Possible Origin of the Word ZORK - Li'l Abner, April 21 1935

While I’ve played various text and adventure games over the years, I’m really an “active” member of the community… but I stumbled across something interesting that I really wanted to share. I was reading through “Li’l Abner: The Complete Dailies and Color Sundays Vol. 1” (978-1600106118) and I came across this spare panel from April 21, 1935.

I did some net research, and I didn’t really find a reference to this anywhere… given the general influence of Capp over a LOT of American pop culture, I’m wondering what the odds are that “zork” as a nonsense word at MIT has its origins in Li’l Abner? I mean, we did get the Schmoo and Sadie Hawkins from him…

I need to get my own copy of the book – I did a library loan, and it seems somewhat hard to find again.


Low, I’d say.

(Why do I say this? Because somewhere I have a list of “origins” of the name “Zarf”, and there’s four independent ones that I can think of off the top of my head. Not inspired by each other, just authors coming up with a silly word.)


I think so, too. The author(s) at Infocom probably came up with an invented word. Like I came up with an online name for me: Trox. Probably someone else has used the name Trox before me. Similar with Zarf, as he wrote above. So could it have been with Zork.

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I don’t know, this passage from the game suggests a connection:

A nasty-looking shoe-wearing troll, brandishing a bloody axe, blocks all passages out of the room. The troll shouts “ME-ZORK! I-HUNGRY! I EAT YOU!”
Your sword has begun to glow very brightly.

Yeah, it’s a joke.


That is indeed interesting. Thanks (to David and Mike) for pointing it out. Kind of funny to see that connection.

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I have to admit that is closer to how I pictured the troll than the anemic creature shown here, which makes the adventurer look like a bully:

Random thoughts:

I don’t recall ever noticing the dark creature lurking behind the adventurer’s feet until now. A Grue? That would mean we’ve always known what they look like. Also, is anyone else annoyed that helmet isn’t in the game? The house seems far too big. Sword fighting while carrying an armload of treasure is truly difficult. Do most adventurers have a mustache? The troll’s axe is indeed bloody.


I agree on the hero looking a bit like a bully.


The cover makes it look like the sword is named Zork.


This is amazing. It will be quoted in a reliable source and achieve Wikipedia truth.

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I suspect the marketing team contracted the art out to a busy working fantasy artist with a prompt like this:

“So it’s about an adventurer. The game is about collecting treasures and the most iconic is a sword that magically glows blue. The first thing the player reads is You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox here… That’s probably enough detail!”

The artist kind of went with the trope-iest version of adventurer and figured like most D&D stuff they usually illustrated that the game would be about fighting creatures. To be honest, the more sedate version of that art with a nameless-faceless…person just reading a leaflet in a mailbox might not have been quite so marketable on the shelf.


Perhaps they had a bit more info, but no context?

:white_check_mark: Boarded up white house.
:white_check_mark: Mailbox
:white_check_mark: Adventurer
:white_check_mark: Sword that glows blue
:white_check_mark: Nasty knife? (on adventurer’s hip)
:white_check_mark: Troll with bloody axe
:white_check_mark: Lurking Grue?
:white_check_mark: Pot of gold
:white_check_mark: Trunk of jewels
:white_check_mark: Bell
:white_check_mark: Scepter
:x: Armful of groceries?
:white_check_mark: Large emerald


Be fair: the illustration also shows an ornamented sceptre, a bag of gold coins, a brass bell, and what might well be a gold sarcophagus. The artist had some information going in.

If you look carefully around the edges, you can even argue that the fight is happening in the mouth of a cave, rather than outdoors (where a grue would never lurk).


I never noticed the cave - I always thought that was a tree to the right - but you are right.

I thought it was the bag of coins at first, but now I think it’s the pot of gold. Also, I think that’s the trunk of jewels rather than the sarcophagus.


My brain always interpreted that as a tree as well, but now that you point it out, I’m fairly sure you’re correct, Zarf.

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Ah, I think the green brick is in fact the large emerald.(Adding to list above)


As noted by jonathan, I warmly suggest Mike to avoid involuntarly seeding fake news and/or urban legend.

Being a trained historian, I have quad-checked the sources & binaries, no trace of the passage, hence I concur with the implicit classification by Jonathan.

Best regards from Italy,
dott. Piergiorgio.


The gold brick in the adventurer’s arm is now really bothering me. It’s too big to be the brass bauble and the wrong color to be the platinum bar.

Artistic license.

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Maybe it’s the pile of plastic - aka the boat. :wink:

Of course ChatGPT is doing a far better job than I. In another thread I pointed out how it was absolutely certain Zork began with a small brick building at the end of a road.

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