Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Missed Classic: Dungeon - Go Ask Alice

Written by Joe Pranevich

I think she’ll know.

Last week, we crossed the halfway mark in Dungeon by returning sixteen treasures to the trophy case. We whitewater rafted, smooshed a piece of coal into a diamond, dug for buried treasure, and even drained a reservoir to discover long-hidden pirate booty. More importantly, we’ve also explored the whole world of Dungeon: there are no more areas except those blocked by puzzles. Every exit on my map has been followed and documented! To progress deeper into the maze, I have to invest some time into solving the remaining puzzles. Last week also reminded me that I can’t get complacent: we found stacks of money in the Bank of Zork, an area that I was sure I conquered on the first day. There could be more treasures hidden in areas that already “solved”.

I am also reaching a point in the game where I am solving the puzzles more slowly and with more frustration. This post accounts for more than ten hours of playtime, almost as much as the previous three combined. I made some good progress (with one “Google accident”, more on that in a bit), but I might soon be reaching the end of what I can accomplish without help. Another theme this week is “parser weirdness”-- I may be exiting the polished portion of the game as nearly every solution involved some butchering of the English language. This week, my adventure started in Hell...

Back to the temple...

Descent into Hell

I’ve alluded to this puzzle before but never really solved it “for real”: the entrance to Hades. This is the area near the temple where we found evil spirits and a helpful sign that urged me to “Abandon Hope”. I thought I remembered this puzzle from Zork I; I’m pretty sure that it entailed fetching the bell, book, and candle from the temple and using each one in sequence. Since that didn’t work, I gave up for a while but eventually found the solution in one word: “exorcism”. Grammatically correct equivalents such as “do exorcism” or “exorcise spirits” do not work, you have to use the bare noun. Once performed, the spirits depart and the path is clear.

The next room, the “Tomb of the Unknown Implementer”, smashes the fourth wall. Not only do we find the decapitated heads of the four developers but also strange real life items such as empty Coke bottles, stacks of faded line-printer output, and sign that says “Feel Free”. A hollow voice rings out, “That’s not a bug, it’s a feature!” For all the humor, the room is deadly; even examining the heads kills you. According to an engraving on the crypt, the Implementers lost their heads due to “amazing untastefulness” by the “keeper of the dungeon”. Is this the first reference to a goal for the game? Will we be meeting the “keeper”?

1970s bottles. “Coke adds life”.

Unfortunately, I cannot find anything else to do here and neither the Coke bottles nor the printouts solve any puzzle that I am working on. All attempts to interact with the heads or the crypt results in death. I even try explosives! I’ll have to come back later.

To Kill A Thief

Without too many good options, I turn my attention back to the cyclops in the center of the maze. He’s guarding a staircase but always killed us quickly when we approached before. I pacified him briefly by feeding him the hot pepper sandwich from the house, but then he demanded a drink that I could never provide. Some commenters suggested that I should be searching for wine, but it turns out that I was just approaching the problem in a face-palming way. What did I forget to do? I forgot to open the bottle! Once you do that, we can give him a drink and he falls asleep. Problem solved.

Just upstairs, we discover that the cyclops was guarding the Thief’s treasure room, currently containing the golden sarcophagus and a chalice. I last saw the former in the Egyptian room and have no idea how it ended up here. Before I can act, the Thief shows up and all the treasures poof away. He attacks, but I bravely run east to see what else is here.

The heart of the maze?
I discover two new dead ends:
  • The first room has a note from the Thief and a hole in the floor. The note tells me that there is no treasure below-- but do you trust a thief?-- and that if I go down I will be trapped. I jump down the hole and learn that the Thief was telling the truth about both. The only escape is restoring.
  • South of there is an room with a locked steel door. Is this the path to the endgame? The keys don’t work here so I’ll have to keep looking for a way to open it.
With nothing else here, I steel myself and face the Thief in one-on-one combat, expecting to lose. I do! But before I die, I land a couple of good hits on him which is encouraging. There might be a less violent solution, but I fight him, die, and restore six times before I get lucky enough to win. The coffin and chalice reappear and I have no difficulty getting them both back to the trophy case. Is it a bug that I picked up the coffin this way? Am I going to be stuck because of it? With the Thief out of the way, I also complete mapping the maze. I find twenty-two rooms total and three exits: the cyclops, grate, and troll rooms, but nothing new.

