Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Missed Classic: Hollywood Hijinx - Atomic Chihuahuas from Hell

Written by Joe Pranevich

Like this, but atomic and from Hell. 

Hollywood Hijinx has been a fairly breezy game so far, neither too challenging nor too serious. When we left off last week, I explored the first floor of the house and recovered two of Uncle Buddy’s “treasures”, film props of dubious value that I must collect to inherit the family fortune. Not everything has been perfect-- the hour I spent mapping an oversized maze was not time well spent-- but it’s good enough. While I do not understand (yet?) the distaste that some have for this game, it’s a thinner experience than most Infocom adventures. It doesn’t aspire to be more than a cute treasure hunt and that’s okay, but it remains to be seen how that will translate into a rating once I’m through.

My plan for this post was to play the game to completion and knock out a quick rating, but I didn’t make it. With luck, we’ll wrap up next time. 

Before I begin, I should remind readers that I play these games like an insane rabbit who tried to give up coffee but keeps getting drawn back into its dark embrace. I jump around from puzzle to puzzle, trying one thing and then another, and return when I have a better idea even if it’s in the middle of doing something else. None of that makes great reading, so the following is a mildly sanitized account of my explorations where I knock down one puzzle after another in sequence. Do not be fooled, I spent a lot of time just beating my head against things. Now that you understand why I can never stream on Twitch, let’s get to the game!

Roger Corman in 1986.

Moving on Up

I left off last time with a dozen leads, but I hit the closest puzzle first by targeting the “coat closet” in the Foyer. While exploring the cellar, I realized that the closet there was really the bottom of an elevator shaft. If I can operate the elevator, I may be able to get past the booby-trapped stairs and up to the second floor. Inside the closet were a set of three pegs (once of which had a bucket hanging from it), a pair of skis, and a sawed-off peg where the fourth would have been. I pull on the first peg and the elevator descends into the cellar. Pulling the third takes me up to the second floor. That was easy! Judging by the stub, there must be a way up another floor as well. For now, I just explore the second level.

We emerge on a landing at the top of the stairs. Looking down, the most prominent feature is a “newel” in the shape of Roger Corman’s head. Corman was one of the masters of b-movies, but I had to look up what a “newel” was. (It’s the design at the top of a stair railing.) The bust is suspicious and clicks when I turn it. This locks the stairs in place and we can now ascend and descend without using the elevator. Mr. Corman was 61 years old when this game was made; he’s still alive and kicking and still producing bad movies into his 90s. He has quite a legacy, but I regret that I have never seen any of his films. 

The second floor is dominated by a single east-west hallway. The western end has a bathroom with a Jack Valenti bath mat. I find the red punch card underneath, but nothing else in the room. The plumbing appears to have been turned off so I will not be able to remake the scene from Psycho. Valenti was president of the MPAA until 2004 and created our modern film rating system. (His system replaced the Hays code that we discussed briefly in my coverage of Moonmist.) There are three bedrooms on the floor: the master bedroom, kids room, and a guest bed, but none of them appear to have anything of interest. 

At the eastern end of the hall is a window. Tucked underneath the closed pane is the top of a blue sack. Opening the window sends it crashing to the ground, but we can save the contents if we grab hold first and then open the window. Inside is a “Maltese finch”, a prop from a b-movie knockoff of The Maltese Falcon that took place in a petshop. I’ll leave that to your imagination, but I that’s ten more points and a third treasure.  

The Tokyo Tower is slightly taller than the one in Paris. 

Smashing Tokyo

My next area to explore is the scale model of Tokyo in the game room. This turns out to be one of the more creative puzzles that I have experienced in this series. It’s not difficult, but it is a lot of fun to tinker with and has great descriptions. At the risk of being too verbose, I’m going to liberally quote some of my favorite bits to give you a flavor. 

