Let's Play: Trinity by Brian Moriarty

Following up from Let’s Play: Jigsaw, it’s time to look at one of the major inspirations for that game: Trinity, by Brian Moriarty. Many consider it Infocom’s greatest work, and one of the first truly “literary” works of IF. Does it really deserve that title? Let’s find out!

For this LP, I’m (somewhat arbitrarily) going to be using version 12/860926, the “Masterpiece” version. If you want to follow along, you can get it here; that’s the version all my save files will work with.

Finally, a word of warning: this is a story about the atomic bomb. I don’t actually know what content warnings this game deserves (it’s been a long time since I played it), but at the very least, it’s going to be depicting Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and given its age I wouldn’t be surprised if it has some…shall we say, antiquated depictions of race. If anything else comes up, I’ll tag it as we go.

So without any further ado, let’s begin…


Sharp words between the superpowers. Tanks in East Berlin. And now, reports the BBC, rumors of a satellite blackout. It’s enough to spoil your continental breakfast.

But the world will have to wait. This is the last day of your $599 London Getaway Package, and you’re determined to soak up as much of that authentic English ambience as you can. So you’ve left the tour bus behind, ditched the camera and escaped to Hyde Park for a contemplative stroll through the Kensington Gardens.

Palace Gate

A tide of perambulators surges north along the crowded Broad Walk. Shaded glades stretch away to the northeast, and a hint of color marks the western edge of the Flower Walk.

We’re off to a very solid start! IF has often struggled between the two extremes of “pages and pages of intro text” and “I have no idea what I’m doing”, and here, Moriarty’s grounded us with two short paragraphs. We are an American tourist in London, somewhere during the Cold War (this game came out in 1986, so probably intended to be contemporary). The news is all doom-and-gloom as usual, but we are not going to let that ruin our vacation!

How should we begin?


Northeast maybe? As I recall it’s pretty useful. Don’t forget.


For me, Trinity has one of the most memorable openings in the Infocom corpus. Part of the reason is how contemporary and straight-laced it was, especially compared to the previous fantasy and science fiction offerings.

That’s $1,681 in today’s dollars (according to this). Still sounds like a bargain.

Come on, have a full English. You’re in London.

Strange how this detail is as dating to the intro as the mention of East Berlin.

On a serious note, the last two sentences are particularly elegant. A tide of perambulators, shaded glades stretching away, a hint of color in gray London. (I recall looking up “perambulator” in the dictionary when I first played.)


I’m excited to read this. I call Trinity one of my favorites because playing as a pre-teen I really didn’t grok any of the Cold War stuff that was actually happening on grown-up TV shows but I adored the Wonderland-y hub world and was able to actually make progress.

I was a bit disturbed at needing to sacrifice small animals. I did it and likely hit the wall as my brain was enjoying details and puzzles and not concerned with the grown-up Uber-plot and message.

It contains one of my favorite prose descriptions in literature, describing the sky as “the sad color of antique brass.” I knew exactly what that looked like and how rare and special it was and still feel awestruck when it happens meteorologically in real life I always think of Trinity. Even though I now know with grown up understanding it’s likely intended to describe the way a nuclear blast creates that look like the sun low on the horizon to make the sky that color since the hub-world was frozen outside of parallel timelines.

I just checked and I misremembered the exact quote. It’s actually

“A brooding sun fills the distant valleys with a sad, dusty light the color of antique brass.”


A history-focused @Draconis Let’s Play? Sign me up! I’m excited you’re doing this one; I played through it five or six years ago but don’t actually remember very much, so should be fun to re-experience it.

If we entered Kensington Gardens via Hyde Park, we may well have come via Marble Arch, in the northeastern part of the park. That area’s famous as Speaker’s Corner, where radicals and rabble-rousers of all stripes have traditionally gathered to preach their divers creeds and been extended a general presumption of tolerance; Marx and Lenin famously orated there (so did Orwell).

The origin of the tradition goes to a darker part of the history, though – that corner of the park is the former location of the Tyburn Tree, one of the most infamous and frequently-used hanging-grounds for the execution of convicted criminals through the Renaissance and early modern periods. Frequently these criminals were Catholics who’d use their death oration to preach to the crowds (hangings were quite popular entertainments) and attempt to convert them; these seditious words were treated with indulgence because what were they going to do, hang them twice?

