Monday 28 December 2015

Castle of Dr. Brain -­ Math and Mazes

Written by Reiko

Ringing the doorbell starts a game of Memory to unlock the door as the first puzzle. The panels above the door can be triggered, and (in Expert mode) also the lamps and flamingoes. The game triggers one item, then I have to repeat it, then it triggers two items starting with the same first one, and I have to repeat it, and so on. The final sequence is ten items long. On lower difficulty levels, the lamps or flamingoes aren't involved, and the sequence is shorter, 6 items on Novice and 8 on Standard. Finishing the puzzle opens the door and yields the "Memory Puzzle Plaque" (regardless of difficulty level -­ I played through on all three levels for the first puzzle to see the differences).

Winning a plaque doesn't mean as much on Novice level.

The second room has several doors and interesting things to look at. First I open the drawer, which contains a sliding tile puzzle. This kind of puzzle was rather overused in puzzle games like this for awhile, but in this era, it was a rather normal thing. I use a screen capture of the castle for reference while solving. I don't think that's cheating, as it hardly solves the tile manipulation, and the castle is in the original box art of the game.

Most of the descriptions of random objects are bad jokes.

I'm actually surprised the puzzle is only 4x4 on Expert. It's probably 3x3 on both Novice and Standard. Some puzzles don't have three different difficulty levels. A 4x4 grid isn't too difficult (5x5 would have been quite a challenge), just a bit tedious. For my troubles, I get a code word: Blackjack. While I didn't remember it before I began playing, I suspect immediately that this is copy ­protection, which is easily circumvented by acquiring a copy of the "Ultra Top Secret Decoder Grid" for future reference.

One move from completion.

Next up is the Math Marvel puzzle, activated by using the left door. There are sixteen numbers which must be used to form four true math statements, one each with addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Each fact moves the chest at the bottom forward one square. I think it's easiest to solve this by tackling multiplication and division first, but really, if you have any arithmetic skill, this is one of the easier puzzles in the game. 88/8 = 11; 15*5 = 75; 65-­44 = 21; 18+12 = 30. After the fourth fact, I find that the chest holds a key! I'm acquiring some interesting items, so I go into the inventory to see what I've got. The key apparently is for the time clock, which must be elsewhere in the castle. Plus I get the second code word: Tic­Tac­Toe.

Math Marvel puzzle, before completion.

The right door triggers a magic square puzzle, which is another very standard kind of puzzle. The Novice puzzle is a 3x3 magic square; the Standard puzzle is a 4x4 square, but the Expert puzzle is a 4x4 square with a twist: the numbers are all the odd numbers up to 32, rather than all the numbers up to 16. It can be solved the same way as the regular magic square, though. There's actually a handy trick which makes it really simple. I just place all the numbers in the grid in order. Then flip the ends of each diagonal (1 and 31, 7 and 25) and the internal numbers of each diagonal (11 and 21, 13 and 19). And...I'm done! The magic number for this magic square is 64. The third code word: Checkers.

The almost­ completed magic square. The number in the top left box is 31.

The door at the end of the hallway has the keypad for the code words. The decoder grid contains the symbols, so it's simple to enter the symbols that correspond to the code words. When I open the door, I also get a mathematics plaque.

The next room is full of clocks ­-- and noise! The first puzzle is just to turn off the talking clock, not to mention the other noises, like the alarm, so that we can hear ourselves think in here. Fortunately, there are some buttons that help with that, although somewhat indirectly. One button toggles the alarm. One button toggles the cuckoo. One button turns off the clock, but also turns on the alarm. And the fourth button turns off the alarm, but only if the cuckoo is off and the radio is on.

The cuckoo and the clock are on, to start. And the clock makes it seem like a timed puzzle, as it reports an intervaled countdown from 60 seconds, but if it gets down to zero, it just starts over again. (I find out later that the timing does make a difference, but only a small one.) Turning everything off is pretty straightforward. I turn the cuckoo off, and then turn the clock off, which turns the alarm on. I have to turn the radio on first, and then I can turn the alarm off. Then turn the radio off again, and ­ ah! Nice and quiet! Now we can see what else is in here.

An educational description instead of a joke description.

There's a timecard system, but I'll need a timecard, which is stored in the desk drawer. Clicking on the drawer or the hourglasses on the desk brings up a "time lock" puzzle which is basically the same kind of standard puzzle as the ones with two different size measuring cups that need to be used to measure out a third amount of fluid. Only this one uses time. One hourglass counts down 35 seconds, and the other counts down 15 seconds, and the lock must be opened after 40 seconds. The standard difficulty is the same as expert, but the novice difficulty has the first hourglass give 25 seconds of time instead of 35, so then the puzzle becomes nearly trivial: just turn the smaller one after the larger one finishes, and open the lock when the smaller one finishes.

Measuring cup puzzle with time.

But for the harder version I had to think longer. The measuring cup problems are easier because you can generally pour them back and forth and empty them as many times as needed to get the correct final amount. Time only flows in one direction, and neither of the hourglasses can be flipped before the 40­second time period starts; instead, they both are automatically flipped when clicking Start. The constraints make this seem like it should be simple, but while it isn't too complex, there's a trick. If these were measuring cups, it'd be simple: fill the 7, pour it into the 3, leaving 4, pour that into the final container, and repeat.

