Thursday 19 January 2023

Missed Classic: Nord and Bert - Haunted Pre-Raphaelite Spoonerisms

Written by Joe Pranevich

Welcome back to Nord and Bert! One of the commenters mentioned recently how it is difficult to play and write about a game that you aren’t really enjoying. That’s pretty true, but sometimes you can find joy in the worst games. It’s not that they are “so bad they are good”, but you can see the love that goes into games like Santa and the Goblins, the pre-Infocom Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or even the early works of Berlyn and Moriarty that were amateurish as best. Where I’m running into difficulty with Nord and Bert is that it feels at times unfinished, or last least rushed, and it’s not living up to even the bar set by its earlier chapters. It is not a terrible game by any stretch and will score better than the ones I cited above, but something about it makes it a slog to get through and to write about. 

But here we are! We’ve completed five of the eight scenarios of the game and will tackle two more today. Jeff O’Neill has made each scenario at least individualized, but we’ve had two based on homophones (the grocery story and the jacks), two on idioms (the teapot and the farm), and the strange one based on sitcom tropes. As I’m shortly to discover, the two today are very different– and also very strange. One of them seems to have been partly inspired by Frank Zappa’s 1982 song, “Valley Girl”, though regretfully not by forcing the player to play entirely using “Valley Girl” slang of the 1980s. That would have been cool, for sure, for sure.

Let’s get to it!

A very fancy room! (Photo by Dennis Jarvis.)

The Manor of Speaking

Five scenarios down and only three left to go. While the game lets us play the chapters in any order, I have been taking them as they are listed. The next one is the “Manor of Speaking” and it’s a bit different than the others:

> manor of speaking

The sad truth here is that the Manor of Speaking once enjoyed the reputation as one of THE finest guest houses in the entire region around Punster. But queer indeed is the fate it has suffered. The various rooms of the house are actually possessed by the warped personalities of by-gone visitors. The experience of a present-day guest to each of these rooms is colored very strongly by the thoughts and indeed voice of each ghostly presence. Needless to say, vacancy rates have gone through the roof. Which leads us to the crucial problem with the Manor. Its attic, as you will notice, is radically out of joint, situated BELOW the level of the first floor. It has been theorized that if this misplacement could be dramatically rectified, the spirits who’ve worn out their welcome might flee in horror. This is our hope, may it be your quest.

Before the Manor

You’re standing in front of a large but oddly shaped manor house. From the outside, it looks as if its individual rooms have been haphazardly constructed and are out of proportion with each other. This has a slight disorienting effect. 

I love this start! Haunted and spooky hotels make for fantastic settings (see: Psycho, The Shining and the first mission of 1984’s Ghostbusters) and I’m already psyched to see how we’re going to placate the spirits and rearrange the house to put the attic in the basement. As introductions go, this is my favorite of the chapters so far. Even better, we appear to only have six rooms that we can immediately travel to and a total of seven points to collect. If there is one point for each room, this could be a simple and fun puzzle. Let’s see how it goes.

The first of these rooms is called “Interior Decorated”. Even before I arrive, the spirit complains that I am dragging my feet on his carpeting. We’re shown an eloquent room with expensive furniture, plus a set of stairs down. Everything here is elaborately over-detailed. For example: 

Against the far wall is a heroically proportioned, Mediterranean-crafted, intricately inlaid, Pre-Raphaelite limestone mantelpiece, circa 1838.


The Louis XIV chair is plump, tufted, aristocratic – it’s styled with equal splashes of rococo and baroque. The piece definitely has charisma. Sitting on the chair: a multihued textured pillow. 

“Christ in the House of His Parents”, an early Pre-Raphaelite artwork from 1849. I have no idea how this relates to a mantelpiece.

I doubt there is any hidden meaning in any of the elaborate descriptions, but I spend time Googling (and procrastinating?) just in case. “Pre-Raphaelite”, for example, was a 19th century art movement in England that sought to be more naturalistic and detailed. The painting above garnered much criticism for portraying the Holy Family as ordinary, especially the casual way in which Mary was depicted as a normal-looking woman in a house with a dirty floor. Even so, an 1838 mantelpiece couldn’t be “Pre-Raphaelite” as far as I know because that style wasn’t codified until later in the century. Then again, I know nothing about art and once spent an afternoon in a chair museum in Sweden pondering if I was secretly trapped in some sort of Sartre-style personal Hell.