So on the one hand a heartening sign of how societies can learn from their mistakes and move forward; or on the other, an indication that even the slightest scratch at the surface of our modern, liberal traditions turns up barbarity. An apt setting-out point for our journey!

(I’ve only visited London once in my adult life; despite being frog-marched to dubiously-interesting historical sites like this one and being subjected to still-longer versions of these sorts of lectures, my wife still wants to go back with me one day, god bless her).

Ha, you are a nerd after my own heart, Jim – I was just about to look this up! As you say, definitely a steal, especially when you consider the exchange rate (in 86 there was roughly 70 cents to the pound, whereas now it’s over 80 cents; who says Brexit and 13 years of Tory government haven’t accomplished anything?) I’m guessing impending thermonuclear war tends to depress the tourist trade so we scooped up a bargain.

And of course this is where the more commonly-used term “pram” contracts from!

Speaking of the prams, perhaps we’d like to examine them? And yes, a retreat to the dimmer precincts of the northeast seems fine.


I’m not especially fine tuned in what counts as offensive language nowadays but as I remember it it is mostly which synonyms that is recognized that are problematic.


How does such a Let’s Play work? What are we supposed to post or not post?


The way I did the Jigsaw one, I would play until I got stuck, or reached a decision point with clear options (“should we go in door 1 or door 2?”). Then I’d post here, along with a save file, transcript, and map.

I’d say, if you remember the solution to a puzzle from playing before, then feel free to hint but don’t fully give away the answer unless I ask for it. If you don’t remember the solution, then feel free to speculate however you like!


No, I’ve never dared tackle this beast alone!


Now, let’s begin!

>x me
Aside from your London vacation outfit, you’re wearing a wristwatch.

Interesting. It seems like X ME gives your inventory! Trinity is notable for trying to be more “literary” in a bunch of its basic game mechanics; while you can’t see it here, the status line shows only the location name centered in the middle, and the inventory is given as a sentence instead of a bulleted list.

(Customizing the status line, incidentally, was a new feature in version 4 of the Z-machine. It’s used for this, and for another purpose you’ll see soon.)

From the room description, it seems we can go north, east, or northeast. With no other goal than to take in the ambience, I think we can safely spend a while exploring.


The east wind makes it difficult to walk straight.

Broad Walk

A brooding statue of Queen Victoria faces east, where the waters of the Round Pond sparkle in the afternoon sun. Your eyes follow the crowded Broad Walk north and south until its borders are lost amid the bustle of perambulators. Small paths curve northeast and southeast, between the trees.

A cloud of pigeons fills the air! They circle overhead and congregate around a nearby bench, where an aged woman is selling bags of crumbs.

“Feed the birds! Thirty p!” Her voice quavers with heartbreak.

All around the cathedral, the saints and apostles look down as she sells her wares / and although you can’t see them, you know they are smiling every time someone shows that he cares…

Ahem. Sadly we don’t seem to have any money to buy crumbs at this point. I’m betting we’ll get some and then come back.

>x woman
You get the feeling that she’s been selling crumbs on this same bench, year after year, since well before you were born. Her face is lined with care for her feathered charges, who perch on her round shoulders without fear.

“Feed the hungry birds!” cries the bird woman.

Can we walk into the pond?

“Thirty p! Thirty p a bag!”

Round Pond

Ducks and swans bob on the sparkling surface of the Round Pond. They share the water with an impressive fleet of toy boats, directed by the excited shouts of children.

Crowded paths radiate from the Pond in many directions.

Oh, not into, but up to. Let’s go back and try to be systematic in our exploring.

Broad Walk

An aged woman is selling crumbs nearby.

Ah, right, this is an Infocom game. They didn’t want to waste paper printing room descriptions too often. But nowadays, pixels are cheap!

[Maximum verbosity.]

Much better!

I’m betting southeast from here will take us east of our starting location, so we can start to go in a big circle around the pond.

“Thirty p for the starving birds!” hollers the bird woman.

The Wabe

This grassy clearing is only twenty feet across, and perfectly circular. Paths wander off in many directions through the surrounding thicket.

A shaft of golden sunlight falls across a handsome antique sundial, erected at the exact center of the clearing.

Ah, the wabe, where the slithy toves gyre and gimble, right?

>x sunlight
The sun is warm and bright.

>x sundial
The perimeter of the sundial is inscribed with seven curious symbols and a compass rose, with the legend “TEMPUS EDAX RERUM” emblazoned across the bottom. A triangular gnomon casts a fingerlike shadow that is creeping slowly towards the first symbol.

