Let's Play: Jigsaw

Well, so much for that! Maybe the new glow-y piece can be TOUCHED, or we can STAND ON or ENTER table? Or we could try putting the clock in or on the table (I note you haven’t tried to eat it yet…)

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The clock is “plainly inedible”, “the board can only take jigsaw pieces”, and the table “isn’t something you can enter”. Touching the pieces, though, gets an odd reaction:

> touch a4
You can’t see any such thing.

The pieces on the table aren’t things, in Inform terms, which means most verbs don’t work on them. A modern player would probably take this as an indication that you aren’t supposed to interact with them.

But in fact, there are exactly two verbs I’ve found which do apply to pieces on the grid. One is TAKE, and the other is PUSH.

> press a4
The piece at a4 presses in smoothly, like a button, then releases. Nothing happens.

(C2 does the same thing.)


Oh, that’s intriguing! Does anything different happen if we push the pieces while the timer is running (with or without the alarm latch set)?

(Also, I’m hoping some others with better old-school puzzle solving skills step in to help at some point. I’m OK at modern stuff but I really don’t have the knack for games of this vintage).

In case it helps get into the right mind-set for the game, there were some in-game clues for a couple of now-solved steps that were not encountered:

There’s a clue for this exit existing in the message you get if you go a wrong direction from inside the beer tent:

The heavy canvas is in the way and, although there’s clearly something bulky stacked up behind the southern side, you can only go back west.

The stool is described as “wheeled”. Moving, pushing or pulling the stool makes the pencil start showing up in the room description:

>push stool
It rolls a little.


The vestry once held surplices. Today, it holds a surplus. Debris, broken furniture, blown-in leaves, panes of dusty glass and mildewed cloth, all unwanted.

There’s even an old Victorian piano stool, but no sign of a piano.

On the floor, underneath where the stool used to be, is a pencil.


Oh good! I’m glad those weren’t totally unprompted—I’ve never came across those clues in game (either now or before).


>set clock to 2
The clock starts, silently and slowly, and the jigsaw board pulses with a flickering amber light, warm and erratic as though from an oil lamp.

[Your score has just gone up by one point.]

Ooh! So maybe the clock and the jigsaw are both parts of some larger device—it’s like the timer on a jacuzzi that turns it off after however many minutes.

>push c2
The piece at c2 presses in smoothly, like a button, then releases. The table seems to drag you whole into a beam of pure energy, which is suddenly sucked up into the jigsaw piece. With a wrench you find yourself rushing through a kind of vortex, weird patterns of light streaking past you, clashing noises in your ear. As you slow down, you briefly make out an Arab chattering about the Camp David accord and then everything begins to change…

[Press SPACE to continue.]


Chapter One - Ricochet

Flat over the Street
A second-floor flat, dilapidated and primitive but with a certain charm about it, decorated with faded Viennese prints. Through the open window you look down on a cafe across the arched, cobbled city street. It is early summer.

To one side is a cheap dresser with a mirror and a single drawer.

The ormolu clock chimes a more insistent warning.

[Your score has just gone up by one point.]

And we’ve done it! We’re now in…wherever this is. A little past six in the morning, early summer, distinctly not midnight on New Year’s. So maybe whenever this is would be more accurate.

Let’s take a look around, and see what we can—

Suddenly you are wrenched out into the time vortex once more, and find yourself back…

Disc Room
This is a tiny tetrahedral annexe of a room, whose only clear feature is a broad black disc embedded in the floor.

Oh right, we only set the timer for two minutes. Let’s try this again. Back to the jigsaw room, and…

>set clock to 59
The clock starts, silently and slowly, and the jigsaw board pulses with a flickering amber light, warm and erratic as though from an oil lamp.

>press c2
The piece at c2 presses in smoothly, like a button, then releases. You are sucked up once again into the time vortex. As you slow down, you briefly make out Walt Disney’s classic “Fantasia” and then everything begins to change…

Flat over the Street
A second-floor flat, dilapidated and primitive but with a certain charm about it, decorated with faded Viennese prints. Through the open window you look down on a cafe across the arched, cobbled city street. It is early summer.

To one side is a cheap dresser with a mirror and a single drawer.

So we can go back to the past. (Or maybe back to the future?) But we’re not at exactly the same point as before! We first arrived at 6:01 am, according to the status line, and now it’s 6:03 am. So we can enter and leave this time period as much as we like—but we always come back to the same point where we left off. If we miss a crucial event, we can’t go back and try again.

Tomorrow (or whenever the next update comes), we have a whole new era to explore! Any particular suggestions?


Yay, we made it!

…where are we?