The prose in this section reads like a docent opened a thesaurus and exploded, but through the word salad, I am able to pick up a pillow and lace tablecloth. I struggle to find anything else to do here. What is the wordplay? I don’t find puns and the parser doesn’t respond when I try to be elaborate in my own use of adjectives. The normal hint images don’t help much either: it is only through the process of elimination that I deduce that “The Lieberry” is our hint image, but other than a room being taken too literally (the “lieberry” lies about having books), there is no indication what we are expected to do.

Overly literal rooms are our only clue.

Descending the stairs takes me to an upside-down attic and the hint that an “oxymoron” is locked up down below and causing all of our difficulties. It’s still not clear what I should do as no obvious wordplay comes to mind, but we have more rooms to work our way through before I give up hope. 

The next one is called the “Kremlin” and is decorated fully in red with a giant painting of Karl Marx on the wall. The painting is too high for me to reach, but I get the impression that it is important. This room’s personality appears to be that of Marx himself, but he interjects less than the voice in the “Interior Decorated” room. He calls me a “fellow traveler” which I know was a term for a Communist sympathizer, but that’s all I get. I find nothing else in the room, but will be on the lookout for a stepladder. 

The room after that is the “Doldrums” which offers a very different kind of puzzle than we’ve ever seen in an Infocom game. The room is very boring (“like Nebraska”) with one wall recently painted green. I shoot for the obvious idiom (“to watch paint dry”), but that’s not understood. I don’t think we’re dealing with idioms here, but I am still at a loss as to what we are playing with. Doing this revealed the room’s real trick: you can only use many words once:

> watch paint dry

[ I don’t know the word “dry” ]

> watch paint

The chasm yawns again. I’ve heard the word “watch” before.

Watching paint dry. (Image by Mark McQuitty, via Flickr.)

This makes whatever puzzles are here very difficult. There is a clock in the room, but I cannot examine it because I used the word “examine” on something else. I quickly run out of synonyms that the game recognizes, but not before I “search” to find a winding key in the clock. I try to get it, but cannot because it is attached to the clock. I cannot just get the whole clock because I just used the word “get”. This is a new kind of puzzle! When I leave the room, my used words list doesn’t reset and I could already be dead ended here and not even know it. I cannot even use the word “look” (or “l”) anymore to remind me what is in the room!

I give up and head to the final room, the “Pharmacy”. In actuality, this is a bathroom haunted by a hypochondriac: tons of medicines everywhere, an anti-slip mat, and handrails. The ghost does not let me take any of the medications, but I manage to snag an empty glass bottle out of the cabinet. I can also snag a cardboard box, now empty of medications, from the floor. I still don’t see the puzzle here. 

Let’s take stock of what I know:

  • We have five haunted rooms to explore, including the attic. (There doesn’t seem to be a way to get back outside.)
  • I have found four items: a tablecloth, pillow, cardboard box, and a glass bottle.
  • Something is up with the Karl Marx painting in “Kremlin”, but it’s too high to reach.
  • Something is up with the clock in “Doldrums”, but I used too many words exploring the space and can’t find a way to reset so I can use them again without restoring.

In the next hour or so of exploring, I manage to find nothing new. I do manage to break the bottle by accident and I hope that isn’t dead-ending. Not that it matters much because I end up using each of the exit names in “Doldrums” once and now I’m stuck unable even to leave because all of the exits are boring. I’m going to have to restart.

This is the moment when I put the game down to focus on Santa and the Goblins. I hope you enjoyed that post because I put a lot of effort and heart into it!

Technically better graphics than Nord and Bert!

It’s a few weeks later (but only one screenshot for you), and I am back at it. With my dead-ending the Doldrums, I had to resume from a saved game. I don’t find many things new, but the chance to start over in Doldrums at least reveals a few new things. This scenario feels unfair because I cannot work out a way to ever use a command or word twice, and we don’t know or understand this limitation when we first arrive. Some warning might let us plan better, but some copious reloading gets around the problem. 

Even so, I only manage to snag the clock. I spend far too long working on “putting time in a bottle” (to quote the old Jim Croce song) because the game recognizes “time” as an alias for the clock, but nothing I do ends up working and I decide that is a false lead. Some further thrashing and I realize that I can wind the clock, resulting in a suspicious “tick, tick, tick” sound that lasts a few turns. If I put the clock in the box, I can still hear the sound through the box. Can I pretend it is a bomb? Did I finally solve a puzzle here? As it turns out, I was thinking along the right lines but just didn’t put two and two together. 

After some more thrashing around, I take a hint: the antique bottle would look good somewhere.

“Antique” bottle! I had visualized it only as a medicine container and nothing special, but examining it reveals that it is indeed hundreds of years old. I should have noticed that! I put it on the mantel in “Interior Decorated” and it initially doesn’t seem to work:

> put bottle on mantel

Umm… Do you really think it makes the right statement there?

But, it turns out that this isn’t a failure message! You just have to type “yes”.

> yes

Mmm. You know I really think you might be right. Yes, yes, the cherished memento look. 

You carefully place the antique bottle upon the mantel. 

Yes, heavens yes, it really SAYS something there. Oh, such a prized antique, what could I EVER give you in return?

This is a Louis XIV-style chair. My afternoon in the Swedish chair museum didn’t adequately prepare me for this.

I’m able to ask for something, but there is not much in the room. I immediately think of the too-high Karl Marx painting and ask for the Louis XIV chair. The room lets me grab the chair (although I have to drop most everything else due to weight) and I can take it to the “Kremlin”. Speaking of which, my intensive Googling suggests that Louis XIV chairs were characterized by their rich ornamentation and this one doesn’t look at all safe to stand on. In contrast, Louis XV chairs have more fluid lines and less ostentatious ornamentation. Just in case it ever comes up in conversation, don’t get the two confused! That could cause no end of embarrassment. 

I take the chair to the Kremlin and (carefully?) stand on it. Even so, I’m too capitalist to be allowed to look behind the painting. Considering the very existence of this chair is an affront to Marx’s philosophy, I cannot really blame him. This is when my idea about the bomb clicks in and I am able to bring it into the room. It only works when he doesn’t know it’s a clock, so it must be hidden in the box with the lid closed. If we do that, the ghost of Marx panics that I might be a capitalist saboteur and the painting falls to the floor, revealing a safe. The safe is sealed by a “universal” lock that can be opened by any key. (The game says that this is in the spirit of Lennon’s song “Imagine”, but I don’t see it. I suspect O’Neill was making a Lenin/Lennon joke here that went over my head.) 

Despite being clearly told that the “winding key” on the clock is attached and cannot be removed, we can nonetheless use it (somehow) to unlock the safe. Inside is a “revolution” (get it?) which I can deliver to the attic. 

> revolve room

You get that long, drawn-out sudden feeling of movement in the pit of your stomach as the attic begins tilting straight up to one side, and it continues tilting until you’re in a figurative sense literally climbing the walls and fall…

“CRUNCH!” Your shoulders slam softly against the hardwood floor. Wobbly but with steadiness, you regain your feet. Wait! You can hear the screeching voices of disembodied converge in a fright and then around the entrance to the manor, and then grow faint in the distance. 

Congratulations. Having rid the manor of its unwanted, if spirited, visitors you thereby, in the eyes of the Citizens’ Action Committee, earn the title of Honored Guest. 

It would be prudent to commit to memory this and all ranks you have achieved. 

I won! In the end, this sequence was pretty fun, even if I needed a push to get started. We had nearly no wordplay here (other than the homonym, “revolution”) and some of the rooms were devoid of puzzles. Other than finding the bottle, there was no use for the Pharmacy, for example. We also never had a use for the tablecloth, cardboard box, or pillow. Perhaps there was cut content?  This section mercifully at least didn’t overstay its welcome. I only regret that I needed to take a hint that (in retrospect) I could have gotten. No time to look backwards, we have one more chapter to cover today!

I’m experimenting with AI image generation to illustrate these adventures. This one isn’t bad: “closed wooden door in a forest”. 

Shake a Tower

One more down! Other than the difficulty getting started, that wasn’t so bad. The next mission is called “Shake a Tower”. While I hoped for another low-scoring chapter, this one has 26 points to find: 

> shake a tower

In the dark forest outside the town boundaries of Punster, chaos has been the order of the day. On a recent afternoon the daughter of a leading citizen of our town, out for a stroll among the tall pines, disappeared without apparent trace. Rumor has it that one strange, stand-alone door is the only means of escape from the forest. But no volunteer has yet been found to face the oddball nature of the place. That is, until now.


You’re in a clearing of a deep, dark forest. 

The odd sight of a lead house stands here under the trees.

There is one door here that is not connected to any building which is closed. Yet there is something radiant imbedded in it: A gritty pearl appears to shine on the door. 

For the record, the spelling errors in the quoted portions are in the original. I don’t mean to be judgmental, but Infocom testers should have caught these sorts of things. I’m in a forest (the same forest from the Jack chapter?) and see a mysterious closed door, not attached to any building. Naturally, I assume it is magic. We’ll need a key to open it. Next to the door without a house, we have a house (made of lead!) without a door. Is the objective to connect them so that I can get into the house? 

It takes only a few moments to get the wordplay here: these are “spoonerisms”. Named for an Oxford professor, William Archibald Spooner, who famously made these errors, spoonerisms are a type of wordplay where you swap the initial consonant sounds of words. The “gritty pearl” in the door refers to a “pretty girl”, no doubt the one that I have been tasked to find. Just as in the idiom scenarios, we need only to name something to bring it into being and the pearl transforms into a girl. I immediately also notice that the “lead house” is in fact a “head louse” (yuck!). Transforming it causes it to lodge in my hair, a thoroughly disgusting idea. 

The hint image this time was pretty obvious.

The young woman is acting indignant and impatient, even as the game takes pains to comment on her beauty. She “shines on the door” with her beauty. This obviously means that we should “dine on the shore” and we’re quickly there: a shoreline between two tributaries of the Rhine River. I’m going to assume that is important for some wordplay reasons, but as the Rhine is a European river, this is the first hint that we’ve seen that Punster is outside the US. (Even so, there are hundreds of “tributaries of the Rhine”, so that does not narrow it down too much.) A pile of rocks blocks my passage further down the beach. Meanwhile, the young woman is fiddling with a “pan of keys” for some reason.

I transform the “pan of keys” into a “can of peas”, but the girl drops them in disgust. “Gag me with a spoonerism!” she says. Aha! This clicks now: she has been bratty and entitled, despite being beautiful. She’s clearly modeled after the 1980s “Valley Girl” stereotype, made famous by Frank Zappa’s 1982 single of the same name. (I know the song from Dr. Demento, but it was a Top 40 hit when it came out.) She’s clearly very hungry, but before I can do anything about it, she dives into the river. I try to follow, but I am told that I must “shake off your toes” first. I naturally “take off my shoes” instead. I dive in and rescue the girl, now returned to her “gritty pearl” state. I also pick up an escaped key and the unwanted can of peas. What’s next? I’m still stuck on a beach. 

A closer look at the rocks reveals that they are hungry. I search for combinations like “rungry hawks”, but none comes to mind. Eventually, I try feeding the can of peas (!!) to the rocks (!!) and they are now “fed rocks” and able to be transformed into a “red fox”. If you think that was strange, the next stop down the beach reveals a “queer old dean” being chased around by a “tall leopard”. I transform the dean into a “dear old queen”. Alas, it is Queen Elizabeth II instead of Freddy Mercury– the joke is dated now, but they likely expected it to be dated a long time ago. The leopard still pushes her around, although he is kind enough to curtsy first.

Moon Unit Zappa was only 14 when the song came out.

