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ParserComp 2022: Alchemist's Gold, August 4, 2022
When Graham Nelson declared that interactive fiction was “a narrative at war with a crossword”, a group of old school enthusiasts scratched their heads and said, “what do you mean a text adventure isn’t a crossword?” Many who had joyfully puzzled out the rich proliferation of text adventures that, emerging from 70s mainframe mindbenders like Acheton and Warp, persisted onto microcomputers through Adventure International, then developed into a diverse set of professional and amateur offerings via DIY systems like The Quill or PAWs, had grown deeply attached to their puzzleboxes, a connected set of (supposedly) logic problems that could be slowly reduced over days, weeks, months, until an elegantly optimal solution cohered, synthesizing every clue into a satisfying series of interlocking gears finally turning in unison. Each playspace, lightly themed for variety, invited exploration, tinkering, considering, teasing you along its mysteries to reveal treasure after treasure, looping you back through to catch those last little points you missed…
Garry Francis has been keeping that spirit alive with an indefatigable stream of puzzlers perfect to enjoy alongside your morning coffee. Today’s theme: “there’s a rumour that an alchemist in the forest has figured out how to do the impossible and has been building up quite a stash of the shiny yellow metal.” Those of you who have just donned your Hadean Lands hats will need to doff them, as Alchemist’s Gold is an easy, straightforward affair that propels you through a tight sequence of problems with solutions zuhanden. Find an axe, cut a tree. Someone will trade you a map for a squirrel, so you get an acorn, give it to a squirrel, catch it, give it to the shepherd. The workmanlike simplicity comes with no nonsense pride that raises its eyebrows at any player whose hands seem suspiciously uncalloused, as when trying to “roll branch” receives a curt admonishment: “I think you wanted to say “roll broken branch over”. Please try again.” Visiting in from the city, are you? Well.
Still, the game runs swiftly enough with a friendly efficiency that, like its bottle of acid, dissolves obstacles to preserve your momentum. A maze, which can often prove a bit of obtuse tedium, is here rendered as an ASCII map that routes you right through it with jaunty tracery. A final puzzle, dodging the alchemist, is easier to overcome than it first appears to be, and is delivered with giggly aplomb: “Well, it could have been worse. He could have turned you into a toad. You try to explain your actions to the alchemist. “Ribbet.”” Every puzzle is pretty selfcontained, with just enough red herrings scattered throughout to prevent the A->B problem mapping from feeling too artificial.
Alchemist’s Gold, like Monday’s crossword, gets you back into the swing of things without breaking too much of a sweat. Still, veteran puzzlers will be tapping their fingers, waiting for Garry’s weekend mindwarper.