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Video game puzzle designers tread a fine line: If the puzzles are too easy, they're boring, but if they're too hard, nobody will finish the game and you may wind up responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent controllers. The key is to make the difficulty of a puzzle come from a logical place so that solving it will make sense to the players, giving them a sense of well-earned accomplishment. But sometimes, the closest thing to a "logical place" that a game designer has is the cubbyhole underneath the toilet that his insane mother kept him in for most of his life. And that's how we get puzzles like these:

6
The Longest Journey's Rubber Ducky

Via Hardcoregaming101.net

The Longest Journey is the story of an art student, April Ryan, who saves both her world and a parallel fantasy universe from total annihilation (the fantasy aspect comes from the idea of an art student doing something useful). Naturally, the fate of both worlds revolves around a rubber duck.

Early in the game you come across a key stuck on an electrified subway track. Now, this is before you know you're supposed to be a hero -- before you even know a second world exists. So as far as April's concerned, at this point in the game, she's just a regular college student waiting for the subway. It makes no sense for her to drop everything and endanger herself for a piece of garbage on the tracks.


But it's so shiny!

But whatever, that's video game logic for you: Every gamer knows to frantically Klepto-Klutch every item in sight, just in case it might save your life later. So you need the key, sure: But you can't just turn off the power. Clearly, you have no choice but to leave the area entirely and run back to your apartment to fiddle around with a completely unrelated machine.


Behold! The artificial game-length padder!

It controls water pressure, which obviously has nothing to do with subway tracks. But you start screwing with it anyway, because you're an art student: Your whole purpose in life is to fix things that aren't broken.

You want to steal that big ol' clamp, which, remember, you have no motivation for doing at this point. But whatever, maybe you're going to use it to hold your unreasonably large art-kid blunts. The problem is, it's holding down a leak. So you use the gold ring your dad gave you on your 16th birthday to conduct electricity through the cut wire up in the corner, powering the device up and loosening the clamp.

Next, it's up to your room. Glancing out the window gives you this view:


"I have to wade through shit to grab something pointless? Huh, art school prepared me for something."

Dropping bread crumbs on the rubber duck attracts a seagull, who punctures the duck with his bill as he eats. After the damaged ducky floats away, you stuff the clothesline in your pocket, because when your father abandoned you as a child, he accidentally took your favorite stuffed animal with him and you've compulsively hoarded ever since. Then you track down the duck and reinflate it, presumably getting raw sewage in your mouth in the process. Now you're ready to get that key!

Wait, what key? Oh, right -- you were doing something at some point before you got high and started fucking with these birds.

All right: Now to tie the clothesline to the clamp and remove the Band-Aid that's patching the hole in the duck. Then you force the clamp open with the deflating toy.


Because, hey ... free key.

When the duck finishes deflating, the clamp will snap closed onto the key. It makes perfect sense! The following image, to some game developer, was the logical conclusion of a series of problem-solving steps:

"Honey, I left my wallet at home. Can you tie a sausage to the dog, plug in the hair dryer, upend the garbage outside and then turn on the record player -- make sure it's playing the Batoosie -- then start throwing darts at the mailman until he-"

5
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy's Babel Fish Vending Machine

Via Thedoteaters.blogspot.com

Anyone familiar with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy knows it has a weird sense of humor, so it's no surprise that the game based on it has some bizarre, non sequitur puzzles. But its infamous difficulty level crossed the line from "hilariously offbeat" to "fascist hate-fest" in a hurry.

Early in the game, you need to get your hands on a Babel fish, which functions as a universal translator if you stick it in your ear. They're dispensed from a vending machine, but because this is a video game, it's not as simple as hitting B16 and accidentally getting a bag of raisins instead of what you clearly chose (seriously, why are they always in there? Nobody wants you, raisins).

The first time you try it, a fish shoots out of the machine and falls into a hole below a hook. OK, no problem, you just take off your dressing gown and hang it on the hook so it blocks the next fish ... and sends it down a "hitherto unnoticed drain."

Shit, OK. Still, no problem. You can cover the drain with your trusty towel. The next fish lands neatly on it ... and is promptly snatched by a cleaning robot.


At which point you lose interest and go play Halo.

Dammit! Well, all right, let's think this through. The robot exits through a little panel at the base of the wall, so you need to block that off. Your satchel will do. You press the button again, the robot plows into the satchel and the fish soars into the air ... where it's snatched by a flying cleaning robot.

At this point, we'd take the hint and start spamming "stomp robot." But that won't work here: You have to distract the second robot by putting some junk mail on the satchel, which sends it flying as well ... assuming you bothered to pick that junk mail up earlier. If you didn't, you're screwed. Oh, and the vending machine only has five fish in it, so a single wrong move means you don't get one. Which means you never understand what the hell's going on, which means you'll be inevitably killed a couple of scenes later and have to start the whole game over.