My shoes are missing, so I cannot put them back on. Instead, I puzzle through the scene. I eventually work out that the leopard is a “shoving leopard” and so I transform him into a “loving shepherd”. He becomes a German-speaking priest, writes a message in the sand, and wanders off. 

I struggle with the next puzzle for a long while. The lines in the sand inspire me to consider “signs of land”, but that isn’t where they are going with them. I cannot read the message– it’s written in “sand-script”, not German, but that doesn’t reveal any wordplay either. I eventually give up and take a clue. The answer is not a spoonerism: I just need to “read between the lines” and it tells me to follow the shepherd. When I play this segment again while finishing the write-up, I realize that there is a spoonerism here but you have to really squint to find it: the shepherd, when he wandered off, was “leading (us) between the Rhines”. That should have been the clue to “read between the lines”. 

Both the Queen and I follow the shepherd off the beach and to a nearby factory. The scene has a lot going on to say the least: 

  • The shepherd is here, trying to tug-of-war against a rat for a black and white cloth. Further investigation reveals that it is a nun’s habit.
  • A foaming bonfire is burning on the factory floor, with (improbably) an icicle dangling just above the fire. 
  • A stock room can be visited at the back of the factory. It’s a factory for jeans, so it is a “jean stockroom”. A “jean stock client” rummages through a pile of (jean?) hats. 
  • There’s also an elf slave (“sold elf”) making a “talk smock”, presumably also out of jeans. 

A real factory for jeans, in China.

The first room with the tug-of-war and strange bonfire was difficult, but the stockroom had lots of opportunities for spoonerisms. I had no difficulty turning the “jean client” into a “clean giant” and the “sold elf” into my “old self”. The giant immediately climbs up a pile of jeans into the distance. I’m looking for a b-word somewhere to change the “jean stock” into a “beanstalk”, but I don’t see one quickly. The “old self” is an older version of me instead of a younger one, but I can now “make small talk” (because he was making a “tall smock”) with him and he reveals the way back to the clearing in the forest but that I will need to find a vehicle first. I had no idea that I wanted to go back there, but this is good to know! The implied time travel here is also a nice idea. I love time travel fiction.

That still leaves me stuck in the main room of the factory. Eventually, out of desperation, I give up on the spoonerisms and just type “rabbit”. That works! The habit becomes a rabbit. I try the same thing with “hat” and the rat becomes a hat. Where are the matching r-words and h-words to make that happen? I dislike that the game seems to be violating its own flimsy logic. On my second playthrough, I think I see the idea: the shepherd was trying to "take a habit out of a rat” and that we needed to help him "take a rabbit out of a hat”. Perhaps because that reference was too difficult, O’Neill decided to make it a bit easier if you spooned them individually. In any event, the shepherd transforms himself (!!) back into a leopard and runs off to enjoy a delicious rabbit meal, leaving me with a hat to collect.

AI image generation isn’t quite up to snuff illustrating these text adventures yet. This is “shepherd and rat play tug-of-war with a nun’s habit”.

A short time later, I am stuck again. I am struggling with this chapter more than I think I should, especially because the solutions seem obvious when I get the hint. I didn't really notice that the shepherd dropped a book when he left. To the extent that I noticed, I thought it was a clever image with the “good shepherd” dropping his bible and revealing himself to really be a leopard and running off with his prey. Unfortunately, I should have paid more attention because the book was a book of riddles. This also isn’t a spoonerism, but the solution was to “riddle while foam burns”. This is a play on the expression “fiddle while Rome burns”, but notice that I’m naming what’s here instead of its counterpart. 

Doing that causes the icicle to fall and (implausibly) become a “boiled icicle” in the fire. I challenge you to work that out, but the “boiled icicle” easily becomes an “oiled bicycle”. I wager that is the transportation that I’ll need to get back to the door in the clearing, but I do not think it’s time yet. I still have a giant to deal with. Back in the stockroom, I follow my lead with “rabbit” and “hat” and just type “beanstalk” without finding the matching word. Coming back to this later, I think the prompt was something like “back in the jean stock” -> “jack and the beanstalk”, but I didn’t quite catch it at the time. Either way, I find myself in the setting for the story at the bottom of a beanstalk. 