Here’s what the model looks like when I arrive:

It’s the scale model of downtown Tokyo used in the movie “Atomic Chihuahuas from Hell.” In the center of the model is Tokyo Central Park. In the eastern half of the park, there is a monument. There is a Big Diamond Ring perched on top of the monument. Stretching east and west from the park is Tokyo’s main street. In the street west of the park there is an Atomic Chihuahua. The entire model is covered by a thick plastic dome. Outside the dome on the model there are five buttons: a blue button, a black button, a green button, a white button, and a red button.

To get this out of the way first: it’s clear that Uncle Buddy had never been to Tokyo. I know of no part of the city that even vaguely maps to this model, but I suspect that is part of its charm. Uncle Buddy wanted his own kaiju film and why should a thing like realism stand in his way? The second thing that I notice is that the “Big Diamond Ring” isn’t from the Atomic Chihuahuas film, but rather was the eponymous jewelry from The Big Diamond Ring. I feel dirty using the word “eponymous” about these props, but it’s clearly one of the treasures to collect. 

Pressing the buttons starts up the model and reveals it to be a game within the game. I cycle through the buttons in turn to see what everything does: the blue button causes the chihuahua to grasp the air in front of it, black causes it to stomp its feet, white swipes forward, red shoots fire, and green walks the chihuahua east through the city. No sooner do we start walking than this happens:

Suddenly, several blocks east of the Atomic Chihuahua, a pair of tiny tanks turn a corner onto the main street. They’re heading straight for the Atomic Chihuahua. Out of the corner of your eye, you notice a puny plane flying over the park. The puny plane banks, turning towards the main street. 

It’s just a model.

I march the chihuahua towards the park, but he’s not going to make it without a fight: 

The tanks, only a block away, begin firing as they move within range. Over the park, a second plane joins the first one. The Atomic Chihuahua takes two rounds in the throat and gasps. (Two rounds to you and me, but that’s 14 rounds to little scale face!) 

I have no idea what that means, but our chihuahua plows through the bullets but reaches a point where he can no longer press through. Fortunately, one of the planes gets too close so I press the white button to swat at it:

The Atomic Chihuahua swipes at the puny planes, striking one. A puff of black smoke begins to trail from the puny plane. It rolls to one side, then heads down, crashing in a Tokyo suburb. 

I take out the second plane in the same way, but this one crashes in the Tokyo Disney parking lot. Uncle Buddy knew something about Tokyo! In 1987, this was only four years after Tokyo Disneyland opened and well before Tokyo DisneySea was a glimmer in Michael Eisner’s eye. (I have been to Tokyo Disneyland. It was the first time I ever ate a churro, a memory that I will cherish forever.) Now that the planes are taken care of, I turn my attention to the tanks. A good stomp with the black button takes care of them: 

Just as the Atomic Chihuahua is about to raise its hind leg, one of the tiny tanks drives up on its toenail. As the Atomic Chihuahua raises its hind leg, the tiny tank is lifted off the ground and hurled through the air into the middle of a nearby apartment building, demolishing a large portion of it. Hundreds of houseplants fall to their deaths. The Atomic Chihuahua stomps the street’s pavement with its clawed foot. 

Tokyo Disney is one of the only “real” things in this model.

The roads are clear and I have a straight line to the park, but that’s not the end of it. A moment later, we have a new challenge:

The Atomic Chihuahua, in a wounded waddle, moves into the west end of the park, violating all leash laws.

Suddenly, from under a clump of trees at the east end of the park, a tiny truck with a rocket mounted on it rolls into view. (Apparently, violating Tokyo’s leash laws is not taken lightly.) A small radar dish on the tiny truck spins furiously until it locks on the Atomic Chihuahua and stops. A puff of smoke comes from the back of the rocket as it blasts off towards the dog.

While the preceding bits were fun, this is where it gets tricky. The rocket will home in on our atomic mutt and destroy him in a few turns. There are multiple ways to get past this, but my first attempt was to breathe fire. I fail at this a lot: 

Suddenly, the rocket makes a wide right turn in front of the Atomic Chihuahua. It seems to have found the spot it was looking for. The rocket’s speed increases as it heads for the dog’s heart!

