Philosopher’s Quest: How to persist on difficult problems   15 comments


One of my issues from my last post was an albatross that stays tied to one’s neck. Apparently what’s needed to divest it is a story:

> e
Wheeeeeeeee…. Ooof!

As you slide, one of your possessions tumbles away from you. You can hear it falling into the distance.

As you drop into the room, you catch sight of a burly workman carrying three “Caution” signs over his shoulder. “I say,” you begin, “I’ve got this frightfully interesting story about an albatross. You simply must hear it!” So saying, you pour forth your tale. The workman is fascinated and thoughtfully suggests you switch your lamp off while you continue. This you do, and the two of you sit in the darkness for a while. After a while you come to the end of your story. The workman, visibly moved, shakes you by the hand as you relight your lamp, and then moves off carrying his warning signs. The load around your neck feels much lighter.

I admittedly only was down there because I thought the item-falling-away effect from sliding just might apply to the albatross, but I’ll take random luck as a win here.

I’m still persisting, though, and I’ve been thinking hard about persistence when there is no apparent progress. This is an issue that applies to my professional life as well as my hobbyist life.

The main trick, I think, is to make explicit: even when nothing is resolved, eliminating possibilities is still progress.

By that I mean while attempts X, Y, and Z may have failed, in the process we have learned that X, Y, and Z don’t work to solve a particular puzzle. Normally this doesn’t provide any user feedback, unless the user makes that feedback visible.

The Tower of Babel puzzle is on the high end of frustration. Here is my record of trying to solve it.


> n
You’re at the tower of Babel – a most imposing construction that seems to stretch up to the very heavens. Hundreds of people are milling around looking very friendly but confused. The atmosphere is most bewildering; it becomes difficult to understand yourself think after a while. A road leads north and south from here.

> climb tower
Before you can do anything the atmosphere of confusion seems to take control of your senses. You find you can no longer understand the language you are speaking.
You’re at the tower of Babel.

At this point the “>” parser disappears and nothing seems to help.

A man in a white coat shows professional curiosity as you make your utterance.
You’re at the tower of Babel.
A nearby trade-unionist, straight from the shop floor, bellows ‘Kadima hapoel!’ in your ear.
You’re at the tower of Babel.
A young woman is amused by your remark. ‘Rotse lishtot mashehu?’ she asks, pointing towards a hot drinks machine.
You’re at the tower of Babel.
Some children burst into laughter and start copying your accent.
You’re at the tower of Babel.
On hearing your words a passer-by offers you some wurst and asks, ‘Ooluy ata raev?’
You’re at the tower of Babel.
You attract the attention of a passing group of troubadours. ‘Shir itanu!’ one exclaims at which they all start singing (in an assorted collection of keys, of course.)

The only other hint seems to be in a different room.

> d
You are in a smooth corridor hacked out of the living granite (whatever that means… I mean, whoever heard of living granite anyway? Oh, sorry…). There is a hole up, and round passages lead east and west. There are some words hacked out of the living (ahem), which read “WORDS IN TOWERS HAVE OTHER POWERS”.

There’s a few angles to work this problem.

I. Say the right magic word(s)

Other problems in this game have been solved by a single word like THINK or STEINBECK, so perhaps that’s the trick.






pray (verb not even recognized)

any of the riddle answers

all of the riddle answers in the order encountered

II. Prepare immunity to confusion beforehand

bring gas mask

temporary deafness or blindness somehow?

III. Prepare a “time bomb” to startle out of confusion

Bringing the exploding case to the Tower
The case will eventually explode and kill the player, but it doesn’t help with escaping the Tower.

Lighting a match, having it burn out while at the Tower.
It hurts the player’s finger in another scene but here the match just burns to ash.

bring the shaggy dog

IV. Decipher the statements being made

It’s faintly possible the phrases the characters are saying are not gibberish, but coded language, and deciphering that language will allow escape.

Kadima hapoel! -> trade-unionist
Rotse lishtot mashehu? -> pointing to hot drinks machine
Ooluy ata raev? -> offered wurst
Shir itanu! -> right before singing

Checking every possible rot1-25 rotation

Attempting to say any of the words

Attempting to say any of the words backwards

Supposing a 1-1 cryptogram

. . .

Having the lists not only provides the feeling of momentum, but also prevents an issue I’ve had before: getting stuck on a puzzle because I thought I tried a particular action, but I hadn’t (or at least not in a certain exact way).

