Sunday, 16 October 2016

Missed Classic: Dungeon - Frigid River Rafting

Written by Joe Pranevich


Last week, I deepened my descent into the Great Underground Empire and returned ten treasures to the trophy case. I defeated a troll, was trounced by a cyclops, and was killed by magic cutlery. I was stumped by a wall of ice and a giant’s well. I even saw a vampire bat hold its nose to keep away the smell of garlic. It’s been an experience but judging from my map and score, I barely scratched the surface.

Although the game is huge, there does not yet seem to be a lot of logical progression. Why is the Bank of Zork connected to an artist’s studio? Why is a coal mine tucked behind a magic mirror? As I fill in more of the map, I hope to get a better sense of the internal geography but for now I will continue to describe discrete regions as I find them. As before, I will simplify my narrative a bit. While I will describe the puzzles that I solved in order, I switched back and forth constantly between areas as I searched for solutions. I hope I have struck a good balance between step-by-step narration and readability.

I ended last post just after locating an air pump to go with my inflatable raft. It’s time to pack my camping gear and explore the Frigid River!

I’m on a boat! Again!

One region that makes some narrative and geographic sense is the Frigid River and environs. We briefly visited last post, but we can trace a stream we found not to far from the Troll’s Room to a reservoir behind Flood Control Dam #3. If I forgot to mention it, I also found a length of wire on the streambank. The reservoir and stream are below ground, but the dam seems to be near the mouth of an enormous cave entrance because we can see it from the canyon above ground. The rest of the Frigid River emerges into the sunlight and flows down to a waterfall and a deep canyon. We explored that area at the outset of the game. For my rafting expedition, we’ll start at the base of the dam and work our way down. I inflate the boat with the pump and an instruction card pops out: “board” to climb in, “disembark” to leave, “launch” to head out into the water, and “land” to come in. I love that the game helps us out here! I’m not sure I could have guessed all of those words on my own.

I realize quickly that this is a one-way trip: we can paddle downstream or across, but not against the current. Since I know there is a waterfall downstream, this is a concern. Two turns in, there are beaches to the west and east. West leads to an alternate path back to the dam, while east is mostly featureless sand. A bit further, I find a warning buoy telling me to head back. It’s not nailed down so, I fish it out of the water and open it. There’s an emerald inside! Who would put that there? I have no idea, but it’s mine.

But the whole area is a dead end, at least for now. Just before the falls, I disembark to the west to find the other end of the rainbow and a barrel. Entering the latter and typing “geronimo” as it suggests results in immediate death but there may be more to do here later. I can almost backtrack by walking up the beaches, but the path in the east is too narrow to take the raft through and you can’t cross back without it. The trick seems to be the rainbow, but I have no idea what to do with it. I have no choice but to revert to an earlier save; the emerald will have to wait.

Dungeon crawl like an Egyptian!

Three Puzzles, Zero Solutions

An essential strategy in this game is to keep track of exits in each room, marking them off as they are explored. There’s just too much ground to cover to possibly keep it all in your head at once. Since there’s an area just west of the dam with some unexplored exits, I head there next. This turns out to be a strange section with three different “themes” all adjacent to each other: an Egyptian room, a volcano, and an ice-filled room. Let’s hit them in sequence:
  • The Egyptian room is styled like an ancient tomb and contains an empty golden sarcophagus. It weighs a ton so I must drop just about everything to pick it up, but I hardly need to have bothered. There does not appear to be any way to travel more than a room or two without getting a message that the sarcophagus is too big to pass through an exit. My guess is that we have to solve the ice-filled room to get it out. 
Right near the start, but I missed it...
  • The Glacier Room is cold and ice completely covers the west wall, most likely concealing an exit. I immediately think of melting it and so I take the timber (from the coal mine) and try to set it alight… only to discover that in this game, timber doesn’t burn. Just to be funny, I try to melt the wall of ice with a match and… I drown in a torrent of meltwater. I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be humorous or magic, but nothing I try works. I even try sitting in the boat while I do the burning, but I find no solution to removing the ice. 
  • The Volcano View is the final themed room in this area. It’s a ledge overlooking a volcano with other ledges in view on the far side. I have no way to get across and jumping just gets me killed. 
That’s three puzzle rooms but zero solutions. Fortunately, I do find something useful nearby: just east of the Egypt Room is the “Top of the Dome”, a room with a railing overlooking another room below. By attaching my rope (from the attic) to the rail, I can descend to find a burning ivory torch! I knew there was another light source in this game! This is actually not that far from the troll’s room and if I had gone through one or two different exits, I could have found this as one of the first treasures.