Ah, the Latin inscriptions we’ve so missed from Jigsaw! If I remember right Jigsaw used this one too—“time, devourer of all things”. (Or, more literally, “time, hungry for things”.)

Oh, what’s this?

This is also the game that introduced “boxed quotations” at the top of the screen. This is the other way Trinity uses the Z-machine status line—it extends the status line down over the rest of the game, prints the quote, then shortens it again. Thanks to Trinity, Inform has included this as a standard feature from the very beginning, and it’s been used by plenty of games since then.

Let’s examine those symbols.

>x symbols
The seven symbols are arranged in a circle. The series begins with a Greek omega and runs clockwise around the dial, ending with a Greek alpha.

[You’ll find the symbols reproduced on the sundial in your Trinity package.]

Oh right! Feelies! Let’s find this sundial, that would have been physically included with the game.

Trinity sundial feelie

Ooh, okay okay. Let’s examine these symbols properly.

  • Ω: Greek capital omega, the final letter of the alphabet.
  • ☿: alchemical symbol for Mercury (the planet or the metal—each planet was associated with a metal, and while most of these associations are long forgotten, “mercury” ended up displacing “quicksilver” as the name for this one).
  • ♇: modern symbol for Pluto. The alchemists didn’t know about this one, but modern astrologers made this by sticking together the letters PL, for Percival Lowell (who discovered it).
  • ♆: modern symbol for Neptune, created for the same reason. This one’s meant to look like Neptune’s trident.
  • :libra:︎: astrological symbol for Libra, my own zodiac sign.
  • :male_sign:: alchemical symbol for Mars or iron. Later became the symbol for “male” (while Venus/copper was used for “female”).
  • α: Greek lowercase alpha, the first letter of the alphabet.

Let’s see if this really does take us back.

The thicket blocks your path.

Oh no, this means the map is more tangled than we thought! Let’s get this place figured out before moving on.

To be continued shortly…


Hmm, I never saw the feelies! I feel like that explains a lot about the game that I never realized before… This is already fun to read, thanks!


While we’re in the Wabe, I think it’s important to apply the rules of adventuring.

>x gnomon
It’s a triangular piece of metal, about a quarter-inch thick and four inches long, screwed into the center of the sundial.

First, anything not nailed down is mine.

>take gnomon
The gnomon on the dial wobbles loosely when you try to move it.

Second, anything I can pry loose is not nailed down.

>turn gnomon
You can feel the gnomon getting more and more wobbly as you turn it. A final twist, and it falls with a clatter onto the face of the sundial.

And since this is an old-school game, we have to do one more TAKE.

>get gnomon
You take the gnomon off the sundial.

[Your score just went up by 5 points. The total is now 5 out of 100.]

[NOTE: You can turn score notification on or off at any time with the NOTIFY command.]

Turning off score notification was another attempt to make things a bit more literary. But I’m leaving it on because I want to see when we do something right!

After a bit of exploration, this is the overall map of our current area.

I’m going to be going around it counter-clockwise. Which means, after the Palace Gate, we’re headed to the Flower Walk!

Flower Walk

Gaily colored flower beds line the walks bending north and west, filling the air with a gentle fragrance. A little path leads northwest, between the trees.

You can see a soccer ball half-hidden among the blossoms.

The spires of the Albert Memorial are all too visible to the south. Passing tourists hoot with laughter at the dreadful sight; nannies hide their faces and roll quickly away.

Not nailed down? Mine.

>get ball
You take the soccer ball off the flower beds.

[Your score just went up by 1 point. The total is now 6 out of 100.]

And what are those spires?

>x spires
Your London guide book warned you that the Albert Memorial was ugly, but nothing could have prepared you for this embarrassing spectacle!

Is it really that bad?

Picture of the Albert Memorial

I’ve seen some ugly architecture, and this doesn’t even rate on that scale. (Even leaving aside my family’s hereditary feud with Frank Lloyd Wright.)

As we pass the Round Pond, something new happens:

One of the toy boats on the Round Pond catches your eye. The east wind blows it closer, and you realize that the white sails are actually wings. It’s a folded paper bird, floating just within reach.

>get boat
The toy boats are far out of reach.

>get bird
You lean over the edge of the Round Pond, and pluck the paper bird out of the water.

[Your score just went up by 3 points. The total is now 9 out of 100.]


Back to exploring.

