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CYBURBIA

Finally, a Puzzling Show of Simplicity

June 02, 1995|DAVID COLKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sometimes, you just feel like doing a plain old puzzle.

As software technology gets more sophisticated and computers get faster, the new games tend to get more and more overloaded with multimedia. Sit down to play a little CD-ROM "Johnny Mnemonic" or "Rebel Assault," and you spend half your time being bombarded by video clips, stereo sound, special effects and frantic chase scenes. Not that there isn't a place for sensory-overload entertainment, but there are times when it is nice to ponder something quiet and old-fashioned.

"Triazzle" and "Jewels of the Oracle" are not without their multimedia touches, but these adornments don't get in the way of what, at heart, are two games that provide hours of cerebral diversion.

That is, when you are not tearing your hair out in frustration.

"Triazzle," from Berkeley Systems (makers of the hugely successful "After Dark" line of screen savers), looks simple and is, on its easiest play levels. The basic puzzle consists of nine small triangles that when fitted together make one large triangle. On the edge of each little triangle is a picture of half an insect or other rain-forest animal (a portion of the sales of this title go to the Rainforest Alliance organization). This is where it gets tricky. You have to fit the triangles together in such a way that all the pictures match up.

At this level, the corner pieces are practically giveaways--two sides are already printed on the game board. With mouse clicks, you rotate and move the matching pieces into position and after a few run-throughs to get the hang of it, you're able to finish off a puzzle in just a minute or two.

But as you move to higher levels, the hints on the game board are gradually eliminated and at its highest level, the puzzle consists of 16 pieces and no clues at all. The chance that you will put your first piece in the right position is only one in 54 (16 pieces, each of which can be moved to three different positions), but you won't realize it's wrong until you have several other pieces in place.

At this level, one game could take hours.

There is no easy level to "Jewels of the Oracle," a strikingly beautiful but absolutely mind-boggling puzzle CD-ROM produced by Discis Entertainment in Canada.

"Jewels" takes place in the ruins of an ancient, mystical civilization that has left behind 24 puzzles to solve. Get them all, and according to the game literature, the city is reconstructed and you are permitted to enter. Judging by how I managed after numerous hours of play over several days, I have about as much chance of seeing that city as I do Atlantis.

I managed to solve four of the puzzles. When I met the game's creator and designer, Courtland Shakespeare, (his real name, he says, but can you trust a guy this clever?), he seemed delighted by my failings. "Wonderful!" exclaimed Shakespeare, a longtime puzzle maker who unfortunately seemed too nice a guy to hate. "I wanted to create a game that people would spend a lot of time playing."

He succeeded, maybe too well. If you know someone who you would like to get rid of for awhile and who is obsessed by puzzles, give him or her this CD-ROM and then quietly tiptoe out of the room, closing the door behind you.

By the time the person emerges again, you'll have had time to go to France.

A note on a previous column: For all those of you who had trouble accessing "Mirsky's Worst" on the World Wide Web, I had not realized that the address was case-sensitive. You must capitalize the W in http://turnpike.net/mirsky/Worst.html.

* Cyburbia's Internet address is: Colker@news.latimes.com.

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