How We Survived Adventure Gaming's Most Hair-Tearingly Ridiculous Puzzles

When I spoke with Gabriel Knight creator Jane Jensen about her latest project, I had to ask about it. The Puzzle. The great cat-mustache debacle.

You know what I'm talking about, right? The Worst Adventure Game Puzzle Ever? Oh, boy.

In Gabriel Knight 3, Gabriel needs to get a motorbike to continue the story. But in order to get it, he has to disguise himself as long-suffering Detective Mosley. And in order to do THAT, he has to make a mustache out of cat-hair. Though Mosley doesn't have a mustache… so Gabriel will also have to draw a mustache onto Mosley's licence so that his cat-mustache-using disguise looks like Mosley's ID.


I asked Jensen about this puzzle, which has long been a whipping-boy for game critics the world over and even held up as a prime example of "why adventure games died."

"Honestly, that puzzle was not added by me, it was something that a producer put in. I had another solution in mind that they thought would've been too expensive. But... I didn't love it at the time, but if you think of a lot of the puzzles that Sierra and Lucasarts did, you think about Leisure Suit Larry, you know... so yes, that puzzle. The length of the sequence and the lack of hints made it really difficult. I certainly would not do anything like that today. I think it's kinda overblown.

Overblown or no, that puzzle has become something of a terrible-adventure-game-puzzle icon. The kind of thing that no one on earth could've solved without a walkthrough.

But it does feel like a lot of other adventure games have similar roadblocks. I thought it might be fun to go through some of gaming's classic super-stumpers and copy the relevant walkthrough for each section.

Adventure-game walkthroughs are funny! They're really short, since in truth, there aren't that many things you do in an adventure game. The puzzles we may have spent hours simply staring at are unravelled into a series of terse sentences. Let's start with the puzzle of the hour:

Gabriel Knight 3

USE the piece of masking tape on the shed door hole (behind church).

USE the spray bottle on the cat (behind church).

PICK UP candy from the bowl on the desk (hotel lobby - you can pick this up as early as day 1, 10:00 am).

TALK to Mosely about his passport (Mosely's room).

USE the candy on the table under the painting depicting the street scene (hotel second floor).

PUSH the room buzzer for room #33 (hotel lobby).

PICK UP the passport from Mosely's pocket as he eats the candy you left on the table (hotel second floor).

PICK UP the gold coat (Mosely's room).

PICK UP the black pen from the desk while Jean is away (hotel lobby - you can pick this up as early as day 1, 10:00 am).

PICK UP the packet of syrup from the buffet table (hotel dining room).

USE the black pen on the passport (inventory).

USE the black fibres on the syrup to create a mustache (inventory).

USE the cap on the gold coat (inventory).

USE the mustache on the gold coat (inventory)

USE the disguise on Gabriel (moped rental area).

Walkthrough Link

Phantasmagoria 2: A Puzzle Of Flesh

Yep, the game where you used a rat to get a wallet. (Side-note: Does anyone else remember how the first Phantasmagoria smelled? It smelled so weird, so plastic-y. It was one of the strongest smells I'd ever encountered as a kid.)

Okay, the Phantasmagoria 2 walkthrough:

Click on the rat cage. Click the mail on Curtis. Take the photo from the coffee table. Go to the Front Door. Open door. Return to Living Room. Click on couch. Click on rat cage. Use rat on couch, use granola bar on couch. Put rat back in cage. Go to WynTech.

Well, that was easy!

Walkthrough Link

King's Quest V

Another classic terrible puzzle that involved throwing a pie at a Yeti. That's really all you have to say about it. This is the game that Jensen said made her so mad that she wrote a long letter to Sierra. I wonder if she mentioned the Yeti.

Put on cloak and when Graham gets hungry, eat lamb. Walk north. Throw rope on rock that juts out from left and climb. SAVE. Walk on back stones and east, cross over log, go right. Use sled on self, go east. Give eagle the lamb. Walk north. When you can, play harp. Walk north and throw the pie at Yeti.

Walkthrough Link

The Longest Journey

Easily one of my two or three favourite adventure games of all time, but man, that f**king puzzle with the rubber duck and the electrified key was some dumb crap. Here's the walkthrough from a more literary example than the others:

When you're finished, take some bread from the basket on the table and then head back to April's apartment in the Border House. Once there, look out the window and use the bread that you got from the caf¿ and use it on the blue inflatable duck. The seagull will come down and cause the metal grating to sink. Pull on the chain and you'll get the clothesline that you untied earlier.

Go back to the cafe and you'll see the blue duck, which is now deflated, sitting in some piping. Go over and pick it up and then go to the subway, which can be reached either by taking the path branching off to the left near the Border House path, or by going to the park and then taking the left path. Go down the stairs and look at the gene scanner. Click on the buttons to get a Weekly pass and then use the cashcard on the lens to pay for it. Walk through the scanner and before you get on the train, go into your inventory and combine the clothesline with the clamp.