In honor of Star Trek: 25th Anniversary...

The Great Calamity

Just when I thought I was getting somewhere, calamity struck: I deleted my save games. The version of Dungeon I am playing has only a single save slot and I have been doing some shell-tricks to save my state in various parts of the game. Unfortunately, I managed to overwrite my primary save with one from much earlier in the game. I had others recent ones, but I decided to take it as a sign that I should start over. Since I know where the torch is now, I should be able to save a significant amount of battery power that I might need later.

I won’t recap it all here, but the first thing that happens is that I get stumped on the Bank of Zork puzzle despite solving it “easily” the first time. Completely by surprise, I end up stuck in a different bank vault with a large pile of money. It took me some more time to work out that the direction you enter the safe deposit room from determines where walking through the curtain will teleport you. Once I understood that, the whole mess made sense and now I leave it with two treasures instead of one. How many more puzzles in this game am I leaving half-solved like this? No… don’t answer yet, but I am worried.

I make it a rule to never trust Frobs.

The banknotes give us our second example of ASCII art in the game. It probably won’t increase the graphics score, but it is a nice detail. We also advance the worldbuilding as Dimwit Flathead was also mentioned over in Flood Control Dam #3.

After that, it was just a matter of retracing my steps to pick up all the treasures that I know about, except… BOOM. Do you remember the sapphire bracelet that I found in the “Smelly Room?” The strange smell was coal gas and the “BOOM” was me being blown to smithereens by bringing in an open flame. It’s easy enough to use the lamp here, but it’s a fun obstacle and a detail that could be easily missed. I also came across what appears to be a bug: you cannot take the torch up the chimney. If you try, you get a “helpful” message that you are forgetting something any time you try to climb without the lamp. Because of that limitation, I have to do some gymnastics to ferry items up using the lamp after fetching them with the torch. Since the Thief is still out there, leaving any item unguarded is asking for it to be moved or stolen.

Some time later, I am right back to where I was before except slightly wiser and with one more treasure. Onward!

The Round Room

Count the exits. I’ll wait.

Another advantage of replaying is that I’m more familiar with the layout than I was before. It’s now clear to me that the “Round Room” is the center of the dungeon. I’ve mentioned this room before: when you enter, your compass goes nuts and you always leave randomly through one of eight exits. Until I had the whole place mapped, I did not realize that the room essentially bisects the whole maze: there is no way to cross from the west/north portion of the maze (the Cellar, Troll Room, Maze, Dam, etc.) with the eastern part (the Temple, Mirror Room, etc.). There’s also a small southern part with the Riddle Room and “Bottom of the Well” that may be cut off from both. In that sense, you can’t avoid the Round Room and I’ve been traveling through it in my journies.

But… count the exits! The description says there are eight exits, but there are only seven destination rooms. Is there another room that you can only get to if you fix whatever is affecting your compass? I’m guessing yes! The trick may be in the Whirring Room. From there, you can hear the Round Room to the north, but there is no path back. Other than the Twisty Maze, this is the only place you can go from the Round Room without an immediate path back. I doubt it’s a coincidence, but I also can’t find anything to do here. I mark this puzzle to come back to later, pleased at least that all my mapping is paying off.

A fine dam puzzle.

