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9:09am on Tuesday, 31st July, 2012:

Way Too Secret


One of the innovations being tried out by The Secret World is an out-of-world component to some of the quests. Basically, if it's an investigative quest, you may have to hit the Internet to find the answer. This could be because it needs some real-world fact (who composed The Four Seasons?) or some augmented reality fact (what's the name of the wife of this fictional character, to be found on his fictional employer's web site?). The idea behind this is to make TSW seem more real by seeping some reality into it and seeping some of it into reality. Of course, the problem is that as soon as one person has the answer, everyone has the answer. The in-game browser (a nice idea, as they can track your search queries and mine them for problems) will let you Google the question, but (for TSW-bleeding-into-RW quests in particular) you're likely to get a packaged solution reference to TSW itself before you get the one for the fictional entity you're seeking.

Innovation is a matter of context, and needless to say we had some of these out-of-game elements in MUD1. I was against them as a concept, but got sick and tired of telling people I didn't want the real world coming in to the Land (the name of MUD1's world) and that it was a waste of time because once the solution was known there was nothing to it. I might as well just have a button saying "click for treasure". However, people did keep asking for me to put in puzzles, so eventually I created some just to show how awful the game would be if it were packed with them. I isolated these from the rest of the game by putting them in a single, small area: the mausoleum.

The mausoleum had eight doors off it. One was the entrance door, six had puzzles on them and the remaining (northeast) door was what opened if you tried to open one of the puzzle doors and got it wrong (the northeast tomb behind it contained a very nasty skeleton). In MUD2, I added some extra puzzles and randomised which ones appeared so that people couldn't just go in and press a macro key to open all the tombs except the dreaded northeast one.

Now the puzzles I came up with to put on the doors were quite varied. Here's the southeast one:
ls b sp cl h tcr oc bs ma lg q nhg hp sb wc ea na wa ?
The answer is eb, because those are the initials of tube stations on the Central Line west from Liverpool Street (ls).

The southwest one was straight arithmetic, which would be a lot easier today but back in 1980 you had to write a program to do it:
2 to the power of 60.

Some were in code. This one is easy:
1854 151811475 25512121523 7185514 212215 91449715 ?
It's a straight letters-for-numbers thing: 18=R, 5=E, 4=D. It's the colours of the rainbow.

I wrote an article that touched on this back in 1985, which I keep on my web site here.

Now some of the puzzles were very hard. It took me a while to figure out this one, for example:
864 17280 144000 756000 ?
The answer is 2963520. It's calculated by the formula n^3 * (n-1)^3 * (n-2) * (n+1), starting with n=3.

I said it "took me a while to figure out this one" because I don't actually have all the answers to the puzzles. Well, I do have the answers, but not the key to the answers. I knew that the answer to the above was 2963520, but not why. There are three other puzzles like that, as follows:

lundio edra el ?
Answer: re

18 108 945 162 243 405 513 972 135 531 ?
Answer: 432

I can write a five-letter word, in block-letter capitals, that you can't pronounce. What is it?
Answer: Polish

I took these out of MUD2 precisely because I don't know why the answers are the answers. The last one may even be the dummy one I put in to catch the operators who played MUD2 when it was on a BT VAX, and who looked up the solutions in the source code to cheat. Then again, it maybe is a legitimate answer.

If you have any ideas on why those solutions are the solutions, let me know...

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Copyright © 2012 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).