Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Worlds Hardest Gamebook Puzzle (Possibly)

PROTEUS 12 - The Weaver of Nightmares. This puzzle has left me baffled since 1987 and I only discovered the answer today - and that was from a long Google search for it following several abortive searches in the past.

(That's not the titular Weaver BTW, that's actually a wise woman called Frowellyn who helps you out. In exchange for gold. The actual Weaver looks like a gay social worker who ran the youth club for problem children and tried to turn them against "Fatchah".)

Anyway, the Weaver is effectively a CE aligned high-level Illusionist who is holding a large number of the men of Glengantha hostage in his dungeon-funhouse-house. For reasons nonsensical that only really make sure if treated with a large dose of Balthus Dire's Curtains the Weaver's henchman Dreadthread (Yeah, mon!) has hidden seven metal tokens around Chez Weaver that you will need to in order to tell the Weaver exactly how many of the men of Glengantha he has hostage. If you can't tell him he will kill you. If you can tell him he will errr... attempt to kill you.

(Does any of this make sense to you? If so you may have accidentally banged your head on the headboard when getting out of bed this morning and could still be concussed. Seek medical aid.)

I'd tell you where to download all this nonsense yourself for a more in-depth look but last time I did that the PROTEUS people came out of retirement to go all DCMA and similar batshit on me. If only there was some of form of well-respected Internet site that automatically catalogued web pages and offered some form of textual searching on those catalogues. Why by now, it would have a number of pages that surely must number in the googolplexes!

Right then, each token has a few letters on it. The tokens are

And one of ZEOBEB, ZEO or ZEOPSAJ. Why the ambiguity? Because of this paragraph.

With those seven and a somewhat obscure clue from The Weaver (...“and I will even give you a clue –  I am also known here as SAW-RAN. How many prisoners?” ) you need to determine the number and since it's a case of "turn to that numbered paragraph" and the gamebook is 225 paragraphs long you can quickly determine that it's between 2 and 224 since 1 is the first paragraph and 225 is GOAL IN A WINRAR IS YOU!!1

Right then, that's either so blindingly obvious that you've twigged it already or you'll be stuck for a quarter-century.

And furthermore, I'll actually give you the answer since it's easy to brute force a 225 paragraph long gamebook (hey, it was good enough for Inside UFO 54-50).

It's 57.

Which probably makes life even harder as the BritOldSchool Examiners Board really wants to see the workings.

Get on with it, leave your thoughts in the comments remembering that the target audience for this magazine was probably about 10-14 years old.

(You could Google and find what I believe is the only webpage with the answer on it, but please don't spoil it for any others who are scratching their heads unless you can work it out yourself).



Straight out of The Weaver of Nightmares, the SPEARWING basically a flying Cat-man Furry bat-winged-with-unicorn-horn thing. Illo by Gary Harrod.

P.S. Blogger, owned by Google, has a spellchecker that flags up "Google" and offers no alternatives. I find this almost as amusing as the fact that auto-correct on my iPhone, masterminded by a fellow atheist, doesn't auto-capitalise "god".


  1. I looked at it for ages, then it clicked. It would have helped if I'd paid attention to the Weaver's clue!

    Without giving too much away, the key is to add four. Another thing to be aware of is that the tokens will need to be rearranged before the answer is clear.

    1. It never clicked for me. Have you come across a similar puzzle before?

    2. This kind of puzzle always struck me as a bit dull, for being more or less just repetitive replacement. I have a feeling it was a bit overused back in the day, and it's worth treating as a default line of attack for anything involving strings of characters. In this case they do make it trickier with having to find the tokens, and the breaking and the mixing. The hardest part in this kind of task is working out the shift, but looking at letter counts helps with that, to cut down on what could be a lot of trial and error. The single character in this case is a help for just that reason, although it didn't have to be of course, given the make-up of most of the others.

    3. As I recall, Creature of Havoc does something similar. I only figured it out when I read the clue again; until then, I was staring at the tokens for ages without any idea of the solution.

    4. I don't want to make it sound easy - by 'dull' I don't mean 'a piece of cake', just monotonous, first in the more head-banging way that Kelvin describes and then in the muddling through. To give another possible example, I have a feeling some of the Usbournes would have used it, maybe the later ones more.

  2. Nope. Brain doesn't work.

    This won't come up on Mastermind will it?

    1. I've been flicking back to this all all evening. I don't even know where to start. I don't think I've understood the question.

    2. Only if 1980s Fantasy Gamebooks are your specialist subject. Best to stick to Rush and the Spanish Civil War.

    3. @ DrBargle - Not wanting to give much more away, the starting point is really the idea that those sets of characters have to represent something that does make sense - and in this case somehow produces a number - and that because the most distinct building block in each set is the individual character, that's a good level to start work at. It's about quite literally deciphering it.

  3. I'd have trusted the plaques at paragraph 11 and got the middle of the three numbers - does each of the three have a paragraph reserved?

    1. Sorry, I mean the lower of the three, in case that messes with the head of anyone still working through it.

    2. Yes they do. Two of which are Game Overs of course (it is possible to get a fourth result out of the clues which is not accomodated by the paragraph to which that answer would point implying that the author didn't see that one coming)

    3. What am I missing with the plaques? If the right plaque said "This one." I could see a reasoning.

    4. Another erratum: for "This one." read "This token." Seems I'm messing with heads anyway.

    5. You aren't the only one confused - even knowing which of the three is correct I can see no clue whatsoever in the description text.

    6. They might want to come out of retirement again then, to explain to you at least, as a presumably rightful owner, what's up with it. They could be said to owe you that, if for no other reason than all the free promotion they're getting this far down the line. I don't remember the series, but I love the general concept of an adventure in a magazine. Look at the revival in FF interest - they might be able to do this all over too, and even better.

    7. Oh yes, I don't understand the puzzle of which of the three tokens to take. How you're supposed to figure out which one to take I have no idea.

    8. The same rule applies to the tokens as to the rest. As Kelvin said above, the trick is to add four.

    9. I think the Plaque puzzle is exactly as Porky suggests - the right one should more logically read 'this token', rather than 'this is the token', then it would work fine. I guess the author is thinking that you should read the middle one as 'take not "THIS" token', and the right one as '"THIS" is the token'. It is an unfortunate slip, and I see no other way the puzzle can work.

      As for the more general puzzle: oh yes, a dull old displacement. This is actually known in cryptology as a 'Caesar Cipher', after good old Julius. Still, I got there in the end thanks to the clues given above!

      @Coop: 'it is possible to get a fourth answer out of the clues'. Is it? What number is that? Does one have to *really* rearrange the letters to get it, because silly old me is not seeing at (just like the author). Or does that only happen if you don't get all the tokens?

  4. Who owns Proteus then? Any plans to exploit their back catalogue? Or just are they just pissing their money away on lawyers?

    1. Somebody called Wimbourne Publishing who published it after buying it from IPC in it's early days.

      Had an email from them demanding that I take down the downloads of the PDFs I had "on your site" which I clearly don't, told them that got thanked for clearing the matter up and then weeks later they filed a DCMA against the original PROTEUS blog I did a few years back. I then filled in the form for Google claiming it was false, unsuspended the blog post and heard nothing more.

      I did check WP's records at company house, they had turnover of something like £76 in that year so no idea what was going on there.

  5. uh ... yeah... but .. oh god ... so strained ... if the solution is what it is because of what i think it is ... more like a puzzle thought up by a 10-14 year old (of the annoyingly literal minded variety).

  6. Right, not only have I know idea how to solve the problem, I can't even manage to find the solution page in google. Any chance you can post the link to the solution in these comments so I can find out what the hell's going on?

  7. I cracked the code, but have no idea how you select the correct token.

    Is it bad that as a 32 year old, I used my fingers to do this (due to lack of paper to hand)i

  8. Totally confused! It's certainly not clicking for me. And to think that this was aimed at me when I was 12 years old....!

  9. I'll leave it a couple of days (for people to have a think about it) before posting the answer. I think it must the sort of thing you either recognise quickly or would never, ever work it out.

  10. Right then, solution time.

    As a few have guessed the puzzle is a substitution cypher and the clue is the relationship between SAWRAN (ignore the hyphen which seems to be intended to be a distraction) and WEAVER which is that each letter in WEAVER is 4 places alphabetically higher than SAWRAN so if you are familiar with the R13 cypher of usenet fame (rotate 13 chars) this is an R4 cypher.

    So you need to make the mental leap as to what SAWRAN means (i.e. it's WEAVER in the cypher) and spot the regular four place rotation.

    Translated thusly, the tokens then read

    and either DISFIF or DIS or DISTWEN

    Rearranged is

    THEN UMBER I HOL DISTWEN TY (if you miss the "SEVEN" token).
    THEN UMBER I HOL DISFIF TY (if you miss the "SEVEN" token).
    THEN UMBER I HOL DIS SEVEN TY (too many S's)

    Paragraphs 70 and 27 hold "GAME OVER" paragraphs (i.e. The Weaver tells you you are wrong) despite 70 not really coming out of the puzzle properly, due to a bug/oversight neither 20 nor 50 get accomodated properly which both seem more a more plausible outcome than 70 (after all, if missing SEVEN you might assume that the missing token simply said "PRISONERS" or something. This assumes that it is possible to reach The Weaver _without_ picking up OARAJ which isn't something I have checked).

    We still don't know how you are supposed to select the correct three of ZEOBEB, ZEO or ZEOPSAJ. And the target market for PROTEUS was young kids. It has to be said though, I have no idea how to complete cryptic crosswords in the newspapers. For a long time I wondered if 57 was a reference to Heinz Baked Beans but that probably reflects more poorly upon me rather than on PROTEUS.

  11. The three tokens puzzle looks like a Knights and Knaves puzzle; each statement is either true or false, and you have to figure out which. Since the left token is the correct one, my assumption is that there's a clue somewhere before this paragraph that indicates one of the tokens gives false directions and the other two true. If either the Left or Center one is false, the instructions can't be followed since you have to both take and not take the center token. So the token on the right must be the one with false directions. Therefore, don't take the center because the true directions say you shouldn't, and don't take the right because the false direction says you should.

  12. OK, I'll bite with my interpretation. I warn you, it's pedantic and dumb like an Abbott and Costello skit, but it's the only way it remotely makes sense.

    When the right-hand token says "This is the token", it is naming itself as "This."

    So, when the center token says "Take not this token" it is actually referring to the right-hand one, the token named "this".

    Left-hand's text excludes center, center's text excludes right, and the only one remaining is the left-hand token, which gives you 57.

  13. If you do the right thing in the room adjacent to the one with the choice of tokens, you are told, "You will be lied to at least once, though not more than twice."

    Once you know that, applying logic makes it obvious what's false and what is true, and thus which is the correct token. I can spell it out if need be, but that's heading into spoiler territory.

    1. Oh, and it could be argued that one of the puzzles in issue 15 of 'Proteus' is even harder, but that's because it's partly based on a false premise. The only way to get the right answer for that one is to redefine the term 'legs'.