Or just quit and play a different, less painful game, like Russian roulette.


That "click" is the sound of a frustrated gamer loading his gun.

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4
Silent Hill's Poetry

Via Covergalaxy.com

Silent Hill is a series of psychological horror games where you battle disturbing monsters in a surreal otherworld. Silent Hill 3 upped the psychological ante further by cruelly punishing anybody without an English degree: In order to decipher one key riddle, you had to intimately know your Shakespeare. It all starts when you find this in a bookstore:


Shit, now we have to backtrack to Starbucks so we can get this deciphered.

Each stanza represents a play, and you have to order them appropriately. The above quote, for instance, is an obscure reference to King Lear. What's that? You don't have an intimate, encyclopedic knowledge of King Lear? "Haha, what are you doing playing video games" the developers of Silent Hill ask, "when you could be discovering the wonder of literature?"

If you do happen to be a professor of Shakespeareology, you eventually end up with a five-digit number. Puzzle solv- wait, shit, the door you're trying to open only takes a four-digit code. That's what the last stanza is for:


"Solve for X and blow thine self, verily."

Now, obviously we don't have to decipher this one for you. But for all the *snicker* little Snugs out there, we'll hold your hand: It's telling you to double the number for Hamlet, triple the number for Romeo and Juliet and remove the number for Macbeth. Clearly!

To be fair, this poem only showed up on the hardest difficulty -- there was a much easier puzzle on lower levels, for all of you dimwits out there who play video games to shoot monsters in the face instead of analyze the story structures of 16th century English theater.


Psh, that looks like fun. Now silent contemplation of The Tempest? That's what gaming is all about!

3
King's Quest's Gnome

Via Ebay

King's Quest is among the oldest of the old school adventure games, created back when men were men, every piece of software came on 147 separate floppy disks and there were no newfangled FAQ sites to hold your hand.

Back in those simpler days, concepts like "fairness" and "logic" were about as important to game designers as "graphics" and "having your parents respect your career choices." King's Quest had way more than its share of baffling puzzles, to be sure, but none were more frustrating than the gnome's riddle. It went like this: You come across a random assortment of colored pixels that are supposed to be either a gnome or a deformed Carnivale dancer ...


Or Sean Connery out bar-hopping with the Smurfs.

And you, the player, must guess his name to continue. Easy, right? Rumplestiltskin!

Nope.

Shit, now what? Start guessing? Dude kind of looks like a Fred, maybe? Got kind of an Earl flavor to him? Ah, but if you happen to have found a cryptic note in a totally different area a while back, you probably won't recall its contents, which were: "Sometimes it is wise to think backwards."

Backwards? Oh, OK, so his name is Nikstlitselpmur. Frickin' cakewalk up in this bitc- no? That wasn't it, either?


"How about a sort of gargling, gagging noise that's often heard when I strangle gnomes with my dick?"

That's because when the game says "think backwards," it wants you to invert the alphabet itself -- A becomes Z, B becomes Y, and so on. That makes the gnome's name Ifnkovhgroghprm, which is just going to be hell on the voice actors once they reboot this sucker.

To add to the pressure, you only get three guesses. Not all hope is lost if you fail, but you are forced to take a different path to the next area -- a path that includes an enemy who can permanently steal items from you, which might make the game unwinnable, thus forcing you to restart entirely. Oh, and technically the fairy tale character's name is RumpELstiltskin. So even if the fable comes to mind, and the phrase "think backwards" instantly causes the language center of your brain to fold inside out, you'll still only get the answer if you're the exact same kind of dyslexic as the programmer.


"Know what? I think I'll just spend the rest of the game looking at this amazing scenery."

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2
Gabriel Knight's Elaborate Disguise

Via Mobygames.com

Gabriel Knight is a suave, badass monster hunter. His third adventure, Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned, finds him up against a coven of vampires. At one point in the game, he needs to rent a motorbike, but the really sweet one he wants is reserved. So what do you do? Settle for a moped, and risk looking like a dork in front of Baron Von Bloodmouth? Not bloody likely! Bribe the rental agent? Nah, that would cost money. Maybe you just steal the damn thing, citing undead-related emergency protocols? Nope -- you have to impersonate the man it's reserved for, a sad-looking shlub named Mosely.


That's you on the left, the guy you're impersonating on the right.

Well, OK. That's straightforward enough: You're supposed to pretend to be the guy who gets this thing. We can see what you're thinking here, game. It's not like you're asking us to wrap a rubber ducky around a backward-speaking gnome and make him hopscotch across a numbered board to make the Fibonacci Sequence. Good job so far.