Look at the sparks to find a large iron key resting on the tracks and then inflate the blue duck and use it on the clamp to get a makeshift fishing pole. Use it on the iron key.

Walkthrough Link

Grim Fandango

The kitty hats, which are handed out Tuesday. Man. One of the most difficult examples of hidden clues, this one can only be solved if you noticed that the guy at the counter says that Tuesdays are when the kitty hats are handed out. And yet in the walkthrough…

Pull out your ticket printer and print up a ticket for Week 2, Tuesday,

Race 6, and use it at the Photo Finish window. (NOTE: Week 2 can be

found by reading the plaque on the statue of the cat, Race 6 can be

found by looking at the photo, and the day of the week is Tuesday, when

the kitty hats are handed out according to the guy at the ticket

counter). Head to the VIP lounge, and use the photo you got on Nick,

who's you're new lawyer. You've got the tools, you've got the card,

you've got a job, now you need Glottis.

It sounds so simple! Oh, right, when I noticed the guy say that one thing. About kitty hats on Tuesday. Sure.

Walkthrough Link

I'll close it out there, but there are many more (I just know that there are some great Phoenix Wright puzzles I'm leaving out).

In this cool recent video, Tim Schafer and Ron Gilbert talk about the concept of "stuck"-ness in video games, and whether or not that's an essential part of the experience. Have modern audiences gotten too impatient to deal with puzzles like the cat-mustache and the kitty-hat?

(Also: why do so many puzzles involves cats and rodents?)

It's a good question, and one I hope we'll see answered in interesting ways as people like Jensen, Schafer and Gilbert make all-new adventure games for all-new audiences.

In the meantime, it's actually really fun to go back to the walkthroughs and read them again. Er, I mean, to read them for the first time! Because hardcore adventure gamers like us never needed walkthroughs back in the day, did we?


    Actually, that puzzle in Grim Fandango was really good I thought. The dude says the kitty hat line so many times it sticks in your head, and you can figure it out from the photo. But damn Grim Fandango was a hard game.

      hard but rewarding :)

        I thought the final chapter had the best balance between challenge and reward. I had to use a guide for a few parts (but not the kitty hats! I felt so smart with that one lol)

    I actually solved the cat moustache puzzle without a guide. I don't even remember solving it, but I know I did it on my own because I am very reluctant to use guides, ever, and I remember every time I had to resort to one. Never using guides it would take a real long time for me to finish these games, the first GK took me a year! (I do stop, play something else, and come back over and over until I get around it)

    Having said that, I was forced to resort to a guide in another puzzle on that very same game, one of the puzzles you had to solve on Gabriel's laptop (Sidney I think it was called).

    All of the other puzzles mentioned I also solved by myself. Have to say this though, I thought escaping the witch forest in Kings Quest 5 was far more difficult than the yeti affair. It involved squeezing honey into the ground (for no reason, because you can) and then dropping gems on it for a dwarf to get stuck in it. That one took me ages.

    Discworld 1 and 2. Man, some of those puzzles did NOT MAKE ANY SENSE. Also, see Fate of Atlantis. And The Dig! Where's Shane when you need him? ;)

      I'm definitely with you on Discworld 1. Some of those puzzles were ridiculous. Particularly using the butterfly in the past in order to get a cloak in the future. Even if you know about the whole quantum weather butterfly thing the whole point is that the flapping of wings causes a storm somewhere in the world, not that it causes a tiny localised raincloud.

      Discworld 2 I remember being too short and easy, though. Maybe I need to play it again.

      Discworld 1 some of the puzzles were so dumb it got parodied in Discworld 2. I played those before discovering Gamefaqs and beat both, but not without a certain amount of "try to combine everything in my inventory until something works".

    the babel fish puzzle from early on in Hitchhikers.

    not ridiculous per se, but brutal...

    The only adventure game I ever played was Space Quest 4 - being 13 at the time, I got stuck literally at the very beginning. I liked the humour- like when he licks a red pole, he remarks "Mmm, wild berry!" - but I just couldn't work out what to do. It turned me off this kind of game outright!

    Did phantasmagoria 2 get banned here? I know it was like 20 years ago but that name still rings a bell

      Both 1 & 2 were banned initially, largely due to them containing violent sexual content.

    Which was the King's Quest game where you had to throw a shoe at the cat really early in the game or it would become unwinnable (but you wouldn't find this out for HOURS), and even worse than that, to find the shoe in the first place required you to have gone wandering off into the desert for no reason before you encounter the cat.

      Kings Quest 5. Fun fact, when it first came out it was the largest PC game ever created. 10 megabytes in size.

      I remember in Return to Zork where you had to pull out a weed out, and if you cut it it died, but you wouldnt find out until about halfway through the game that you needed it alive.

    I know any and every Australian adventure game fan will remember the monkey wrench puzzle from Monkey Island 2.

    Adventure games are not dead. They are still around and probably still come out at the same rate they did 20 years ago. They do tend to appeal to a different breed of gamer than your standard fps-fan though.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now