Missed Classic 63: Humbug (1990)

From The Adventure Gamer

Written by Joe Pranevich

Merry Christmas! Can you believe it’s been another year? This one feels like it passed quite quickly. We have an especially good Christmas treat this year: Humbug by Graham Cluley. While previous years holiday adventures have been little more than vignettes, Humbug is a full-length shareware text adventure game first published in 1990. It features the adventures of Sidney Widdershins as he explores his grandfather’s old mansion on his winter holiday. Along the way, it features a menagerie of animals, two lost Vikings, time travel, and more charm than it has any right to have. It’s also quite difficult. If you haven’t had a chance to play it, the now-free version can be downloaded from Mr. Cluley’s website. Either way, I hope you enjoy this look at a holiday classic.

I will warn you up front: this review (and this game) is quite long. As has become our Christmas tradition, we will cover the whole game in one Santa Claus-sized chunk. If you just want to get a flavor of it, I recommend reading the first couple of sections to get a sense for the layout and how the game plays, then jump down to the “walkthrough” summaries just above the final rating. That will give you a good feel for how the game plays without having to follow along through the whole thing.

Hey, what about A Christmas Adventure?

A few of you may be disappointed not to see a review of A Christmas Adventure by Bitcards. I am also. Thanks to the generosity of three donors, we raised $111 of the $200 dollars to purchase the game off of Retrogames. I chipped in the remaining $89 plus postage and the game was shipped off to Archive.org. When I had initially discussed our plan with my contact there, it appeared likely that it would be imaged in time for Christmas. Unfortunately, that did not turn out to be the case. The game is somewhere in their queue, but we don’t know quite where. I expect that it will pop out in time for us to play it next Christmas so that your donations (and mine!) will not go to waste.

Recent photo of Graham Cluley

That brings us to Graham Cluley and Humbug. In the late 80s and early 90s, Cluley was a computer science student in the UK. While attending Guildford College of Technology, he happened upon a PRIME microcomputer and began work in his spare time on the game that would eventually become Jacaranda Jim, his first text adventure. He ported it to DOS and released it as shareware in 1987. He claims some embarrassment on his website for the amateur effort, but I have not had an opportunity to play it yet. Reading a description, it appears to be a humorous science fiction story in the mold of Infocom’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Fun fact: There have been 362 upgrades to Excel in the past 27 years.
3.5 inch floppies were also available.

While he was attending graduate school in Bristol, Cluley decided to create a more professional game under his own label, Humbug Software. The result of that effort is Humbug, first widely released as one of the Shareware games included in PC Plus issue #58 (cover dated February 1991, but likely released in late 1990 given the holiday nature of the included software). PC Plus was a popular UK-based computer magazine for IBM enthusiasts. Unfortunately, I have been unable to track down a copy of that issue beyond the cover page. Registering the software (£9 then, approximately £20 / $25 in today’s money) would give you hints but, most importantly, the solution to a maze puzzle required to complete the game. By 1994, Cluley reported that at least 2,000 copies had been sold. An unknown number more may have pirated the solution and hints from other sources.

I miss web counters. (Courtesy of the Internet Archive)

By the mid-90s, Cluley was referring to himself as an “adventure game author and anti-virus expert” on his web page, but sadly for us he found the latter avocation more attractive. Although he produced two small graphical games (Blox in 1990 and Wibbling Wilf in 1991; MobyGames has the date incorrect on the former), those are outside the scope of this blog. Blox gained a bit of a cult following as a homebrew Tetris clone and has even been featured in the UK’s National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park. Cluley also produced WilfEd, a maze editor for Wibbling Wilf, which he included when users registered the game.

In his later years, Cluley made his career as an anti-virus and later general computer security expert. He was one of the main contributors to the development of Dr. Solomon’s Antivirus for Windows by S&S International, and then roles at McAfee and Sophos. At Sophos, he founded the “Naked Security” blog. He was inducted into the Infosecurity Europe Hall of Fame in 2011. In recent years, he has transitioned to work as an independent consultant, information security speaker, and podcaster. Alas, he has not yet found time to release any new games, but one can hope.

Enough about that, let’s play the game!

The Christmas adventure begins!

Exploring the House

We begin the game on the driveway of Attervist Manor as a taxi pulls away. We’re here to visit our grandfather on winter break and that’s all we know about the game so far. My first choice as a gamer is whether I walk up and ring the doorbell (like a human) or start to map the grounds (as an adventure game enthusiast). I take the role-play approach and walk up to the front door. There’s a letter in the letter box and I grab it, noticing that it’s a Christmas card from my family with a note that I will be visiting. Does Grandad even know that I am coming? No one answers the doorbell but fortunately the front door is unlocked and I let myself in.

Since this is a game that took me nearly twenty hours to win (with substantial help), we’re not going to get anywhere with a blow-by-blow summary of the game. To speed things along, my first step was to thoroughly explore the house. It is odd, to say the least!

  • The entrance hall contains a large rug and it seems like I should be able to interact with it in some way, but the parser doesn’t understand “look under” and similar verbs. 
  • Off to the west is the dining room with food left on the table from a recent meal. Was Grandad kidnapped? 
  • North of there is a kitchen. A dog growls at me from a kennel. I’m told that he looks like Lord Lucan, but I have to Google who that is. (He is a famous British aristocrat and suspected murderer that disappeared without a trace in 1974.) Since the dog is still okay, Grandad must not have been gone too long. The kitchen also has an electric kettle filled with that I grab. 
  • I walk into the pantry an am approached by… a shark! A clockwork shark from the looks of it, but it seems quite alive. My character knows it from his previous trips: it is named Kevin and Grandad built it during the war. Which war? It seems quite alive. It’s guarding a “caddy” of some kind (a container, usually for tea, according to a helpful dictionary) and I’m not to have it and whatever is inside until my hands are clean. There’s also a mouse running around. It at least appears to be a real mouse and doesn’t talk to me. 
  • Exploring the eastern side of the manor, I find a study containing a desk, a monocle, and a locked door. There’s a nail file on the desk that I pocket. 
  • South of there is Grandad’s lab. A chest inside is being guarded by a giant slug creature. If I know my adventure game slug monsters, I’ll be finding some salt pretty soon. 
  • I find Grandad sleeping– not kidnapped– in a sitting room in the far east of the house. He’s dressed like Napoleon and fast asleep in his chair. He doesn’t want to wake up, so I search him to grab a document, a hat, and an especially sharp feather stuck into that hat. Did he call it macaroni? Maybe that joke would be too American. He hasn’t been kidnapped, but what is going on? 
Also called a “Bicorn hat”. This one needs a feather.

That completes our tour of the first floor of the manor, but there are also stairs leading both up and down. This document which I lifted from my snoring grandfather gives us our first glimpse of the plot: Grandad’s neighbor, Jasper, wants the property and knows that Grandad is broke. It seems he hasn’t even been able to pay his electric bill in years. Jasper also thinks that my grandfather is crazy, which judging by the clockwork shark and the unclean dishes might possibly be the case. It also tells us not to get our hopes up about the “hidden treasures” which are rumored to be found around the manor grounds, nor the “wild women of the hills”, whomever they are. My guess is that I’m going to have to save Grandad from losing the manor to this Jasper fellow by locating and bringing back the hidden treasure. It sounds very much like a classical text adventure!

