So… my main hobby since the late 80’s or so has been computer games. Not so much the shooter/twitch games, but more so the cerebral variety that involves puzzle solving (though I do love the occasional good shooter like Half-Life, where my avatar, Gordon Freeman, emanates from). In 1997, a few years after Myst was published, there were a few Myst clones knocking about because Myst was so successful that there was a formula to emulate for supposed success… or not.
In 1997, 27 years ago, I wrote my first adventure game review for one of the first on-line sites at the time, Games Domain Review, founded in 1995. The game in question was called Timelapse, and it was pretty impressive for its time, both in the quality of the graphics and the puzzles. One puzzle especially stood out for me, and here is the related passage from my rookie review:
Interview With A Lizard
There WAS this one puzzle I must admit to have had a little trouble with. You see, in the Mayan section there's this wraparound pyramid with 22 steps on it. You must select from a series of fixed moves (e.g. 8 steps clockwise, 5 steps counter-clockwise, etc.) so that a little lizard covers each step only once. Well, I started to work it out on paper first, and finally concluded that it was impossible to solve this way. Now this is a challenge, says I! So I spent a pleasant Sunday afternoon writing a 'C' program to solve the puzzle ... which it did in about 6 hours after trying 73 million+ random permutations. In retrospect, I realised that the game designers couldn't have possibly been THAT cruel ... and yes, there was a clue somewhere that I had missed. Don't you just hate it when that happens as well?
So yeah, I did solve the puzzle by writing a Monte Carlo simulation to randomly select from the 6 available moves to solve it. Then I went to the pub, and came back 6 hours later to input the solution. Here’s the image of the puzzle:
The Mayan numbering system, as described in the game (I have no idea what the actual system involves) had dots as 1’s and solid lines as 5’s. The skulls on the left represent the positive numbers 4, 5, and 8 where the salamander moves clockwise. The ones on the right, negative numbers 5, 6, and 8, where the salamander moves counter-clockwise.
Computers for the win!