Earlier this year Jason Scott released Get Lamp, his “text adventure/interactive fiction” documentary. (If you missed it, I wrote an interactive review of it.) Before the documentary was released, I pre-paid for two copies: one for me, and one for my dad — after all, it was Dad who got me into computers and text adventures in the first place.
This morning for Christmas, I got a box from Dad. Inside the box was a treasure chest. The treasure chest was wrapped twice with a chain, and the chain was fastened with a combination lock that uses letters instead of numbers. Also inside the box was this:
A map. The map to the original text adventure, Colossal Cave, to be exact. On the right hand side of the map, the following handwritten note had been added:
To quote Sherlock Holmes, “The game was afoot.” Dad mentioned that the note was a code, and added, “you wrote one like it one time.”
After Dad left, I sat on the couch for almost half an hour with my brain’s wheels turning. Five numbers. At first I thought it might be a math puzzle, but why would each number want you to subtract one digit? Plus, I’ve never written a code like that. What I did write one time, however, was eCoder Ring, a simple encryption program using one-time pads. My initial thought was that the numbers might respond to pages on robohara.com somehow, but that didn’t seem likely. A good one-time pad code requires that both the encoder and the decoder possess the same source material (the “key”). And immediately it hit me, the book I know both of us owned.
Commodork: Sordid Tales from a BBS Junkie by Rob O’Hara. Me.
None of the numbers went over 178 (the number of pages in Commodork), so that was a good sign. I quickly thumbed through the book and, using the big numbers as page numbers and the small numbers (all ones) as character locations, I came up with the following letters: B A S S R.
I ran back to the living room and spun the dials with my thumbs. Could that be the combination? The lock clicked open. It worked! Dropping the lock and casting the chains aside, the chest then opened to reveal …
A lamp! A brass lamp!
For those who haven’t seen it, in the background of nearly every interview on Get Lamp (approximately 70 of the film’s 80 interviews) sits a brass lamp. Dad said he wasn’t sure if the lamp belonged to Jason or had been some sort of promotional item handed out by Infocom that all these people owned, but either way, he figured, I would want to own one too. The lantern appearing in the film is Jason’s, and Dad was right — I did want to own one.
And now I do.