Continuing the tour, I explore the grounds next:

  • Just west of the house is a small hut containing Horace, the gardener. He has a shovel which I grab, plus a can of petrol (gasoline) that he does not permit me to take. 
  • In the far west of the property is the “Yaffle Maze” which has a sign warning me that I cannot solve it using traditional “litterbug” methods and that I am going to need to find a map hidden in the catacombs. That is helpful! I don’t bother going in yet. 
  • In the northwest corner of the property is a little clearing. A hungry baby bear is scavenging here, plus I discover some termites in a dead tree. This game does not have a shortage of animals. There is also a hole in the ground that I mark to explore later. 
  • East of the manor is a large lake containing an actual Viking longship trapped in the winter ice. I try to walk across the ice to it, but break through and nearly drown. Fortunately, the Viking rescues me and takes me aboard his ship. That seems like an interesting path to explore, but there’s no immediate way back to the manor so I restore and resolve to explore that later. 
  • North of the lake, on the east side of the house, is a wishing well. I can climb down it, but it’s dark at the bottom and I will need a light source. 
It’s so cute!

And that’s it for the grounds. Mapping is made more complicated due to areas where it seems that I can move in a certain direction, only to be told that I am blocked by a snow drift or similar obstacle. It is possible that more will be unlocked if I find a way to change the weather, wear snowshoes, or find a similar solution.

The upper floors of the house are next:

  • Stairs lead up from the entrance hall to a second floor landing. The first room I find is a bathroom. For some reason, there is lard (which I can take) in the sink. A medicine cabinet contains a plaster (band aid) which I grab as well. I can also turn on and off the taps to get water. 
  • Grandpa’s bedroom contains a mini particle accelerator (!!) as well as a trombone. I cannot take the accelerator, but I sure as heck take the trombone. Exploring further, I find that I can take the sheets off the bed, but a pile of smelly long johns represent a bigger mystery: there is something under the pile, but it is too smelly for me to get close enough to find out what. There’s also a chute in one corner of the room with an “A” label on it and a lever. Pulling it doesn’t do anything obvious. Is it for laundry? Do I need to put the long johns in there? It’s too small for me to enter. 
  • Grandpa is a practical joker so my guest bedroom on the third floor isn’t quite ready yet. Instead, there is a bucket of flour that falls on me as soon as I enter. I also discover a pair of garden gloves and a scarf in the wardrobe. You know what is missing? A bed! There’s also a cat in here when I enter. He may have been trapped in there by mistake since he begins to wander the house as soon as he’s free. I do manage to snag a coin that is attached to his color. 
  • The final floor contains an attic. Adding to the menagerie is a spider web that prevents me from going further easy and an owl that keeps me from examining a skylight. 
  • A laundry room, which contains a boiler but no washing machine, is the final room adjacent to the attic. I find a sleeping hedgehog in there, as well as an electrical socket. Perhaps that would be useful for the kettle? (The socket, not the hedgehog.) 
This game has a thing for cute animals.

Can you believe, I’m still exploring? This game is massive, or at least detailed. Even though I am only up to thirty rooms, nearly every one of them have some object or potential puzzle that I need to keep track of. I have even started a spreadsheet!

The final room in the house turns out to be a dead end (for now): the cellar. Just north of the entranceway is the stairs down to the basement. You have to pull a cord on the stairs to turn on the light, but once you do you find a somewhat strange room. There’s a torch (flashlight) on the ground, plus a robot and a chimpanzee. In the center of the room is a crate with a label that says that it contains a time machine, but I cannot open it with my bare hands. Finally, there is another chute in the floor of this room, but unlike the one in Grandad’s bedroom it does not have a letter designation. A path leads off into darkness in the east but the chimpanzee stubbornly refuses to let me by. I try turning on the torch and am immediately warned that the battery is running low. I open the battery compartment and the battery inside it disintegrates immediately; I have to restore back to get it working again, at least until I find a replacement.

And with that, I am done with my first pass of the house. If this were a normal post, this is about where I’d end it for the week. Since this is a special bonus Christmas post, I’m going to keep going… but I am very nervous about the length of this game. I have found only 90 points so far out of 2000, or 4%. This has all the makings of a very long adventure.

Never trust a well in an adventure game.

The Wishing Well

Now that I have my flashlight (torch, in British parlance), I can explore some dark places. I try first to see if it lets me get any farther in the attic, which it does not, so it’s off to explore what’s down the wishing well. I climb down the well with the light on and find a brick wall at the bottom. It doesn’t look very sturdy, so I break it and reveal a secret passage into a lit tunnel. Are these the catacombs that the sign warned me about? I suppose we’ll see soon enough.

I follow the tunnel east to find a crowbar in front of a sturdy door. There is no keyhole on this side of the door and no way to open it. On the south wall is another room; there’s a lever in the floor that closes the door to that room permanently. I have to restore again to open it back up. Interestingly, this part of the tunnel has been lit by fluorescent lights on the ceiling so I am able to turn off the torch and preserve battery power. There must be a connection to the house other than just the wall I knocked down in the well. There is a statue of Robespierre and a button in the southern room. Pushing the button causes an ultraviolet light to pop out of the wall, but it pops back in again before I can do anything with it. What could that be used for?

Hunt the Wumpus was first released in 1973.

The eastern end of the tunnel harbors a strange sight. Trapped inside a system of clear perspex tubes is an unhappy wumpus. Those are connected to a machine and a dial which displays air pressure. I check above and realize that there is the other end to these clear tubes near the wishing well. A button sits invitingly next to the dial. Based on the animal’s description, he is clearly intended to be a wumpus from the classic computer game Hunt the Wumpus, developed in 1973. I likely need to free the wumpus, but doing it incorrectly could make the situation worse.

Just to see what happens, I push the button and the air pressure starts to rise in the tube. A few turns later, the wumpus is sucked out through the ceiling. I run back to the top of the well and just manage to catch the poor wumpus being rocketed up and away from the house, far to the east. Is that what is supposed to happen? I try to block the pipe with the sheets and similar things to prevent the wumpus from soaring too far, but it doesn’t accomplish anything. Since I don’t know if rescuing him in this way dead ends me, I just restore back.

One small editorial note from the future: I didn’t realize it at the time, but the only way I could pick up the crowbar was because I was wearing the gloves that I found in the wardrobe. Picking up the crowbar without the gloves, or removing the gloves while you are still holding the bar, results in a poisonous ooze seeping into your hands and killing you in a few turns. I’ll find this out soon enough, but better to mention it now.

This is how most British people dressed back then.

The Time Machine

With the crowbar in hand, I return to the basement and pry open the crate. Inside is a wooden chair covered in wires. More interestingly, when I open it, the robot wakes up and takes all of the wooden slats from the crate and pushes them down the chute before returning to his corner. I guess he’s a cleanup robot? How do I use the machine? And where does the chute go?

My first attempt to use the machine fails with a warning that you cannot bring any objects with you into the past, for fear of breaking the space-time continuum. I try dropping my stuff in the room, but the cleaning robot comes and pushes everything into the chute. Instead, I turn the front room upstairs into my base of operations and drop everything there. I return to the chute empty-handed and try again. That fails as well because I’m still wearing the gloves and hat that I picked up. I remove those as well and finally I can use the machine. There’s no setting dial, so I just sit in the chair and see what happens.

The time machine takes me to a dark room. Of all the animals in its menagerie, this game lacks grues so I can explore the dark unmolested. I can pick my way east through a couple of dark rooms before coming across a light: it’s a miner working in the tunnel. He thinks that I am some kind of ghost and, in a panic, manages to fall and hit his head. He lays unconscious on the ground, beyond my ability to wake him. Like a good adventurer, I take his lamp and ladder instead.

I return the way I came to find, now that I can see it, that I didn’t move very far. I am in the same basement as before except with no chimpanzee, robot, or chute. The door at the top of the stairs is locked so my only path to explore is further east. I find a strange code on a nearby archway:


I try to work it out for a few minutes, but it is not an obvious cipher like rot13 and the word lengths overall do not imply that is going to be a fruitful avenue of exploration. I copy it into my spreadsheet and will hunt for clues further on.

