Recommendations for puzzles that hide the true nature of things

One puzzle type I’ve always loved, and which IF is pretty unique in being able to present (since it’s not graphical), is when there’s an object or (even better) a structure that is described without giving away that it is in fact something very concrete and specific. Does anyone have games that do this to recommend?

I’m not sure if I’m able to explain it properly, but a prime example of what I mean is the Oddly-Angled Room in Zork II. It requires the player to understand what is being described, without being told outright. (And yes, it’s a notoriously bad puzzle and I agree with that – it’s the concept I love!) Or when the player finds an “everyday” item that the character in-game apparently doesn’t know about and so doesn’t recognize, like the hot air balloon that’s also in Zork II. (In the same vein, the nature of the noise in the Loud Room in Zork I is similar.)

It’s hard to convey exactly what it is I’m looking for (many games have items that you don’t understand what are immediately), but stuff like this always reminds me of Gene Wolfe, especially his Solar Cycle books that take place in the far future, when knowledge of the original nature of some structures and buildings has been lost.


It’s possible none of these things are exactly what you’re looking for, but here we go:

For a Change

Under this sweetness lies a small expanse of fod. A mobile releases mildly to the west; far in that direction a tower proudly plants itself, while the ground rises more slowly to the south and relaxes to the north.

This game is set in a bizarre world (or possibly a normal world) where a ton of words are neologisms.

Deadline Enchanter

A statue of my grandfather is here. Wait…I should say, instead: “A statue, which is my grandfather, is here.”

Nishapour is here, looking as frayed as usual.

You can also see a slender book here. Just lying in the avenue! How can it be so? (Because it is not real.)

This book is set in an AU or near-future where faeries or aliens have invaded parts of the Midwest. It takes for granted a lot of the faerie way of life and some things I didn’t ‘get’ until three or four playthroughs in.


It’s a bright orange polymer casting, moulded in the shape of a spiral disk. A tiny legend on the now faded material reads, in the Ancient language, FRISBEE ™ HELIPTA.

This is the least weird game on the list, and probably closest to your intent. You are an archaeologist studying a typical (near-future) suburban American household from centuries ago.

The Gostak

"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 uncren them.

But you are the gostak. The gostak distims the doshes. And no glaud will vorl them from you.

The most punishing game on the list. This game replaces many nouns, adjectives and verbs with new words that work grammatically like English but are nonsense. Could be about an alien hive or a farmer growing strawberries; beats me.

Reference and Representation: An Approach to First-Order Semantics

In this space, between the outside of the cave and the inside of the cave, is where your mate does that thing where she rubs stuff all over the walls. The motivation for this bizarre behavior utterly eludes you, but you have been able to deduce that messing with her wall stuff makes her really mad.

The most light-hearted game on the list, you’re a cave man that has to help his sick wife but doesn’t understand a lot of the world around him… yet.


I suspect that the “thing your Aunt gave you which you don’t know what it is” from The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is an example of this, in that its true nature can only be discovered by experimentation.


If I am understanding what you are describing, I believe Coloratura contains a lot of good examples.

I’m not going to list them because that would spoil the experience, but if I understand you correctly, I think you would really enjoy it.


“Body Rituals of the Nacerima” (not IF) may be good inspiration for such puzzles.


If I might be permitted a moment of self-promotion, I once wrote a little game trying to evoke that feeling of “this feels familiar but I’m not being told what it is”: The Lost Temple of Kingara. It’s not really about creating a puzzle exactly (everything you can do is either progress or clearly “nothing happens”), it’s more about trying to create that “wait a minute, I know this…” feeling after the game is over.

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