Another “Jack” word that would have fit great a few chapters ago.

The rural setting is a bit strange, starting with a female horse imitating the sound of a pig. It’s not an “oinking mare”, so what could it be? I also find a “blushing crow” that I immediately turn into a “crushing blow”. This causes the crow to dive-bomb itself into the ground, leaving an undescribed object called “crushing blow” behind. (The description is only that it “packs a wallop”.) I’m sure that will come in handy fighting the giant, but I cannot actually climb the beanstalk with it. I suppose it must be for something else. 

Climbing the beanstalk requires us to drop all of our stuff first, but once we do we find the typical “Jack and the Beanstalk” castle at the top. The giant looks oddly familiar:

Before you stands a giant of exceptional cleanliness, hands on his hips, wearing an immaculately tailored and dazzling white tee shirt. So statuesque is the figure of the giant that the floor on which he stands sags noticeably under his weight.

It’s Mr. Clean! I don’t know how international his products were, but when I was growing up in the 1980s, I saw his commercials all the time. I was always vaguely disappointed that his face didn’t really appear on our clean appliances. 

Mr. Clean from a 1987 TV commercial.

As soon as I make it to the top, the giant spills a load of butter (!!) down the beanstalk. Umm. “buttery stalk” -> “stuttery balk”? Nope, doesn’t work. I wonder if he dumped soap in some previous version of this scene, but it was changed to avoid the implication this really was Mr. Clean? Either way, I am unable to climb back down. 

Looking around, I see a shed of beets. I change them into “bed sheets”. This causes the giant to get mad at me for denying him his “daily bread” (“bailey dread”? nope). As I search around for more things to do, he gets bored and pounds me through the clouds back to the ground far below. I die. Yes! This chapter actually kills me, which sucks because I hadn’t saved in a while. Nord and Bert has been largely free of ways to kill yourself or dead ends so this caught me by surprise. I have to replay much of this section, but don’t find anything different. I do manage to get the leopard to run off with the habit instead of a rabbit, but other than denying him a meal, it doesn’t seem to change anything. I also discovered that if I wear the hat, the louse (which has been in my hair this whole time) will migrate over to it. 

I climb up again, but don’t manage to solve it before dying the second time through. Even with saved game files, I’m getting frustrated and end up just taking three more hints to win. I’m not proud of this moment, but I wanted it to be over:

  • If we give the giant the hat (remembering, which I did not, that he was interested in jean hats down below), then I can transform the louse back into a house with it on his head. The lead house is too heavy for his cloud kingdom and he falls to the ground below. 
  • At that point, I’m still stuck up top. The solution isn’t a spoonerism: I just need to “tie sheets” together to make a long rope ladder that reaches the ground. 
  • Back on the ground, the fall forces the giant back into his “jean client” form and he begins to sew me into a sheet. This kills me too, if I don’t find the wordplay fast enough. He was “sewing me to a sheet” and I needed to “show him to his seat” to somehow get through. Never mind that “s”->”sh” is a poor spoonerism, it makes even less sense than usual.

For the finale, the jean client transforms himself back into a giant and attacks. This time, I pick up the crushing blow and deliver it to him. I score a hit and he walks away, defeated. This isn’t the end yet! I still only have 22 of 26 points. 

I have to take yet another hint to realize that the “oinking mare” is actually a “mare squeal”. I can turn that into a “square meal”, no doubt the respite that the woman on the beach has been waiting all this time for. I should have probably worked that out myself too, but I was stuck thinking that a pig “oinks” instead of “squealing”. I return to the factory, grab the bike, and hoof it to the shore. We finally “dine on the shore” with the pretty girl and then I pedal back to the cleaning at the beginning of the chapter. I unlock the door and pass through, but it is too dark. I have to return to the shore, turn the now well-fed Valley Girl back into the pearl, and take that through the door. That finally triggers the ending:

“Click.” As you unlock the door the key is swallowed by the lock. A tunnel of darkness opens up to you, and you cautiously walk inside. You almost vanish into the darkness, it is so black.