Even further east, I pass through a grate covered in congealed blood (yuck!) and into a larger room. A statue of “J M Schleyer” leans against a stairwell with the inscription that “Volapuk speaks louder”. I have to do some googling to discover that this is a statue of Johann Martin Schleyer. He’s famous for creating an artificial language called “Volapük”. Knowing that doesn’t give me any clues for unscrambling the code so I scribble another note to myself. At the top of the stairs is another locked door and a terrapin. Seriously, what is up with all of these animals?

A terrapin is a type of turtle.

At the eastern end of the tunnel is a set of alcoves, each containing a shaped table and some objects on the table. This is clearly a puzzle of some kind, but I do not quite get it yet.

The four alcoves contain:

  • North Alcove – An oval-shaped table containing a amphora, racquet, and slate. There’s also a hole in the ceiling showing daylight. The slate has Roman numerals written on it, totaling 3963. 
  • South Alcove – A crescent-shaped table containing a claw, a swimming cap, and a bronze key. There’s also a locked door on the southern wall. 
  • East Alcove – A triangle-shaped table containing swimming goggles, a watch, a musket, and a doll. The watch stopped at 2:45. 
  • Center Alcove – A rectangle-shaped table with nothing on it. A spider hangs above the table menacingly. 

My best guess is that there is something up with the shape of the tables and the objects, but moving them around causes absolutely no response at all except one: the spider refuses to let me put the bronze key on the rectangular table. Otherwise the spider seems to just leave me alone. I have to be extra careful with the amphora (a Greek vase) because dropping it causes it to break and send out magic sand that kills me. Shooting the musket also kills me. If I unlock the southern door with the bronze key, guess what? A giant wave of water crashes in and kills me. Lots of things are deadly in this area.

Giving up on the tables for now, I lean the ladder against the wall in the northern alcove and climb up and out. I emerge in a field on the far side of the hedge with Attervist Manor off to the west. It’s summertime now, so I traveled in time… but how far? It cannot be before the mid-1800s if there’s a statue of Schleyer.

I can walk a little ways to a nearby pub, the “Frog and Ferret”. Outside is a horse-drawn cart containing a coffin. If I try to open the coffin, a gravedigger emerges from the pub and kills me, but not before I score ten points. I must be on the right track, but how do I get him to let me open it? I can go in and talk to both him and the bartender., but neither have anything fruitful to say. The gravedigger is just staring sadly into his glass. There’s also a game of darts there, but neither of them want to play with me. I have no money for a drink and eventually I leave when the gravedigger does. I follow him north the field and digs a hole. He puts the coffin in a few turns later. If I am to do something with the coffin, it will have to be earlier.

My best guess is that I will need to hide something in the coffin. Since you cannot take any objects with you when you travel in the chair, there must be some way to get required objects between time periods. Unfortunately at this point I have no idea what puzzle I am solving in the future so I do not know what items I need to stow, nor how to stow them. Even if the coffin is promising, there is no way that I have found to get back to this field in the present day. When I leave the area, the grate slams shut and there is no way back. That’s okay because it turns out that while I can travel back to the present, I cannot return to the past a second time without dying. Whatever it is that I am supposed to be doing, I need to do it in one trip.

This is one of my favorite channels. Check it out.

The Octopus’s Game

Returning to the present, I re-explore the rooms that I already visited to look for clues as to what I am supposed to do next. While doing so, I happen to find that I missed a banana in the trash can in the gardener’s hut. I take that banana to the chimpanzee in the basement and it lets me past! I can now explore the present-day version of the tunnels that I just explored in the past. Unfortunately, that works less well than it appears: the path east to the alcoves is blocked by the bloody grate and there is no obvious way to open it. There is a new chute with an “S” label next to the grate now, however. We also find a sweet (candy) in the tunnel. Instead of being able to progress east, a new passage has been opened up to the south with new exploration opportunities.

Near the entrance to the catacombs is a special room. We get asked to make sure we want to go in it before we’re allowed through, but I am brave and say “yes”. Inside is a large talking octopus who wants to play a game of “Wubble-a-Gloop” with us. In fact, he’s so excited he insists on going first!

The game is simple enough: there is a plinth with fourteen sweets on it. Each round, the octopus takes between 1-3 sweets, then I do, then he does, and onward until someone takes the final sweet. That person loses. If I win, the octopus will give me a jigsaw puzzle. If I lose, I have to give him something from my inventory. There’s also a sign with a special rule that says that if the winner says “Moccasin Beehive” after winning, they also receive a dweezil. I had to look up what a dweezil is, it is “an inanimate object on which to blame mishaps”. That doesn’t help me to visualize it, but it sounds like it could be useful somehow.

  • The game started with fourteen sweets, but the Octopus took one on the first move. (13 left) 
  • I take one myself. (12 left) 
  • The octopus takes three. (9 left) 
  • I take two. (7 left) 
  • The octopus takes two. (5 left) 
  • I take three (2 left) 
  • The octopus takes one. (1 left) 
  • I take the final one and lose the game. 

The octopus demands something I am carrying and I restore rather than hand over any of my hard-earned treasure. Unfortunately for Mr. Cluley, I recognize this game: it’s Nim! Or rather, it’s a one-heap variant of Nim, but it happens to be a version that I have seen before. And unfortunately, I also know that when the octopus has the first move, he is guaranteed to win as long as he makes no mistakes. Since this octopus is a a “Wubble-a-Gloop” expert, he makes no mistakes. The only solution is to cheat, probably using the sweet that I found in the hallway, but I find no way to do it. The octopus always catches me trying to be sneaky. Eventually, I give up and restore back to the catacombs.

Sleeping aardvarks are cute! (Image by Tambako The Jaguar)

The Catacombs

Unable to defeat the octopus, I explore deeper into the catacombs. It’s not a huge place, but it does vaguely remind me of the Great Underground Empire from the Zork games. Like the passages under a certain white house I could name, it is populated by far more people and animals than should reasonably fit under a house.

  • Just outside the games room, there is a set of squiggly runes that I cannot read as well as an electrical outlet. A long extension cord (lead) is plugged in and winds its way down the hall. 
  • Following the cord down the hall leads you past a fire alarm in the wall. 
  • The end of the cord leads to a washing machine, presumably the one that was missing from the laundry room upstairs. An aardvark with unusually big ears and wearing a zoot suit is sleeping on top of the machine. 
  • Further to the east is a closed doorway with a stool sitting nearby. You cannot pick up the stool, but I discover that the door opens when you sit on it and closes when you stand. I’ll likely need to find something heavy enough to trigger it, but none of the heavy items I have found so far do the trick. There’s also a parchment on the ground that turns out to be the solution to the Yaffle Maze. Prior to the game being released as freeware, this would only have been given out to registered players. 
  • Not far away, somewhat surprisingly, is the entrance to an underground bar. A bouncer is outside preventing me from entering as I am a minor and can only enter with adult supervision. Next to the bar is a second door with an electronic lock. A digital display reads “HEL” and there are seven buttons nearby. I’ll play with that more in a bit. The door has a message on it which reads that I need to “give the aardvark a means of communication for digital rewards”. 
  • Just east of the bar is another room which has a chute (“R” this time) and a wall of fire to the south. Walking through the fire kills me. I’m not surprised. 
  • In catacombs’ southeast is a hacker sitting near a computer. The computer is waiting patiently for a number to be typed in, but I don’t know what to type and the first thing I try causes it to explode in a shower of sparks. I restore. The hacker is wearing an anorak (waterproof jacket) and carrying a very large knife. There’s also a hammer sitting on a pedestal. 