Taking the Elevator

With the wind at my back, the next puzzle I take on is the giant’s well. This is the bucket that I found after the Riddle Room with the strange etchings that I had been unable to decode. But now that I have solved both the cyclops and the river puzzles, I discover that I have all of the pieces to win.

Dungeon’s vehicle words are obscure enough that we are given a helpful note the first time we use the raft: board, disembark, launch, etc. I had tried to climb into the bucket before with “enter bucket” when I actually need to “board bucket”. I did warn you about the parser issues! Once inside, I also opened the bottle of water and poured it into the inside of the bucket. Whatever magic that powers it must have been satisfied because it takes us to a new room. We did it!

The upper room also had an intact version of the etching. When you see it now, it makes sense, but I do not think this is “solvable” as a clue:

Not useful as a puzzle clue.
Leaving the bucket does not take me to a “giant” themed area as I suspected, but rather to two distinct zones: a “Wonderland” area patterned off the Mad Hatter’s tea party and a science-fiction area with mechanical noises and a voice-controlled robot. I’ll touch on them individually.


The main room of the Wonderland area consists of a table set for a tea party, including for varieties of cake: one labeled “EAT ME” plus three plain ones with orange, red, and blue icing. There’s a hole just to the east that is too small to climb into; do you see where this puzzle is going?

Our first problem though has nothing to do with the puzzle and everything to do with the parser. The labeled cake is just called this:

> There is a piece of cake where with the words "EAT ME" on it.

Yes, the game has a typo (“where” should be “here"), but that’s not the sin. The issue is that there is no way to manipulate this piece. You can’t say “eat cake” because there are three other types of cake here and the parser doesn’t know which one you mean. All the others can be addressed by color, but “eat me cake” is not recognized. I even try with quotes! We can pick it up using “all”, but then we have the same problem with all of the cakes in my inventory. It takes a lot of stupid trial and error to find that you can call it the “eatme cake” (with no space) and it works. It’s a game-breaking bug.

Let them eat cake!
Once I figure that out, I gobble each of the cakes to see what they do:
  • Orange - We eat it and explode. Boom!
  • Red - No immediate result.
  • Blue - We grow bigger and are crushed by the ceiling.
  • “Eat Me” - We become small enough to pass through the hole to the east.
I’m too peeved about the parser to mention that in the original book, the “EAT ME” cake was the one that made you larger, not smaller.

I eat the correct cake and run off to find the hidden room half-filled with sewage. The description hints that there may be something beneath the pool, but I’m briefly drawn to a small flask with a skull and crossbones on it. We can pick it up, but opening it is immediately fatal. Is it a weapon? I try everything from sticks to guano before discovering that the solution was right here: the red cake. Throwing it in the sewage dries it up to reveal a Tin of Spices. I have no problem getting that back to the trophy case, but I can’t help but to notice that I’m still carrying the orange cake, the poison, and another piece of the red cake. Am I missing a separate puzzle here or will these come in handy later?

Wouldn’t you like to be a pepper, too?
You, Robot

Just to the north, we find a robot and some instructions. (In yet another parser glitch, the “piece of paper” can only be referred to as a “piece” rather than “paper”.) The robot is so easy that an adventurer with a broken parser could use it! All it takes is to write, “tell robot” then a comma and the command we want to execute. It’s simple. This robot is brought to us both by Frobozz Magic Robot Company and “MIT Tech”. I assume that the latter is further fourth-wall breaking, unless there is an MIT in the Great Underground Empire.

The next room contains an obvious robot-puzzle: a high-voltage control panel with three buttons. Touching any of them results in immediate electrocution, but we can command the robot to do the pushing. Two of the buttons, a square one and a round one, cause a whirring noise to increase or decrease respectively. Pushing the third, a triangle, causes a dull thump in the distance. I explore to see where the thump came from but I do not get far before realizing that the room where we found the robot is now magnetized just like the Round Room! I backtrack all the way to the real Round Room to discover that a steel cage has fallen from the ceiling and the room is no longer magnetized. Opening the cage reveals a violin which I can return to the trophy case. Unfortunately, my theory from last post about the room having eight exits turns out to be false. Two of the exits, north and south, both lead to toward the magic well area. I’m disappointed because that would have been a beautiful puzzle, but perhaps I was over-thinking it.

