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And speaking of online personality tests (see the post immediately below this one), here’s one of my own devising. You are a classic nerd if the following terms and/or phrases are meaningful to you:

1. Plugh.

2. You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike.

3. XYZZY

4. You are in the bedquilt. Passages go off in all directions.

These phrases are from one of the oldest and greatest of computer games, the classic text-based adventure Colossal Cave. I started playing this game when I was in fifth grade; the program was installed on the mainframe at my father’s job. A text-based adventure is precisely what it sounds like: you are basically told what you see, hear, smell, and sense in any particular setting, and then you decide what actions to take based on the descriptions. You type the actions on the screen, and the game responds accordingly. If you are told “You are in a dark room with passages to the east and west”, you might type “Go east” or “Go west”. Along the way you gather treasures and take them someplace for safekeeping (I won’t give it away if you haven’t played the game), and in order to acquire some of the treasures you have to solve puzzles. It is rather like a teletype version of Myst or Riven; the object of the game is exploration and puzzle-solving as opposed to killing beasties and gathering experience points.

Colossal Cave is the earliest of the text-based adventures; others would come later, the most famous being Infocom’s classic Zork! trilogy, which was similar to Cave but had a much more sophisticated parser. (Where Cave only understands two-word commands like “Go North”, “Get Coins” and “Wave Rod”, Zork!‘s natural-language parser allows one to type things like “Get the coins, go north, and wave the rod.”) Many other text-based adventures have been written and can be found on the Web (afficionadoes use the term “interactive fiction”, actually). Some of them are a lot of fun to play. Playing games like Colossal Cave is not only fun, but is also a vivid reminder that the written word, skillfully harnessed, can have more power than pictures.

(Follow the link for tons of information on Colossal Cave, including downloads and hints. You can e-mail me for hints, but I probably won’t give them to you; I will instead laugh evilly as you try to vanquish the dragon or try to figure out how to circumvent the troll. Heh heh heh.)

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