Lancaster Walk

An impressive sculpture of a horse and rider dominates this bustling intersection. The Walk continues north and south; lesser paths curve off in many directions.

A broad field of grass, meticulously manicured, extends to the east. Beyond it you can see the Long Water glittering between the trees.

A printed notice is stuck into the grass.

>x notice
The words Do Not Walk On The Grass are sternly printed on the notice.

As a tourist, particularly an American one, I think we’re exempt from local rules.

As your feet touch the grass you sense a strange motion around you. Looking down, you watch with horror as the grass begins to ripple and writhe with vegetable indignance!

Angry green stalks whip around your legs, pull you to the ground and drag you, kicking and screaming, back to the paved surface of the Lancaster Walk.

A chorus of offended little voices subsides as you regain your footing.


Any Brits in the audience, can you confirm that this is how English grass behaves?

>x water
You can see it sparkling between the trees to the east.

A young couple zooms down the Lancaster Walk on bicycles. You watch them roll across the grass and disappear into the crowd.

Aha, it says Do Not Walk On The Grass, not Do Not Go On The Grass. I suspect we need to find a bike. (Then again, it’s the Lancaster Walk, not the Lancaster Bike…)

>x sculpture
According to a plaque, the sculpture is called Physical Energy.

I wouldn’t have expected this sculpture to have its own Wikipedia page, but here we are.


A shame we didn’t bring our camera. We could take our picture in front of it!

Continuing on around.

Lancaster Gate

A crooked old tree shades the perambulators as they roll south down the Lancaster Walk. Shady paths lead west along an iron fence, and southwest between the trees.

There’s an old woman under the tree, struggling to open an umbrella. The stiff east wind isn’t making it easy for her.

>x woman
Her face is wrong.

You look a little closer and shudder to yourself. The entire left side of her head is scarred with deep red lesions, twisting her oriental features into a hideous mask. She must have been in an accident or something.

A strong gust of wind snatches the umbrella out of the old woman’s hands and sweeps it into the branches of the tree.

The woman circles the tree a few times, gazing helplessly upward. That umbrella obviously means a lot to her, for a wistful tear is running down her cheek. But nobody except you seems to notice her loss.

After a few moments, the old woman dries her eyes, gives the tree a vicious little kick and shuffles away down the Lancaster Walk.

Now there’s an evocative description, “oriental” notwithstanding. Given what I know about the game’s themes, and that this is an elderly Asian woman in the 1980s, I’m going to guess these are radiation burns from Hiroshima or Nagasaki. (I’m not going to embed that image here; click the link at your own discretion.)

>x umbrella
The closed umbrella dangles in the tree overhead, high out of reach. Its handle is carved in the shape of a parrot’s head.

>x tree
It’s quite a nice tree, actually, except for the umbrella wedged in its branches.

That poor woman…maybe we can solve a puzzle and get her her umbrella back. Also, given the description and the faintly whimsical tone of the animate grass, this seems to be the umbrella from Mary Poppins.

umbrella with parrot head

Moving on!

Inverness Terrace

Crowded walkways lead east and west along an iron fence. Narrow paths wander south into the Gardens.

A young boy sits nearby, listening to a pair of headphones and idly blowing soap bubbles. There’s a dish full of soapy water by his side.

The boy dips the bubble wand in the dish and swishes it around.

Examining the boy gets us a quote but no further detail.

Black Lion Gate

Nannies and tourists hurry through the Lancaster Gate to join the perambulators rolling south down the Broad Walk. Less crowded paths wind east along an iron fence, and southeast between the trees.

A careless nanny has left her perambulator unattended.

…did someone abandon a baby? (“Perambulator” is the long version of “pram”, those things nannies push babies around in.)

(Also, apparently there were motorized ones in the 20s? TIL.)

>x pram
It looks as if the perambulator is closed.

Okay, but is there a baby inside?

>open it
You open the perambulator.

Okay, but is there a baby inside?

>x it
It looks as if the perambulator is open.

Okay, but is there a baby inside?

>search it
You see nothing unusual inside the perambulator.

This still doesn’t answer my question! A baby is the most usual thing to find inside a perambulator!

I’m just going to assume there’s not.

We can’t take the pram, but we can push it from room to room, which is definitely part of a puzzle somewhere. And now we’re back at Broad Walk.

Before stopping for tonight, let’s take a look at that paper bird.