The final room of this section contains a crystal sphere protected by the Frobozz Magic Alarm Company. If I try to take the sphere, a cage crashes down and the room fills with poisoned gas until I’m dead. If I have the robot take the sphere, the cage smashes it and the sphere at the same time. It takes trial and error, but when I have the robot in the same room when the cage falls, it can lift the cage and free me. That lets me grab the sphere (and the cage) and get out of the room before the poisoned gas does its thing. Another treasure and I’m done with this area for now.

One note spelled L-I-T-E.
The Canary

After doing so well plowing through puzzles and parser errors, this is where I fell off the track. I started researching Zork I in anticipation of beating this game, but I stumbled on a post that mentioned the canary puzzle and just like that the memories came flooding back. The golden egg wasn’t the treasure; there’s something inside!

Once I remembered that, I also remembered that only the Thief is able to open the egg without breaking it. Since I killed him already, I had to restore back a ways to give it to him. After that, we can now find a clockwork canary hidden away in his treasure room! I repeat all of the other puzzles again, but I then remember that this isn’t the end of the canary puzzle either. The details are fuzzy so I take the canary just about everywhere-- I was particularly excited in the coal mine-- but none of those unlocks the treasure I vaguely remember getting before. Finally I realize that you can wind him up when you hear the birdsong in the forest, netting us a golden bauble. Not a bad catch, but I’m disappointed for the accidental cheat. I doubt I could have solved this on my own, but memory is a powerful thing.

Who doesn’t like rainbows?
Bits and Pieces

During the course of my solving these puzzles, I also ran into a few more things of note:
  • If I “pray” at the altar in the temple, I am transported to the forest. I wish I had known that two posts ago! I spent far too much time climbing that chimney.
  • In addition to the river, I can use the boat to cross the filled reservoir and even paddle upstream for an alternate route to “Stream View”. We cannot use the boat on the river after the falls. Neither of these seems to help in any way.
  •  I vaguely remembered that I needed to wave something to make the rainbow solid so at one point I waved every item in my inventory. To my shock, the pointy stick gives you a “Very good.” message when you do that. I have no idea what that means, but waving the pointy stick near the rainbow allows me to cross and pick up the requisite pot of gold. Any idea how a piece of pointed wood became so powerful?
  • I also remember that there was a second solution to the cyclops puzzle: if you say “odysseus”, he runs away straight through a wall in classic Looney Tunes style. That hole leads to the white house, once again completely screwing with my sense of place in this game. This puzzle seems to have no foreshadowing and I’m still not sure if it was intended as a real solution or just a debugging aid. I guess we’ll never know.
  • I use the gunk everywhere. I can use it to fix the leak in the dam when I push the wrong button but find nothing else of note.
With that, I am going to end this week with a huge surprise: my score is 476 points and now I’m a “Winner!”. Does that mean I can go to the endgame? I can’t wait to find out. This game is still a lot of fun, but it’s just starting to overstay its welcome.

Before I go, one small request for help: I lost my rope. I left it tied to the railing above the torch room and the Thief nabbed it at some point, probably hundreds of points ago. I have mapped nearly 150 rooms so far and re-explored them all, but to no avail. I cannot find the rope anywhere. Can someone please give me a hint: will I need the rope again before the end of the game or do I need to start over?

Treasures Found: 23 (Egg, Painting, Portrait, Pearl Necklace, Coins, Platinum Bar, Grail, Sapphire Bracelet, Jade Figurine, Crystal Trident, Ivory Torch, Stack of Zorkmids, Emerald, Diamond, Statue, Gold Coffin, Chalice, Fancy Violin, Crystal Sphere, Tin of Spices, Clockwork Canary, Glass Bauble, Pot of Gold)

Time played: 10 hr 50 min
Total time: 24 hr 30 min


  1. Whether you need the rope again depends entirely on whether a certain puzzle that's in the 646 point version is also in your version. Unfortunately I'm not sure whether that's the case, as one of the treasures I thought was missing in yours (the crystal sphere) is apparently intact.

    I'm trying to think about how to confirm whether you need the rope while not spoiling anything for you. Let's try this first: does the crystal sphere have a color?

    Oh, separate thought: are you *sure* the rope is gone? In my version at least, it won't show up in the room description after you've tied it to the railing. Try "untie rope" in the railing room and see if you get a positive response. (It is quite possible the Thief moved it - I had that happen to me - but this is at least worth testing.)

