Wednesday, 19 August 2020

Freddy Pharkas, Frontier Pharmacist: Stampedes and Indians (A Real One!)

By Alex

I have a confession to make: My adventure-gaming instincts have been dulled by the passage of time. Or maybe it’s the interface issue I’ll blame my woes on later in this post. Suffice it to say, it took me a long time, as well as a call for assistance from my adventure-gaming brethren, to make any progress in FPFP. As a result, it took me forever to get this post written, as my gaming time is curtailed by the demands of life. I spent over two hours making incremental progress, and while I’m still having fun with this game, I feel that I have let you, the reader down because—and this is hard to admit—I had to once again also consult a walkthrough.

To be fair, I had the right solution, just the wrong key. Because there are three keys. And I had missed the only one that I could use to open the beer bottles I needed to stop the snail stampede, and . . .

I’m getting too far ahead of myself. I’m going to tell the story in roughly chronological order and, in a fit of public petulance, blame my woes on the interface.

Yeah, the interface.Anyway, when we left off, I had saved Coarsegold from a fate worse than death—death by horse farts—which is actually death, but the manner of death makes it worse than death, so, you know . . . metaphors and all of that. The next threat to face Coarsegold was a stampede of snails that the game indicated would take weeks to slime the city, but in all actuality took maybe fifteen minutes.

I saw this screen. A lot.

You wouldn’t think it would be that hard to stop snails, right? Surely, something in Freddy’s laboratory could halt this vicious stampede of onrushing shelled gastropods. Maybe . . . salt? We all know that slugs will die a gruesome death if you sprinkle them with a little sodium chloride. How about snails? So I went to the most logical place to find some salt: Mom’s Café. However, Helen told me that Coarsegold was an entirely salt-free community.

It’s a funny gag, but it left me back at square one.

I consulted the manual, looking for anything with sodium, and there are entries discussing sodium bicarbonate (Alka-Seltzer, for us regular folk), but no way to make it, and my dithering around in the lab produced no useful results.

No context here. I just thought it was funny.

The rest of the town was similarly unhelpful; the closest I got to sound advice was Whittlin’ Willy, who told me that snails probably like the same things garden slugs do. So salt, although I suppose slugs actually don’t like salt. So . . . what did they like? Slug-ology is not my strong-suit, I’m ashamed to say. The Sheriff didn’t care and ordered Freddy to hunker down until the encroaching escargot had passed, and everyone else was paralyzed with fear.

This guy . . .

In Freddy’s pharmacy, I did notice something I had overlooked during my previous play sessions: a staircase that leads to Freddy’s private quarters. My mind was wandering and I wondered to myself, “Gee, where does Freddy live?” so I gave his back room a closer look and lo and behold, I saw the stairs!

See them behind the glass case to the right?

Okay, so it’s not as dramatic as “seeing the light,” but it was a revelation to me.

In Freddy’s personal quarters, I found the following items that didn’t help me with the snail problem, but that I probably should have found near the beginning of the game. These were:
  • Freddy’s not-quite complete “good guy outfit” in the chest at the foot of the bed.
  • A claim ticket for boots in the dresser drawer on the left.
  • The key to Freddy’s roll-top desk downstairs in Freddy’s nightstand.
  • I could open Freddy’s armoire, but there was nothing I could take, just several shirts.
In the roll-top desk was a locked drawer that the same key opened. Inside that was a letter from Freddy’s old friend Phil D. Graves (groan) that read:
“Dear Freddy,

Thank you so very kindly for your recent gracious hospitality during my recent convalescence. The floor of your workroom proved an extremely comfortable bed, and the stale Pharmacy goods you gave me to eat helped stave off starvation quite adequately. I must admit to being a little curious by your request that I retain your safety-deposit key for you; I cannot imagine what you have secured in the bank that creates such strong feelings of both revulsion and endearment. However, I have done as you have asked and taken the key with me. I swear to you that I will never return this key to you nor even allow it within your sight, and I further swear to keep it with me wherever I may go. On this you have my word of honor, for I am

Ever your friend,

Philip D. Graves”
Where Philip went was dead, but at least if I could find his body, maybe I could find the key.

But none of this helped with the snails.

Deciding I had to see this stampede for myself, I steeled myself, braved the crumbling bridge . . . and realized that no matter how many times I crossed it, the same board fell and I got the same message telling me I only had three crossings left.

A joke making fun of the puzzle design in King’s Quest II! I approve, Al Lowe and Josh Mandel! I heartily approve!