This game keeps throwing more new puzzles at me, faster than I can solve any of the old ones. I hardly know where to start. If you are having trouble keeping track at this point, you are not alone. My spreadsheet of clues has expanded to multiple tabs, keeping track of all of the animals, lettered chutes, and locked doors that I have come across. This may be the largest “open world” text adventure that I have played since Dungeon.

Seems awfully inconvenient if you can lose the hammer…

Taking the hammer from the computer room, I break the glass in the fire alarm to set it off. I then head over to the wall of fire to see what, if anything happens. A few turns later, I hear a siren followed by the arrival of a fireman, his pelican, and a fire truck. This blows out my visualization of these tunnels completely unless it is a very small fire truck.

The fireman– his name is Dennis– looks at the wall and tells us that it’s really more of a gas company problem, but that he’ll notify the proper authority. The wall of fire must be there deliberately! To mark that he visited, he hands me a pen and a form to sign. Having no better ideas, I sign it and he leaves. I wait a long while and the fire never dissipates so if there was something that I was supposed to do to get him to take care of it, I failed. While I did get a new pen in the ordeal, I restore back because I’m nearly certain I didn’t solve that the correct way.

Look! Some color!

I next turn my attention to the combination lock on the door by the bar. The first seven buttons (labeled 0 through 6) are placed around what looks like an old LED-style number display, while the final digit (7) is off to the side. Experimenting around, each of the numbers will light up when I push it. Pushing the seventh button locks in the number onto the display next to the door.

When I arrive, the display reads “HEL”, so I experiment with what words it might be looking for. “HELP” and “HELLO” come immediately to mind, however I cannot seem to write an “O” (letter ‘o’) as it just comes out as a “0” (zero). There is no backspace so after I try each combination, I have to restore. I consult a dictionary to find other words that begin with “HEL” (like “HELICOPTER” and “HELIUM”) but none of them open the door. The hint on the door says that I will need to communicate with the aardvark, but I had hoped this would be something that I could crack on my own.

My final discovery of a puzzle I cannot solve yet in this trip is the transporter in the computer room. For absolutely no reason that I can work out, if you sit on the pedestal in the computer room and press a partly-hidden button, you are transported to an underground garbage dump. I discovered this by noticing that when I pushed the button, the hammer disappeared, but I didn’t immediately think to try sitting on it myself. There’s a fairy in the dump with a broken wand– reminiscent of the one from Adventure– and she’s very upset. Unfortunately, I cannot see any way either to fix the wand or get back to the mansion and I have to restore.

In all of this, I should mention that my torch has flickered and gone out. I’ll need to either find a battery soon or replay to get here using fewer turns in the dark.

Roses are red, emeralds are green. This is the longest Christmas game that I have ever seen.

Center of the Maze – First Treasure!

Abandoning the catacombs for a while, I head back to the surface. Using the parchment that I found in the basement, I enter the Yaffle Maze. I verify that anything I drop in the maze gets picked up immediately by Horace the gardener so there is no way to map. I restore and this time follow the exact instructions from the parchment, a sequence of twelve moves to take you to the center of the maze. Without a map, this would have been impossible.

At the center of the maze is a statue of Pericles and a very cryptic inscription:

“Squid? I’d rather be Michael Carter. Thanks to Gerry Coobes for telling me about the bugs. Hobnob my salty popcorn, Josephine. Can you dig it?”

At first, that seems like a complete waste of time. Gerry Coobes may have been a QA tester on the game. Michael Carter was credited as a “thanks to”. I have no idea who Josephine is… but the important question is “Can you dig it?”

Answer: Yes! I bring the shovel and dig around the statue to discover an emerald. Considering my score jumped 100 points, I’m guessing this is one of the mansion’s hidden treasures. One down, who knows how many more to go.

A rural British bus stop. (Photo by Patrick Pavey).

The Bus Station

Checking over my map, I missed an exit in the southern part of the catacombs, but it may be the strangest exit of all. When I keep going south past the fire alarm, I pass through a wall of mist and out into a bus station waiting room someplace. Inside is another one of the chutes that I have been seeing everywhere (this one is labeled “D”) as well as a telephone and a sad viking.

The Viking’s name is Olaf. He hints that I should ask him about his story, so I do and he tells me that he needs to call his aunt but all he can remember is her National Insurance number instead of her phone number. I’m sure that makes sense to an actual British person, but I can’t remember British phone numbers anyway. Olaf is carrying a rucksack that he insists is private so naturally I want it, unfortunately I do not have any reason for him to give it to me. I try picking up the phone but since I don’t know any numbers to call, I cannot do anything with it.

I leave the station to the south and find myself along a road. It’s no longer winter so I assume that we must have time traveled again. I can’t go down the road in any direction without having to turn back to the bus station. The only other thing here is a robotic ticket-taker, but since I have no ticket, I have nothing for him to take. I have to abandon this puzzle and come back…except I cannot seem to pass back through the bus station to the catacombs proper. I end up having to restore. Dead-ends like this make me very annoyed.

Michael, row the boat ashore…

Viking Island

I’m finally getting to the end of the unexplored places on my map, but there’s one event that I nearly forgot about: the Viking ship. Just as before, I walk across the ice and it breaks triggering the event where I am rescued by the Viking. This time, instead of restoring, I let the sequence play out.

I am taken to the galley of the Viking longship. A Viking is there and he gives me a mug of tea to warm up. His name is Sven and he knows Olaf from the bus station and that Olaf’s aunt makes the best porridge. By coincidence, there is a bag of porridge on the table which I grab although I do not know if it is hers. I also notice that he’s carrying a “filofax” which is some kind of address book. This game is killer on the vocabulary. Searching carefully, I find an undissolved sugar lump in the tea which I take before it disappears.

I explore the boat further. On the north end, there is a statue of Leonard Nimoy, our fourth or fifth statue in the game and the first modern figure. Leaving the boat in that direction gets us killed on the ice so I’ll have to find a different way back. The ice is stronger on the southern end and I have no difficulty crossing to the nearby island.

On the island is a ticket dispenser selling bus tickets, something that would have been a lot more useful a few minutes ago. I put in my coin (from the cat’s collar) but none of the buttons work and I don’t get a ticket. Maybe I need more money? There’s also a sea-lion complaining of hunger. It has a “tuck box” (a box of delicacies from home), but I think I need to trade for it.

Coming from the island, I am able to safely pick my way back across the ice and return to the mainland. Whew! I take the porridge to the Viking in the bus station, but he doesn’t want it. I guess it isn’t as good as his aunt’s.

It’s like music to my ears.

Waking Grandad

With nothing obvious left to explore, I take to solving some puzzles. The first that I manage to get some progress with is waking up grandad. If I play the trombone that I found in his bedroom, he wake up! He initially wants to play the it, but he ends up getting his polishing sock stuck in the tube and it no longer sounds right. He then starts to root around in his room, finding a lantern under one of the piles of junk and heads off to the west. I chase along behind him. I follow him to the main room then down into the cellar. He has no difficulty passing the chimpanzee and we make our way all the way to the bar. Since he’s my guardian, we have no difficulty entering together.

Grandad and I sit at a couple of tables. There is a prize raffle going on and while we didn’t buy our tokens, we both find tokens on the table. Grandad gets token #1 and I get token #5. When the prizes are announced, I win the third prize: a mystery package! I have no idea what it is and I cannot open it because the paper and tape is too complicated, but at least I won something. Grandad wins the top prize, a trip! We leave the bar and I follow him all the way to the bus station where he gets on a bus and goes who-knows-where. Isn’t he worried about losing his house? Unfortunately, I don’t have a ticket so I am unable to follow him further. Will I have to do this again later?