    1. Thank you! I will check tonight. If I have painstakingly searched EVERY ROOM in this game again-- including every room in the mazes-- and the rope was right where I left it the whole time... I will be displeased.

      The sphere does not seem to have a color, btw, but I will check tonight. I thought to look into it like a crystal ball but that didn't work, but I may have only done that while it was sitting in its room rather than when it was being held.

    2. OK, good. If your version had the puzzle I'm referencing, then looking into the sphere would have had an effect (and the sphere would be identified as having a color). If it doesn't, then you shouldn't need to worry about missing your rope.

    3. This post has a lot of parser weirdness. Does that happen in your version? Did the "open water" and "exorcism" commands work for you or did you have to solve the cyclops and gates of Hell in some other way?

    4. Ha, we're thinking about some of the same issues. See my "various observations" post below where I address both of those, along with another parser oddity involving the robot.

      I did have to "open bottle" in my version as well, but not for the Cyclops - I had to do that before I could pour water into the bucket.

      Tightening up parser issues is, I think, one of the major improvements the Infocom folks made when transforming Dungeon into the commercially released Zork games.

    5. Btw, I checked and the rope is no longer there tied to the railing. So... it's gone. I hope you are right and that I do not need it.

    6. You should be fine. I spent some time calculating different point totals, and the three puzzles that I am pretty sure your version lacks (which includes the puzzle requiring the rope) are worth exactly enough points to make up the difference between your 585 and my 646.

  2. I've played this before. But the version I'm used to has 646 points. I don't think you need the rope anymore. (The puzzle that's missing does appear in a future Zork game, however.)

    You shouldn't be allowed to enter the endgame without all the treasures. In particular, I think you've still missed one particular area where you haven't solved a puzzle. If you must know (ROT13ed): gel gb trg cnfg gur tynpvre.

    As for the "unknown implementor" room, lbh qcb'g arrq gb or gurer lrg.

    And the round room having seven exits: I assume that is intensional. Perhaps the developers were trying to lead you to the area to turn it off.

    And one final nudge: Gur ubyr ol gur guves'f ynve vfa'g n qrnq raq!

    1. Thanks for the hints. I'm not going to look at the YET, but my next post may be a request for assistance. I've solved one more big puzzle after this but cannot figure out how to get farther. I'm going to try very hard to solve it without help, but we'll see...

      In retrospect, I wish I had played the 646 point version but it is so hard to know what the original game was. That version has all the puzzles of the final game (I think), but a more advanced parser than was available in 1979. My version has something very close to the original parser but seems to be missing a couple more puzzles.

      (But DAMN, this game has so many puzzles. Do we really need even more of them?)

  3. Various observations on already-solved puzzles:

    - In the 646-point version, "exorcism" doesn't work to banish the evil spirits. It doesn't do anything at all in fact. "Exorcise" works as a verb, but only to provoke the response (from the game), "You must perform the ceremony." You then have to go through the actual steps of the exorcism cemetery, which is likely what you're remembering from playing Zork I.

    - Giving the cyclops the water seems impossible in the 646-point version. I suspect this is because, in that version, you get 5 points for reaching the "Strange Passage" location (the "looney tunes passage" that the cyclops opens by running away when you mention Odysseus). If the lunch-and-water solution worked in that version, you'd miss out on those 5 points.

    - Speaking of the cyclops: "Odysseus" IS clued. Read the black book carefully! Fun additional fact: the Roman version, "Ulysses," also works.

    - According to the Zork I hints, your fighting prowess against the Thief is dependent on your score. So the more of the game you've solved, the better equipped you are to defeat him. They also suggested that the nasty knife from the house is a marginally better weapon against him than is your sword.

    - Letting the Thief do the "heavy lifting" with the gold coffin is a perfectly legit solution. I suspect there are multiple ways to get the coffin out of the underground. I personally was able to get it to an exit after having drained the reservoir, and walking it across there to the mirror-and-coal-mine area.

    - I'm glad you figured out/remembered the clockwork canary. That's the "dead man walking" scenario I had in mind when this project started - killing the Thief without having him open the egg. The game is fairly obtuse about that issue, in my opinion. I vaguely recall Zork adds some kind of extra clue as to that puzzle (and several other puzzles you've already encountered).

    - As I understand it, the thinking behind the well is "what would make a magic well rise? When it's filled with water, of course."