The snails kick up quote a cloud of dust, and I noticed that whenever I left the screen and game back, they were a little closer. So that gave some indication of the time Freddy had to solve this particular, and weird, problem. I could take a snail, but the only person who would do anything with it when I showed them was Helen, who put it in some cornstarch when Freddy suggested she add escargot to her menu.

I got points, and later, when looking for snail-control solutions online at Ilmari’s suggestion, discovered that cornstarch doesn’t kill snails but is used to purge them of toxins prior to eating.

Okay then.

As an aside, have you ever eaten escargot? It is delicious.

But deliciousness didn’t get me any closer to solving this puzzle. I tried eating the snail at one point, and Freddy died because he didn’t have any garlic.

Okay then.

I was well and truly stumped. I realized I could turn the length of rope I took from the abandoned blacksmith’s shop into a lasso. I thought maybe I could wrangle the snails, but no deal. So I then embarked on the classic adventure-gaming practice of clicking every inventory object on everything and everyone, revisiting each location as I did so, but all I did was futile.

I did open one of the outhouses to see a familiar face in a rather compromising position, though:

Ahhh . . . what would an Al Lowe game be without a joke or two about whacking off?

One thing I tried was clicking Freddy’s money on everyone, including Sam Andreas at the Saloon. All I got for my troubles was the game’s generic message of “It doesn’t work like that” when you click something on something you’re not supposed to.

Now, this all prompted me to look at Ilmari’s more spoiler-riffic hint that snails liked beer. It turns out I was supposed to use the money on Sam . . . but the funny thing is the icons are so big, yet you have to click on a very specific spot to use an item on something or someone. I ended up buying the beer, but this left a sour taste in my mouth that had nothing to do with beer gone skunky.

Yeah, there are also sheep dancing on stage.

I had the right answer, but I was defeated by the interface. I’m calling foul on this, but it also taught me to be very thorough with my clicking. Am I crazy in being annoyed by this? I don’t think so, but I’m sure you’ll all let me know in the comments. I’m prepared to take my beating. In any event, thanks Ilmari!

Now, the beer bottles are not corked. They have caps. And these are not twist-off caps. I needed something to open them with. As a veteran beer-drinker, I’ve used some funky objects to open a bottle when I don’t have a bottle opener handy, including a lighter, a fork, and, yes, a key. I had two keys in my inventory—the pharmacy key and the key to Freddy’s desk . . . but neither of them worked.

Here’s where I had to shamefully consult a walkthrough for the second time, the first being another interface-related issue I had dealt with when trying to get the Preparation G for Smithie that I knew I needed but didn’t know I could get, thanks to interface issues. To open the beer bottles, I needed a specific key in a very obscure location: the church.

When the doors to the church are shut, you can click the Eye icon on the very tiny keyhole to learn that it is blocked. What would it be blocked with? When you open up the doors and click your Eye on the same keyhole, you find the source of the blockage:

The key. And this key had apparently been cast in the perfect proportions to open beer bottles. So once again, I had intuited the correct solution, but stumbled on the implementation. This one is on me, but . . . why did I need this specific key? I’d love to ask Al and/or Josh the thought process that went into this.

Whatever. I opened the stupid bottles and used them to make a trail leading the snails over the edge of the gorge, where they followed like lemmings into the river, and got a pretty funny cutscene gently mocking the classic puzzle game Lemmings!

I got a kick out of this. More importantly, I got to progress in the game a bit.

Immediately, I see an Indian stuck in the anthill. And not a Native American, but an actual Indian from the subcontinent. Oh boy, a whole new realm of what is sure to be tasteful ethnic jokes awaits!

Srini is a bit of a chatterbox, so much so that his stagecoach party left him atop the anthill to be rid of his verbal diarrhea. And no, I didn’t need to use one of the manual’s diarrhea remedies to get him down from the anthill.

Why can’t Srini just step down? Good question! You see, to do so would mean potentially squashing the ants, and for religious reasons, Srini can’t harm another living creature. Too bad, because Freddy informs Srini that he’d be perfect as an assistant at the pharmacy Freddy is hellbent on reopening in defiance of Sheriff Moron’s orders.

That brings us to another plot point: Someone is trying to shut Coarsegold down and, by golly, Freddy’s gonna get to the bottom of it! But first, I have to rescue Srini.

I poke around town first, giving the claim ticket to Sal to get the only pair of boots I’ve seen in the game. Still, Freddy can’t wear them, or his good guy outfit, because it’s not complete. I don’t know what more I need, but maybe the missing piece is in Freddy’s safe deposit box. I thought I remembered a tombstone reading “Philip D. Graves” at the cemetery, and I was right! It’s just that the local gravedigger Doug McCarkus (double groan) is busy digging the grave, and there’s nothing I can do.

Oh well. Nothing in the manual or the pharmacy seems to help with ants, and my next circuit of Coarsegold doesn’t reveal anything useful, so I figured I must have what I need to rescue Srini from his ignominious fate. Along the way, I stop to chat with the lovely Penelope, and she decides we need to take our relationship to the next level.

The upcoming Sadie Hawkins Day dance! Sweet! For those of you who don’t know, a Sadie Hawkins dance is an American and Canadian thing where the women ask the men to go, and Penelope is going to ask Freddy. Aww!

Back to Srini: I figure I can lasso him down, but that’s a no go. Luckily, I can just use the ladder I swiped from the playground slide to get the little guy off of his precarious perch.

All right! And I didn’t even need to use a walkthrough for this one! I’m back in the saddle, baby, an appropriate metaphor for a western game if there ever was one!

Back at the shop, Srini is organizing stuff, and I take this as a good break point before embarking on further interface-frustration exercises. I mean puzzles.

I wonder what became of Freddy’s other Indian assistance, Dominick. Will there be an Indian-on-Indian rivalry? If so, will it be handled with the tact and dignity we’ve come to expect from an Al Lowe game? Or will it devolve into broad, borderline-offensive ethnic stereotypes and fart jokes?

My money is on the fart jokes.

Anyway, I am enjoying this game. It’s got colorful graphics, fun music, a really hilarious vibe, a likeable protagonist, and humorous characters. I just got frustrated by having the right ideas and just not going about implementing them the exact way the game wants. We need a word for this. Any ideas?

Also: the messages when you quit the game and go back to the DOS prompt are pretty funny:

Session Time: 2 hours, 5 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours, 55 minutes

Inventory: Boots, melted candle, pharmacy key, good guy outfit (complete with hat!), desk key, church key/bottle opener, empty beer bottles, lasso, letter
Score: 614 of 999

Fart Jokes: 3
Indians: 2


  1. I probably would have gotten stumped also, but "Church key" is an apparently once-widespread slang term for a bottle opener, due to a certain vague similarity shared by certain designs of the tool:

    I wouldn't know this if not for my brief gig as a sound tech at a Unitarian church -- maintaining tradition, the key to their front door actually had a bottle opener attached, their little joke.

    Not wanting to squish ants is a not-too-out-in-left-field interpretation of certain Jain practices, including breathing through a veil and sweeping the ground where you're about to walk so as to avoid inhaling or crushing animals too small to see.

    1. Strange. That's a term I'm well-familiar with, but we only ever used it to refer to the kind that has a can piercer at one end and non-loop-style bottle opener at the other, which looks nothing like a key, church or otherwise, so I never got why it was called that.

    2. The Wikipedia article for church key has some pictures of examples that look more like literal keys.

    3. Much like "monkey wrench", this isn't a puzzle that translates well.

    4. Not only does it not translate well, it doesn't even register among people who were born in the era of pop-top soft drinks.

      I was born in 1988 so I'm old enough to have grown up with 3.5'' floppies, but I've virtually never had to use a bottle opener, and I've only heard of the term "church key" because my parents mentioned it on occasion.

      I think it's a thing that people of Al Lowe's generation remember, but was already fading into the past even when this game was written. (Unlike "monkey wrench," which is still current US slang.)

    5. @Rowan

      Church key! Now that you mention it, I HAVE heard that term before.

      And yes, I didn't think that Srini's religious beliefs were a joke. It did make for a, shall we say, interesting puzzle though.

    6. @Ross

      Interesting! I have seen those too--we have one in our kitchen, in fact. Never thought to call it a "church key" though. I'll bet almost anything my church's key doesn't look like that.

    7. @ Lisa

      Great pictures; thanks for the link!

    8. @Laukku and AT

      I don't know; in retrospect, I DO think this translates well. It requires more lateral thinking than I was able to apply. A bit obscure? Sure. Maybe it's a generational thing though (I'm only 38).

    9. @Laukku the monkey wrench is a lot more common, it is well known outside of the US, unlike the Church key which I don't think is used outside of it.

      I do agree neither puzzle is very fair, turning a literal monkey into a wrench is more than lateral thinking it requires you to not really think at all, and hidden nature of the church key makes it very hard to spot even if you do think of it.

  2. Judging by your score so far, does it feel like you have already been through two thirds of the game? Seems somewhat thin.

    1. One of the game's jokes it to award you 500 points for unlocking the pharmacy door at the beginning. Alex has quite a lot left to do!

    2. @ limbeck

      Our Anonymous friend beat me to it. The 500 points gag--"You're halfway done with the game!"--is one I failed to mention in my first play post. Most other puzzles don't give a whole lot of points, so I indeed have a lot of game left to play. Which I'm happy about--I'm really enjoying this game so far!

  3. Rowan beat me to the "churchkey" explanation. I've known this term for about as long as I can remember, having learned it from my parents (ages late 70s, I'm early 40s).

    Setting out dishes of beer to trap slugs/snails is also something I already knew (they are attracted to the scent, then fall in and drown) but maybe it's a bit unfair to expect players to know gardening tricks?

    The screenshot of the snails dropping down into the gulch is a Lemmings parody, no?

    1. I'm not a gardener, so I'll call it unfair . . . but I would've figured it out (I think) if I had been able to wrestle the interface to buy something from Sam Andreas without needing the hint. Ah well, c'est la vie.

  4. I don't remember having any issues with the interface when i played this game.
    Boy, this is one of Sierra's finest games, don't you think?
    I find Al Lowe's gags in this one more amusing than any Larry game.
    Srini is a fun characther, in that screenshot when he says "dude" he reminds me of Cheech....or Chong. Well, one of those guys

    1. This IS a fun game. Perhaps my interface issues are due to user error and not programming error. Still, the icons are HUGE.

      And yes, Srini looks kind of like Cheech Marin.

    2. @Alex I suppose you are aware of this, but anyways there is no harm in bring this up for others: in most of Sierra Games, the action icons and things from the inventory has a little coloured dot that is the exact mark you have to use for interaction. For example, IIRC, the walk icon in Freddy Pharkas is represented by a boot, and in the point of the boot is that small point. In that way they tried to solve the problem of that huge icons and the issues they provoke when failing to click an action or object on another object

    3. That colored dot is called the "hotspot".

    4. Is it? Maybe I just use too much AGS, but I was under the impression that a hotspot was a part of the background you can interact with.

    5. I could have sworn that Sierra used that term for the dot on some styles of cursors in their own manuals? Maybe I'm misremembering...

    6. Yeah, i'm in the same opinion than Morpheus, but maybe in some manual of a Sierra game hotspot is described as Lisa said. Maybe Corey can bring light to this

    7. I see the hotspot here--it's very VERY faint--but the interface still sucks. The hotspots are wildly divergent per icon, and I can't tell you how many times I killed myself by making Freddy ingest something I was trying to use somewhere else. Also, the interface also caused me two more "right solution, stumped by the interface" situations. It's a fun game, and the puzzles are fine, but grappling with the interface and this minuscule pixel-hunting is getting very, very old.

    8. It's going to be interesting what score you are going to give to this game, because you said two or three times that you are enjoying it very much and that you find it very funny, but the clunky interface surely will drag the score two or three points down I think.

  5. I had the demo to this om a collection of games as a kid, and it seemed so good then, albeit weird. I believe the section.
    I'm still behind by the way, haven't had much motivation to play the game after the whole horse fart bag business.

    1. That is a pretty gross joke, isn't it?

  6. Yes, for those of us close to Al's or Josh's age, "church key" was the common euphemism for a bottle opener. I think it was a sly dig at churches wanting people to avoid drunkenness, but all the churchgoers getting drunk when they got home anyway.

    Srinivasan was the last name of a marketing guy at Sierra. He never used his first name; everyone called him "Srini." Good guy, everyone liked him. I'm fairly certain Srini in the game is named after him.

    I have heard about putting saucers of beer in the garden to stop snails, but my other thought was escargot cooked in beer. More often it's wine IRL. Here's a recipe -

    1. Corey, I love these insights into the inner-workings of Sierra. And the whole drunkenness thing . . . I'm Greek Orthodox, so after church everyone likes some wine and ouzo and beer with their post-mass Sunday lunches, so this dig is somewhat lost on me . . . but still pretty funny.

  7. Heads up that my next post will be in a few days. I had to order some research materials which slowed down writing a bit. Hopefully, the end result will be worth it!