The general vibe here is late 19th Century/early 20th, so if the Austro-Hungarian Empire is still a going concern, “Viennese” might not narrow things down too much.

Okay, an older city, that doesn’t narrow things down too much.

Hmm, like maybe a week or so past the solstice? I have a bad feeling about this

I mean check out the mirror (look behind it!), drawer (open it!), and dresser (looking under and behind it). There’s no door mentioned but I assume there is one, in which case it’d be nice to see if that cafe is open yet so we can get some tea or coffee to wake up.

As for other stuff to try:

  1. Save and wait for 11 o’clock or so.

  2. If a crowd gathers outside the cafe later in the morning, see if anyone (a certain personage in black?) has a bomb.

  3. Direct traffic at the Latin Bridge to prevent any wrong turns.


I remember enjoying this much more than Curses. But not a fair game, and I had to use the hints often. It’s been 20 years since I played it, so I won’t remember much about the puzzles.


We might be able to narrow it down a bit more, though! Everything in the prologue was “century” themed (Century Park, the sparkler will last a century, ringing in the new century rather than the millennium), so I suspect all of these chapters are going to be in the 20th century, not the 19th. I’d bet that the earliest we’ll go is 1900.

Which means we could witness, um…

…the Second Boer War? The premiere of Tosca? The publication of the first Michelin Guide? I’m not sure what of global significance happened in 1900.


Well, checking the Wikipedia page, I’d personally be interested in seeing the Exposition Universelle (it could be a backdoor 1893 sequel!), Planck revealing his initial work on black body radiation (complicated mechanical device puzzle!), a Stonehenge menhir falling over on New Years Eve (spooky!), and maybe sitting in at Oscar Wilde’s deathbed for some pathos.

But yeah, relatively slim pickings – of course, if you subscribe to the Long 19th Century theory, that’s because the real transition into the 20th Century happens a little further down the timeline, which is why I suspect we’re not in 1900 at all… (of course, there’s also no guarantee we’re going to find these jigsaw-piece time-machines in strict chronological order!)


Oh yeah, I suspect your theory is right about when we are now. Since A4 was the end of 1999, maybe it’s in chronological order, D1 - D4, C1 - C4, B1 - B4, A1 - A4?


Alright, let’s try this again! One little note first: while we’re inside the monument, the status line shows three numbers, currently “10/2/109”. That appears to mean 10 points, 2 pieces of the puzzle, and 109 turns. When we’re outside, it shows a time of day instead—and the relationship between time of day and turn count seems to vary. Back at Century Park, it took three turns to pass one minute, so fifteen minutes to midnight = 45 turns before the game ends. In the C2 area, though, every turn is one minute. This will probably be important somewhere.

Suitably prepared, we set the clock to 59, press C2, and launch into…

Chapter One - Ricochet

Flat over the Street
A second-floor flat, dilapidated and primitive but with a certain charm about it, decorated with faded Viennese prints. Through the open window you look down on a cafe across the arched, cobbled city street. It is early summer.

To one side is a cheap dresser with a mirror and a single drawer.

Now what to do first?

Makes sense to me.

>x dresser
A cheap, sturdy dresser.

>x mirror
Your reflection is gaunt in the mirror.

>x drawer
A cheap, sturdy dresser.

The door rattles, unlocked from the outside. The stranger appears, darting in and locking the door again. For the first time your eyes meet. “Welcome to Sarajevo! I knew you wouldn’t disappoint me,” says Black, extending a friendly hand.

Oh! Fancy meeting you here!

…fancy meeting you now? I don’t know, how does this line work when you’re time travelling?

>shake hand
(of Black)
You shake hands, suddenly shy of physical contact.

“June 28th, 1914, if you hadn’t guessed already,” continues Black. “Kaldecki wasn’t quite the fool people thought. I confess I may have helped them a little, writing the biography I did. But that’s what he always wanted.”

[Your score has just gone up by one point.]

Wait, what was that about Sarajevo on June 28th, 1914?

Probably not important. What’s more important is:

>x black
Just looking again (coyly, in the mirror) reminds you how glad you are you came to the party.

Don’t mind us, just admiring the view. It’s a very nice one.

“You see,” Black says coolly (almost as if sane), “he was in a quandary. He’d invented something wonderful and terribly dangerous. He’d invented the time machine. It could save the human race, he wrote in the margins of his sketch-book. But there was a catch.”

We covertly search everything in the meantime. Just standard adventure protagonist things. Unfortunately, we don’t find anything under the dresser or behind the mirror.

Black is clearly one of those people who really enjoys spinning out a story.