Back to the Dam

My strategy of marking exits that I haven’t explored yet ends here: I have explored everywhere that I can. It only took three posts! More importantly, it means I have to solve some puzzles to open up new areas. The first puzzle that I return to is the dam. I remember a bit of this from when I played Zork as a kid, but not enough to solve it. In the maintenance room, there are four colored buttons: blue, yellow, brown, and red. Outside the dam, there’s a panel with a bolt and a green light which is currently off. I try the blue button and pipe bursts and fills the room with water. We get some humor as the water level gradually rises, but I restore before the inevitable comic death. I try the yellow one next and nothing obvious happens, but the green light is now lit on the control panel outside. I turn the bolt with my wrench and the sluice gates open! This wasn’t as tricky as I remembered it.

With the gates open, the reservoir has dried up and we can cross it on foot. I expect to find a new area to explore, but instead we find a trunk of jewels half-buried in the mud and a faster route to the “Atlantis Room”. If I didn’t name it last week, this is the room on the other side of the magic mirror that contained the crystal trident. You don’t care but this completely screws up my maps. I had been envisioning the other side of the mirror room as being further south since the mirror was on the south wall. Wrong! That means the coal mine, the slide, and everything else on the far side of the mirror is in the northeast part of the maze rather than the southeast. It will take me some time to clean up my map.

Just pretend it’s a cyclops, okay?

The Dungeon’s Back Door

When I said earlier that I had explored all of the exits, I had actually missed a few: I still have not conquered the Maze of Twisty Little Passages. Last time, I gave up mapping at sixteen discovered rooms (fewer with all of their exits checked) as the thief kept taking my stuff. I do not have a better strategy this time, only a brute-force determination that I need to get farther in. My hope is either to find a solution to the Round Room or some other items that will let me advance a different puzzle.

It took me several tries and multiple loads of treasure, but I was able to push to nineteen rooms including one very important one: the underside of the grate! If you’ll recall from the beginning, there was a locked grate in the forest. We could not unlock it from above, but I have no trouble doing so from this end. I now have a path to and from the surface that doesn’t involve lugging treasures up a chimney one at a time! I wish I would have discovered this earlier because I could have saved some lantern batteries but it will help me in the future. But unfortunately, that is it. No matter what I do, I’m not able to finish mapping with the thief running around. There could be one or a dozen more important rooms in the maze. I honestly hope I don’t need to keep pushing on this because I doubt I can get much farther. This is a huge maze.

Eighteen tons and what do ya get? A diamond!

Deeper into the Mine

Next, I revisit the Coal Mine. Last time, I explored the mine maze and had discovered a path down a ladder leading to a room with a tight squeeze. The path was too tight for me to pass while carrying any items-- even the lantern or torch-- and I would immediately get eaten by a grue on the other side. There was also a mysterious well in the mine that I didn’t work out what to do with. Putting them side-by-side like this makes the solution pretty obvious, but I found that I could lower a light source in the basket and it would be conveniently on the other side of the squeeze when I got there! This required juggling two lights and so we probably couldn’t have solved this without the torch. I didn’t have that yet the last time I was here.

That leads to an air-conditioned room containing something that looks like a clothes dryer. We can place something in the machine and there is a button labeled “start” that is too small for human fingers. I restore back and bring a screwdriver along-- passing it down using the bucket-- and that is tiny enough to activate the machine. But what do I put in it? I try the brick first, but it just is destroyed with the message that it must not have been very valuable. I try a couple more items, but it doesn’t take me too long to find one that works: coal! It emerges from the machine as a diamond. Another puzzle solved and another treasure found!

Playing at the beach.