> press red button
A flame shoots from the dog’s mouth into the air. 

The rocket swoops down, striking the Atomic Chihuahua in the chest. The Atomic Chihuahua explodes and pieces of fur and scales, mixed with bits of wire and a couple of servomotors, scatter throughout the area. 

** The Atomic Chihuahua has died. **

Tokyo is saved!

Sometimes, however, that works and my assumption is that I just need to time it exactly. Once the missile is destroyed, we still need to collect the ring. If we move too quickly, the chihuahua knocks over the monument and leaves the ring uncollected on the ground. We must walk up to the monument then use the blue button to grab it. After that, we blow through the monument and continue strolling through faux-Tokyo. Eventually, we reach the plastic end of the dome and I am stuck with no way to get the ring out. I restore to reset the puzzle and come back later with a fresh perspective. 

But wait, there’s more!

I come back to this puzzle a bit later. I discover that I can roast the plastic dome using my fire breath, but not enough to cut a hole through it. The issue seems to be that I have a limited amount of fuel and I burn up some of it when destroying the missile. I need to find a new approach. Next time around, I ignore the projectile entirely. I grab the ring and march to the other side of the park near the satellite van. If I make it fast enough, I can stomp the van before the missile enters its final approach. No longer having a homing signal, it careens out of control and crashes elsewhere in the city. 

The Chihuahua raises its hind leg and soundly stomps on the tiny truck, smashing it to bits. The rocket heads straight to the Atomic Chihuahua, then begins to swerve and dive erratically. It sails past the Atomic Chihuahua, colliding with Tokyo’s tallest building, the Ginsu Building, corporate headquarters of the Ginsu Knife Company. Just as your mind pauses to consider the possibility of a ginsu knife standing up to this kind of punishment, the rocket explodes and the entire building collapses. Tokyo isn’t saved, but millions of late-night TV viewers are. 

I know it’s a joke, but I cannot help but to comment anyway. Despite the name, “ginsu” knives are “All American”, manufactured by the Scott Fetzer Company in Ohio and Arkansas. The name was coined to resemble Japanese and suggest a connection with samurai swords. In my youth, the knives were incessantly hawked on infomercials, doing amazing things like slicing through tin cans without becoming dull. I’m not sure how often a knife needs to do that, but it’s there if you need it. By 1987, the infomercials were going out of style and this reference may have already seemed dated. You may be interested in knowing that the tallest building in Tokyo in 1987 was the “Sunshine 60”, a mixed-use skyscraper in the Toshima district. 

With the missile destroyed and a full tank of gas, I sear my way through the plastic and collect the ring. That’s another treasure!

Biggest building in Tokyo, 1978-1991

A Night at the Theater

I didn’t look at the theater much in my first rapid-fire mapping of the house. I still do not find anything new of note in the bathrooms or the theater itself, but the projectionist’s room houses a simple set of puzzles.

We have two projectors, one for slides and the other for film, as well as both a slide and a brief three-second film clip. All we have to do is assemble the pieces. The only trick with the slide projector is that we need to focus it after turning it on. The only trick with the film projector is that we have to remove the lens cap. If we run one or the other, we see disconnected and meaningless letters, but when they are both on at once we are treated to a message:

PLAY “Yesterday”
      Aunt Hildegard

Solving this nets me 10 points, even without collecting a treasure. My guess is that “Yesterday” refers to the Beatles song, but I have not seen a record player or similar anywhere. I try playing it on the piano in the parlor and am rewarded by a secret passage opening in the floor.

Good thing we play piano!

Heading down, I discover a north-south crawl space that runs the length of the parlor above. The passage north is blocked off by the floor of the room above and too narrow to crawl through, but south is clear. Both the center and southern rooms have removable pillars, but there is no way to get them out while they are load-bearing. 

