Written by Joe Pranevich
Welcome back! We’ve been away from Nord and Bert longer than I expected, thanks first to our “amputated content” close-out for Lurking Horror and the Kevin Pope interview. Add to that some great progress on our mainline games and there wasn’t quite enough room to slot this in before now. And while I’m back to playing, please see a note at the bottom of this post for a scheduling option if you would like to see us accelerate one horror-related game to land in “spooky season” October. As Nord and Bert isn’t precisely an adventure game, I’m not sure the best way to write about it. I’ve decided to explain more of the wordplay as I go along as an aid to our readers who may not be as familiar with American expressions and English wordplay. I’ll do my best to find the right balance and if I’ve missed, please let me know in the comments below.
Last time out, we started into the first “chapter” of the game as we solved a number of homophone and homonym-related challenges at Punster’s local grocery store. Once we finally found the cellar (“seller”) and purchased some on-sale (“sail”) food using a single cent (“scent”) that we found in a bouquet of flowers (“flour”), the chapter closed and we were able to select our next adventure. There doesn’t seem to be any required order yet (even though we were given a password for the endgame) so I’ll just proceed one by one. I’m planning to do two chapters per post for now, but if one is longer or shorter than the others, I will adjust.
A young girl plays jacks in the 1940s.
As I return to the game’s main menu, I notice that “Shopping Bizarre” is no longer listed. The next item on the list is “Play Jacks” and so that is what I do. I could jump around, but Jeff O’Neill must have assumed that many players would take the chapters as presented. I hope at least that turns out to be narratively satisfying. Let’s go!
> play jacks
The oddities of language have been so prevalent in the town of Punster, that surrounding communities have been similarly affected. One such bordering town is Jackville, located in the northern backwoods region, but still well within the realm of possibilities.
In our modern world of video games and 1980s text adventures, “jacks” isn’t exactly a common pastime for children, but it is one of the oldest games known to man. Variants on “jacks” (also called “knucklebones” and many other things) have been played in ancient Greece and China, on remote Pacific Islands, and just about everywhere that people are. There must be something universal about playing a game that involves catching small tokens while you throw or bounce something else. Many cultures used actual bones for the tokens and that’s the closest I will get to “spooky” in this otherwise non-spooky post.
“Be very, very quiet. I’m hunting jack-wabbits.”
We begin this scenario standing outside a “simple wood-plank house”. It has neither a mailbox, nor a boarded up front door. Examining it, I learn that it is the “house that Jack built” (no doubt from the 18th century nursery rhyme of the same name). Inside the house’s single room, I discover a strange contraption. I can’t picture it, so let’s just use the game’s description:
> examine contraption
You can see right away it’s versatile.
It’s sort of squarish, but sort of longish too and has a fluffy ball of cottony fur at one end. Its surface is made of thick cloth, except for one edge which is a long piece of metal which looks as if it can be pulled out.
On three different sides of the strange contraption you can see a hand crank, a water faucet, and an electrical switch. As if that wasn’t enough, there is also a pair of sleeves sticking out of the thing.
This is a “Jack of All Traits”, at least according to my inventory when I pick it up. It’s a pun on the expression “jack of all trades”, a person that has many skills but is not an expert in any of them. Given all of the Jack-related expressions, I pop open the manual to find the hint image that matches this misadventure: “Chet and His New Bush Jacket”. A “bush jacket” is part of an outfit that one would wear on safari in Africa, but in the image, Chet is wearing an actual bush. We have homophones again, but with an emphasis on the word “Jack”. It’s a flexible word! Let’s see how this plays out.
With the house explored, all I can do is walk into the forest. It quickly becomes impossibly cold and snowy, with a view “like a picture of a wedding gown in a snowstorm”. There’s no navigating in the blizzard and unlike our grocery store scenario, there’s no other area to explore until I get a better idea. At least so far, we just have to puzzle it out room by room.
What does someone do when it’s cold? They put on a jacket. The “jack of all traits” immediately becomes a jacket and this keeps us nicely warm, though we are told that the cold still nips at our nose. That’s an odd turn of phrase, but before I can think too hard about it we smell “chestnuts roasting over an open fire”. This is from Bing Crosby’s classic, “White Christmas”, released in 1948 and it is Jack Frost that is nipping at noses. I don’t know what to do so I just type “jack frost” to see what happens. I am transported to a pond. I have no idea why.
