Sunday, November 7, 2010

Beyond Zork: Giant Onions, Unicorns, and Puppets

I could only think of one way to get revenge on the cook for locking me in the cellar.
Quendor is a reasonably small place, and frankly I haven't bothered mapping it because the various sites are fairly easy to remember (and also because certain locations generate random maps). The locations that I've visited so far include:

  • A seaside town with a pub (containing the cellar from my previous posting)
  • An abandoned lighthouse with various monsters and a mysterious chest at the top guarded by a multi-eyed monster (see below)
  • A village called Accardi-by-the-Sea with a weapon shop and an abandoned magicians' guild hall
  • An eerie forest with two difficult monsters: a cruel puppet and a hellhound
  • Gurth City, which contains Ye Olde Magick Shoppe [note: I found out recently that "ye," when used this way, was actually pronounced "the"]
  • A swamp containing gas and mist, including an evil Eldrich Vapor who tries to steal your stuff, and a wounded pterodactyl
  • The town of Borphee, which contains a stable (with a sad unicorn) and an armor shop
  • A jungle, accessible by jumping off a gondola during an amusement ride, full of strange beasts and an unreachable jewel

There are treasures, including scrolls, wands, and potions, scattered randomly throughout these areas. Once you find them, the associated shop will identify them and buy them. Shops also sell useful items. I've restarted a couple of times, and sometimes items I found on the ground in one game are in the Magic Shoppe in another, and vice versa. Earlier Zorks didn't have this randomization at all.

My big victory of the day was figuring out what to do with the onion. The whole cutting-an-onion-and-crying thing seemed obvious, but I didn't know who would benefit from crying. I took it to a depressed unicorn and cut it there. I don't know why I thought it would help. Naturally, it just made things worse.
Rolling a giant onion up to a depressed unicorn and cutting it to make her cry ought to send you directly to adventure-game Hell.
I thought I'd try it on the cruel puppet next. Maybe he wouldn't be so cruel if he was sad. But it just made him more cruel, and then he killed me.

The cruel puppet crossed the line.

So I decided to give up on the onion for a while and concentrate on how in the world was I going to defeat the monster at the top of the lighthouse: the Dornbeast, a fearsome creature with 69 eyes--69 "sensitive eyes," as the manual explains. I mean, what an annoying game, right? Giant onions... beasts with 69 sensitive eyes... how am I ever going to get through this game without a walkthrough? Yes, I have become the Homer Simpson of adventure game playing:

As embarrassingly long as it took, I did ultimately figure it out, distracting the dorn with onion fumes long enough to get the chest he was protecting.

I ignored the chest's warning, written on a brass plaque, not to open it. I was teleported to a land of unicorns who were not at all happy with my presence and banished me back to the real world. Just for fun, I opened the chest and visited again, and I--or, I should say, Adamantyr--had one of the more memorable deaths of any adventure game:

Well, if the chest takes the person who opens it to a land of unicorns, it seemed I had a sure way to help one unhappy unicorn locked in a stable. Sure enough, she used it to return home, and I got a boost in compassion for my troubles. I also got a boost in luck when I (as clued in by the manual) kissed her horn.

The chest seemed like a good way to get rid of enemies, so I tried giving it to the cook, the cruel puppet, and a group of bandits to no avail. With the monkey grinder, though, I hit paydirt. (I should have realized this from the manual's description that monkey grinders "suffer an illiteracy rate of 103%.")
With the monkey grinder gone, I was able to get his hurdy-gurdy (yes, another word I will never again get to type in any other CRPG review). An interesting device, it has six settings: eye, ear, nose, mouth, hand, and clock. When you point it to one of the settings and turn the crank, either something good or something bad happens related to the setting. For instance, if it's on "ear," you might hear beautiful music or a horrific cacophony.

The cruel puppet and the hellhound both fell to a Rod of Annihilation that I found somewhere. Getting past them, I came to a boulder with a riddle:

Never ahead, ever behind
Yet flying swiftly past
For a child, I last forever
For adults, I'm gone too fast
What am I?

The CRPG Addict knows the answer to that one only too well. The correct answer causes the glade to erupt in a "pool of radiance." I'm sure it's just a coincidence.

Beyond the forest, I found a rope bridge called "Zeno's Bridge." It's a cute joke:
Just to be sure, I went all the way to 2047/2048.
If I wasn't already aware of Zeno's Paradox, I might learn about it from this game, so chalk another one up to "What Have You Learned?"