The funny thing about the parlor is that all the furniture, except the piano, was bolted to the floor. Since that must mean something, I push the piano and discover that we can maneuver it either to the north or south ends of the room. I suspect that what we have here is a “see-saw” and we will need to push on the south to raise the floor on the north. Perhaps once the floor is raised, we will be able to see what treasures are hidden in the northern passage. Moving the piano south changes nothing, thanks to that pillar that is down there. Instead, I push the piano north to find that the south pillar is loose. I grab it. I then push the piano to the south side of the room, causing the floor to partly collapse:

You push the piano to the south a couple of feet and the room begins to tip. As the south side of the parlor tips down, the piano rolls across the floor and slams against the south wall. The north side of the floor tilts up.

The northern part of the crawl contains a parking meter and ten more points. I also snag the other loose pillar on my way out and head back to the foyer to plot my next move. 

Not many of these around anymore. You’d have to carry around COINS.

Melting People

Let’s take stock. I’ve located five of the treasures with five left to go, but most of the obvious leads have been chased. One of the remaining puzzling things are the three Hindu gods on the mantle in the living room. They are candles and I can light them, if I am willing to lose my last match. (I can obviously light the successive candles with the first.) I light them all up and wait… and wait… and wait until they burn down. I even have to restart the game to do this because they don’t all burn down before morning. After restarting and lighting the candles right away to allow for burn down time, I was rewarded by… absolutely nothing. Whatever we are supposed to do with them, it doesn’t involve objects hidden in the middle. 

Looking more closely at the candles, I catch something that I missed last time: not only are they holding up different numbers of fingers, they are doing so with different hands. The red one is holding up three fingers in its right hand, while the white is showing seven (how!?) in its left, and blue showing five in its right. Right, left, right. It’s a combination for a safe! I try this out on the safe in the hallway and am rewarded with a Mafia-owned cheese grater, another “treasure”. That six down and four to go.

Actually, let’s call that seven and three. Since I was playing around with fire anyway, I loaded and fired the cannon in the far north of the property. Firing it while empty does nothing, but if you load the cannonball in first then the recoil exposes a hidden panel and catcher’s mitt. Since this wastes my match, I just make a note of this for now.

Safes and paintings are a thing in adventure games.

A Light in the Attic (and in the Cellar)

This is the point where the puzzles become more difficult. I still do not know how to get down the broken stairs at the beach, or get up to the third floor of the house, or open that mysterious hatch in the northern end of the property. 

While I think I know how to use the computer, I am missing one of the punch cards. There are seven rows of lights on a panel and a different row lights up every time I insert a card into the slot. Since there are seven rows and six cards, I’m still missing one. Inserting the cards in random order doesn’t do any good because the lights glow in a nonsensical pattern. If I put them in rainbow order, the display nearly reads “571-3190”. I say “nearly” because the final row is not turned on and so the numbers are missing their bottoms. Calling the number on the phone does nothing, but I’d be willing to wager that it will suddenly work when I find the final card. Where is violet? And more importantly, why indigo and violet instead of purple? Are there disagreements over what happens when you mix red and blue?

Gaining access to the attic wasn’t difficult once I discovered the trick. I noticed early on that the elevator moved when the pegs reset to their “up” position, rather than when they were pulled “down”. We also got a nice clue with the rusty bucket hanging on one of the pegs at the beginning. Unfortunately, I spend an inordinate amount of time putting heavy things in the bucket and trying to get it to break. I was sure that if I left it there with the cannonball long enough, the bottom would fall out and it would trigger the elevator. That was not to be. Instead, I stumble on the solution while exploring the grounds for the tenth time: water. All of the water in the house has been turned off, but there is a small pond in the garden. If I fill the bucket with water, it starts leaking immediately. By filling it, then rushing to the house, placing it on the third peg, and then running upstairs, I can be standing on the top of the elevator when the bucket becomes light enough for the peg to reset. That moves the elevator up the second floor, but positions me one floor above that, in the attic. 

I’d love to tell you that there was a great puzzle up there or, even better, a punch card. Nope. All we get is a hatch that we can open to return to the second floor and a treasure chest containing a fake fire hydrant. Another treasure!

Downhill stair skiing is not yet an olympic sport.