This game is huge. So many combinations to try…

Bits and Pieces I Missed

I seem to be stuck. I have explored this game for more than twelve hours and I’ve just gotten to the point where I have a complete-for-now map and a lot of puzzles that I don’t understand. I start it all over again and search for anything I might have missed.

  • The washer in the basement can be used to wash something. I try washing the sheets but it does not seem to help in any way. 
  • The shark in the pantry will apparently let me have the caddy provided that I look nice. He asks me to wash my hands (which I do in the upstairs sink), but then he complains of my messy hair. Is there somewhere that I can take a shower? I end up discovering that I can also wash my hair in the sink, but then he tells me that I need to comb it. Thus far, I have not found a comb. Washing my hair also removes the flour that fell in it when I went into my bedroom for the first time… I fear that may be important. 
  • I try to steam open the envelope with the kettle and that does not work. Plugging in the kettle gives you around ten turns of escaping steam, but despite my best efforts I am unable to steam open the envelope. I must be going about it the wrong way. 
  • There’s a hole into a rabbit warren near the baby bear that I completely forgot about. I climb in to discover a waist-coated rabbit (presumably the March Hare from Wonderland) as well as orange and blue flowers. The remaining tunnels are too small for me to explore further, but my guess is that I will work out (Wonderland-style) a way to shrink myself. 
  • The bear either does not want the honey or cannot get it out of the pot. 
  • We can read the runes in the basement if we wear the monocle! The runes read: “Deposit the treasures and say the magic word ‘Garemezum’ at the allotted position”. I don’t know where the position is and I only have found one obvious treasure so far. 
  • I try digging in every room with the shovel. That reveals two things I missed: a carrot hidden at the bottom of the wishing well and a new trapdoor in the eastern side of the manor grounds. The carrot can be given to the rabbit, although it doesn’t do anything obvious except increase my score. The trapdoor leads down into a cave filled with oil. There’s a roaring beast down there which prevents my exploring any further. If I had a match, could I ignite the oil to clear the room? 
  • While wearing gloves, I can pick up the sleeping hedgehog from the laundry room but I see nothing that I can do with him. 
  • And many more experiments over hours. I try eating everything! I try giving lots of objects to random animals! I put more stuff on the stool! You get the idea. 
My map so far. There is so much to explore here…

Let’s Recap!

Christmas is literally coming. With five days left, I’m only at around 25% of the possible points. There is zero chance that I will beat this game in time, especially as I have family obligations. Therefore what I am going to do is just recap the puzzles that I haven’t solved yet before taking some hints using the built-in hint system. If that doesn’t let me complete the game in time, I will have to consult a walkthrough. I’d really rather try to win on my own, but I’d also like our Christmas bonus post to arrive on Christmas! It’s not the Boxing Day bonus post! (Or the mid-February bonus post, at the current rate.)

Here’s an index of the puzzles that I haven’t solved yet:

  • Grandad has a menagerie! There are at least seventeen animals that I have seen so far and while some of them, like the chimpanzee and owl, are blocking exits, others have less obvious uses other than being cute. Sleeping aardvarks and hedgehogs! Cute baby bears! A spider in the attic! A terrapin! 
  • There are many statues (three from the 19th century and one of Leonard Nimoy) and lettered chutes that I do not know what to do with yet. 
  • There are also many locked doors scattered around the mansion. The only key that I have found so far is the bronze one from the past, but I do not see how to pass it into the future yet unless I will hide it in the coffin. If that is the solution, I need to find the location of the grave in the present and a way to sneak it in that the gravedigger doesn’t catch me. 
  • There appears to be some way past the grating to go into the present-day version of the underground that I explored in the past. I can see the same areas through the grate, but no clear way to open it. That could also be part of how I pass the key into the present day. 
  • Also in the past is the puzzle with the three shaped tables and lots of random objects. I cannot figure out what I am supposed to be doing. 
  • I never found a way past the wall of fire, although I can summon the fire department and that seems like it should be along the right path. 
  • I cannot work out what to do with our two Viking friends. The one in the bus depot seems to want to call home, but he cannot remember the phone number. The other one doesn’t seem to have anything wrong except his ship is stuck in the ice (and potentially a couple hundred years in the future?). 
  • The computer explodes no matter what number I enter. I have no clues yet how to find the correct code. Could that be to reset the transporter to point somewhere else? I also do not know what to do with the hacker to have him give me either is snow jacket or knife. 
  • I still do not know the code to the door by the bar, the one that starts with “HEL”. There’s a clue that the aardvark can help me, but exactly how is unclear since he is asleep and needs assistance to communicate. 
  • I do not know how to fix the fairy’s wand, nor do I know how to return from the rubbish tip even if I could. 
  • I do not know how to get a bus ticket. The dispenser appears to either be broken or require more than one coin. I need that to follow Grandad to his next destination. 
  • I cannot yet find a way to cheat the octopus at his game. 
  • I do not understand the mysterious room under the wishing well. It has an ultraviolet light that pops out when I press a button, but it recedes into the wall too fast for me to grab it. Also down there is the wumpus. I know how to free it, but have a sinking feeling that I’m missing something because I’m launching him far away from the estate. 
The built-in hint system is fairly robust.

Hint #1 – Fireman

With the clock ticking, I decide to take my first in-game clue to figure out how to solve the puzzle with Dennis the Fireman. Using the system is fairly simple and there are two levels of clues to choose from. My typing “hint” in each location, you are given a list of what hints are available. Most rooms seem to have at least one. Just getting the list can sometimes tell you what is important in a room, even if you don’t end up reading the hint itself. To get a hint, it forces you to write a 20-digit hexadecimal code each time. This is an effective deterrent to using hints too many times. The first hint will be pretty vague, but you will often be prompted if you want a “sledgehammer” hint which will tell you in explicit terms what to do.

Honestly, having taken the clues for the fireman I am fairly certain that I could not have solved this one on my own:

  • While the fireman is waiting for you to fill out the forms, you are supposed to hand him the cup of tea to drink. Like all good British people know, that means that he will remove his hat. 
  • Once his hat is off, you can hit him (with the crowbar, your hands, etc.) and knock him out. Mugging a fireman is cool! (Apparently) 
  • We can then steal his fireman’s uniform and hat. 
  • Finally, we have to tie him up with the sheets so he doesn’t come after us later. 

I would never have thought to mug a fireman in a game like this, especially as I cannot imagine our character ever doing that or even being able to successfully do that. Giving him tea and tying him up with sheets are similarly obscure and beyond what I was likely to get on my own.

I run those all of those steps and the pelican he was carrying (does another cute animal surprise anyone?) flies off to the west. I try to chase after it, but it is gone immediately. I hope not to notify his pelican friends of my crimes. Once I have the uniform and hat on, I walk safely through the flames. They, and everything else I was carrying, burn away. I end up restoring to do it again with an empty inventory.

On the other side is a wheel that I can turn to deactivate the fire and the “Z” chute. No treasure or anything else spectacular, but at least I can access another room now.

So many numbers, so little time.

Hint #2 – Aardvark & Code Door

After successfully mugging the fireman, I got the brilliant idea that I could give the fireman’s pen to the aardvark to give him a method of communication. Unfortunately, that didn’t work and I ended up needing to take another hint. I was so close: You have to give him the feather from Grandad’s hat. With that, he sticks it in his ear (eww) and writes on the wall with his earwax. I think using a pen would have been easier.

The aardvark wants me to supply him some food before he will help me, but it doesn’t take me long to determine that he wants the termites. Once he is fed, he provides the code for the door, “HEL9713”. I was going in completely the wrong direction expecting it to spell out a word.

I use the code to unlock what turns out to be a storage room containing the “E” chute. There’s also a disused food dispenser but the only thing I can get out of it is a desiccated turkey leg. Also eww. I try handing that to all of the hungry animals and vikings that I know, but none of them want it. This still doesn’t unlock anything significant and I’ll have to take another hint.

My exact facial expression.

Less Successful Hints

After two useful hints that advanced puzzles that I was ready to do, I strike out on the next hints as they include items that I do not have yet:

  • Hint #3 is for the fairy at the rubbish tip. I work out on my own that I can fix her wand using the bandage (plaster) that we found in the bathroom, but not what else we could do there. I learn that you can also get a diamond from the fairy by kissing her– something I would never have tried in a million years. I also learn that I’d need to give her a golden tooth to get back to the manor. Since I haven’t found a golden tooth yet, there’s no way for me to progress along that line. 
  • Hint #4 is for Olaf in the bus station. I learn that I can cure his hiccups by breaking a balloon near him. I didn’t realize he had hiccups, but even if I had I have no idea where to find a balloon. 
  • Hint #5 is for how to get onto the bus. It says that even if I get a bus pas, I have to dress up like a senior citizen to get on, including white hair. Suddenly, the white flour that fell into my hair in the beginning of the game seems so much more useful, but I had washed my hair to please the clockwork shark. 
  • Hint #6 is up in the attic. I learn that I need to give a dead mouse to the owl to let me access the skylight. Once again, I have no dead mouse, but I do know of a cat and a live one… but I have no way to force the cat to go there and for all I know they are good friends and play checkers on the weekends. 
Game map included with the walkthrough. It seems so much more organized than mine.

Giving Up: Following the Walkthrough

As you can see, this process of taking hints is getting me nowhere. I have now played the game for more than sixteen hours, so I hope no one thinks I am giving up easily! I feel confident that I could eventually stitch together hints and my own playing to solve the game, but likely not in less than 40 total hours. In specific, realizing that the white hair (from the falling flour) is critical to following Grandad on the bus means that I likely have to start over again. A final solution may require me to carefully map out a set of events that ensure that I have washed hair at the right times for the shark and white hair at the right times for the bus. I’m not sure I know enough yet to map that out. Even though I cannot consider this a “win”, I still want to give the remaining puzzles a fair shake.

My first observation about the walkthrough is that there are a lot of events that provide points that are non-obvious, or at least aren’t necessary. Things like hitting the chimp (which I would never do), stroking the cat (which I did), and making a wish at the wishing well all give you points but are not necessary for solving the game.

A 19th century British pub.

Walkthrough: Time Travel

The walkthrough proceeds through some basic items first, but hits the time travel puzzle very quickly. It explains that the code on the archway is an anagram for “NOT ENOUGH MEMORY AGAIN”, found by placing the words on top of each other vertically and reading from top-to-bottom and right-to-left. I expect this is more a view into Mr. Cluley’s psyche when writing this portion of the game than the solution for a puzzle. Judging by its placement, I guess he may have wanted to add more of the catacomb rooms into the past sequence but was unable to do so due to memory constraints.

The three shaped tables are not at all what I expected. Rather than some puzzle where I had to put the correct items on the correct table, it is actually one of two ways to return items to the present. Later in the game, I will find a way to access these rooms in the modern day by picking the lock in Grandad’s office using the nail file. (I had been looking for an actual key.) Once downstairs, I would discover that the four tables are replaced by four locked trophy cases. By solving a different puzzle (more on that in a second), I would be able to open only the rectangular case. Therefore, by putting objects on the rectangular table, they will be brought into the future in the rectangular case. Because the spider refused to let you put the bronze key on that table, you could not use this method to get the bronze key back to the present.

What is unfair about this puzzle is that in the present, you have to use the Roman numerals that you discover on the slate in the past to open the display case. Exactly why the combination will be the number on the slate is unclear, but in any event you have a bit of a paradox where you have to have already been to the past to find the slate to know the code to know that only one of the four tables is useful. It’s one of those puzzles that can only be solved “outside” the game and I never enjoy those as much.

The walkthrough specifically has you bring five objects to the rectangular table to use in the future: the amphora, watch, goggles, claw, and swimming cap. I expect figuring that out ourselves would have been quite difficult.

Bringing the bronze key to the present is a bit more involved. You can take some of the other items from the table– the walkthrough suggests the China doll and musket– and trade them to the barman for beer. You can then give those beers to the gravedigger and cause him to fall asleep. Once he is asleep, we can sneak the key into the coffin before waking him up again. He’ll walk to the field and bury the coffin just as before.

All in all, the bit with the barman was very solvable. I should have realized that we could have bartered with some of the objects, although with my luck I would have picked something that we would need to use in the future.

Not quite as cute as the other animals.

Walkthrough: Defeating the Octopus

The key item for solving the octopus’s game is the amphora that we just brought back from the past. The item, as I mentioned earlier, is extremely breakable. If you drop it, a magical sandstorm kicks up and kills you. However, if you are wearing the swimming goggles, the magical sand is unable to get into your eyes and therefore you don’t die. That makes perfect sense, right?

Knowing that, I can drop the amphora in the octopus’s room. The stinging fog doesn’t kill him, thankfully, but it does blind him for a few turns. That gives us a chance to deposit the one extra sweet that we found on the plinth. Once the fog clears and the game resumes, we can take one to get us in a state where we are guaranteed to win if we do not make a mistake. From there, we just take 4-N, where “N” is the number that the octopus takes, each time and we’re guaranteed to win! That scores us his jigsaw puzzle and (with the extra phrase from the sign) also a dweezil. Tellingly, the walkthough has you drop the dweezil immediately because it is never useful.

Cute but deadly?

Walkthrough: Helping Olaf

Helping Olaf is one of the most intricate fetch-quest puzzles of the game and it touches on a number of other events at the same time. The first key is that I completely missed a room in the house, the Butler’s Room off the kitchen. I have no idea how I did this except that I misread the description and thought that the door it described led into the pantry to the west rather than the Butler’s room to the east.

In that room was a cask of wine containing a casket and a fish. Of course, the fish turns out to be a piranha and anything we do to get the casket out kills us. However if we give the fish the turkey leg (found, as we did before, by solving the aardvark’s door code), it will eat it and die leaving us with just a bone and a dead fish, both of which we need to pocket. The casket turns out to be a pepper dispenser, but why that was in the bottom of a cask of red wine is left as an exercise to the reader.

From there, we have to deliver the dead fish to the sea-lion on the Viking’s island. Even that is less easy than it appears because we have to be wearing the swimming cap when we go there otherwise the flour in our hair will wash out and we won’t be able to a different puzzle later. I’m sure that detail was very aggravating to players 25 years ago since nothing else that I noticed is ruined by falling into the water. While we’re passing through, we also should give the jigsaw puzzle to Sven on the Viking longboat and he’ll give us his filofax.

Once we give the fish to the sea-lion, he trades it for a “tuck box” which contains a tuna sandwich. I guess the sea-lion only likes fresh fish? The tuna sandwich will cause the cat to follow me around the house. If we go into the room with the dog, it will bark, so we calm him in advance by giving him the turkey bone. I hope it doesn’t kill him too. With that out of the way, we can lure the cat into the same room as the mouse and he’ll kill it. (Eww.)