A Few Odds and Ends

Before I close out for today, I want to cover just a few more odds and ends. These are things that I am working on or solved but which do not warrant a whole section, at least not yet.
  • Completely by accident, I was able to work out how to get the emerald out of the river without crossing the rainbow: the stick and the gunk. If you pick up the inflatable raft while carrying the pointy stick, you pop the boat. The first time that happened, I just restored, but I soon realized that you can use the gunk (found in the dam) to patch the holes. I also work out that if you keep the stick in the brown sack (found in the house), it doesn’t pop the boat. With all of that, I build a strategy where I sail down to get the emerald, pop and fix the boat to pass through the tight spot on the east bank, and then re-inflate it to get back to the rest of the maze. Is that the correct solution? Probably not, but it works. 
  • The back of my brain is sure that you have to wave a magic something or another by the rainbow to make it solid. This is probably a reference to a similar puzzle in Colossal Cave or else I’m confusing this game and that one. I thought for sure it was the crystal trident but that doesn’t do anything. I hope I work this out because there’s almost certainly a pot of gold around here someplace. How do you have a rainbow without a pot of gold?
  • I’ve been carrying around a shovel for a while; I found it and some bat guano near the river. As I’ve been going, I have been looking for places to dig. The ground is usually too hard, but I finally hit “paydirt” on one of the beaches accessible by raft. A statue was buried in the sand just west of the buoy! I deliver it to the trophy room using the same trick that I used for the emerald. 
  • I went through a bit of a pyro phase and pretty much tried to burn everything I owned. A shocking number of things burn! None of them seem to help me in any way though except one: the brick. In fact, the brick doesn’t just burn, it explodes! My assumption is that it is supposed to be C-4 or similar. I can also combine the brick and the wire to make a fuse that I can light to give me a turn or two to get the hell away from whatever I’m blowing up. I try that on just about everything that seems like it might be bombable (there’s a room with a crack, the “granite room”, the room filled with ice, etc) but none of them are solved that way. Whatever room you destroy with the bomb becomes inaccessible afterward due to a cave in, but I don’t see any case where that is helpful. 
My score is now 295 out of 585 or just about exactly 50% and this is where I will end it for today. It feels good to be half way through! The downside is that I don’t have a ton of good leads on where to go next. I’ll try to bang my head against some more puzzles and see what comes to me. See you next week!

Treasures Found: 16 (Egg, Painting, Portrait, Pearl Necklace, Coins, Platinum Bar, Grail, Sapphire Bracelet, Jade Figurine, Crystal Trident, Ivory Torch, Stack of Zorkmids, Trunk of Jewels, Diamond, Emerald, Statue)

Time played: 6 hr 25 min
Total time: 13 hr 40 min


  1. I just installed both "Lost Treasures of Infocom" sets off of 3.5in floppy. You forget how SLOW those things are! Fortunately, I was able to find both sets on Amazon for not too much money.

    All of the rest of the Infocom games will be played off of that DOS set rather than a current edition (or GOG). Why? Because I'm still crazy. Besides, this is how I played those games as a kid and I'd like to have that experience again, for better or worse.

  2. Excellent progress. If you can solve the Bank of Zork - which is downright maddening in my humble opinion - you can solve anything this game has to throw at you.

    What about the bell/book/candle and area guarded by spirits? I thought you mentioned in a post last week that you'd solved that puzzle as well?

    1. Ack. You are right, I did mentioned that and I did solve that but I left it out of this post because solving it just led to one more room that I'm still stuck on. I'll cover it next week and I may have figured out what to do by then.

      The going is getting a lot tougher though. It's taking me longer to find the next treasure than before.

      Bank of Zork wasn't that hard, really, but keep in mind that I did blunder my way into the second treasure. Don't give me undue credit for that!

    2. Um, yeah, I gave up at the Bank of Zork. Five or ten years after playing, I went to a panel on adventure games at DunDraCon - a D&D convention - and the moderator asked if anyone had any questions. I asked "How can I get into the vault of the Bank of Zork?"

      He laughed and said, "No spoilers! Catch me after the talk." Afterwards he told me the answer, and how I was supposed to figure it out. I said something along the lines of, "You have *got* to be kidding me!" Most likely I never finished the game as a result of getting stuck there.

