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Video Game / Nord and Bert Couldn't Make Head or Tail of It

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A 1987 Interactive Fiction game from Infocom. You play a visitor to the town of Punster, which is suffering a sudden plague of wordplay. Homophones, literal idioms, and more are making the lives of the townsfolk unbearably complicated, and since the local government is helplessly infected, the Citizens' Action Committee has asked you to help figure things out.

The entire game is based on wordplay puzzles. For example, the command "MAKE A MOUNTAIN OUT OF THE MOLEHILL" will literally turn a molehill into a mountain, you can "SWALLOW YOUR PRIDE" to consume a plate of lion steaks, and there's a sequence where you have to mess around with a tool called the "Jack of All Traits" to turn it into a "jackhammer" and a "jacuzzi", among other tools.

Players must travel through eight sections ("Shopping Bizarre", "Play Jacks", "Buy the Farm", "Eat Your Words", "Act the Part", "Visit the Manor of Speaking", "Shake a Tower", and "Meet the Mayor") in order to restore some semblance of normalcy to Punster.

Contains examples of:

  • Beanstalk Parody: In "Shake a Tower", you visit a stockroom full of pairs of jeans. The back of the jean stock becomes Jack and the Beanstalk, and a man surveying the jeans (a jean client) gets turned into a clean giant, who climbs up the stalk. You meet the giant at the top of the stalk, where he pours a bucket of thick butter down it so you can't climb as easily. To defeat the giant, you give him your hat, which contains a head louse. Turning it into a lead house, you crush the giant and tie bed sheets (from the beets in his shed) to climb back down. The client isn't done yet, and shows up once more at the bottom, where you deliver a crushing blow to defeat him for good.
  • Bedsheet Ladder: In "Shake a Tower", you take some beets from the giant's shed and tie them into a bedsheet rope, which you use to climb down the beanstalk.
  • Down on the Farm: "Buy the Farm" has you on a traditional farm setting, with locales such as a shed and grain silo, and animals such as horses, cats, dogs, and donkeys. The farm has no inhabitants aside from the animals, and your goal is to fix it up, although you can travel to a nearby market once you find a means of transport. During this level, you do things such as pin the tail on the donkey, look a gift horse in the mouth, put the cart before the horse, and put your nose to the grindstone.
  • Final-Exam Boss: The final section of the game, "Meet the Mayor", combines various types of wordplay from the preceding sections.
  • Fun with Homophones: The puzzles in "Shopping Bizarre" revolve around homophones, like having to wrangle a chocolate moose by turning it into a chocolate mousse.
  • Game-Breaking Bug:
    • It's possible for the game to glitch during "Shake a Tower", removing the bicycle entirely after you dismount it. You're not able to get back to the clearing or go up the beanstalk, making it unwinnable.
    • Similarly, in "Play Jacks", if you use the jacuzzi without freeing the mermaid, she'll disappear and you'll be left with nothing to do.
  • A Head at Each End: Inverted on the game's cover, which features a cow with a tail at both ends.
  • Kleptomaniac Hero: Lampshaded in "Meet the Mayor"; Given a six-pack and a list of "pretenses" (such as "The world is flat" and "2+2=5"), the player must "TAKE BEER UNDER FALSE PRETENSES".
  • "Knock Knock" Joke: One of the levels ("Act the Part") has some of these. "Bob" sets up a reference to Fred Fassert's "Barbara Ann",note  "Gorilla" is a setup for "Gorilla your dreams", and "Dwayne" leads to "Dwayne the bath, I'm dwowning!"
  • Have a Gay Old Time: One of the characters you come across in "Shake a Tower" is a "queer old dean". This is referring to the strange college frat ritual he's undergoing, where a leopard repeatedly shoves him. You turn them into a dear old queen and a loving shepherd.
  • Hint System: The game has a built-in hint system. Typing "hint" will bring you to a menu where you can manually pick hints. They start off by subtly clueing you in to what you need to do, but if you keep requesting hints, they'll outright tell you when to type into the parser.
  • Hurricane of Puns: All the puzzles in the game are based around puns, literal metaphors, and other forms of wordplay.
  • Literal Metaphor: Multiple sections make use of this. For example, "Play Jacks" requires players to think of as many words and idioms including "jack" in it (ie. jackrabbit, jackknife, etc.), while "Eat Your Words" and "Buy the Farm" require the player to act out dozens of cliches, such as "Read the riot act", "Hit the broad side of a barn", "Teach an old dog new tricks", and many more. In "Shake a Tower", when you find some advice written in the sand, you have to "read between the lines" to understand it.
  • Literal-Minded: You have to get past all the idioms by being literal-minded in three of the stages (Buy the Farm, Eat Your Words, and Meet the Mayor).
  • Moon Logic Puzzle: The game runs on a specific type of weird logic, dependent on wordplay, so some of the puzzles end up being quite obtuse if you aren't familiar with the terms. For example, one part in "Shake a Tower" has you save a shepherd from a rabid rat, and he drops a book of riddles. You also see a burning pile of soap suds, with an icicle hanging above them. The solution is to "riddle while foam burns", a play on the obscure expression "fiddle while Rome burns". This leads you to a well-boiled icicle, which you can turn into a well-oiled bicycle and use to get around.
  • Nintendo Hard: Nord and Bert is considered the hardest Infocom ever made. While there aren't many opportunities to get killed, some of the metaphors the player must act out in order to proceed are incredibly obscure even to native English speakers (how often do most people use the phrase "hammer your swords into ploughshares"?).
  • No Antagonist: The game consists of individual segments with no overarching plot or antagonist. Even in the individual segments, some, like "Buy the Farm", have no antagonist or specific character that gets in your way.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: The "cereal murderer" from "Shopping Bizarre" looks and dresses like a stereotypical Hollywood vampire (with sharp fangs and black Gothic evening dress), but instead of sucking blood, he ravenously devours bread, pasta, breakfast cereal, and other grain and wheat products.
  • Solve the Soup Cans: The game has many examples, due to being based around wordplay puzzles.
  • Spoonerism: The theme of one chapter, "Shake a Tower". The player has to change a shoving leopard into a loving shepherd, a well-boiled icicle into a well-oiled bicycle, a gritty pearl into a pretty girl, etc.
  • Tablecloth Yank: During "Eat Your Words", you do this to remove a short shrift being used as a tablecloth so you can "give the waitress short shrift".
  • Unintentionally Unwinnable:
    • If you let the match burn out in "Act the Part" before you can use it, you can't light it again and you're stuck being unable to complete the segment.
    • The Doldrums in "Visit the Manor of Speaking" don't let you use the same word more than once. If you aren't careful with your commands and exhaust all your synonyms, then you'll be left with no way to get out.
  • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: You play an especially mean-spirited one in "Act the Part," with most of the "jokes" being violent pranks on your brother-in-law as he becomes The Thing That Would Not Leave.
  • World of Pun: Whole sections are devoted to puns.
  • World of Symbolism: Everything is made of wordplay come to life.