You’re holding a paper bird, a soccer ball and a gnomon. You’re wearing a wristwatch, and you have a credit card and a seven-sided coin in your pocket.

Oh! So X ME doesn’t actually show all our possessions, only the ones we’re wearing!

>x card
You’ll have to take it out of your pocket first.


>get card then x it
You take the credit card out of your pocket.

[There aren’t any verbs in that sentence.]


>x card
The credit card is embossed with the usual codes. It expires tomorrow.

That’s an oddly specific detail. Why tomorrow? Back in the 80s, did people get temporary cards to take on vacation, that would expire as soon as the vacation did (in case they got lost or stolen)?

>x coin
You’ll have to take it out of your pocket first.


>get coin then examine it
You take the seven-sided coin out of your pocket.

“Feed the hungry birds!”

It’s standard British currency, worth fifty pence.

Nice classic 50p coin.

50p coin

Which is enough to buy some crumbs!

At least in 1986. Nowadays inflation might have outpaced that.

>buy crumbs
[with the seven-sided coin]

“Bless yer,” coos the bird woman, taking your money with a practiced snatch. “Twenty p’s the change.” She holds out a bag of crumbs and a small coin for you.

[Your score just went up by 1 point. The total is now 10 out of 100.]

“Take yer bag and change, guv’ner!”

>get bag and coin
The bag of crumbs: Taken.
The small coin: Taken.

In hindsight I probably should have tried the card first to see if there was a special response. Also, for the Brits here: does “guv’ner” establish that the player character is male? Or could a woman also be addressed like that?

Anyway, what were we doing? Oh right, that paper bird!

>x bird
The paper bird is skillfully folded from a piece of paper. Something is written between the folds.

>read bird
You’d have to unfold the paper bird to do that.

>unfold bird
You gently unfold the paper bird to its full size.

>read paper
The words “Long Water, Four O’Clock” are scrawled on the piece of paper.

>x watch
Your wristwatch says it’s 3:43:45 pm.

A bit of experimentation reveals that 15 seconds pass per turn. The Long Water is across that grass we can’t cross, so I’m guessing we need to finish everything in this area and solve that puzzle before 4:00, when Plot Happens.

Given how many turns I’ve wasted experimenting, I’ll almost certainly have to restart to make it in time. But for now, here’s the first session’s save and transcript.

01.sav (1.0 KB)
01.txt (13.5 KB)

What next? Personally, I want to try to throw the soccer ball at the tree and knock the umbrella down, but the strong wind might make it impossible to aim well enough.


Oh, and while examining my transcript I think I’ve found a small bug!

When a box quote comes up, it’s also printed to the transcript with brackets around it. (Since the transcript doesn’t normally capture the status line.) But there’s one quote that got printed to the transcript but never appeared on-screen.

>x symbols
The seven symbols are arranged in a circle. The series begins with a Greek omega and runs clockwise around the dial, ending with a Greek alpha.

[You’ll find the symbols reproduced on the sundial in your Trinity package.]

[ Can ye not discern the 
  signs of the times?    

         -- Matthew 16:3 ]

Now that’s a bad pun.


Are you sure? I just tried it in Frotz, and it showed up for me. And then, just for fun, I tried it in an emulator to reproduce what it looked like the first time I saw it.



Huh. Might be an issue with my particular configuration, then. It makes sense if it’s actually supposed to appear!


The quote is actually triggered by the description of the soap bubble bursting. Which I guess makes the connection a little more understandable?


Back then, people did get travel cards for holidays, although they weren’t as common in that time as traveller’s cheques (or just plain exchanging cash). Infocom has, with that one item, characterised you as upper-middle class or lower upper class (if you were upper-upper class, someone else would be handling your money and that’s too much load on an IF that must fit in such a small space, and if you were typical middle class, you’d have a traveller’s cheque. Which itself could have had a short expiry on it). Travel cards are still a thing now, but don’t designate class so blatantly and usually aren’t tied quite so tightly to one’s holiday dates.

(“Guv’nor” further supports this - only an upper-middle-class or upper-class person would be described thus - and also indeed confirms the player character is male).


That’s such a cool detail! I didn’t pick up on that at all.


I believe the game was actually set in the near future -1996, I think. Not that there is really much to indicate “the future”.
“Tempus Edax Rerum” is related to another, more famous (and often misinterpreted) saying.
Spot on with the Mary Poppins but there’s another famous literary figure associated with Kensington Gardens…