“The Kaldecki Effect needs an enormous temporal potential to work, you see. You can’t just travel from anywhere to anywhere. Time flows downhill like water, he said. If you want to go from event T1 to event T2, you have to ride the wave. So much for Einstein.”

Hm, yes, please go on.

Einstein is not, in fact, the person at the front of your mind just now. You are occupied trying to decide whether those eyes are blue or green, a sure sign that you aren’t listening closely enough.

“…thus, del phi is maximised at great turning points, the way electric charge collects on sharp points - and that’s the Kaldecki Effect. His machine works like a lightning conductor. A dilemma. You understand?”

Damn right.

I’m glad to see the way I’m playing this character isn’t too far off what Nelson envisioned.

Oh, wait, you’re asking a question. Shit. Uh…

That was a rhetorical question.

>black, no
Black looks pained for a moment.

In our defense, you’re very distracting!

"He’d invented a time machine that could never be demonstrated to science, or tested, and wasn’t even much use. It can only take you from one really important event to another really important event. You can’t even test it unless you’re at a big turning point in history yourself. Tuesday morning in the lab just doesn’t cut it.

"So he decided to throw a great, big party, so large it would be bound to get into the history books. Welcome to Century Park… He left me instructions about how to use the one chance to get into the time vortex and alter history for the better.

“And for my first trick, I’m going to prevent World War One.”

Hell yeah. Let’s do this. Partners in crime! Or…well, I’m not sure preventing World War One is a crime. Partners in saving the world!

Now, uh…how do we do that?

“It’s like waiting for the dentist, isn’t it?” Black says companionably.

Right, the assassination happened around 11:00, and it’s only 6:15. We’re going to be waiting a while here.

I’m curious how exactly Black is planning to avoid World War One, because (from what I remember from long-ago history classes) Franz Ferdinand wasn’t the real reason it happened. Even if the assassination didn’t happen, there would still be huge webs of alliances across Europe competing to see who could build the bigger military. But, I’m sure there’s some clever plan here.

In the meantime, let’s do some examining. The dresser is locked and Black doesn’t seem interested in conversation (everything I try gets a default response).

>x window
Down in the arched, cobbled city street, horses pass by and pedestrians dawdle beside the shops. Opposite is a cafe.

Horses, you say?

>sketch horses
You sketch in a picture of the street horses.

Very important.

>x cafe
The kind of just-adequate cafe students hang out in, to argue about Wagner, politics and philosophy.

And maybe plan to assassinate an Austria-Hungarian archduke? (Is it Austria-Hungarian or Austrian-Hungarian? Austrio-Hungarian?)

Black glances at a watch. “Right, you’d better have this just in case,” - and “this” turns out to be a nasty looking sniper’s rifle, fetched in from the hallway outside. You gaze at it in horror as Black re-locks the hallway door.

“There’s just a chance of them finding a modern bullet, so I’d rather a pistol.” Which Black proceeds to draw, before standing by the open window.

Wait what—

I’m getting a bad feeling about this.

To be continued!


Well, Black clearly has a plan here. So let’s see what that plan is.

“Soon, soon,” Black says, just as a scruffy-looking type slides into a cafe chair. “Ah, there he is. Good, this must be the right place.”

You have a terrible feeling of events relentlessly proceeding out of your control. Time seems to slow down as you see it all with helpless clarity.

Helpless? That seems like the wrong word for this situation. We’re about to help Black prevent forty million deaths.

>x student
He can’t be a day over seventeen, and has a wild-looking moustache.

“It’s like this,” Black says coolly. “The Archduke Ferdinand is about to come down the road in an open carriage for a day out with his wife, who’s only a duchess, so back home nobody will talk to her. Everybody hates the Archduke, except her I suppose, and nobody’s going to miss him…”

Okay, while you do that, we’re just gonna, uh…score some points. Don’t mind us.

>unlock dresser with key
(first taking the tagged key)
You unlock the cheap dresser.

>open dresser
You open the cheap dresser, revealing an edge piece.

"…For one thing, it’s Serbian National Day today and Ferdinand’s an Austrian. See that student drinking at the cafe down there? He’s panicking because the carriage hasn’t turned up yet, but it will. Then he’s going to shoot the Archduke, deliberately, and his wife, by accident. But that was last time.

“This time, it’ll be different,” says Black, cocking the pistol, facing up to a murderous duty with reckless bravado.

>get piece
(putting the charcoal pencil into the canvas rucksack to make room)

[Your score has just gone up by one point.]

So apparently that “eastern European” writing was Bosnian!

“Here they come!”

