I have recently started playing Zork. I'm a big fan of graphic adventures from around '90, finished several of them on my own so I think I'm not particularly bad at them, but I'm having little luck with this one.

I think the problem is that I don't really have the right mindset. I'm going to elaborate somewhat to give you my impression of the game.

I get how I'm supposed to read everything on the screen carefully, especially since the descriptions are really short and seem to be dense with hints. I get how I'm supposed to draw a map while I move around and take notes of items I find and various points of interest. I get how I'm supposed to experiment with the command line and try commands and sentence structures that are not even listed in the manual.

This way I managed to map a fairly complicated maze, and also solve a few simple puzzles like descending into a shaft by

tying a rope to the railing and climbing down on it.

What beats me is this. I looked up a hint which said, to get past Cyclops, I have to

say the word 'Ulysses' to him, which makes him dash off in fear.

I'm familiar with Homer's Odyssey, but this would never have occured to me. Since I couldn't find any hints that pointed to this, and I'm generally making very slow progress if any, and even the whole point of the game has been kind of vague to me just judging by the story, I'm inclined to think It must be full of these kind of puzzles.

So, to finally turn my rant into a question (:
Do I have the wrong impression of the game? Or are these games just inherently a lot more difficult than graphic adventures of the nineties and I have to be more patient? Or is that Zork is just not the right game to start with (for it's already full of motifs a beginner like me doesn't know, or w/e reason..)?

  • 2
    This can't be part of my answer: but Dreamhold is generally considered a good introduction to this genre. You can play it here: eblong.com/zarf/zweb/dreamhold Or you can download it and run it in one of many modern interpreters for Interactive Fiction (as it is known within the community). May 14, 2011 at 14:46
  • 4
    You don't need to know the Odyssey reference: there is another way to get past him. I think the hint is that he's hungry.
    – Mark Hurd
    Sep 11, 2011 at 6:59

3 Answers 3


These kinds of games have evolved a great deal since the beginnings, and Zork was one of the very first in the genre. You are doing a great job with your mindset, but Zork is probably not the best game to start with, and despite being a classic breaks many of the "unwritten rules" of being a good text adventure game.

It is generally considered a bad practice for authors of new games in this genre to include riddles such as "Ulysses" in Zork. This is because, even if there are hints in the game that will help solve the riddle, it's only fun on the first playthrough. It feels like much more of a time-waster than solving even the simplest physical puzzle in the game. It has nothing to do with logic, the basic tenet upon which these games are based.

Zork innovated a lot of things for the text adventure genre, but it's still one of the first, and because of this it still has its rough edges.

  • I'm still interested in Zork, so I guess I'll try and finish it anyway, but I guess I won't feel so bad then if I have to look up a few puzzles (:
    – xcvii
    May 15, 2011 at 10:12
  • 1
    @xcvii: Sorceror, the last Zork sequel, is a bit smoother. Not really easier, though.
    – Alti
    Dec 21, 2011 at 9:53

Partial spoilers about the puzzle you were stuck on (full spoilers available here):

The prayer book contains a poem full of mythological references which also happens to be an acrostic: the first letter of each line spells out ODYSSEUS. You can also say ULYSSES, which I guess was added just because some people might stumble on that approach "in-universe" without the book's hint. And there's an alternative solution that doesn't involve scaring the cyclops at all.

IMHO, in these days of short attention spans, Zork is a little too difficult for someone's first introduction to adventuring. I strongly recommend Admiral Jota's Lost Pig, which is just plain fun.

Or, if you must start old-school, I would go for the original Crowther and Woods Adventure, which has the advantage of a very terse vocabulary and about 75% of which is very newbie-friendly; but beware that Adventure is essentially impossible to beat without a couple of spoilers.

As for "how text adventures were meant to be played," imagine that you're a mainframe computer user in the 1970s and that this game is the most interesting thing you have to do for the next thirty or so nights from midnight until 6 AM. Attack it systematically, as if it were a software problem — which it basically is — and, when all else fails, cheat. A lot of adventures were designed on the "minutes to learn, a lifetime to master" principle, which means making the final puzzle(s) ridiculously hard. The original Adventure is beyond compare in this regard, having as it does not one but two unclued puzzles.

I'm counting the one in the endgame, which is clued but only very obscurely and ambiguously; and the one necessary to get that Last Lousy Point, which I think we can all agree is 100% unclued.

If you'd rather stick with Infocom, I hear great things about Enchanter and Planetfall. Stay the heck away from Hitchhiker's Guide.


I've not played Zork, but from the ones I did play at the time I do remember that you have to fairly precise in what you type at each point.

For example you might want to look underneath a bed to see if there are any items there. Now any of the following might work:

Search bed
Look underneath bed
Search underneath bed
Search below bed ...

So depending on how thorough the developers were with their synonyms or how good they were at parsing sentences one, all or none of these might work.

It could be very frustrating working out what combination of words you were meant to use and in what order. However, once you get into the mindset of the developers you'll enter the phrases automatically.

These problems "disappear" with graphical point and click adventures as you can often see where to click as the cursor changes shape.

  • 6
    This is actually a case in which Zork is quite forgiving. One of the things Zork does best is understand what you're trying to do and help you along the way. It's really only the riddles that require precise input. May 14, 2011 at 16:20

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .