Friday 7 October 2022

7th Guest - More Tiles, Less Death

Written by Reiko

To be honest, I stalled out for a long time on this section. Partly it was due to being busy, and partly it was too many puzzles that were more fiddly than fun, and finally it was a matter of not even being able to find the endgame areas for a long time. I think I must have missed triggering a scene that was required to be able to get to the next stage after finishing all the earlier puzzles, and I only found it after painstakingly rechecking every room multiple times.

I didn't remember to screenshot the map until I had already done the next puzzle, in the doll room on the left end of the corridor.

I look at the map to orient myself and see that it looks like there are four unsolved rooms left, plus the back stairs and the main upstairs hallway. There's the rectangular area off to the side on the main floor that looks disconnected from the rest of the house. There's the lab adjacent to the ornate room and the chapel, which I already know is the microscope puzzle. And there are two rooms down at the left end of the upstairs hallway.

The dolls plead with me when I walk into the room.

When I walk into the room at the end of the hallway, I find a sort of display room for a collection of dolls. A scene triggers where the dolls speak with the voices of children, confused and terrified. Uh-oh, this is awful. The dolls beg to be released, but I can do nothing for them. They must somehow be the children that bought Stauf’s toys.

Why is Stauf's mansion in ruins?

Stauf’s mansion from the opening.

Instead, I turn my attention to the puzzle on the table. It's a picture split into a 3x3 tile arrangement, each tile of which can be cycled through the nine possibilities for the picture. The catch is that an entire row or column has to be cycled at once. The odd thing about the image is that it looks like a ruined version of Stauf's mansion. The cliffside path leading to it looks exactly the same, down to the chunk missing on the left side, as the path leading to Stauf's mansion on the title screen at the beginning of the game. But in this picture, it looks more like Stonehenge or something, having been broken down to little more than ruined pillars.

The image is puzzling, but the actual puzzle isn't. From the initially scrambled arrangement, I manage pretty quickly to shift the tiles such that they all showed the same tile image, then I shift the second column forward one and the third column forward two. That sets the first row correctly and establishes the offset in the other rows. After that, all I have to do is shift the second row forward three times and the third row forward six times, which snaps the correct tiles into place. Stauf's quip: "Hey! That's not cricket, is it?" I'm really not sure what he means by that.

Temple and Elinor investigate the dolls.

Another scene plays when I'm finished with the puzzle, this one between Temple and Elinor. They seem to have heard the same thing I did, with the children's voices. Elinor recognizes one of the voices as a girl named Samantha who used to live next door to her, but got sick. Temple spells it out for us: the children's spirits have become the dolls. I'm not entirely sure if Stauf made the dolls and then somehow transferred the children into them. I suppose it would make a sort of twisted sense if the toys he made captured the children and then he reacquired them after the children died or disappeared and added them to his collection. Anyway, Temple says there must be one more child, the last guest, and he and Elinor agree to work together to find him before the others do.

Giant spectral dog. Not something you want in a nursery.

I look around the room and discover that I can enter the dollhouse off to the left. I go through the little door and end up in a new room, the nursery, full of toys for young children. This seems to be a one-way trip, though. If I turn around and go through what looks like a full-sized door, I end up back in the upstairs hallway in front of the ornate room. Behind me is what looks like a door, but I can't go back that way, as it looks like there might be a hole in the floor. So the only way into the nursery is through the dollhouse, but then the door back goes to the hallway, which is weird.

Initial arrangement of the blocks.

In the nursery, I can click on the box in the corner to trigger a ghostly dog appearing and barking, but it doesn't really do anything. The puzzle, appropriately enough, involves those large painted wooden letter blocks that used to be ubiquitous in children's toyboxes. They're in a drawer off to the right, and when I trigger the puzzle, they appear in another 3x3 arrangement. Stauf assures me, "Three little words. That's all it takes." Sure, Stauf, easier said than done.

The puzzle starts with this arrangement:


The words seem pretty obvious since they're all just backward: TAD, BOY, and GET, and arranging them in a sentence would give GET BOY TAD, which is what everyone seems to want to do. That means that I need to shift the letters into this arrangement:


However, that's somehow not at all easy for me to do. The letters rotate along rows and columns, Rubik's cube style, and there are a lot of possible arrangements. I never did master the Rubik's cube, and even if this is only two dimensions, somehow the proper strategy eludes me. I fiddle with it for quite a long time and always end up with arrangements like this, where it's almost right, but just two of the blocks are switched:




How are the other children talking to Tad here? I thought they were in the dolls.

Frustrated, I leave it for a while and wander around, looking for anything else I might have missed. Back in the kitchen, I find two more strange scenes. When I first walk in, a short scene automatically plays where children's voices mock Tad, daring him to walk through the house. He then appears, standing on the sink to the left and jumping off into the kitchen. A couple other voices are briefly heard, but nobody else is visible in the scene.

I don't think you want to eat that, Heine.

Stauf emerges from a pot, of all things.

After that, when I walk in, turn around, and face the first door again, I notice an optional scene that can be triggered at the stove on the other side of the kitchen. Heine is standing at the stove (this time dressed in red instead of green, so I initially thought it was Elinor, but the subtitles say Heine), stirring a pot. Suddenly the liquid in the pot pulses and rises up into the shape of Stauf's face, which demands that she "bring him to me." I assume he means Tad. Heine faints, collapsing to the floor, and Stauf laughs.

Not having found any additional puzzles or anything, I pause playing at this point to think about the block puzzle for a while. Eventually I decide to implement a brute force solver, because I am struggling to solve the puzzle normally, but I'm still solving the puzzle without getting any outside help from anywhere, this way. My specialty is databases, so I decide to use Access to implement my solver. Here's how it works. Feel free to skip down to the next game screenshot if you are allergic to math or coding.

Database solver for the block puzzle.

I created a simple table with an ID column, a sequence column that just holds the letters in order as a string, and a column to hold the list of moves that will get to that sequence. Then I made a form to display the sequence data in the 3x3 grid format with a button to trigger the automated search. I thought about making a simulation of the puzzle so that I could manually make moves and test sequences right on the same screen, without having Stauf shouting at me constantly, but I decided I would just make the solver bit first and then see if I needed the simulation. It turned out that the solver worked perfectly, so I never bothered with the simulation part.

The code to run the search was the more complicated bit. I won't belabor that process. Suffice it to say that I really did brute-force it by making a list of the twelve different possible moves (shifting each row left or right or shifting each column up or down) and then having the code loop through that move list for every arrangement in the table, adding any new arrangement to the table with the moves required to get to it, until it found the goal.

I seeded the table with the starting arrangement, "DATYOBTEG", so for the first round, the code checked each move and added each of the twelve new arrangements to the list. Then it moved to the first secondary arrangement and did it again. Obviously this added a lot of new arrangements very quickly, but after the first round, it wasn't adding twelve new arrangements each time because some moves would reverse whatever had been done previously, so some resulting arrangements would be duplicates of ones already in the table. In fact, the second round would add exactly 11x12 or 132 new arrangements, because each time one of the twelve moves would shift the letters back to the starting sequence.

Solution and move list using the solver.

It wasn't terribly efficient, but it got the job done. I left it overnight to crunch as long as it needed and came back to find that it succeeded. The code checked 128,519 sequences and added 179,675 new sequences to the table before it stopped, having found the GETBOYTAD arrangement with a move list of "1U2D1L2R2U3D1R3L". That means shift the first column up, the second column down, the first row left, and so on, for a total of only eight moves, if you know which eight moves to do. I have a note in my code that there could have been as many as 134,217,728 different arrangements (I don't remember exactly how I got that, but I think I must have calculated the number of different orders of nine letters given that two of them are the same letter), so it's a good thing that it only had to check about a tenth of a percentage of them to find what I wanted.

