Thursday, 31 December 2015

Castle of Dr. Brain - Mazes and Codes

Written by Reiko

Last time I programmed some robots and gathered some intriguing items. The wall behind the robot, which has finished its purpose, has opened, and I step through into... another elevator maze! This one's made of stone, though, which I think makes more sense, since the castle appears to be built into a mountain. At first, the stone pattern on the walls makes the corridors harder to understand visually, but I get used to it after a bit. Aside from that, the elevator interface is identical to the previous one. The maze area isn't any larger than the previous maze, but there are a lot more vertical passages linking the floors. I map carefully and soon come to the exit door, which leads out into the third floor hallway, the language hall.

I had to use a lot more colors and characters to identify all the vertical passages in this maze.

There's only one side door in this hallway, which triggers a word search puzzle using the same 25 words as in the decoder ring, which are all names of various games or sports. I don't know if it's an easter egg or what, but I also see several names in the grid: Brett, Corey, Dennis, Jackson (although this might be an artifact of having JACKS next to reversed DOMINOS), and John. Designers, maybe? Corey Cole, for instance?

"Corey" and "Brett" are rather conspicuously placed vertically in the upper corners...

After finding all the words, the puzzle immediately shifts to an acrostic where eleven of the words must be slotted into the spaces in the right order to spell a phrase. A little bit of pattern matching, and the result is PARLOR GAMES. Solving that gets me a word game plaque and a set of tangrams.

There were several games with only six letters, and three slots to fit them into.
The longer slots were easier.

I've acquired a number of interesting items, so I take a look at my inventory. The first thing I notice is that the tangrams are already arranged in a square in my inventory, with the piece boundaries visible. I wonder if that's an unintentional spoiler? Yeah, I think it's totally a spoiler. I think the designers must have been counting on people not checking their inventory between finishing the word puzzles and solving the tangram puzzle. Not that it's a particularly hard puzzle, really. (But I'm the kind of person to solve tangram puzzles for fun on my iphone when I'm bored, so...)

Inventory includes the solved tangrams.

I also see I now have 14 hint coins, compared to 4 at the start of the game. I guess finishing puzzles also yields additional hint coins. I have several other plaques from the other sets of puzzles I've already gone through, plus the intriguing items from the robot's maze. The book is called "Solomon's Key" which doesn't have any use currently, but it says, "You think it wise to keep it around for awhile." Okay then, I will! The plastic sheet seems to have a cryptogram on it. We'll get to that puzzle later, I'm sure.

The door at the end of the hallway takes the tangrams, and the square is simple to solve. Except it doesn't finish when I put all the pieces in place. It's not enough to have the square formed because the pattern on the back spells the password, and it has to be not only seamless, but rotated correctly. I think that's the complication for the Expert level. So it's really more like a jigsaw puzzle than a tangram puzzle in some ways.

This isn't quite right...

That’s much better.

And now the next room is an actual jigsaw puzzle. A really detailed one, too, on Expert level. I estimated over 150 pieces, which wouldn't be much at all for a physical puzzle, but for a tiny on-screen puzzle where you can only move one piece at a time by dragging it around, it's kind of annoying. It's not hard, especially because you pull pieces out of the treasure chest and can stick them back in whenever you want to get them out of the way.

You can see the scale of the pieces along the edge of the chest.
The pieces are larger on lower levels.

My strategy for puzzles is nearly always the same: check through all the pieces for the edge pieces and assemble that first, then work my way inward via significant features. It wasn't particularly hard, but it probably took an hour for this one puzzle, just because of having to pile pieces in a corner of the screen to get them out of the way while I checked through them. Once the picture takes shape, it's clear that it shows a room, complete with a door and a number of decorations, some of which are gratuitous props from other Sierra games.

Can't imagine Aziza giving up her table to a mad scientist.

The next room is labeled DOCE OMOR, which is an anagram for CODE ROOM. It's a room for word and code puzzles. There's a huge hangman and a book on substitution ciphers, and the portrait of Dr. Brain slides aside to reveal a safe. I'll tackle the hangman game first.

Apparently the portrait is also a dartboard...?

As in Jeopardy, it's best to start with a few of RSTLNE and then consider what kinds of words are most likely based on the letters displayed. The first one was very easy because after E and S, I had SESS***, which turned out to be SESSION, of course. On the second one, I got E*E*AT**, which is ELEVATOR. And the third word was ANTELOPE. I think the words may be randomly pulled from a set of available words, but none of them were very difficult. Each correct word lowered the hangman and in gratitude he gave me one part of the cabinet's code.

I don't remember why I guessed Q on this one. Probably a misclick, as R is the last letter.

I enter the three codes and open the cabinet, revealing a "Pay TV" token and a "letter counter". The first will be used on the door in the far wall, and the second is supposed to be useful for decryption to count the frequency of letters. I can solve substitution ciphers without aids, usually, but it might make it faster. But before I do either of those things, I'm going to crack Dr. Brain's safe.

The hangman dummy runs off after I free him from the noose.
 Hmm, Dr. Brain was apparently enslaving a sentient scarecrow.