    3. I don't claim any special skill here, in fact reading through some of my old games it's pretty clear that I can get stumped even by the "easy" puzzles sometime. Aspects of this game are still in my subconscious and while I don't remember playing much at all of Zork II (where this gem was later placed), I could have had some clue of the solution in my head without my realizing it.

      That said, there seem to be two types of puzzles in Dungeon: "open" and "closed" ones. Corey may have a more technical term, but essentially I mean whether the puzzle is self-contained.

      The "Bank of Zork" is a closed puzzle because you have everything you need right there to solve it, if you just put the pieces together. The dam puzzle is another example. There is another couple that I just finished which I'll talk about next week. Those puzzles can be HARD, but always solvable because you have what you need in front of you. Of course, maybe you discover that only in retrospect.

      Where Dungeon drives me batty is in the "open" puzzles, where you have to assemble objects from all over the place to solve them. The Coal Mine needed the torch (found near the troll room), the screwdriver (found in the dam), coal (found in the mine), and garlic (found in the house). The river needed mostly stuff that was nearby (the stick, the raft) plus others (the pump on the other side of the mirror, the gunk from the dam, etc.). Because there are so many objects in this game and the number of rooms are so high, I'm struggling. Which object can be used to get past the glacier? Which one is useful once you make it into hell? In many ways, I find those to be more difficult than the self-contained puzzles because the search space is much wider.

    4. We may be talking apples and oranges here. As far as the "Bank of Zork is a closed puzzle", the particular one I'm referring to is strictly a parser puzzle. If you type a normal command, it fails. If you modify the command in a minor (and to me unintuitive) way, it succeeds. Specifically I'm referring to what you had to do to pass through the "shimmering curtain" or similar phrasing. That's the one that broke me.

    5. Hmm. I didn't take any notes that I had trouble with that, but I can see how it's non-intuitive. The answer is "walk through curtain" or "walk through north wall". The clue seems to be when you touch the curtain you get the message, "As you try, your hand seems to go through it." I probably saw the word "through" there and used it for that reason. I honestly don't remember now.

      Some things that don't work: "enter curtain", "enter wall", and "north"

      Voltgloss has already remarked that his version had slightly different syntax in a few locations and it seems that the parser is very different depending on the version you are using. I'm using the FORTRAN/C parser, the original game used the MUDDLE parser, and Voltgloss is using a version rewritten with the later Infocom parser.

      (I'm around 10+ hours deeper into the game than this post right now so this isn't as fresh in my brain as it appears. Already working on the next post, of course...)

  3. I think I know why the version I'm playing is 646 points compared to your 585. It appears that three treasures, and their associated puzzles, were added to the 646-point version that aren't in yours.

    To confirm: if you go west from the room where you found the torch, you just loop back to the torch room, right? That's what your map indicates. But in the 646-point version that isn't the case - going west from the torch takes you to a different room instead, which leads to one of those three treasures.

    And let me preemptively say that I don't think you need be concerned about missing those puzzles - you're going to encounter them later anyway, in future games.

    1. Damn. Shame I don't have the real version but I'd be curious to track down the differences. The version that I have claims to be based on the final version too. If those puzzles are in later Zork games, that suggests this version is incomplete.

      Ilmari/TBD: I'm afraid to do too much more Googling because I already spoiled part of one puzzle by accident that way; can you dig and tell me if you think I should switch?

      I think I may want to restart at some point anyway because my lamp is getting dim again. I can further optimize the lamp light by using the maze exit that I discovered here and not using the chimney but it means starting over again. If I do that, should I try to switch versions?

    2. Well, if you do want to switch, the 646-point version is available for play online here:

      That's linkedrom the Zork entry on the Interactive Fiction Database (ifdb), which is at That page has a host of download links in the upper-right, which I've not explored but are, I presume, links to different versions of the game. If you visit that page, I'd advise not scrolling down; there are "reviews" later on the page that, unfortunately, include some unmarked spoilers.

