Let's Play: The Gostak

Also known as: can I make the most confusing thread ever?

The Gostak is a bizarre and wonderful linguistic IF that I enjoy inflicting on people. Everyone I’ve recommended it to, both normal friends and linguists alike, has run away screaming from the opening page. It placed 21st in IFComp 2001 out of 51 entries, won Best Individual Puzzle & Best Use of Medium in that year’s XYZZY Awards along with a Golden Banana of Discord, and may be ever so slightly infuriating to play. I love it.

The Gostak has some normal logic puzzles of the type you might expect from IF, but its real puzzle is centered around figuring out what in the fresh hell the game is saying. Like, who is the protagonist?

You are the gostak.

What is a gostak?

The gostak distims the doshes.

Very helpful.

This is actually a sentence, coined in 1903 by Andrew Ingraham, which describes a linguistic phenomenon – ‘Gostak’ on Wikipedia. Basically, even if a sentence is made up of words that refer to nothing on their own, we can derive some meaning from the sentence syntax. We can then create grammatically proper variations on that sentence, like so:

The gostak distims the doshes. Ergo, distimming is what gostaks do to doshes. Doshes get distimmed by gostaks.

You can also see this in things like Jabberwocky – that wabe is chock-full of slithy toves, and by god are those toves gimbling and gyring! I can figure that out despite having no idea what toves or wabes are.

Carl Muckenhoupt doesn’t stop at just a nonsense sentence or a few stanzas, though, oh no. He decided to write an entire Interofgan Halpock where you basically get a language immersion experience into this very, very strange world of being the gostak what distims the dosh whatevers – until they begin to take on meaning in your mind.* Here’s the opening:

Finally, here you are. At the delcot of tondam, where doshes deave. But the doshery lutt is crenned with glauds.
Glauds! How rorm it would be to pell back to the bewl and distunk them, distunk the whole delcot, let the drokes discren them.
But you are the gostak. The gostak distims the doshes. And no glaud will vorl them from you.
The Gostak
An Interofgan Halpock
Copyright 2001 by Carl Muckenhoupt
(For a jallon, louk JALLON.)
Release 2 / Serial number 020305 / Inform v6.21 Library 6/10
This is the delcot of tondam, where gitches frike and duscats glake. Across from a tophthed curple, a gomway deaves to kiloff and kirf, gombing a samilen to its hoff.
Crenned in the loff lutt are five glauds.

Woah, this is like…32 new words??? Slow your roll, The Gostak! No no, I lied, keep going, you’re fantastic. Let’s pick up tomorrow!

*This fits into the part of my brain that likes linguistic puzzles and decoding vocabulary via immersion, a la Tork and A Clockwork Orange.



Oh, very cool! I think I played a little of The Gostak like 20 years ago and it melted my brain, but the more considered approach of a Let’s Play thread seems like a great fit.

Re Clockwork Orange: learning the slang from that helped me bluff my way to a B+ in Russian 101 despite doing zero work


I’m going to mute this thread until I finish playing it on my own, because as a linguist I love this idea and want to experience it firsthand. But then I look forward to coming back and seeing how others went through it!


It helped me understand a modicum of what my Russian friend said with her family, so, surprisingly useful! (they hated the Nadsat though)


So ok, we got 32 words here. But there are some patterns, things we can derive from context, grammar, and syntax.

I won’t break this down for every single passage, but just to give you an idea of how this game works linguistically:

  • “For a jallon, louk JALLON” fits into the usual Inform message - “For a hint, type HINT”. The game uses many interactive fiction conventions and swaps out their vocabulary to indirectly hint at meaning.
  • This is a ‘doshery’. The suffix -ery tends to mean ‘the place for’ – ex: hatchery, brewery, fishery, bakery, eatery. So this is the place for doshes, either where they reside or are created.
    – But the delcot of tondam (‘here’ where you are ‘at’, ergo a location) is also described as “where doshes deave” - if it was a place where doshes are produced, constructed, or caught by something else (translating ‘deave’ as any of these) then wouldn’t it be “where doshes are deaved”? It sounds like the doshes are subjects acting on the world in some way. Doshes play, doshes live, doshes grow, or something like that. So I think it’s a fair assumption that doshes are some living thing - though assuming that they map to any real world living entity would be a mistake.
  • Similarly, it sounds like gitches, duscats, and glauds are living things which (at the very least) can frike, glake, and vorl respectively.
  • One more thing I’ll note is that there are some patterns between the words. The doshery lutt is crenned with glauds, and you want to let the drokes discren them. The prefix ‘dis-’ means ‘to oppose’, ‘to not be/to lack’, or ‘to be apart from’ the word it’s a prefix of. Disallow (to oppose allowing), dishonest (to not be honest), discard (to throw a card away). So the opposite of crenning is discrenning. Does that apply to distunk or even distim as well?

