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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:

  • 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.
  • 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!"
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  • 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.
  • 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).
  • Nintendo Hard: Nord and Bert is considered the hardest Infocom ever made. While you can't 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"?).
  • 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"
  • 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.


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