based on clue density in places I’ve searched well that I have about half the clues in the game.

Posted February 6, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Alkemstone (1981)   14 comments

August of 1979 saw the release of Masquerade, a picture book that was also a puzzle with the solution being the location of a golden hare. It created both frenzy and scandal, but that is not our story for today.

Two years later (before the Masquerade contest had even ended) a man named Gene Carr at a company called Level-10 made a treasure hunt of his own. Like Masquerade, it involved a treasure buried somewhere in the real world and clues to find it, but rather than hiding the clues in a book, he hid them in an Apple II game.

Via Old Video Game Advertisements. The prize was eventually upped to $7500, although the company Level-10 went defunct not long after.

There were two ways to win:

a.) Find and deliver the physical Alkemstone, and describe its location.

b.) Send a detailed description of the Alkemstone’s hiding place.

In both cases, a particular lawyer (Ray Sutton) was in charge of verifying the winner. Mr. Sutton is still alive and has verified he never awarded the prize, and he has no record of the stone ever being found.

In other words, the treasure hidden 39 years ago is likely still in its original location, the hints locked in an Apple II game that barely anyone has played.

On an obscurity ranking system from 1 to 10, Alkemstone lands at about 8.5. Still, it has occasionally surfaced as a piece of gaming trivia — here’s John Romero tweeting about it in 2012 — yet even though it occasionally gets observed

Wouldn’t it be interesting if someone got busy on an old copy of the game and found the stone?

nobody seems to have picked up the gauntlet.

The buck stops here. Let’s try to solve the mystery.

Now, this is rather different than my usual playthroughs for All the Adventures, insofar as the end result of all this may involve unearthing a real item. I do want to emphasize that the Alkemstone as an object in itself is not considered valuable (unlike the golden hare); the potential money came from proving where it was. Additionally, despite the lawyer still being alive, the company that offered the prize is long defunct. That means there’s no money at stake, just historical interest.

I will state up front if by some happenstance I come to possess the stone personally, I will donate it to a gaming museum like the Strong. In the (much likelier) event it lands in someone else’s hands I hope they do the same, but I can’t enforce that.

And of course, the Alkemstone may be buried under a parking lot or lost due to some other circumstance.

So feel free to contribute any theories as I post clues, but keep in mind the above caveats. I won’t say it will end in disappointment because even if the physical stone is never found, the solution to the game in general has been a long-open question and would be an achievement in itself; there’s no maps or hints or walkthrough here to rely on.

The first scene upon entering the maze; there’s no “hanging banners” style messages other than this one.

Enough preliminaries: what is the game like?

The snakes pass by at random.

Alkemstone adapts the 3D engine from Kaves of Karkhan into a pure-exploration game. There are no obstacles, unless you count illusionary walls and a very, very, large map.

Around half of the map; I still need to fill in a lot of the other half.

The maze is seeded with clues. You can find them on the walls

or you can find them looking up (tap U to look up)

or looking down (tap D to look down)

The clues are scattered everywhere; finding them all is partially a matter of just being thorough. Sometimes the clues are “solid” and will always appear, but sometimes they flash on and off, or only are visible 1 out of every 10 or so times looking at a particular ceiling. To give you an idea of how easy the clues are to miss: even though I have found 25 “clues” so far I am missing the two shown in screenshots on Mobygames.

I will say the maze is not randomized, and despite the manual’s claims to the contrary, the clue locations don’t seem to be randomized either. It’s still true more than one “walk through” is likely required to spot everything.

I’m going to try my best to sort the clues I’ve found so far by type, but these categories are arbitrary and may be misleading in terms of how the clues actually connect.

In case it’s important, I do have where I found them marked on my map, but I’d like to get my full map closer to completion before I share it.

IMAGES AND SYMBOLS:

NUMERICAL CLUES:

MESSAGES:

This image also appeared on a wall. I don’t know if the duplication is redundancy to help keep from missing certain things or a clue.

THE TWO FROM MOBYGAMES I HAVEN’T FOUND YET:

While there are some obvious surface observations I could make, I’m going to save them for the comments. Just keep in mind the game was released in 1981 (late in 1981; the Nov-Dec 1981 issue of Computer Gaming World mentions it will be available by Christmas, and it has a trademark filing of November 12) so any events or media references to works 1982 or later won’t apply.

There is an online version of the game available, except it gets stalled when asking to flip the disk. There might be a button press in the emulator that will work, but I wasn’t able to play any further.

Posted February 5, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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