I’ll put a dictionary here too - we can add to and change it as we play (there’s also a dictionary someone made and put in the IFDB page, but let’s start from scratch here). I’ve attempted to add the (guessed) infinitives of verbs and singular versions of nouns - unlike actual English, this game is pretty consistent with grammar.


a - adjective
n - noun
v - verb

  • bewl (n):
  • bewly (a):
  • brangy (n):
  • brolge (n):
  • camling (n):
  • chuld (n):
  • Cobbic (?):
  • cren (v):
  • curple (n):
  • darf (n):
  • deave (v):
  • dedge (n):
  • delcot (n):
  • discren (v):
  • distim (v):
  • distunk (v):
  • doatch (v):
  • dosh (n):
  • doshery (n):
  • drague (n):
  • drokes (n):
  • durch (v):
  • duscat (n):
  • fack (n):
  • fesh (?):
  • feshary (n):
  • fetticle (n):
  • frike (v):
  • geln (n):
  • gharmy (a?):
  • gheliper (n):
  • gitch (n):
  • glake (v):
  • glaud (n):
  • gomb (v):
  • gomway (n):
  • gope (a):
  • gostak (n):
  • halpock (n):
  • heamy (a):
  • hoff (?):
  • hoggam (n):
  • interofgan (n):
  • jallon (n):
  • jenth (?):
  • jihoff (?):
  • kiloff (?):
  • kirf (?):
  • koshle (n):
  • leil (v):
  • loff (a?):
  • louk (v):
  • lutt (n):
  • milm (v):
  • mislouk (n):
  • mosteg (n):
  • murr (?):
  • naft (n):
  • oops (v):
  • osta (?):
  • pank (n):
  • pashual (n):
  • pell (v):
  • pellage (n):
  • plazzy (?):
  • pob (v):
  • poltive (a?):
  • potchner (n):
  • rask (v):
  • raskable (a);
  • reb (v):
  • regomb (v):
  • relouk (n):
  • rike (v):
  • roggler (?):
  • rorm (?):
  • samilen (n):
  • sloagy (?):
  • tavidlouker (n):
  • tendo (n):
  • tondam (n):
  • tophth (v):
  • tophthed (a):
  • tunder (n?):
  • tunk (v):
  • tunkage (n):
  • ungope (v):
  • unheamy (a):
  • vorl (v):
  • warb (n):
  • zank (v):
  • zoncha (v):

So, we’re in the Delcot. Crenned in the loff lutt are five glauds. What do we do next? Can we guess at what these words mean? What on earth do we attempt to type into this parser?



Is trying JALLON beneath us?


Thank you from the bottom of my heart for that link. I played this when I was delving into the JayisGames archives some what, ten or fifteen years ago.I absolutely loved it but I forgot the title and never succeeded in tracking it down.

It’s a great reference and point of comparison when talking about The Gostak!


If I remember correctly, JALLON is more an ABOUT/HELP command than simply hints. As such, I consider it the Rosetta’s Stone of the game.

The fact that ABOUT-text is structured very similarly across games makes this a treasure trove for both vocabulary and linguistic structure. You can almost translate passages one-to-one with other games’ about-text. I started building my dictionary from there when I first played (17 years ago?).

It’s also important to remember that while making a traditional “dictionary” can be helpful for visualising the world, it can also impede progress if you persist in forcing the Gostak-language onto English words. The most obvious point is probably directional commands. Don’t translate them. All we need are two opposite-relations: X <=> Y and P <=> Q. How we map those onto NESW is irrelevant, as long as the opposition stays intact.