Beach Blanket Bungled

With only two treasures left, my breezy trip through Hollywood Hijinx ends here. I am stuck. 

Getting down to the beach was easier than I expected. If I descend the stairs while wearing the skis that we found in the closet, I glide across the gap easily. There is no way back up, but at least I find a nice secluded beach. At the bottom of the stairs is a lit campfire as well as an extra match, although this one is green instead of red.

Exploring the area reveals a nearby grotto. If I drop my stuff and swim, I can even locate a hidden tunnel in the dark water that leads me to a secret-- but very dark-- room. The problem is that I cannot find a way to bring a light source with me to the room such that I would be able to finish exploring it:
  • The flashlight fizzles out permanently if you get it wet.
  • While we can hide the flashlight in the cloth bag, it is not waterproof and the flashlight dies anyway.
  • Both the red and green matches become waterlogged from the swim and can no longer be lit.
And that is where I will end it this week. All I have to do is find one more punch card and one waterproof light source and I suspect that will be the final two treasures. Unfortunately, time is catching up to me. It’s now 7:01 AM and I may not have enough turns left to win before the lawyer arrives. I am not looking forward to playing the game over from scratch to do it faster; that was a Zork feature that I did not need to have repeated. 

See you next week.

Time played: 4 hr 10 min
Total time: 6 hr 00 min
Inventory: flashlight, red statue, white statue, blue statue, dirty pillar, dusty pillar, lens cap, skis, bath mat, cloth sack, thin paper, matchbox (with match), brick, shovel, letter, photo, will, copy of The Status Line, business card, yellowed paper
Punch cards: green, violet, yellow, red, blue, indigo, orange
Treasures: cheese grater, fire hydrant, diamond ring, parking meter, Maltese finch, rubber stamp, stuffed penguin (plus I know how to get one more)
Score:  90

Voting! Thank you all for voting in the poll last week. I did some math and assigned your first choices with 5 points, second with 3, and third with 1. Adding them up, Bureaucracy just narrowly beat out Space Quest V with a score of 15 to 14. I am starting the research for that now. I have a feeling that I will come back to Portal soon enough, especially as I am inspired to try to close on a few of those Activision adventures we discussed. 


  1. That Chihuahua segment sounds amazing. :D

    1. I do agree, the pop references are so well done that I immediately understood them despite being about 2 at the time this was written. The inaccuracy of the origin of the Ginsu knife would be right at home in a B-movie too.

  2. And more importantly, why indigo and violet instead of purple? Are there disagreements over what happens when you mix red and blue?

    Well, yes, sort of; anyway, there are arguments over whether indigo is a "real" color of light in the rainbow or just an artificial division because there were philosophical reasons to want 7 and not 6, so it would line up with other things considered in sevens. But then some color systems leave out other colors instead. In any case Roy G. Biv is a popular mnemonic for the seven-color list.

    1. I've also heard it suggested that a few hundred years ago, "blue" unqualified would've meant something closer to aqua, and "indigo" would refer to the color we moderns normally think of as blue

    2. I have known about "ROYGBIV" for a while but never understood it. (And of course, in game, the Roy G. Biv business card inspired me to try rainbow order.)

      I still don't exactly since the color wheel can't really go to 7 colors. Three primary colors, six possible combinations of two. I trust that someone could come up with a difference between two shades of purple, but that doesn't make it a major color, right?

      Fun stuff that I may need to dig into some other time.

    3. I think the problem is we're trying to rationally segment what is really a continuous spectrum of wavelengths. I am currently sorting my collections of Lego and it's surprising that no matter how well you thought you had your colour scheme thought out how many times you end up staring at a new colour with no idea if it should go in the green, blue or purple bin.

      Also as I work with electronics and there we have mnemonics for resistor colour codes, there's quite a few and some are erm...less savoury. These are unfortunately very prevalent and I even had a worksheet once where the author had forgotten to translate Red from Ride (it was actually a worse word but we'll keep it family friendly here), so the colour codes were given as Black, Brown Ride, Orange...