Now, we can take the dead mouse up to the owl who will let us open the skylight. Except, the skylight is frozen shut. We have to take the kettle to the laundry room in the attic, boil it, then bring the steaming kettle into the owl’s room. The steam will rise to the ceiling and melt the ice on the skylight. Only then, can we open it and explore the roof. Guess what’s up there? A red balloon! Are you still following? I told you this was a crazy set of actions…

Now that we have the balloon, we can pop it in front of Olaf at the bus station to cure his hiccups. Once his hiccups are cured, he can tell us his aunt’s National Insurance number. Why is that useful? Well… for that, we have to go back to our friend the hacker. It seems that he’s the 80s sort of hacker that finds open BBS systems. We have to first type in any number in the computer, destroying it. He’ll need a new one, but if we give him the package that we won in the raffle, that will do nicely. Now we have to call the National Insurance number that we found in Sven’s filofax using the computer. That will connect to the National Insurance database and we can look up Olaf’s aunt’s phone number by putting in her insurance number. Once we have her phone number, we can give it to Olaf and he can call her and get picked up. In return, he gives us his rucksack!

Olaf’s rucksack is filled with strange white powder. Worse, we cannot leave the bus station to return to the manor while carrying it, although it’s unclear why. Fortunately the walkthrough helps with this because I would have missed this too: you put the powder into the nearby “D” clute and pull the lever. That lets us leave and we’ll be discovering very soon exactly where those chutes go!

Chickens cannot lay batteries.

Walkthrough: Following Grandad

For the most part, I had the story beats correct with Grandad: you wake him up, follow him to the bar, win the prizes, and then he drives off to some senior retreat without you. Unfortunately, I was missing the critical details that would actually make this trip worthwhile.

The first thing I need is salt. Now, I’m not sure if British people put salt in their tea water, but for some reason if you boil the kettle twice all the water will boil out leaving salt at the bottom which we can pick up. I boiled it once already to open the skylight; I doubt I would have tried it twice. You can then use the salt to kill the slug (as I expected) and we can access the chest. It contains a zircon (one of the treasures!) and wire cutters.

The wire cutters can be used to cut our way through the fence and into the back garden. There’s also a locked door that goes there and that is what I had been focusing on, but cutting open the fence works just as well. That leads into a hen house with a goose. Scaring the goose is how you get the second battery for the flashlight (torch), although how you know to do this is anyone’s guess. Also, why is it sitting on a battery? Beyond the hen house is the back yard which contains a clothes line as well as a very special mechanical bathtub. We’ll get back to the bathtub in a bit.

If you take a clothes pin off the line, you can use it to block up your nose. That allows us to move Grandad’s dirty laundry in his room to find his missing bus pass. Since the pass includes a picture of him with white hair, that is the reason we have been having the four in our hair the whole game! After that, we also need to get a ticket from the dispensing machine on the island. I had the right idea before, buying it with the coin, but the only option that works is the “senior discount” one and then only if you hit the machine afterwards. Once again, I’m not sure I would have figured out hitting the machine.

With the ticket, pass, and white hair THEN we can go and do the bus event. The robot accepts our ticket and we ride the bus… except instead of ending up where Grandad went, we somehow fall asleep on the bus and end up on the far side of the manor near where we were when we were back in the past. There’s a tombstone there.

Now, I hope we were smart enough to bring our shovel, because we have to dig up the coffin. And I hope we brought our skeletal claw, because the zombie that lives in the coffin won’t let us past until he’s satisfied too. And I hope we brought our sugar, because there’s a horse sitting nearby and once we have the bronze key, we need to tame it with the sugar so we can ride it over the hedge and back to the manor proper.

Somehow, the wumpus is a lot cuter in text.

Walkthrough: (Not) Hunting the Wumpus

Finally, we can rescue the wumpus! Before we begin, we need to settle the score with the clockwork shark now that we no longer need to have the flour in our hair. We had previously worked out how to wash our hands and hair but had not found a comb. Or had we? It turns out that we could have used the sleeping hedgehog as a comb! With that, plus the magic word “please”, the shark gives us the tea caddy and we are able to extract our reward: a single piece of toffee.

Once we have that, we can go free the wumpus exactly as before. It goes soaring off into the neighbor’s property. This neighbor turns out to be Jasper, the antagonist dentist that is trying to take over Attervist Manor from Grandad. You can be forgiven if you forgot the plot of the game by now! If we wait around, eventually we’ll hear a hunting horn as Jasper has discovered the wumpus and has begun hunting him.

If we go to the eastern edge of the property, we can catch the wumpus jumping back over the hedge. We then have to feed it the spiked mousse that had put Grandad to sleep, which will cause it to fall asleep as well. Once asleep, we can pick him up and hide him in the oil cave beneath the trapdoor that we found earlier. Having just done this sequence with a walkthrough, I admit that I am not sure exactly why you have to do that instead of hiding him in the house or anywhere else. A few turns later, Jasper comes barreling over the hedge in search of the wumpus. He tells us that it had crashed through the glass in his greenhouse and now he’s out for revenge.

Before Jasper gives up his search, I need to give him the toffee from the caddy. Despite being an evil dentist, he has very bad teeth. Giving him the sticky toffee causes him to lose one of his gold teeth which he drops on the ground. While I’m waiting for all this to happen, he does his usual monologuing about how he knows that Grandad is secretly poor and how he’s going to steal the estate from him. Eventually, he goes dropping an undeveloped polaroid picture behind him.

Once he is gone, I can go back into the trapdoor and I realize that the wumpus is now miserable and covered in oil. He doesn’t protest when I pick him up. Unfortunately, this kind of washing is too much for us to do in the sink: he’s going to have to go in the washing machine. I would not have thought to do this, in large part because I would not want to drown the wumpus. This also involves a further leap of intuition as the white powder that we were given by Olaf earlier is washing powder. (Why was he carrying a rucksack full of washing powder?) We had flushed it all down a chute, but those chutes lead to the rubbish tip where our friend the fairy lives. By heading back there and trading the gold tooth for a magical ride home, we can recover the powder. While we are at it, we kiss the fairy to get a diamond. I’m also not sure how well it was hinted for us to do that.

We wash the wumpus in the washing machine with the washing power and it emerges happy and refreshed. In exchange, he gives us a sapphire. That’s two more treasures.

He’s late?

Walkthrough: The Treasure Map

We’re almost there! At this point, we have all of the treasures except two:

  • Amethyst – We can find this one in a secret room that opened up when we sat on the stool. The heavy enough object that I failed to guess at before is the bag of porridge. Several items seemed to be heavier, but apparently not. 
  • Ruby – We can get that back in the rabbit warren. We had already given the rabbit a carrot for him to allow us to get by, but now we have to eat one of the orange flowers which will make us small enough to fit through the tunnel. I was personally expecting a cake of some sort, given the Wonderland connection. There is a hint to this if you ask the bunny about the flowers, but I did not think to do that. With that, we can discover the ruby in the bunny bathroom just off to the north, as well as many bunny droppings (eww). 

Before leaving the rabbit area, we can also feed the baby bear by pouring the honey into the trombone and giving it to him. The bear somehow manages to get the missing sock out of the trombone in his effort to get the honey. Given that the bear was unable to navigate getting the honey out of the pot before, I’m a bit surprised that it’s going to be able to get it out of a trombone now.

With all of the gems in hand, I may have noticed that the number of gems and the number of chutes perfectly align. Moreover, each cute’s letter corresponds to the first letter of the name of the gem. We need to put each gem down the correctly labeled chute; we’ll know we’re doing the right thing because it makes a “tinkle” sound which it did not when we were flushing other objects (like the washing powder) down.

Once all the gems are down the chutes, we can go to the main chute area (the one without any letters) and say the magic word we found in the runes and a treasure map appears! Except that is also the room with the cleaning robot and he quickly makes it disappear. The trick is that the cleaning robot can only clean one item out of the room at a time. If we hold the hedgehog using our gloves, then drop the gloves, it actually drops both items at once. The robot then gets slightly behind and we’re able to nab the treasure map as soon as it appears.