I think my more general point is that we need to understand relations much more than individual words (especially nouns).


It’s fun reading along. My two visualizations when I played are “this game is set on a strawberry farm in a Redwall type world” and “this game is set on a world of aliens and is a cross between Alien and Dark Crystal with some kind of caste system of body shapes.


Glad to see this getting a Let’s Play. I really enjoyed The Gostak when I played it. I’ll keep quiet so I don’t spoil any puzzles if this is your first playthrough, but I’m looking forward to seeing how your Gostak dictionary develops. I’ve just looked at my own Gostak notes, and there are a lot of question marks in there.


Hmm, definitely let’s try JALLON. It probably won’t work, but might as well try to DISTUNK, DISCREN, and even DISTIM the GLAUDS (as well as the non dis-y versions of those verbs). Turnabout is fair play so we even might VORL (and DISVORL?) them…


When I played this, I committed the cardinal sin of IF: I started it before a 2-week trip, got halfway through it, and then when I came back from my trip, I had no idea what was going on, so I never finished it. I’ve always felt badly about this, so it’s wonderful to have this thread to get some closure.


No problem! It’s one of my favorites. It took me a while to remember the name too, but what I did remember was “can you tork the talk?”

Very fair, so let’s build our dictionary with that in mind!

I landed on this interpretation when I first played it xD

It’s not my first playthrough, but it’s been my first one in a while. However, it might be others’ first playthrough, so I appreciate keeping mum about the puzzles!

Now let’s try some of the stuff yall suggested.


> jallon

This takes us to a menu! The header says “Jallon for “The Gostak””.

P = plazzy fesh
RETURN = tunk fesh
0 = osta fesh
Q = regomb halpock

Then the menu items:

Credits and License

Let’s go through at least Dedges. I agree with @rovarsson that this will definitely be helpful when understanding the game.

[pressing RETURN/ENTER key on keyboard]
Bewly dedges
Heamy dapes

This is a long menu and is almost a shortcut to understanding a lot of the game, so I’ll put the items in summary/details in case you want to puzzle it out just from pure gameplay yourself.

Bewly dedges

This is a halpock. As in all halpocks, you doatch at it about what to do in a camling by louking murr English dedges, and the halpock louks back. Durly, you could rask a chuld (if you rebbed one) by louking:

You could then tunk the chuld, or pob it at a tendo, or whatever:
Nothing heamy results.

The tendo leils it.

You can use multiple objects with some dapes:

You can also louk multiple dedges by using “.” or THEN:

One very heamy dape is TUNK. You’ll be using TUNK a lot, so you can disengope it to T:
The tendo isn’t gharmy now that it’s leiled a chuld.

The halpock recognises many other dapes! Try anything. If the halpock louks a dape, maybe you can louk it back.
[Please louk SPACE.]


To pell from deave to deave, just louk with that fesh! You must also louk the lutt to pell at.

You can also louk this less gopely:
…or even:
Likewise, HOFF can be disengoped to H, JIHOFF to JH, and so on.

You can also pell at deaves. If you rebbed a mosteg, you could:

Of course, you can’t pell at all lutts from all deaves. And even if you could, there are glauds…
[Please louk SPACE.]


Doatching is sloagy in this halpock, and a gope tunder of brolges. If you reb someone to doatch at, louk:
>DOATCH ABOUT something AT someone
>DOATCH AT someone ABOUT something
The fesh of your doatching can be anything you’ve rebbed or anything someone has doatched at you about.

As in other halpocks, you can also doatch dedges for others by using the fetticle (“,”). To doatch at a pank to rask a koshle, you would louk:
…but in this halpock, such dedges will never do anything heamy.
[Please louk SPACE.]

Heamy dapes

There are some heamy dapes for dedges about the halpock itself:

QUIT: Quits the halpock.

SAVE/RESTORE: These dapes let you regomb the halpock to an osta. SAVE tunds the halpock to your feshary, and RESTORE regombs it.

RESTART: Regombs the halpock as it was before you louked any dedges at all.

UNDO: Undoes the osta camling, as if it had been distunked.

AGAIN (or G): Relouks your dedge from the osta camling.