So, how to get across the bridge--if there is a way, and it's not just a joke--is one puzzle I haven't figured out yet. The others keeping me occupied are:

  • A wounded pterodactyl with a whistle around his neck. He won't let me come near him.
  • There's an hourglass in the magick shoppe for 1000 zorkmids. I've sold everything I'm comfortable selling, and I only have 121 zorkmids. I have no idea where you get so much for the hourglass, or even if the hourglass is all that important. (I spent 100 zorkmids on a sword, but I'm not sure if that was really a good investment; I seemed to be doing okay with my dagger.)
  • On an idol in a jungle is a tear-shaped jewel, but every time I try to climb up to it, the idol overbalances and I fall inside of it. My stick of levitation is exhausted, so I can't use that.
  • I have a bunch of wands, staffs, and rods, and I'm not sure which ones I really need to keep to solve puzzles and which ones I can sell. My inventory is getting pretty full.
  • In one place, a bunch of hunters ferret out a minx and take it. I have the impression that I need the minx for something, as the manual mentions them, but I can't figure out how to stop the hunters form getting it.
  • There's a trail blocked by "Christmas Tree Monsters" (see below). Getting past them involves something to do with inscribing a glyph, or perhaps finding a caterpillar.
Another Beyond Zork original.
If you want to hint me on any of these, give me very light hints, not outright spoilers, please.

On the plus side, I keep getting to rescue animals. This episode was a little heartwarming. My compassion is going through the roof. (Technically, I'm not sure what that does for me.)

One final mystery: I ended up naming my sword "Elzair" to close out my "Guess the Game" obligations. But my first attempt was to name it after frequent commenter Xyzzy. When I tried that, I got:

A hollow voice says, "Fool! That name is reserved by the Implementors. Choose another!"

What are the odds that the handle of one of my readers is a "reserved word" in a 23-year-old game? Assuming that reserved words are commands, I just typed "Xyzzy" in the command line, and the game said, "A hollow voice says, 'Fool!'" What's the in-joke that I'm missing? I'm afraid to Google it for fear I'll get spoilers.

This may not be a "real" CRPG, but I'm having a lot of fun with it. As in previous Infocom games, the quality of the writing is excellent, the humor witty, and the puzzles original. It's hard to ask for more.


  1. XYZZY is the "magic word" from Adventure (aka Colossal Cave), the first IF/text game. I haven't played Beyond Zork so I don't know what role (if any) it plays there, but it might just be a reference to Adventure (to which the original Zork owned quite a bit). My guess is that Xyzzy the blog reader got the handle from Adventure as well. Funny that Beyond Zork would have that though, you may have found an easter egg no one was aware of!

  2. Closed out the "guess the game" obligations... did I miss a mention? (Guessed #2, Serpent Isle)

    I take it there is only one instance of each monster? You aren't likely to see another cruel puppet or whatever are you?

    I had a google for Xyzzy, and it seems it is based on "Colossal Cave Adventure", where it appears as a magic word. It has it's own wikipedia page, where it mentions its use as a cheat code for a couple of games (including minesweeper!), but I couldn't see anything relating to Beyond Zork.

  3. "xyzzy" was the teleport spell in Adventure. Every Zork game produces "A hollow voice says, 'Fool!'" if you type "xyzzy". I think it's the same if you try other spells from Adventure, like "plugh" and "frotz".

    "xyzzy" is also used a lot in computer science and hacker lore, kind of like "foo" and "bar".

  4. Always type xyzzy into any text adventure you play, it nearly always has some amusing text attached to it. It's kindof like the contra code for text adventures, more games than you'd think have a use for it.

  5. Hints (being pretty vague by request):

    Minx: You need to stop the hunters from finding the minx, not kill or trap the hunters or anything like that.

    Idol: I'll let you think about this one, but you should be ready.

    Pterodactyl: you're ready now.

    Christmas Tree monsters: You can't find a caterpillar, but you can make one.

    Buying the hourglass: there's something really valuable which is specifically meant for getting enough money to buy the hourglass.

    Zeno's bridge has lots of solutions so I'll let you puzzle over that. (I _think_ it might be optional.)

    I'm a little worried if you ran out your levitation, though -- where did you use it specifically? (I'm guessing you used it in the right place, because there's not many places to use it, but I just want to be careful.)

  6. This is awesome CRPGaddict. Thanks for playing this one. I never got that into text adventures. I played Seastalker, but I was too young to really appreciate it.

  7. Thanks for the Xyzzy response. I checked it out and it produces the same message in the original "Zork." I guess it's an in-joke for people who tried to use magic words from one game in another. In the case of "Beyond Zork," anything that the game recognizes as an actual object or command is a "reserved word." You can't name your sword "DAGGER" or your dagger "KILL," for instance.

    Andy, I didn't mean "finally close." I should have said "work towards closing." You became the pterodactyl (more in the next posting).

    Jason, thanks for the hints. I got the minx by wiping out his tracks so the hunter couldn't find him. That was a comparatively easy one and it shouldn't have taken me so long. I figured out the idol with the hippo, but I had to restart since I'd already sent them running away. The pterodactyl I got through brute force--I just tried every setting on the hurdy gurdy until one worked. Still stuck on the Christmas Tree monsters (no caterpillar or anything I can use to "make" one anywhere in sight), but I figured out two ways to get across the bridge.