But just now you can discern a fuzzy light beginning to shine from the pearl. It brightens to illuminate your upper body, creating a halo of pure white light around you. So astounding is the effect of the brightened pearl, that it spills from your hand and rolls vanishingly away from you, echoing grittily along the tunnel. 

Congratulations are in order. Having braved mutable strangeness and having made the heroic gesture of a rescue, you make possible the reuniting in joy of a grateful Punster family. This feat earns you the rank of Kinkering Cong. 

I won! I don’t feel that great about it as I needed so many hints at the end, but at least we’re through. We’re still missing exactly one point. I play again, following a walkthrough, but they also miss the same point! It turns out that there was a “hare raising” joke that I missed somewhere and there is no way back to get it now. Maybe I’ll play again later, but for now I’m done.

We just have one more chapter to go, the finale: “Meet the Mayor”. Can I save Punster before this game drives me crazy? We’ll find out soon enough.

Time played: 4 hr 50 min
Total time: 12 hr 45 min
Score: 22/22 (Bizarre), 11/11 (Jacks), 19/19 (Farm), 31/31 (Teapot), 10/10 (Theatrical), 7/7 (Manor), 25/26 (Tower).

What is wrong with his hands?

 In this post, I experimented with some AI-generated images, in this case all from While much can be said about the artistic quality of AI-generated “art” (and whether it is “art” and should be subject to things like copyright protection), it is a relatively fun way to illustrate games without having to fall back on copyrighted images. The editors and I try to use free images (or our own screenshots) whenever possible to prevent problems, but for text games this is quite tough. Is this a solution? I don’t know.

What I do know is that it can be fun to experiment! For this post, I challenge our commenters to come up with their own illustrations for this post (or for other scenes from text adventure history) and post links in the comments below. Unfortunately, our software doesn’t permit images in comments so you will have to upload and link them some other way. Maybe an early commenter can find a good solution.

Finally, there is still a good discussion over on a previous post about whether or not we should consider adding a Reddit forum for the blog, a Discord chat, or switching the blog over to a domain name to make us look a bit more professional. We welcome your comments there on these important topics.

Next up for me will be a Dracula Unleashed post before closing out Nord and Bert. See you soon.


  1. AI illustrations for text adventure reviews are fair game, since you wouldn't be hiring anyone to draw these pictures in the first place.

    My preferred discussion platform is Discord. I think the professionalism of a bespoke URL is kind of a downside -- I appreciate the gritty, free tools, grassroots community-based nature of this project.

    1. It does make it more difficult to look "serious" enough to get developer interviews however. We had an easier time when they thought we were "Adventure Gamers", I think...

  2. (I hope this first quote here formats correctly, but since there isn't a "preview" button...)

    > put bottle on mantel
    Umm… Do you really think it makes the right statement there?


    Shades of

    With what? Your bare hands?


    Despite being clearly told that the “winding key” on the clock is attached and cannot be removed

    Maybe it's on a long chain, or something?

    Moon Unit Zappa was only 14 when the song came out.

    There's some quote from Frank about how people always harp on the weird names he gave his kids, but "it's the last name that will get them in trouble".

    In this post, I experimented with some AI-generated images, in this case all from While much can be said about the artistic quality of AI-generated “art” (and whether it is “art” and should be subject to things like copyright protection), it is a relatively fun way to illustrate games without having to fall back on copyrighted images.

    Yeah, um... they're fun toys, but aside from the question of whether the result is "art", the AIs' training databases are almost always built on massive amounts of images simply taken off the internet without the original creators' permission to be used in this way, soooo....

    1. Absent more description, I was imagining it as the "key" on the back of an old alarm clock. It's just a handle for a winding-knob. Perhaps O'Neill had something else in mind.

    2. >since there isn't a "preview" button

      There used to be. Dumb Blogger/Google >:-(

    3. @Joe, we have a tabletop clock that winds. The key is rather large and entirely separate from the clock (something like this: But you could hypothetically, say, screw a small eyebolt into the wooden body of the clock, and then attach the key to the clock with it...