So you start by stealing his jacket from his hotel room (so you can steal things? Why not just take the bike, then? Can you not bear the disapproval of the fatherly bike shop owner?). You also have to grab a hat from the local church's lost and found, to cover up your luxurious locks. Next you have to get Mosely's passport, which he keeps in his back pocket at all times. But hey, no problem -- just leave a piece of candy sitting in the hallway, buzz Mosely from the hotel's front desk, and then when he walks by, he'll be so distracted with mysterious hall-candy that you can pickpocket him.

Because we all know that hall-candy is the most delicious candy, for it is taboo.


Now, tongue his prostate until the passport falls out of his pocket.

Finally, you need a fake mustache to complete the look. And that's where logic and reason fall to shambling pieces: What you have to do is wander around outside until you find a door with a hole in it, attach a piece of tape to the hole, scare a nearby cat into running through it by spraying the animal with a stolen spritzer bottle, collect the now cat-hair-covered tape and use a packet of syrup to glue the fur to your face. Jesus, that's like going from point A to point B via the goblin road that lives only in the thoughts of CIA pod-transplants. There's absolutely nothing approaching sanity in that mode of thinking whatsoever.

But wait a second. Here's what Mosely looks like again:


Remember, this was back when systems weren't powerful enough to render chins.

There's something missing ...

Observant readers may notice that that man does not have a fucking mustache. Gabriel claims he needs one to disguise the "obvious disparity" between their faces. So a mysterious instant cat-hair-and-syrup mustache is ... less disparate?


Perfect.

So now Gabriel looks nothing like the picture in Mosley's passport, but you can fix it! You just have to draw a mustache on the passport photo with a marker. The cat-stache and coloring book passport somehow fool the motorbike rental guy, who has an impeccable enough memory for faces to identify the legitimate renter on sight, but apparently suffers from a bizarrely specific type of mustache-induced hysterical blindness.

Shockingly, the series did not get a fourth game.

1
RuneScape's Deaf Prisoner

Via Gamefaqs

RuneScape is the world's most popular free MMORPG, which -- now that developers are practically paying people to play the blasted things like the government incentivizes Alaskans to settle the Yukon -- is a pretty impressive accomplishment. One of the game's adventures has you tracking down an infamous pirate. But the only man with information on him is in jail. Now you need to get yourself arrested so you two can have a chat.


So it's off to do heroin in public with children.

Easy enough: We find peeing on a cop is the most efficient means to jail inhabitation, but you can just dress up like a pirate or whatever floats your criminal boat. Ah, but once you get in there, you find out that the man you need to speak to is deaf. Herein lies the puzzle! He's in the cell right next to you, and all that separates the two of you is a barred window. You need to get his attention: If only you could get your hands on some ink and paper ... hey, wait a minute, here's some in your inventory!

Great!

Now it's just a simple matter of grabbing a tin cup from your cell and banging it on the door until a guard comes by to douse you in fish stew. Oh, did you think you were going to write a note? Ha, that's adorable.


"Now you sit your ass down and just smell like fish for a while!"

No.

Next, you break off a pipe from the window, then pour ink all over the paper and head outside to the prison yard, where you smash the ink bottle on a rock and use the makeshift blade to cut a hole in your accordion. Wait, where did you get an accordion? From randomly searching through the rubble in the yard, of course! So there you go: Simply shove your pipe and paper through the accordion hole and voila!

You have a vacuum pump!

Wait, you do? Paper and ink shoved inside an accordion creates a vacuum? Shit, well, OK: Man, we really did not pay attention in science class. So, by merely following the eccentric, rambling, Family Circus-style mental path of a madman, you are now in possession of a vacuum. The next step is obvious: Take your fishy prison clothes and drape them over a rock. This attracts a seagull, which you catch. With the vacuum.

You then go back into your cell and shoot the seagull at the prisoner. This gets his attention, because even deaf people find it hard to ignore a terrified bird projectile right in the kisser. You are now able to have a conversation, most of which is probably going to revolve around why your mother is such whore and, follow-up question: Why you just shot him in the face with a goddamn living seagull.

So the video game gives the player a prompt: Get this guy's attention without using your voice. And the correct solution is not to throw a note, or to start waving frantically and wait for him to turn around and notice you. No, the most logical path of action is supposedly to vacuum-launch a marine scavenger into a stranger's face, and all because some programmer probably had one really weird deaf friend when he was a kid and extrapolated out some faulty assumptions.

You can read more from Mark at Zug and McSweeney's Internet Tendency. Or check out his personal website.

For more causes of broken controllers, check out The 10 Most Irritatingly Impossible Old-School Video Games and The 10 Most Terrifying Video Game Enemies of All Time.

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