I also checked the generated table to see whether the script had reached the arrangements I mentioned before, with just two blocks switched. It had, and oddly enough, every single one of those arrangements could be reached with a move list of only seven moves. Clearly it wouldn't be enough to make only one more move from those to get to the correct arrangement, so something about the way I was trying to go about it was just not working. It makes sense that the correct move sequence would be an even number of moves if the wrong arrangements happened from an odd number of moves, though.

Killer doll.

Solution in hand, I go back to the game. I execute the eight moves of the sequence my solver found, and it works perfectly. Back in the nursery, I get a scene where I hear a baby crying, with a man, probably Stauf, bending over the wide ledge by the far wall. Then I can trigger an additional scene there, where the view zooms in on the ledge. The baby appears, with a narrow doll lying next to it. The baby screams, and then the doll lifts its arm and puts its hand over the baby's face, suffocating it. Before they disappear, the baby goes blue and still. I can zoom in on the ledge again, but nothing further happens. Perhaps this is part of the ritual by which Stauf transferred children into dolls.

You wouldn’t want this sort of jack-in-the-box in any real nursery either!

That finishes this area. The only other thing I find in the nursery is an incredibly creepy jack-in-the-box. Ugh, why would anyone ever make such a thing for children?

Now I have to tackle the microscope puzzle, because I've not found anything else anywhere to do. I still have no idea how to get to the disconnected room on the first floor.

Virtuoso skeleton.

One of the times I move through the chapel to the lab, I look around a bit more carefully and discover that I can focus on the piano set off to the left of the altar in front. There's a ghostly event I can trigger that causes a skeleton to appear and play the piano for several moments. Or maybe that’s an organ? It’s rather dim in this corner and hard to see.

Starting positions for the microbes in the microscope.

Back in the lab, I restart the microscope puzzle again. It seems to be deterministic in the sense that if I make the same moves, it will make the same moves, so I play around with some ideas that initially seem less than optimal. The opponent seems to want to just extend from the upper right corner to start. I discover that if I hop my lower right corner's blob toward the corner that isn't extending, the lower left one, I can maneuver to just the right distance to trick the opponent into jumping where I want.

Specifically, I jump once horizontally, and then I extend diagonally. That gets my blobs close enough to wipe out the lower left corner on the third turn. To prevent that, the opponent jumps in desperation, turning one of my blobs, but it's not close enough to get to the right place to turn both. I still have one there, which I can use to turn all of the opponent blobs in that clump. After just three turns, the layout looks like this, and I already have a distinct advantage:

First stage of microbial conquest is complete.

Then I start extending from the other corner diagonally. The opponent's blobs are already close enough to jump, so it does, again turning only one of my two blobs. I extend and turn all of the connected ones. The opponent still has a couple of blobs in the corner, but I again am just close enough that it decides to jump instead of extending. I repeat the process twice more, turning everything back each time the opponent jumps to me. Before my final move, the grid looks like this:

One step from winning entirely.

I have now won the microscope game/puzzle. Anticlimactically, although Stauf shouts "No!" when I win, nothing else happens when I exit the puzzle. The upper level is now all marked as complete, except for the hallway and stairs, and the lower level is also complete except for the disconnected room. What to do next?

Magic portal in the floor. What doesn’t this house have?

I wander back downstairs and look around. Turning back to face the stairway, as when I first began the game, I suddenly notice there's a new event I can trigger on the stairs. The view turns downward, and it looks like I start falling through a portal in the floor. Everything fades to black, and then a crazy Stauf head spins around and I appear in a completely new room. Is this the disconnected area? I can't tell where I actually am from the map, but I guess if I solve a puzzle here and the disconnected room is marked complete, then I'll know. I suspect it is because using an otherwise nonsensical portal neatly avoids any need for an outdoor area to get the player between the main house and the outbuilding.

The last two puzzles were quite involved, so I’m going to pause here. Tune in next time to find out what kind of room I've reached through this strange portal.

Puzzles solved: 3 (total: 19) No additional on-screen deaths except for the baby.

Session Time: 4 hours 30 minutes (including a couple of hours of database development) Total Time: 11 hours 0 minutes

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There’s a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no points will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. Please...try not to spoil any part of the game for me...unless I really obviously need the help...or I specifically request assistance. In this instance, I've not made any requests for assistance. Thanks!