    4. Point being that maybe it "can't be removed" from the clock entirely, not from the winding mechanism? *shrug*

    5. On reflection, I think I am over- (or under-) thinking this. The idea that the "key" can be an inseparable part of the clock one moment and an abstract concept to be introduced into a lock the next is pretty much the bread and butter of this game and the way it flits in and our of being an adventure game. I probably shouldn't judge puzzles that way.

    6. > put bottle on mantel
      Umm… Do you really think it makes the right statement there?


      Shades of

      With what? Your bare hands?



      > USE DOLL

      Geez, Larry, do we have to?

      > YES

      A classic gaming trope.

    7. Classic gaming trope, yes. But also one I can occasionally not catch onto on the first pass. :)

    8. @Michael, hahah. I've only played the parser version of Larry 1 a couple of times, so I didn't think of that one. Doesn't quite hit the same when you just use the zipper icon twice.

    9. @Joe, sometimes, it's not obvious when you have to repeat a request. Think of Monkey Island, a generally sound quality adventure game, how many people don't realize about needing to haggle with Stan over the price of the ship? There's other ones, too. These examples above at least hint that answering YES is an option.

  3. Regarding the images you challenged readers to create their own versions of, that kind of funnily tracks with a desire I've had recently to find something good to practice drawing with. I was actually going to try illustrating whatever pictureless text adventure I next played...which would be a while. So if you would like something done I can try to make an image for you.
    Tried to do the forest, did about as well as could be expected in the 15 minutes I spent doing it:
    No, I don't recommend anyone else trying this upload to Mediafire, I just have had an account there for a while. Egads, the quality!

  4. Btw, I am working on the next Dracula Unleashed post. I have barely made it much farther than the last time I posted (found a few new scenes, but no occasions where any of the objects did anything else) and still die around 10:00 PM. I'm missing something, maybe just one trigger that let's me get past the first day. If I cannot figure it out in a few days, I might need some hints. (Don't provide any yet please.)

    1. I did it! A bit more difficult than I expected, but I was able to get past where I was stuck without taking any hints. I am proud! But now I must sleep... will write it tomorrow.

  5. "We also never had a use for the tablecloth, cardboard box, or pillow."

    You did use the box to make the fake bomb.

    "I just need to “tie sheets” together"

    I'm kinda bummed that the game didn't hint at this with "shy teats".

    1. Good catch! I must have been having a momentary absence of brain cells.

  6. I love this start! Haunted and spooky hotels make for fantastic settings (see: Psycho, The Shining and the first mission of 1984’s Ghostbusters)

    And, of course, the other mainline game being played right now, DOTT. :)

    1. I never actually played it... I know, I know...

  7. Torbjörn Andersson19 January 2023 at 21:35

    " It turns out that there was a “hare raising” joke that I missed somewhere and there is no way back to get it now. Maybe I’ll play again later, but for now I’m done."

    I think I missed that too back in the day. (As a non-native English speaker, I needed lots of hints for this game!) It's when you find the dhrre byq qrna naq gur fubivat yrbcneq. I think it's pretty easy to miss, but it's this particular sentence:

    "N dhrre byq qrna urer frrzf gb or gur fhowrpg bs n ener unmvat rkcrevrapr."

  8. The safe is sealed by a “universal” lock that can be opened by any key. (The game says that this is in the spirit of Lennon’s song “Imagine”, but I don’t see it. I suspect O’Neill was making a Lenin/Lennon joke here that went over my head.)

    The lyrics of the song, things like "imagine there's no possessions" and "imagine there's no countries" translate to, imagine there's nothing holding things in, cointaining them, keeping others out. So, the line "imagine there's no locks" would fit into the spirit of the song.

    Yes, a little goofy, but I understand his connection.

  9. Then again, I know nothing about art and once spent an afternoon in a chair museum in Sweden pondering if I was secretly trapped in some sort of Sartre-style personal Hell.

    The sudden bizarre sensation of thinking I know the place you're talking about. I've never been to Sweden or to a chair museum, but I follow a woodworking blog and recall him raving about exactly such a place in a way that while his love of the subject was clear, it was easy to imagine other people being less enthused.