Additionally it’s possible the setup requires an item I haven’t seen yet — so it isn’t good for me to linger absolutely — but it means that if I leave and come back I have a better memory of what already has been attempted.


Posted March 4, 2016 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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15 responses to “Philosopher’s Quest: How to persist on difficult problems

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  1. A HOLLOW VOICE SAYS: “If you hang about for some time, you will see people pass by, saying sentences
    which all start with a noun. Try those nouns, though, and you won’t get any further. the actions the passers-by perform when they talk to you suggest, in circumspect ways, which words should be used.
    This, combined with them all being objects from the starting room, is su
    pposed to enable you to figure it out.

    • I hadn’t actually asked for a hint yet, but I’ll go ahead and take it.

      This was enough for me to figure it out.

      Now I just need to figure out the best placement of two ticking cases (I’m guessing the plank in two spots at once?).

  2. In other words, you are going to have to say object names in place of commands. (the commands are confused because you are at the tower of babel) What kinds of objects names at what point? There is a specific order, and these are items you saw in the starting room. The people refer to these objects or are doing something associated with these objects. One example is what you are offered by that passer by. :)

  3. Another example is the kind of product used to produce a type of HOT DRINK you are pointed to….

  4. Had you encountered the burly man earlier? There seems to be an allusion to “There is an ancient mariner and he stoppeth one of three,” but if the workman wasn’t in the maze before, that seems difficult to implement.

    Also, I’d run across Wyatt’s hint, but for the life of me I can’t find any connection between it and the excerpts from the game you’ve reproduced.

    • Yes, you do see the workmen before.

      That’s … not only an external reference but insanely hard.

      • That seems to be something of a theme here.

        (Looking at the walkthrough it seems as though the albatross may be encountered in a Coal Ridge, which is a hint as to the external reference–though the problem seems like it wouldn’t be so much figuring out what work the albatross came from as figuring out that the key line was “stoppeth one of three,” and that it referred to that particular workman.)

  5. It sounds like this information is no longer necessary, but for the record, the things the people are saying are transliterated hebrew. I’m not very conversant but here are my takes:

    Kadima hapoel = “forward/advance the worker!”
    Rotse lishtot mashehu? -> “want to drink something?”
    Ooluy ata raev? -> “[not sure] you hungry?”
    Shir itanu! -> “sing with us!”

    It doesn’t *seem* very helpful, but maybe there’s something I’m missing.

    • From checking the walkthrough, it looks to me like those aren’t relevant–they’re somewhat suited to the action, but it’s the description of the action that tells you what object you need to refer to. Among the objects in the starting location: the troubadours sing in different “keys,” the young woman points you to a hot drinks machine = “teabag,” the passerby offers you some wurst = “sausage,” and, uh, the trade-unionist is straight from the shop “floor” and you put cushions on the floor? I guess? In this version the sentences don’t appear to start with a noun, and I’m not sure how much help it would’ve been even if they had, and how you were supposed to figure out that the things you had to say were the names of objects in the starting location is beyond me.

      I will say this, the original hint does seem to suggest that you’ll be using words that otherwise appear in the game to do different things. So I could see someone plausibly solving it by brute forcing every word they’d used in the game… and if they used the object names they might try the ones from the starting location first, which would be a mercy. Still, though, I have to agree with Peter here.

    • I was still wondering if those had meaning, they certainly didn’t seem random. Thanks!

  6. It’s good that you’re playing this game, because this way I won’t have to. That albatross puzzle is definitely not something I’d enjoy figuring out, because from your description you *can’t* figure it out; you have to stumble upon it. Not my idea of fun.

    Although, like you, if it happened to me by accident, I’d gladly take it and move on. Though I’d probably be a lot more paranoid about the remaining game.

    • As Matt points out above the line from the poem about “There is an ancient mariner and he stoppeth one of three” is supposed to be a hint.

      That’s still not all that fair, no. (Although I should note trying to let loose the albatross by going down the slides is a pretty natural thing to attempt.)

  7. “I’m still persisting, though, and I’ve been thinking hard about persistence when there is no apparent progress. This is an issue that applies to my professional life as well as my hobbyist life.”

    Nice… So Philospher’s Quest has provoked you to come up with some philosophical answers in your professional life. Funny hold old, abandoned software can do that.

  8. Pingback: Philosopher’s Quest: Finished! | Renga in Blue

  9. Pingback: Mystery Fun House: Stuck | Renga in Blue

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