Naturally, to do this, I have to solve an instance of the puzzle called "Safecracker" which gives you a limited number of chances to guess a sequence of symbols, and for each guess, it will tell you the number of symbols in their correct places, and the number of correct symbols but in wrong places. This one has eight possible symbols and twelve guesses available for determining a five-symbol sequence. For this kind of puzzle, I use a systematic strategy that should always yield the right answer eventually, but depending on which combination is the desired one, the required number of guesses can vary quite a bit. I'm not sure of the maximum number of guesses that a properly-executed strategy would take, but twelve seems quite generous.

I start with all five places guessed as the first available symbol. Three are correct, so I leave the first three and fill in the other two with the second available symbol. Only two are in their correct place now, and none of the second symbol are in the combination, so I shift to guessing the three middle symbols, and fill in the ends with the third symbol. Now the original three are in the right places, so I continue cycling the ends until it tells me that the fifth available symbol is in the combination once. The first place is correct for the fifth symbol, but the sixth and seventh available symbols are not in the combination, so that means the fifth place must be filled by the eighth available symbol.

The correct final combination to crack the safe.

So in eight guesses, the safe is open. This particular combination is a straightforward one, meaning I can determine the correct placements of each different symbol before I cycle to the next correct symbol. If the fifth place required the second available symbol, for instance, I would have still been determining where the three instances of the first symbol went at the same time as it would start telling me I had another symbol correct but in the wrong place, so then I would be working on various permutations of the second symbol with three of the first symbol, while continuing to cycle the fifth remaining place through the six remaining symbols. Systematically testing the correct subset of permutations can get a little complicated, but in the actual combination, it was straightforward.

Within the safe, I find a red key, called the "Ruby Key," and a cryptic note containing the mnemonic for the order of the planets: "My very energetic mother just sent us nine pies." Which includes Pluto, of course. Is there a new mnemonic for the planets without Pluto? Would anyone like to create a new one?

I suppose these days "my very energetic mother just sent us nothing" instead,
 but that's rather pointless. Notepaper? Noodles?

For the far door of the Code Room, I actually had to take the "Pay TV" token out of inventory and use it on the door, just like a real adventure game. (Hah.) Up to this point, required items have just been used automatically when needed. This brings up a cryptogram. It doesn't quite act like a normal cryptogram, though, because it's solved by swapping pairs of letters. There's a little eye chart showing the most common letters (E, T, A), and the letter counter counts the quantity of the selected letter, so it's kind of a logic puzzle to flip the letters around, rather than a conventionally-solved cryptogram, although you could probably solve it conventionally and then just apply the right transformations.

That might be easier in a way, because with the switching, it's hard to keep track of which letters you think are correct and which are not. I didn't bother, though. Just like with a normal cryptogram, getting a few common letters set correctly allows for filling in additional words, which leads to the rest of it. The result: "The elevators of the mind only operate for those who keep their minds open to new possibilities." And of course, this leads to a third elevator!

Good luck...trying to solve the rest of the game?
As if it's that much harder than the first three-quarters?

Join me next time as we dash through this third maze and find some out-of-this-world puzzles!

Session Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Total Time: 6 hours 0 minutes

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There’s a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no points will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. Please...try not to spoil any part of the game for me...unless I really obviously need the help...or I specifically request assistance. In this instance, I've not made any requests for assistance. Thanks!


  1. Ref names in the Word Search that aren't games - they're team credits, including Corey Cole, Steve Conrad, Jack Magne, Brett Miller, John Wentworth, Dennis Lewis, and maybe a few others. Andy Hoyos should be there, but I don't see Andy in the puzzle.

    Choices for the acrostic are various games and sports, but only parlor games are in the solution, hence the "answer".

    The eye chart in the code room shows English language letters in order by frequency. I have "ETAOINSHRDLU" burned into my brain since childhood since I liked to solve ciphers as a preteen. Here it's a clue for players without that background, or for whom English is not their native language.

    The allowance of 12 guesses in the "Mastermind" symbol puzzle was intentional - I wanted most players to succeed, not to fail to a few poor guesses.

    "My very energetic mother..." is an old mnemonic for getting the names of the planets in the correct order. Alas, "pie" (Pluto) has been downgraded to a Dwarf Planet.

    1. Oh, I see it now, yes Andy is in the puzzle. Full credits are at Find them all for "full credit".

    2. I see Andy now too. Thanks for the confirmation on the team credits in the word search!

    3. You can actually select the names in the word search and the game returns a special message, indicating that that is indeed a team member's name, but not part of the puzzle, and thanks for trying it.

  2. The jigsaw puzzle was very time-consuming. IMO the biggest "filler" of the game.

    The three instances of the maze may all seem similar to you, but I noticed that each subsequent maze included many additional locations where you had to return to previous floor in order to proceed. Those reversals in direction are a big deal to younger players, or to people trying to keep track of their location in their mind rather than drawing out a map.

  3. Instead of "nine pies", "nachos!" There you go, planet mnemonic fixed! If you're wanting to also include dwarf planets though, I have no clue.