    Levitaiton I had used freeing the hippo and getting some items out of the locked unicorn stall. This was before I realized if I was strong enough, I could just break the stall. Anyway, I restarted so plenty of levitation left now.

  8. I have no input on the game, but I did want to point this out:

    It's a very good documentary about text adventures, and it comes with its very own feelie.

  9. Xyzzy is the definitive magic word when it comes to interactive fiction (IF) aka text adventures. The annual IF awards are even named after it, the Xyzzy Awards.

  10. re: Christmas Tree Monster puzzle, I'm guessing you're not ready yet because you haven't been to a particular area.

    For a more explicit sequencing hint, check my ROT13:

    Gurer'f n zntvp nern lbh trg gb jvgu n fpebyy jvgu n inthr bhgyvar oybpxvat lbh ba bar cneg. Lbh arrq gb trg cnfg gur bhgyvar; lbh fubhyq unir jung lbh arrq. Guvf argf na vgrz juvpu trgf lbh cnfg nabgure bofgnpyr.

  11. And regarding levitation:

    Lrf, yrivgngvat gur onol uvccb vf evtug.

  12. Based on Jason Dyer's remark about the Christmas Tree monsters, the following is probably wrong. But interesting from an historical perspective, nonetheless:

    This is not Infocom's first reference to the Christmas Tree Monster. While I'm not aware of them occurring in any other Infocom game, the original Zork manual from my C-64 copy, during the explanation of how to type commands, featured an example involving a Christmas Tree monster (which I always found arbitrary and absurd). If I remember correctly, the example was "Hit Christmas Tree Monster with Sword" - but in the details of that command, I may be misremembering.


  13. If you haven't yet used the Scroll of Gating, you really should do so now. And hold the strange outline while you do it!

  14. Thanks everyone. Getting closer. Figured out the purpose of the outline tonight, found a butterfly that probably, somehow, gives me the caterpillar.

    JS, I tried attacking the Christmas Tree Monsters with my sword, and the game said something like, "Sure. That takes care of one. How about the hundreds of others?" But thanks for remembering that!

    Samuel: wow. Thanks for the link. Has anyone seen this film? I might want a review before I pay $45 for it.

  15. (Gah. I forgot that your blog requires a captcha after we submit a comment, and closed the tab right away, losing everything I'd written..! Here goes a facsimile of it...)

    I was thinking about suggesting you merely say "xyzzy" to see how the game would react, but seeing your startled reaction was much better. *g* I read the word in Zork 1's built-in hints, which had a "For Fun and Amusement" section that suggested players shout the word, then finally learned the history & meanings 20 years later online. Wikipedia does a decent job summarizing it:

    The name "Zork" has an odd history itself... It was originally a MIT computer science term for any unfinished programming project, and was also used (somehow) as a verb. They were going to call the finished game "Dungeon" but thankfully ran into copyright issues.

    I thought Get Lamp sounded really neat as well, but hesitated at the price... There's a great review here that has me considering it for after the holidays, though:

  16. It's just hard to imagine a good *movie* based on this subject. An article or book, maybe... If anyone has seen it, I'd love to hear a review.

  17. I saw Get Lamp at it's world premiere at PAX East a couple years ago. With the disclaimer that I have never played a text adventure/interactive fiction game, I must say the documentary was pretty interesting. There is a section on the popularity of text adventures among the blind that I would definitely pay money to see (though perhaps not $45).

    My friend, who was the reason that I attended the showing, was ready to buy it then and there (though had he known it was $45, he may have reconsidered). The DVDs were not available yet, since the director had just finished burning this cut of the film to DVD 10 minutes before the panel started.

    The director, Jason something, explained that the DVD would be in a choose your own adventure style, so you would control which segments were shown and in what order, to some degree. There was also supposed to be tons of extras. The film was well received by the rest of the audience including all the Infocom guys there for the Q&A.

    The same guy did a previous documentary on BBS's, which is also supposed to be good, according to the people around me in the line to get into the panel.

    To sum up, if you are a fan of these games you will probably like the documentary, but $45 dollars seems steep to me.

  18. The Jason something who made Get Lamp is Jason Scott, of (his blog is, Sockington the cat, the Internet Archive, and incidently, Metafilter member. He's awesome.

  19. I love RPGs as much as adventures, actually back in the day, most magazines had one help section and reviewer for both genres :) Anyway, I love Zork 1, but I didn't like that much 2 nor 3.. Zork Zero is great but I never finished it,but Beyond Zork I haven't even touched it.. I will though, thanx for the review :)

    Now, about Jason Scott, ppl already told about him, imho he is a pioneer in what he does, a truly respected and dedicated archiver.. I have just SO much respect for that guy, I urge everyone to check the above blog.. And really, if you have even a remote interest in Adventures (not only IF) or BBSes (or scene related things) support the guy and buy them .. I did.. And don't buy them for support, they are really WORTH the money indeed..

    Cheers from another dedicated archiver (games mostly)..


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