    3. It seems that the history of the different versions is a bit convoluted. With googling, I've found mentions of 500 point version (definitely incomplete and lacks the end game), 585 version (some say not the latest stage of Dungeon), 616 version (some say the best version) and 646 version. Which should you play? Who knows.

  4. Your score so far consists of points in three general categories: (1) picking up treasures, (2) putting treasures in the trophy case, and (3) finding certain locations. Each treasure has varying point values both for finding it and for stashing it, with what seems to be little rhyme or reason for the differences. Here's a list for those you've found so far - the first number after each treasure is the points for picking it up, the second number is the points for putting it in the case:

    Egg (5/7)
    Painting (4/7)
    Portrait (10/5)
    Pearl Necklace (9/5)
    Coins (10/5)
    Platinum Bar (12/10)
    Grail (2/5)
    Sapphire Bracelet (5/3)
    Jade Figurine (5/5)
    Crystal Trident (4/11)
    Ivory Torch (14/6)
    Stack of Zorkmids (10/15)
    Trunk of Jewels (15/8)
    Diamond (10/6)
    Emerald (5/10)
    Statue (10/13)

    In addition, you've gained points for reaching the following locations (which seem to signify your having solved a milestone puzzle that doesn't immediately produce a treasure):

    Kitchen (10) (getting into the white house)
    Cellar (25) (entering the Underground)
    East-West Passage (5) (getting past the Troll)
    Lower Shaft (10) (getting through the coal mine maze)

    These points all add up to 301. I presume you're showing 295 because you haven't put the ivory torch in the trophy case (which earns the missing 6 points).

    1. I suspect you are right on the torch points not being fully considered. That's 51%!

  5. ScummVM 1.9.0 released:

    It adds support for Myst, which I had incidentally recently started (in Windows 3.1 through DOSBox) and have been enjoying more so far than those Dreamfall games.

  6. The maze in this (and Zork I) was sufficiently painful to get through that the old computer game review magazine "Questbusters" had an staff position called the "Still Lost in the Maze In Zork I Editor". He reviewed games from the point of view of someone who liked them but was not that good at solving them and did not finish the most difficult puzzles without hints!

    1. I have been fortunate that Infocom never came back to do a "generic" maze, at least as far as I am up to in their games. (22 of them now?) The one from Zork I was particularly brutal.

      Welcome to the Infocom marathon!

    2. It's fun reading these.

      I'm a long-time Infocom fan; my dad bought several of the folios for me when I was a kid (on initial release). I still have my original Suspended box, but I lost the Starcross saucer (having never been able to make it through the original copy protection due to difficulty reading the map, I was not fond of the game.)

      Every single one of the games is definitely worth a full playthrough, though several really are artistic failures (Nord and Bert in particular, but also Journey and Shogun), and others have game-breaking design bugs (that Starcross map, both of the most infamous puzzles in Zork II, and the missing map connection that's supposed to be there in Suspended). And of course there's Infidel, which is easy but unsatisfying. The ones which completely work, like Wishbringer and Zork Zero, are really lovely.

      When I finally got hold of Lost Treasures and Masterpieces so I could play them *all*, I ended up resorting quite heavily to the Invisiclues -- so I was a bit like the "Lost in the Maze In Zork I Editor", though I did map that maze. The only Infocom I finished completely unassisted was Wishbringer.

      I never did figure out how to *prove* the case in The Witness even though I had figured it out. I had similar problems with Deadline and The Suspect. I ended up resorting to actual walkthroughs for those three because the timing was so finicky I couldn't do it even with the Invisiclues. Still love them for the atmosphere. But I never had to resort to move-by-move walkthroughs for the rest of Infocom -- the clue books were always enough for the others -- so I kind of consider the genre experiment to have not really worked.

    3. LOL. I should have had that position. I rarely solve even moderate (sometimes even simple) puzzles without hints.