And so they do: the carriage pulls in to view and halts a moment in confusion. It looks as if the coachmen are lost. The student suddenly looks up. Black aims the pistol at him with a certain panache. The Archduke chats complacently to the Duchess, unaware of all this… attention.

You feel sharply tense. This is no time for indecision.

We’re not indecisive. We’re preventing a war and saving millions of lives. And we might not even need to get our hands dirty, since Black seems happy to do the assassination part for us!

Black murmurs, training the pistol carefully at the student.

Good luck, Black. Let’s do this.

“Here goes!” And Black fires the pistol, wounding the student and causing the student to miss and shoot one of the horses. The Archduke and Duchess are hustled safely away, but the scene is chaos as the horse bleeds terribly and militia seize the luckless revolutionary. Fortunately nobody thinks to look up at you.

Black smiles in frightened triumph, taking the rifle back, and you swallow with nervousness.

Nervousness, on the other hand, makes complete sense. What’s going to happen now?

The air here suddenly seems disturbed, and a kind of cloud gathers from light winds and currents.
From inside the rucksack, you hear a bell ring.

Black notices too and smiles winningly. “Lend me that device, please? I have business in The Land…”

Dazzled, you hand it over, and this ever more mysterious stranger does something very complicated, muttering and giving a devil-may-care grin. “Don’t worry, I know what I’m doing!”

The air suddenly condenses into a black sphere, but your friend (or foe) enters it and it vanishes again.

You begin to feel bewildered, manipulated… and deviceless.

“Lend me that device”, the ultimate manipulation tactic. Gosh darn it, why did Black have to be so cute?

The ormolu clock chimes a more insistent warning.

Oh, huh, was that only an hour? I lost track of time. (I did notice it was going faster in some parts and slower in others—turns cover more time when waiting around and less time during tense moments. A nice little writing device there.)

Well, let’s get back to the Monument!

Suddenly you are wrenched out into the time vortex once more, and find yourself back…

All right! Let’s go try this next piece!

Inside the Monument
A sloping crevice of metal, sunken into the ground some way to make a larger-than-expected room. Short flights of steps lead up to west and southeast. The air is frigid.

At the centre is a heavy old table whose top is a beautiful mahogany jigsaw-board, with room for sixteen pieces arranged in a square. There are two played pieces.

Sitting on the jigsaw table, evidently left for you by Black, is the curious device.

You shake your head, confused. Why did the mad London-born architect Kettering build this monument? Why did the government of the Franco-British Republic ever allow Century Park to be built here at Versailles? Never mind: time to go and get a drink of potato brandy from the commissars and toast the new millennium.

*** You have wrecked the course of history ***

In that game you scored 14 out of a possible 100, in 146 turns, giving you the rank of Prowler.

…wait, what?!


That seems like a good place to stop and wait for feedback. What’s going on here, and what should we be doing about it?


Hmmm, I’ve never actually played without a walkthrough before, so seeing it in action seems pretty interesting.

My guess is that we only get one shot at each puzzle piece, and have to preserve mainstream history. I think Black is supposed to represent misguided attempts at ‘fixing’ history that cause more problems than they solve (like the ‘kill baby Hitler’ time travel stories).

I also swear that this was one of the later segments, but I can’t remember!

But I don’t think they have a lot of dependencies on each other. I bet there’s a way to stop Black in the time frame!


From 20 years ago, I sort of remember time passing differently inside the puzzle room and out. Outside, you will reach the new year quickly. Inside, you have more time

Yeah, looks like we’re a time cop, sad to say (chronoterrorism would be much more fun!)

We had!

Hmm, wondering if we’ll come across said biography later (it would need to be back in Century Park, though).

Wait, but surely the first test of a time machine would count as a big turning point in history in of itself? I think I’d need to see the math to properly understand how this is supposed to work.

Yeah, WWI is a tough one to avoid through this kind of last-minute intervention. As you say, the structural factors go way beyond any one person or event – in addition to those alliances, the Serbians had developed a strong culture of political violence when under Ottoman suzerainty that was inevitably going to lead to a flash point when directed against Austria-Hungary, and the Russians were eager to use pan-Slavism as an ideological cover for expansion into Europe, while the French were likewise chomping at the bit for any chance to take the Germans down a peg. Parenthetically, the narrative that German militarism was the primary cause is largely revisionist history, supported by various Russian and French documentary forgeries intended to make it seem like they were responding to German provocations; the Germans certainly deserve a share of the blame, but they were actually slightly on the more cautious side of the ledger during the crisis.

(I did some reading on this when the centennial came up a couple years back; The Sleepwalkers, by Christopher Clark, is a good single-volume history of the runup if anyone’s interested in digging deeper into the period).

