Fingertips: Something Grabbed Ahold of My Hand

by Melvin Rangasamy

Episode 30 of Apollo 18 Tribute Album
Prison Drama

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One-move mathematical puzzle, March 20, 2013
by Edward Lacey (Oxford, England)

Although Fingertips: Something Grabbed Ahold of My Hand takes its title and a minor detail of its plot from a song by They Might Be Giants, it's really an adaptation of a problem in recreational mathematics. (I hadn't seen the problem before, but a Web search implies it may be quite well known.)

As the game opens, the protagonist is confined "in a prison that has 32767 cells" and told that some prisoners will be selected for release by a procedure that depends on the cells' numbering. (Reducing this procedure to a mathematical criterion is half the puzzle, so I won't summarise further.) The character is lucky enough to have a free choice of cells, and the player's single move is to select one.

Given that this plot is transparently a pretext for the puzzle, it would be unreasonable to expect much characterisation. It's therefore to this game's credit that it incorporates the comic figure of "The 'Guv" where the puzzle requires only a faceless guard or official. The writing is amusing and entertaingly self-aware about the absurdity of the situation it describes.

I found the puzzle interesting, but unfortunately I don't think it's well-served by the one-move format that was required for Fingertips games in the Apollo 18 series. Once the player understands the question, finding one cell that will result in the protagonist's release is little challenge. Successful endings differ only in a small randomised detail, so there's little in-game incentive for the player to seek out multiple solutions, still less to find or justify a general rule for which cells are safe.

The game also isn't helped by some technical issues that may have been beyond the author's control. Claiming the nonexistent cell zero receives an appropriate response, but other out-of-range answers aren't understood correctly, presumably due to limits on Z-Machine variables. The parser rarely understands numbers entered as words, and although numerals are always understood they lead to an odd reference to "picking a number at random".

Despite being unambitious and a little buggy, Something Grabbed Ahold of My Hand is suited to the Fingertips role of providing a brief diversion between longer games, and it's worth playing in its own right if you're interested in mathematical puzzles.

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Andrew Schultz, May 21, 2016 - Reply
The puzzle is relatively well known...or, at least, I knew it.

IIRC the narrative was added after a first round of testing and I think it helps a lot.

It would be nice if this game got a post-comp release to fix stuff like the zeros or the negative numbers. The z-machine limits (#s between -32768 and 32767) are a bitof a hassle though as a tester I thought I troll-tested 0. But adjusting the after reading the command rule wouldn't be too hard.

Also, <spoilers>I think it would be cute if you chose a high number and got to brag to your neighbors you were the only one to escape</spoilers>.
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