  1. I remember getting stuck here because "Get Boy Tad" is such an awkward sentence (besides, isn't it usually spelled "Thad"?) that I thought the logical solution here was "GET DAT BOY". Needless to say, that didn't work.

    1. Thad can be a logical shortening of Thaddeus or the like, but Tad can also be short for Theodore or Thomas. It's a bit of a muddle because of the phonetic distinction between hard T and soft Th. In English, Thomas starts with Th but is only pronounced with T (hence the more common shortening to Tom), and likewise Tad is T, but Thaddeus has its Th pronounced as such, so Thad could be hard like Tad or soft.

    2. Thad can also be a name all on its own. There was a commandant of the coast guard named Thad Allen.

    3. My thought was "GET BAD TOY". But I actually assumed it was a sort of magic square, and tried to get six words in the rows and columns. I didn't manage it. :-) Great lateral thinking that it involves the boy "Tad" from the cut scenes!

      I'm also impressed with your database approach to the puzzle. I'd have written a short C program back in the day. Today I'd look up a walkthru instead. :-)

    4. Thanks! If I had been playing the game just for myself instead of writing about it, I probably would have found a walkthrough also. But I think this way was more interesting than asking for help.

  2. the 3x3 Stauff tiles puzzle has a bug .. that sometimes when it randomizes at start you get an unsolvable state. You have to reset it until you get a solvable one, very cumbersome and frustrating.

    The 3x3 letters puzzle, .. I think I forced that one after guessing the Get in the first row, because I didn't even know who was Tad at that time. Original game had no captions unfortunately.

    Finding that portal in the main hall was sort of a stucker for me, No feedback at all, you just had to pixel hunt the whole game for that new event

    1. Likewise, when getting to this point in the game I had no idea who "Tad" was. I'd say that's because the various cutscenes are more for mood and setting than for showing a coherent plot.

    2. Alex: are you talking about the next puzzle with the Stauf portrait? That was a difficult puzzle, but I didn't encounter that bug, fortunately.

    3. I don't think Tad's name is ever mentioned in-game, maybe at the end.
      That said, I feel like there is a decent, coherent story to the game, its just they shot themselves in the foot by having the events play out non-linearly. For instance, the events in the crypt take place near the end of the game, but it opens several puzzles whose plot points take place long before that time.

    4. Reiko, no sorry for the mixup, I mean the first puzzle mentioned in here, the one with the ruined Stauff mansion. Seems like there's too many 3x3 tile puzzles. And chess ones as well

    5. Gotcha. Yeah, there really are. Hence the "more tiles" part of the title.

    6. The solvability of the 3x3 picture puzzle can be checked by assigning numerical values according to the goal image (top row 1-2-3, middle row 4-5-6, bottom row 7-8-9) and verifying whether each row (or column) has the same "shape", i.e. the first and second tile always have the same difference, while the second and third tile have (possibly another) same difference, modulo 9.

  3. Something I find interesting here, is the different attitudes bloggers here have towards what they're willing to "work" on when it comes to games. I know that I and probably a few others are willing to spend time fiddling with emulators trying to get it right. Or know where to find obscure game titles or even obscure versions of titles. Meanwhile, I don't think it would ever occur to me to use fancy software to solve a puzzle in a game unless it was pointed out to me, and even then it only seems like something I'd do if I was desperate.

    1. I was kinda desperate? I mean, it's not like I didn't understand what the puzzle was about, so any request for assistance would have amounted to "just tell me a working sequence of moves". I figured it would be more interesting if I went out of my way to solve it in an unusual way in order to play to my strengths. I hope it worked. If I had just been playing the game for my own amusement I may well have just found a walkthrough instead of bothering to write a script.

    2. I mean in the case I was thinking of a game without a walkthrough. I did find it interesting though, I'm just also interested in the different lengths people go to for a game.