Jasper reappears and he’s kidnapped Grandad to force him to turn over the manor!

Just like this except with a rocket engine.

Walkthrough: The Endgame

Jasper has now taken Grandad to the prison cell beneath the house, the room where the strange ultraviolet light and statue was that we discovered earlier in the game. Our job is to figure out how to break him out. As you can probably expect from this game, that is a complicated affair.

The first thing we need to do is to go back to the area with the three display cases, where we had been in the past. There was a mattress hidden in one of the rooms and I need to drag it to the northern alcove, where the hole in the ceiling had been in the past. I can also unlock the door in the southern alcove with the bronze key, but this time there is no rushing water that kills me and it opens the door into the area under the wishing well where Grandad is being kept.

Now I head back up to the rather special bathtub behind the henhouse. It’s not clear, but the bathtub has been “upgraded” by Horace and now takes gasoline. It has a long chain attached to it. If I did in the backyard, I can find the hole that corresponds to the hole in the alcove in the past. I then take the end of the chain, jump down the hole onto the mattress, and drag the chain through the tunnels to the prison cell. I fasten the chain to the cell bars.

Now the final step is to get Horace the gardener to give us the petrol. This involves waiting in his room until he pulls out his snuffbox and snorts some. I had been in his room for a long time before and I had never noticed that he did this, but I wait a while and he does. I then have to throw the paper airplane– one of the items we were carrying at the very beginning of the game– which distracts Horace enough that he doesn’t notice when I grab his snuff box and add pepper to it. (We found the pepper in the bottom of the red wine barrel after killing the piranha, remember?) The next time he sniffs his snuff, he’ll start sneezing and be distracted enough that I can grab the petrol without him being able to react.

Now, we just have to fill the bathtub’s tank with the petrol and press the ignition button. The bathtub blasts off, pulling the bars off of the cell. There is one final detail to winning: we have to be carrying the polaroid when we do it. In the final scene, the ultraviolet light in the prison cell will cause it to finally develop revealing an aged picture of Jasper without hair. He is so embarrassed that we know his secret and he will never bother us again. The end.

Time played: 19 hr 50 min

The world’s first jailbreak by rocket-powered bathtub.

This may be the silliest reason for a villain giving up ever. I like it.

In my case, probably a bit of both.

Final Rating

So… wow. If you read along with me so far, congratulations! This one was a marathon. If you have skimmed ahead because you just want to know the final rating, that’s fine too. Since this is a holiday post, we will be replacing our usual rating system with a suspiciously-similar variant: EGGNOG! Since every post may be someone’s first, especially these holiday posts, I want to remind you that our scoring system is based on an idealized graphical adventure. A “low” score doesn’t mean that it is not a good game, or even a recommended game. Text adventures in particular have a penalty in a rating system that gives up to 17 points to graphics quality alone.

Before I begin, let me say that this is one of the most ambitious adventures that I have played including most of the commercial ones. Of course, I’m only up to 1985 in the Infocom marathon, but I cannot quite see them trying to jam so many puzzles-per-square-inch as this game does. I hope Mr. Cluley would not be offended by this, but the game that I am most reminded of is mainframe Zork, otherwise known as Dungeon. While this game has more complicated character interactions than were possible in the pre-Infocom days, it suffers from some of the same challenges of being an “open world” adventure with too many areas to explore and too many objects to manipulate. This makes the beginning of the game much more difficult than the author intended as the number of possible combinations is just too large to really get a grip on. As you start to solve some of the problems, the search space becomes smaller and the game becomes easier. Humbug offsets this by having some of the later puzzles be incredibly complicated, but I reached the end (with help) feeling a sense of relief that I had just run a marathon rather than a sense of accomplishment that I had solved a difficult game. I expect that Mr. Cluley could have easily made two or three games out of the wonderful ideas that he put in this one, and those games would have each been better balanced overall than the final result.

My final map. Red rooms are found only with the walkthrough.

Onward to the rating:

Enigmas and Solution-Findability – This game has some fantastic puzzles and interactions. I am particularly enamored with the octopus’s game, but all of the puzzles are clever and work well in the universe that Cluley built. Unfortunately, I’m just not convinced that the game is solvable without hints given some of the crazy sets of interactions. Even with hints, I think it would have taken me between 40-50 hours to work it all out myself one hint at a time. I eventually resorted to the walkthrough and there are some moments later in the game that I doubt I could have worked out on my own. My score: 2.

Game UI and Items – The text parser itself isn’t quite as good as Infocom’s, although there were some interesting mechanics for long objects (like the chain and extension cord) to span multiple rooms. In particular, I was repeatedly annoyed by the lack of certain prepositions. You cannot look under anything, for example, and there were a few times where I had to experiment to find the right verb. The text adventure format, mixed with Mr. Cluley’s desire to stretch my vocabulary with obscure object words, meant that I needed to look things up in the dictionary several times to understand what I was supposed to be visualizing. There was a good use of color in the keypad puzzle, plus the hint interface was quite well done. My score: 4.

Yes, I had to look up “amphora”.

Gameworld and Story – The setting of this story is well done with a consistent tone that bordered on silly, but in the same “serious” way that Alice in Wonderland did. It’s fitting that Mr. Cluley adapted the character of the March Hare for his game, although I was confused by the colored flowers. The catacombs under the manor echo the Great Underground Empire a bit, but the references to Zork, Adventure, and Hunt the Wumpus were done lovingly. In terms of story, I admit that the plot with Jasper was muddled a bit, largely because you spend so much of the game not thinking about it. I also was confused thinking that the gems were the treasure, not just a means to find a treasure map. The gems themselves would have been quite enough to pay down Grandad’s debts even without finishing the game. My score: 6.

Noises and Pretty Pixels – The minimal use of ASCII art doesn’t quite justify a point here as it was not used consistently enough. My score: 0.

Overworld and Environs – In our slightly less polite rating system, we refer to this category as “Atmosphere” and that is probably a better term for how I feel having completed this game. There is so much wit and whimsy here, but I especially loved the dozens of animal characters and our two lost Viking friends. Everything fit together to keep me smiling, even as I was frustrated by the difficulty. Even the rocket-powered bathtub at the conclusion exactly nailed the tone. My score: 7.

Gregariousness and Thespianism – Cluley wrote some wonderful game text with tons of humorous asides from the narrator, many of which turned out to be clues later. Considering how large the game is, it is doubly impressive that he managed to fill up so much space and keep it interesting. I might have wished for deeper interactions with the NPCs and to have had some actual character development along the way, but that’s not really the game he set out to make. My score: 4.

Adding it up: (2+4+6+0+7+4)/.6 = 38 points! I will not use any of my discretion points so that will be our final score.

This is an amazing score for a holiday game, and up there with most of the Infocom adventures that we have played. Mr. Cluley sought to create a “professional” quality game and he did so, although I still think he made it a bit too large and too difficult. He could have added a bit to the game by taking some away. If you are looking for a fun game to while away a few hours in Christmas day, I would not recommend this game. But if you want an adventure that will keep you busy throughout your entire Winter Break and then potentially into Spring, then this might be a good choice.

If after all of this you are still longing for some Christmas joy, please check out our previous holiday specials:

  1. Merry Christmas from Melbourne House (1984) 
  2. A Spell of Christmas Ice (1984) 
  3. Crisis at Christmas (1986) 
  4. Elves ‘87 (aka Elf’s Christmas Adventure) (1987) 

With that, I am off to work on Spellbreaker and Fooblitzky. Happy holidays, everyone!

Original URL: https://advgamer.blogspot.com/2018/12/missed-classic-63-humbug-1990.html