But with time, you can't repeat the process or throw away extra time, except that you can flip an hourglass before it finishes if the other one has just finished. The critical bit is that it will then essentially count in reverse as far as it had gotten before you flipped it over. So I start the clock, watch the 15­second hourglass count down, flip it over when it finishes, and watch it count down again. At 30 seconds, when it finishes the second time, I flip it again, and keep an eye on the 35­second one. When it finishes, I immediately flip the 15­second hourglass back over, reversing the last five seconds to count out the extra five seconds needed to go from 35 seconds to 40 seconds. With the time lock complete, the drawer opens to reveal three time cards.

Anyone remember using physical time cards? (I never have...)

Now I have to use those cards to punch in to the time clock on the wall. As a puzzle, it's decent, but it doesn't make a whole lot of sense, really. Each card has a pattern of times, and you have to punch in at the correct next time in the pattern, but you also have to open up the clock and reset it to that time in order to do that. Clearly Dr. Brain doesn't actually keep any sort of official schedule. And apparently it's pretty simple to just open up the clock in order to change the time. Even on Expert, this puzzle is very simple, using only arithmetic progressions. Using all three time cards correctly opens the elevator in the back and deposits me in a maze.

The next time in the pattern is 1:45.

The "elevator" is more like a Star Trek turbolift in the sense that it can move about in all three dimensions, where corridors allow, of course. In an odd reversal, the elevator car itself is made of stone, and the maze is made of steel panels. I would expect the reverse in a sensibly designed building, but of course this building is not sensible.

Metal maze and stone elevator.

The movement is also a lot like the group movement of old blobber CRPGs, with buttons to move forward or back or turn to the left or right. Fortunately, the arrow keys also work to maneuver the elevator, as I quickly tired of clicking the movement buttons. On lower difficulty levels, the screen on the left shows a sort of wireframe map, but on Expert, there's no map. So I mapped it. In Excel. Just like the CRPG Addict! It's not a difficult maze if you're careful not to get turned around. Unlike a lot of RPGs, there's no spell to determine coordinates or anything. But there are no spinners or teleporters, either, so it's pretty straightforward.

I numbered and color-­coded the stairs to keep track of which ones connected.

Exiting the maze takes me to the second floor hallway: the computer hall. I liked the math puzzles, but I think the computer/logic puzzles were my favorite. We'll see next time how well they hold up to my nostalgia.

Looks a lot like the first floor hallway...except for that vast computer room.

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

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  1. Strange. The sliding puzzle in my game did not have a picture, but rather just numbers that you had to put in order. Are there multiple versions of this game? I was playing it on Expert as well, I think, although I switched to Standard at one point. I had quite some difficulty with the magic square puzzle on Expert and switch down.

    1. Was your puzzle 4x4? I saw at one point that the 3x3 was just numbers, so while I haven't checked, I would guess that Novice is 3x3 numbers, Standard is 4x4 numbers, and Expert is 4x4 picture (doesn't automatically give you tile locations, in other words). This would be consistent with the difficulty progression of the magic square puzzle (Standard and Expert are the same size, but Expert has a twist).

    2. Looking back over my game design notes, I only mentioned using numbers in the sliding tile puzzle. In fact, my notes say "No difference between difficulty levels" for that puzzle. I think Lori came up with the idea of unscrambling a picture at the Expert difficulty level, somewhere late in production as even the animation list only mentions number tiles.

      The first prototype room we developed was the "Code Room" with Hangman, Mastermind, and some other mini-game-style puzzles. The "eye chart" is a clue for players not familiar with letter frequencies.

  2. My first job used physical time punch cards - my first thought was "Wow, it's just like in the Flintstones!"

  3. TL;DR: I don't call the game "memory" by that name.

    One of the funny things that I like to discuss is how "kid words" vary regionally even as most adult language was standardized. The best example I can think of immediately is: what do you call the bushes that have sharp points that you scratch yourself on when you run around as a kid?

    Where I grew up (Pittsburgh, PA), they were "jagger bushes". My wife (New England) called them "pricker bushes", but I've also heard them called "thorny bushes" and "burr bushes".

    So for me "memory" is the game you play with cards where you place them all face down and have to turn one randomly then find its mate (red to red, black to black, unless you have a double deck).

    "simon" (from the electronic toy) is the name I would use for having to remember a colored sequence and push the buttons in order with gradually increasing difficulty.

    1. Interesting. I also used "Simon" as the shortcut name for the "repeat colors and sounds" puzzle. I think I played a version of it before Simon came out, but that was the big commercial version that we remember.

      On the card game, the one you describe as "Memory", I call "Concentration".

    2. We call the card game 'memory' too and 'Simon' for the flashing game.

      Never heard of anything like a 'jagger bush' but when I was a kid we always had the hazard of 'bindies' or 'bindi-eyes' when walking barefoot on grass.

  4. That's an interesting point. Simon is a specific commercial version, sure, but I use "Memory" as the general term for that class of game, as the one here doesn't have just four colors arranged in a circle. I also call the card game Concentration. I never thought much about prickly bushes, but "thorny bushes" is probably what I'd say. Burrs are different than thorns...

  5. I'm 35. When I started working I think the analog timecards were mostly fazed out, but I have had a few jobs where we still used them. I thought were a lot of fun!

    Where I grew up I just remember blackberry bushes and their thorns. If we called them anything, it was probably "brambles."

  6. Was your puzzle 4x4? I saw at one point that the 3x3 was just numbers, so while I haven't checked, I would guess that Novice is 3x3 numbers, Standard is 4x4 numbers, and 2048 cupcakes score Expert is 4x4 picture (doesn't automatically give you tile locations, in other words). This would be consistent with the difficulty progression of the magic square puzzle (Standard and Expert are the same size, but Expert has a twist).


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