Let’s pause for a second: just as in the shopping scenario, sometimes we can interact with a puzzle just by typing out the answer. Just typing “mousse” in front of a moose transformed it, no verb or proper text adventure formatting needed. It’s a reminder that although this feels like a text adventure, it is not shy about violating the "rules" of text adventures.
Jack Frost by an unknown American artist, 1965.
The pond is a complex area with many details that could hide a puzzle or two. The pond is frozen over and a nearby sign tells us that there is “no danger, thick ice”. An old man with a “permafrost frown” stands nearby with a gnarled stick. Is that Jack Frost? Was typing his name what transported me here? I try to walk out onto the pond, but he stops me because it is “too safe”. Very strange. What am I to do?
I remove the jacket and it reverts to being the “jack of all traits”. Trying the first thing that I think of, I turn the crank on the contraption. This transforms it into a Jack-in-the-Box. Even more surprising, the happy tune charms the old man, his frown turns to a smile, and he skips off down an unseen track. With the man gone, I can easily stand on the ice… but why do I want to? What is the point of all of this? My guess is that I need to jackhammer the ice to make it less safe, but using the word by itself doesn’t help:
While the Jack of all Traits has the potential to be a jackhammer, it is not yet one.
Turning the crank was a lucky guess. I take stock of all of the other things that the contraption may be able to do based on its description:
- We worked out the hand crank (“jack-in-the-box”) and sleeves (“jacket”) already.
- The “fluffy ball of cottony fur at one end” implies a rabbit, specifically a “jackrabbit”. If I pull the fur, the jack transforms and runs away. Moments later, the contraption reappears in my inventory, now missing its ball.
- “One edge is a long piece of metal that looks as if it could be pulled out”. I pull it out and the jack transforms into a “jackknife”. I was not familiar with this word, but it appears to mean a pocket knife.
- Turning on the “water faucet” transforms the jack into a jacuzzi. O’Neill is cheating a bit on that one. At least where I live, it’s pronounced “ja-cusi” and not “jack-uzi”. One transformed, we naturally refuse to get out until we pull the plug.
- Flipping the “electrical switch” brings out the jackhammer.
And that’s it! Turning on the jackhammer, I smash through the ice to reveal a very cold mermaid. She’s trapped by a fishing line, but I switch back to the knife to cut her out. She’s still freezing, so I switch back to the jacuzzi to warm her up. That works and she climbs in with me. There’s nothing else to do in the tub so I eventually have to pull the plug again:
> pull plug
The water, slowly at first, begins to swirl towards the plug, creating a whirl of water so loud that it’s nightmarish. You close your eyes and cover your ears and when you hear the last loud slurp you find yourself standing again.
The mermaid, having been warmed by the dip in the hot tub, and freed of the entanglement of the fishing line, appears ready to brave the frigid waters for a long swim to warmer regions. She hyperventilates for a few moments and braces herself for a frenetic self-hug, stopping to give you a smile with her thin lips.
She bids farewell, and slips back into the frigid water, causing a little plop of water as her tail disappears beneath the surface.
Congratulations! You have been nimble and you have been quick. Punster will from here on out enjoy better relations with its northern neighbor, Jackville. The Citizens Action Committee does hereby confer upon you the title of Jackster.
I win! Now, there is one strange thing to mention: when I played originally, I received only nine of eleven points. I never found the right place to release the rabbit at the very least, and I suspected that there was a way to get the stick away from Jack Frost before he ran off. After exiting without a perfect score, we can come back to right where we left it. (The scenario doesn’t disappear from the list.) I couldn’t find anything new to do and I remained stuck at the pond, unable to backtrack to the forest or the house. I wrote up my notes like that and started into the next chapter.
When I write, I always play through everything again. This lets me check my notes, block out text that I want to use directly, etc. When I played through again, following my notes as precisely as I could… I scored the full eleven points. I have no idea what I did differently. I’m recording this as having received the full points, although I’ll have to shuffle my saved games later.
|Is that Nord? Or Bert?|
Buying the Farm
The third scenario is called “buy the farm” and I can already tell (or perhaps dimly remember) that it’s going to be about idiomatic expressions. Perhaps more than obscure words that contain “jack” in them, idioms might be challenging for non-native speakers. “Buy the farm”, for example, means to die. It originally meant to crash an airplane, but the more I think about it now, the less sense it makes. Picking out the hint image from the manual is simple enough as it contains two idioms right off the bat: “worried sick” (and who hasn’t been anxious to the point of nausea once or twice?) and “till the cows come home” (a very long time). The caption is also of “Farmer Brown”, but it’s one of the two figures from the Nord and Bert cover art. Are their last names Brown? Nord Brown? Bert Brown? Does anyone care?