If I had a time machine and had to prevent WWI, I’d probably see if I could kick off the Russian Revolution a little early; forcing the Russians focus on internal affairs, and making the Western European powers more worried about Communists in their midst than foreign adventurism, might be enough to scramble the playing field. But of course that could have even more significantly negative downstream effects, too!

I am deeply curious about why this will turn out to be important.

I think I’ve mostly seen Austro-Hungarian? Yeah, that gets 6 M Google hits compared to 80k for Austria-Hungarian, 300k for Austrian-Hungarian, and 8k for Austrio-Hungarian.

Actually, in real-life history the first would-be-assassin missed him (rim-shot!)

Hmm, it seems the timeline has already gotten a little wonky; since this appears to be the decisive moment, it must be after the first, botched attempt, but in that case Princep wouldn’t be panicking because the carriage hasn’t turned up yet, but rather because the whole plan has already gone to hell (it was basically a lucky fluke that put him in position to kill Ferdinand, due to the officials changing the return route to avoid the city center after the first attack). Of course, this Black seems rather blase about messing with history, so might not be its most careful student…

Er wait, there’s a Thomas Covenant crossover happening?

I uh very much think you do not.

…I mean this doesn’t seem obviously bad? Not the biggest potato-brandy fan, myself, but there are still republics and the French and Brits have managed to get over their differences so could be worse.

(Of course, I’m an American. To an Englishman union with France might land decidedly worse!)

Welp, we seem to need to keep Black from messing up history too much, which I’m guessing means keeping the assassination on track. Pre-emptively shooting the Archduke seems a little bleak, but perhaps we could fire a warning shot to add to the confusion so Black doesn’t have a clear angle on Princep?

Alternately, we could close the window at the appropriate time.

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You know, that’s an excellent point. I hadn’t thought of that.

But maybe you end up in a sort of feedback loop, where the first failed test of a time machine isn’t anything special enough to make the test succeed?

This is why I’m really glad you’re in this thread! I don’t know nearly enough about 20th-century history to make these sorts of observations.


This is true! It sounds like World War One still happened (with some different inciting incident), and ended in a similar enough way that World War Two still happened…but given the (to me) very Soviet term “commissars”, maybe Stalinism ended up spreading a lot further than we’d expect and lasting a lot longer than we’d expect, and the government of the Franco-British Republic lets mad architects build monuments at Versailles because it’s become a dysfunctional mess of paranoia and corruption. That seems like it would be pretty bad.

This is also true!


So we’re trying to avoid this sort of thing? The World Wars were pretty bad, but maybe they would have ended up even worse if all the powers had a few more years to build up their forces and their hostilities first.

The story also hasn’t established that the player character has any particular skill as a sniper, though if Black is using a pistol maybe we’re close enough that we don’t need much skill. (I know basically nothing about guns.)

Though, >ASSASSINATE ARCHDUKE FRANZ FERDINAND would be a hell of a command to put in.

That makes sense. Or maybe we’re supposed to do a counter-counter-assassination, shooting the assassin who’s trying to shoot the assassin who’s trying to shoot the Archduke. (But shooting Black point-blank really doesn’t seem like the tone of this story.)

Ooh, I like this. Definitely within the player character’s abilities and feels very Interactive-Fiction-puzzle-y. All we need is a few seconds for Princip to take the shot, or for Black’s aim to be a little bit off.

We could also try to make a distraction, I suppose. Whacking someone in the head with a three-foot-square puzzle piece is a lot less violent than shooting them, but will still be very distracting.


Oh, I’m mostly fronting here – I roll pretty deep on history related to the U.S. constitution, which is to say, the founding, the Reconstruction and Redemption eras, and various rights-based movements and struggles in the 20th Century, plus some 17th Century British history since a lot of what the Founders were doing was an explicit response to the various constitutional crises and controversies that led to the British Civil War, the Interregnum, the Restoration, and the Glorious Revolution. But outside that, I’m much more hit and miss – that likely won’t stop me from spouting off, though!

Could well be, and it could certainly be a “Republic” only in the same way the DPRK is. I guess my thought was, maybe they’re just super anti-monarchies and that’s why they let randos build stuff in Versailles?

…how much longer is left in SeedComp round one?

You know, I was wondering about the size of the puzzle pieces! For there to be only 16 on a reasonably-sized table, presumably they’d be pretty bulky.

One other idea: I dunno if we can move the hands of the clock device while it’s ticking down, but it seems like it might affect Black as well as us. If that’s the case, maybe we can just end this little time-jaunt before Black has a chance to play God?