OOPS (or O): Oopses a mislouk in the osta dedge. Whatever you louk in the dedge with OOPS will be oopsed into the mislouk.

VERBOSE/BRIEF/SUPERBRIEF: Rikes the halpock’s louking when you gomb a deave. VERBOSE louks gope tunkage of deaves whenever you gomb them. BRIEF louks gope tunkage of deaves if you haven’t been there before, and ungope tunkage otherwise. SUPERBRIEF always louks ungope tunkage of deaves.

REB (or R): Louks gope tunkage of your deave.

SCORE: Louks your pellage in the halpock.

MILM (or M): Tunks your raskage.

SCRIPT ON/SCRIPT OFF: SCRIPT ON tunds a pashual of the halpock to your feshary or tavidlouker. SCRIPT OFF undoes SCRIPT ON.

ZONCHA (or Z): Zonchas for a camling.
[Please louk SPACE.]


Play the halpock for realsies

Now let's actually try some things in the game! Pressing 'q' to regomb halpock brings us back to the initial Delcot.

> distunk glaunds
Which do you mean, the raskable glaud, the poltive glaud, the glaud-with-roggler, the glaud of jenth or the Cobbic glaud?

Oh, right…there are five glauds. The header of the game says “Glauds: 5”, reminding us of this fact. Let’s uh, just pick the first one?

> raskable glaud
You distunk it.

What that did…who knows! Aside from increment Camlings (in the header) to 2. Let’s try the opposite now?

> tunk raskable glaud
A raskable glaud is about as unheamy as a darf of jenth, but at least it can vorl the doshery from the gitches.
A naft of gitches pells at the hoggam.

Huh, there’s a glaud of jenth too.

> discren raskable glaud

This is just like how parsers complain about “use item” isn’t it? The game wants us to be more specific.

> cren raskable glaud
Just pob it at a lutt and it’ll cren itself.

> distim raskable glaud
You can only do that to something poltive.

There’s a poltive glaud as well. This also means that doshes must be poltive, because you distim doshes.

> tim raskable glaud
Gostaks distim, not tophth.
A warb degombs the brangy.

Ah! It doesn’t say “Gostaks distim, not tim.” It says “Gostaks distim, not tophth.” What’s the relation between ‘tim’ and ‘tophth’?

> vorl raskable glaud
Vorling is the fesh of ghelipers.
A gitch frikes from the hoggam to zank and leil the warb.

> disvorl raskable glaud
That’s not a dape I recognise.


We still have 5 Glauds. Camlings is at 7.

(Also, if it isn’t clear from my posts so far, this is meant to be a Let’s play, in that I want people to suggest commands and stuff so they can also get exposed to the game! I am putting all of the text that I receive from the parser in this thread, and will continue to do so unless an action is repetitive.)



Well no one replied to this which is a little awkward because I did want people to suggest things (I have already played and beaten this game multiple times - this is for y’all, not me!)

But I shall forge on anyway!

So one of these glauds is ‘raskable’ - if rask is a verb that you can do to things (and Bewly dedges says it is) then can we rask this raskable glaud the way one might view a viewable object or clean a cleanable object?

> rask raskable glaud
A gitch tunks you from the hoggam.

Holy crap, we can!

And now the top Glauds: 5 has reduced to Glauds: 4!

But where did it go? What did rasking actually do? And uh, how about the other glauds, are those raskable?

> rask poltive glaud
The poltive glaud wouldn’t be stam of that.
A warb degombs the brangy.

Okay, maybe I’m not stam either. Who’s to say.

> rask glaud of jenth
That’s shoracle.
A gitch frikes from the hoggam to zank and leil the warb.

>rask cobbic glaud
That’s shoracle.
A gitch tunks you from the hoggam.

> rask glaud-with-roggler
That’s shoracle.
A naft of gitches pells at the hoggam.

Shoracle :sob:

(Neither stam nor shoracle are dapes the halpock recognizes if I type them in, for what it’s worth)

By the way, these recurring phrases seem to be repeated events of some sort. A warb degombs the brangy and in the next camling, a gitch frikes (hey, that’s what the intro said they do!!) to zank and leil the warb.

What do I do with the rasked glaud? And uh, all the other ones?

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