> buy the farm
The farm crisis never seemed so desperate as it has this planting season in Punster. One such family farm on the edge of town, the McCleary’s, has been especially blighted. The family, though well-accustomed to hard work, suddenly lost the ability to perform even the simplest of chores necessary to scratch a living from the soil. They have since been driven from the land, and join with their fellow Punster neighbors in urging you to somehow save the family farm.
The telltale smell of grain and dung drifts by. You’re on a dusty road in front of an abandoned farm – a nice-sized spread of land that stretches far out to meet the horizon.
A wooden cart sits in the dusty road here.
An old dog sits by the side of the road, feeling all of the spirit of gravity, looking dog-eared and worn out by a lifetime on the farm.
After the more linear experience that was “Playing Jacks”, this immediately looks more like the shopping chapter. We have numerous areas that we can explore immediately: “Barn”, “Barnyard”, “Stable”, “Field”, and “Market”. I’ll explore them all, but let’s start with what’s in front of me.
Looking at the old dog at the side of the road, I think to “teach old dog new tricks”. The dog immediately de-ages and performs one trick after another. He runs off and returns with a stone in his mouth. When examined, the stone is strangely called “one stone”. (“There’s nothing noteworthy about one stone.”) That suggests it’s a part of another expression, but I don’t think of one immediately.
I see nothing else that I can do with the dog or the cart so I head into the barn. Inside is a growing pile of grain (falling from a loft above), a ladder leading to that loft, and a container of milk. The dog runs inside and immediately knocks over the milk, spilling it before running off with its tail between its legs. Naturally the first thing to do is “don’t cry over spilled milk” (don’t be unhappy over something that cannot be changed). That causes the dog to return, sheepish but back to normal. It may also be the first “don’t” that I’ve ever used in a text adventure, although I’m sure there was some game somewhere that I had to “not” do something. It also reminds me (ever so slightly) of the “no tea” from Hitchhiker’s Guide.
It’s a holiday!?
I don’t see much else that I can do, so I move on to the “barnyard”. I’m worried that I don’t know enough farming idioms! There has to be one about spilling grain, right? The barnyard is littered with idiom-objects as I quickly discover a sow’s (female pig’s) ear, an animal tail, and a phalanx of swords leaning against a barn.
My first thought is that I need to “beat swords into plowshares”, but I discover that I don’t know how to spell “plowshares”. I’ve heard the expression before (it’s from the bible) and I know that it means to transform weapons of war into implements for peace, but I never thought about what the word was. What is a “plowshare”? Even once I get the correct spelling, the game politely informs me that I’ll need a hammer to do that. For my next trick, I try to “turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse” which is a really obscure phrase and I somehow doubt anyone uses it. It means the opposite of “when life gives you lemons”, i.e. that you cannot make something of value out of something cheap. Once again, I am stymied because I cannot sew without a needle. I’ll be on the lookout for both.
With nothing left to do, I run off to the stable. Inside, I find an old horse and a tin trough. The trough contains both water and wild oats. Now, I doubt the game really wants us to “sow wild oats” (be sexually promiscuous while young), but I can certainly “lead the horse to water” and then “make him drink”. The horse leaves the barn happy and sated. I do try to “sow wild oats”, but the game lets me know that I need to find the farmer’s daughter first. Oh boy. Are we really going there? (This might be a reference to the 1983 game, The Farmer’s Daughter, which was a well-known erotic text adventure at the time.)
This would have made a “great” Missed Classic 30.
Next up, I go to the field. I’m only at five points and running out of rooms, but presumably I’ll find some connections soon enough. This area contains a molehill and a large stack of hay, leading to yet more obvious idioms. I first “make a mountain out of the molehill” (turn a small problem into a big one). This has a larger effect than expected: mountains spring up all around and instead of a dust bowl-style farm in Kansas, we’re now in a fertile valley with thriving corn crops. The farm is saved? Still plenty more things to do. Two birds circle overhead.
I ignore the birds for now and instead “find a needle in the haystack”. That works and gives me the needle that I can use for the purse! I return to the barnyard to do that. I create the purse and discover that it has a penny inside! I try to “pinch the penny” (make money last longer), but the game doesn’t recognize that idiom, at least not yet.