    4. You have to blame Isaac Newton for dividing spectrum of light to seven colours in his Optics, since he was the one first suggesting it (possibly imposing an analogy with the musical scale:

    5. @ShaddamIVth, Bad Boys Ravish Our Young Girls But Violet Gives Willingly?

      In my college astronomy class I learned Obese Bald Astronomer Found Guilty, Killed Many for the order of stellar classifications, which roughly corresponds with color.

  3. Corman, at least until Frankenstein Unbound, wasn't really a bad movie producer. The man himself would argue that. Really, what Corman did was produce cheap films. The man had a talent for getting budgets lowered. He'd have all the things that needed to be competently done be competently done, but he'd be clever about such things. Reusing mat paintings, model footage, music. In a sci-fi film, for instance, he'd throw in an office chair among otherwise space-themed items. Another thing is that he'd do films quickly.
    I say, until Frankenstein Unbound, because, well, I haven't seen anything roughly past that. I get the feeling look at some of the titles he's produced recently that they're not very good.
    Weren't the Ginsu blades really bad? Prone to shattering and all the good stuff that comes from being made with surgical steel AKA cheapo steel? Or is that a modern Ginsu style kitchen knife?

    1. I have no idea how good or bad the knives were, only that they were advertised as being amazing over and over and over again. I also do not know what connection those have to modern "ginsu" knives, although they are still the same company.

      It is worth watching an old ginsu commercial if you have never seen one: (This is one I remember seeing frequently growing up.)

  4. I had forgotten about the "14 rounds to little scale face!" line, so I probably didn't understand it when I played it back in the day.

    Now I guess it's meant to say that one round to a human's throat equals seven rounds to a dog's throat, the same way as one human year equals seven dog years. (Assuming that was the part you didn't know what it meant.)

    1. Thanks for explaining the joke. Now it's a poorly written joke that I understand.

  5. You may not have seen any Roger Corman movie, but he has a small cameo in one of the greatest movies of all time that i'm sure you might saw: The Silence of the Lambs.
    Yeah, in Argentina the Ginsu infomercials were pretty famous in the 90s, and they look awesome(both the knifes and that funny commercial).
    Also, can you describe the Churro? Here it is a very traditional and delicious thing to eat (better if it got dulce de leche inside) with hot chocolate.

    1. As churros go, I have had better since, but it was otherwise fairly normal for a theme park churro: mass produced and hollow, with most of the flavor coming from the sugar/cinnamon on top.

      The surprise for me is that I would learn about a common Mexican (??) dessert while in Japan, but after returning from my trip I started seeing them in US fairs and things. I assume that they were already common here and I missed them, or perhaps they had become popular while I was in my 20s and too busy for going to amusement parks. The Tokyo Disney food was very "American" overall with almost no "Japanese" food that I can recall, but I wasn't really there for the food.

      My other clear recollection from that trip was that all of the announcements were in English, but very slow and very clearly enunciated English. It was surreal to be in a park that looked so much like the Disney that I had been to (at that point, only Magic Kingdom) while being so very far from it.

      I have been to all six US parks now (Disneyland, California Adventure, Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom). For some reason, my wife just gave me That Look when I suggested going to EuroDisney during our last trip to Paris. Apparently, I should see European cultural sites instead!!

    2. Well, if you remember that Simpson's episode, most of the people that visits France are in the same opinion that your wife

    3. Leo, I actually had the opportunity to taste an American churro at one of the Disney parks in Florida, many years ago. It looked basically the same as our churros, but the taste was off-- probably a result of the cinammon sugar.

    4. And surely you also missed the lack of dulce de leche...

    5. That's a big part, yes... :-P

  6. Final rating post has been drafted, with a nice look at puzzles and changes that were left on the cutting room floor. Expect that in a few days as I get it edited into something I'm not embarrassed to post. With luck, we'll get a main-line post out first.

    1. I hope the rating is below 36 because otherwise my bet about Infocom's remaining games would be short lived