    - I had parser trouble with the robot-cage-sphere puzzle. Telling the robot to "break," "get," "open," or "move" the cage got me nowhere. Only "lift" and "raise" seem to work there as verbs.

    1. Great feedback!

      - I noticed (did I write about it?) that I thought that the book implied that I needed to poke the cyclops with the stick. Or maybe I read that in the Engravings Room? In either event, I did not connect that reference to Odysseus although in retrospect I see how that "makes sense". Sort of. And pocking him with the stick did not help.

      - I may have to check my map, but I don't believe that you can get to the reservoir from the coffin room to cross it that way. If I missed an exit, that is unfortunate... I thought for sure you'd either need to stash it in the volcano and get it that way OR have a way to pass through the ice. I haven't figured out either of those yet.

      - Does your version give any hints for the stick being what to use for the rainbow? I swear (don't tell me) that it was the crystal trident in Zork I. Just a random pointy stick seems... random and nonsensical.

      - If you can't give the cyclops water, what does the sandwich do? Is there still a sandwich in that version?

      Thank you for playing along!

    2. - Yes, you did mention the "eye poking," which is in the engravings, not the black book. And it's not the clue to Odysseus that I'm referencing. Read the black book passage again! (In particular... ernq qbja vafgrnq bs npebff!)

      - You didn't miss an exit. Rather, I think you were trying to move the coffin around *before* you'd drained the reservoir. From the Egyptian room, you can carry the coffin up (to the glacier), north (to Stream View), and east to Reservoir South. With the reservoir drained you can then cart it across to the Atlantis Room.

      - There are no clues for the stick/rainbow other than the "very good" you mention when waving the stick. I have to think it's an Adventure reference and quite hard to suss out otherwise. I know what they did with this puzzle for Zork I - I won't say what; but I think it's much fairer there.

      - I can still give the sandwich to the Cyclops, but without being able to give him water afterwards doing so is of no help. The sandwich IS there but, due to this "feature," seems useless.

      - Incidentally... does the trapdoor still slam shut behind you when you go down from the trophy case?

    3. OH! I completely didn't notice that you could walk up the stream bed after the reservoir was drained. That makes some amount of sense, especially since I noticed that you could raft up that way when it was full. I don't think the description changed in the "Stream View" so I assumed that the stream was too far upstream to be affected by the draining. (Yeah... and... er... if you emptied the reservoir, HOW would the stream feeding it be affected?)

      The trapdoor still slams shut each time. That is why finding alternate exits has been so critical. (Five so far: the chimney, the grate, the rainbow, the prayer, and the cyclops-hole.) None of them are particularly convenient, but I have a little note on my map: "e, w, u" to the skeleton then "sw, e, s, ne" to cyclops or "sw, u, w, sw, ne" to grate.

    4. Sorry, I'm not being clear about the geography. I'm not talking about walking up the stream bed - I'm talking about crossing the drained reservoir. I.e., going through the room with the trunk of jewels. I'll give the game another go later today so I can explain a bit better how I got the coffin out. (Which isn't a spoiler for the Zork games by the way - the coffin is moved in those and so its extraction becomes a much different puzzle.)

      That's really interesting that you still have to deal with the trapdoor slamming shut. In my version, as soon as you find and use one non-chimney route back above ground, the trapdoor STOPS shutting - so you can start using that as an exit route as well.

    5. Ah. Yeah, my mistake on the reservoir. I had marked that I couldn't go east from the stream view with the coffin which is incorrect. I just checked and you are right that you can get there to cross the drained reservoir no problem. A more elegant solution! Thanks for correcting me.

      Yes, the trapdoor slamming shut is an annoyance. I had not realized that they lowered the difficulty in the subsequent version by leaving it open after a point. That would have helped a lot!

    6. Waving the stick has to be an Adventure reference, as there's a place you have to wave the black rod.

  4. I'm puzzling through the 626 version myself right now- it's Juuuuust different enough from the Zork I that I have in my head that I'm completely stuck at points.

    I'm running into issues with my lantern not lasting very long- I suspect it's points AND turn based or soemthing, because as soon as I _NEED_ it to explore more near my concept of endgame, it keeps winking out. And that's a pain.

    1. I ran into issues in the 646 version with the lantern having inexplicably short life on some restores/restarts. I think there's a latent bug in that version where the lantern doesn't always get its battery life replenished when you restore or restart. Quitting out entirely and then reloading the game - and then restoring your save after doing that - seemed to help.