Jumping around like crazy now, I return to the road. The horse that I watered in the barn has wandered out and is standing near the cart. Naturally, I “put the cart before the horse” (to do things in the wrong order) and I now am able to travel to the market! (I didn’t realize that I couldn’t go before, but the game is clear that I can go “now”.) The “market” turns out to be just a single guy in a clearing playing a set of panpipes. He offers three things for sale: a cart of apples, a canvas bag, and strong-smelling peppers. Time to find some idioms!
Even though I haven’t bought anything yet, I start out with “pay the piper” (to face consequences for one's actions) and he is happy to take my money. What should I buy? I examine the peppers more closely and am told that there is “around a peck”. Therefore, I “pick a peck of pickled peppers” to buy some. This isn’t an idiom, it’s a common tongue-twister with an unusual unit of measurement: the peck. A peck is (I had to look this up) a quarter bushel or eight “dry quarts''. If it helps, it equals 8.8 liters and is used to measure things like apples, flour, and (apparently) pickled peppers.
Is the piper named Peter?
The next action is trickier for me. I know that there’s an expression for flipping over an apple cart, but I had to look it up to find that the phrase is to “upset the apple cart” (to disrupt the status quo). That topples the apples to the ground and our horse eats one. I also pick up the bag to discover that it contains a cat. I try to “let the cat out of the bag” (to reveal a secret), but the cat seems comfortable and unwilling to come out yet.
I’m at twelve of nineteen points! I board the cart and return to the farm. I explore each room again but find nothing new until I reach the stable. There, a donkey is being chased by a mass of flies. I try to “shoo fly”, but that doesn’t work. (It’s from a nursery rhyme instead of an idiom, but the rules seem pretty loose if a tongue-twister worked.) Looking through my inventory, I instead attempt to “pin the tail on the donkey”. The donkey is thrilled with his new tail, but I am less thrilled that we’re moving on to children’s party games instead of idioms.
At this point, I get stuck for a while and explore each area again carefully. I eventually discover that I can “let the cat out of the bag” in the room with the mice playing in the grain. This drives the mice away. I can now climb the ladder into the loft where I discover a hammer and a grindstone. I pick up the hammer and “put my nose to the grindstone” (to work hard). This has been hard work!
Now that I have a hammer, I return to the barnyard to beat the swords into plowshares. I also realize that I am not just standing by a barn, but it is explicitly the “broad side”. I “hit the broad side of the barn” (usually the opposite, to miss something that should be easy). That gets me up to 17 of 19 points and I am near the end. I explore over again and realize that there are two birds flying over the field so I “kill two birds with one stone” and that gets me just one point away from victory.
The final point is the hardest of all. The clue was pretty subtle:
> examine horse
The horse, which is a hackney, is wearing a large red-ribbon bow instead of a saddle and is hooked up to the cart. It continues shooing at flies with its tail.
It’s a gift! A GIFT HORSE.
> look gift horse in the mouth
It looks like the horse has drunk a lot of water.
Congratulations for the completion of these 19 chores. You have transformed their abandoned husk of a farm into a horn of plenty. The McCleary’s, under your tutelage, have learned much about how to manage their farm, coping with the tough realities of modern farming. After this long period of want, the townspeople of Punster will feast heartily upon the fruits of your labor. You shall be honored by them with the rank of Sodbuster.
The final point was a bit anticlimactic. The previous two chapters built up to an ending (the sale and rescuing the mermaid), while this one just sort of fizzled out when we found all of the points. It was fun trying to find all of the idioms, but could a non-native speaker get them all? The sow’s ear one seems particularly obscure. Has anyone said that non-ironically in a century? Either way, that’s enough for this week. The next scenario involves a “tempest in a teapot” and I am quite stuck. I hope I’ll be able to solve it without needing to use the in-game help system.
Should we play it for Halloween?
Now for a scheduling note: It’s October and “Spooky Season” is upon us! Dracula Unleashed is coming up and I had hoped to start it before Halloween, but it looks as if our other mainline games (which we are making renewed progress on!) will still be going for a while. If enough of our community wants, I can temporarily pause Nord and Bert to play through Dracula now and then come back to Infocom afterward. I had hoped to get to Beyond Zork by Christmas, but it’ll be tight either way and dependent on my real life schedule (and how long Plundered Hearts takes).
Non-native speakers: how are you with these idioms and homophones? Are there ones that you’ve not heard before? Or are they all universal enough in English-language media? Let me know in the comments below.
Time played: 1 hr 45 min
Total time: 3 hr 00 min
Score: 22/22 (Bizarre), 11/11 (Jacks), 19/19 (Farm)