  4. The building blocks puzzle was the one I bet points you wouldn't solve without help, it's the one almost everyone gets stuck on due to not understanding which words they're supposed to spell. I made the initial bet without keeping in mind that you're playing a modern rerelease that comes with subtitles that note the speakers' name, though, which makes the puzzle a lot easier since Tad's name is spelled out for you in every cutscene where he speaks. In the original version, the only way to know his name was to find that optional cutscene in the kitchen where the kids mention his name.

    I made an agreement with the staff that I wouldn't lose points if you won the puzzle "without help" by knowing Tad's name from the subtitles, which you technically did, but you found that cutscene afterwards and would've thus logically solved the puzzle the intended way had you been playing the original version, so I'll take that loss. :)

    Good job with the microscope puzzle, that one's brutal.

    1. Wow, I didn't know you bet against me. ;) Honestly, I can't imagine playing the game without subtitles even without the blocks puzzle. I am a very verbal learner, and with the muddy graphics, I would have been horribly confused about who was doing what. I still don't entirely understand what was going on, and I've now gotten to the end of the game. Having lines mostly labeled helped me make some sense of it. Also I found the block puzzle difficult as it was, even after being certain of what I was aiming for, so you're justified in thinking I wouldn't have solved it if I hadn't had the subtitles.

      I think the AI on the microscope puzzle is rather bad, actually. Once I figured out the trick of getting just the right distance away to draw out the AI to jump, it was pretty simple. I mean, I didn't just win, I completely wiped it out. I'm not certain if that was necessary or if it's possible to win by having more blobs than the opponent without wiping out the opponent. I didn't try.

    2. This makes me wonder if they completely lobotomized the AI in this edition. Remember, this is a mini-game that for a while you basically couldn't win without doing some kind of trick to slow down your CPU, since it could calculate perfectly with most CPUs released after the game came out. Making it too easy on the lower skill settings to compensate seems like a reasonable course of action.
      Unless you beat it on the highest setting, in which case I bow to your magnificence and suggest you start entering Reversi tournaments, because clearly you are amazing at it.

    3. There are difficulty settings for the microscope puzzle? How do you change the setting?

    4. I actually don't have the rerelease, so that was just an assumption on my part that there would be some somewhere. I know they made that puzzle into its own distinct thing on the phone releases, so I assumed they went to the trouble of including a difficulty setting.

    5. Okay, I had no idea about the issues with the difficulty of the microscope puzzle. As I said at the beginning, I never played 7th Guest back in the day, and I was going in totally blind. I was making the (mostly justified, I think, except for this) assumption that the gameplay would be the same between the original and anniversary editions. Sounds like this is the puzzle I would have failed at (rather than the block puzzle) if I'd been playing the original. I have no idea if the AI was nerfed or if I managed to exploit a bug, or what, but it probably should have been more difficult.

    6. People claim the microscope puzzle's AI (and thus difficulty) is heavily incluenced by your computer's speed and that playing it on a modern computer supposedly makes it "near impossible", and that the anniversary edition "fixes" it... but I've played and beaten this puzzle in so many different versions of the game throughout the years, including the old pre-anniversary Steam release AND the anniversary edition on the SAME computer, and the difficulty has always felt identical across versions, so I have my doubts about this claim. It's more likely people just forgot what the difficulty was like when they originally played the game and simply assumed it was a lot easier back then.

      It's a pure logic strategy game, I think Reiko just had the knack for it.

  5. I managed to complete the microscope Ataxx clone yesterday, took like a dozen tries with a little over 8000 cycles in DOSBox.

    Afterwards, I found this video with strategy tips for Ataxx:

    I tested Reiko's moves (as far as I understood from the description) in the DOS version with 55412 cycles, the AI responded more competently:

    I repeated the same moves at 1500 cycles, same AI moves resulted.

    Discussion of the AI at the ScummVM forums. I skim-read the thread, and it gets confusing with misleadingly named variables ("the better names would be 'difficulty' for 'depth' and 'depth' for 'newDepth'. And yes, depth (e.g. newDepth) is the recursion depth"), but most importantly a ScummVM dev says "there is no timer in the original game".