Books written by Ray Sullivan

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

No Shit, Sherlock

I'm not really a gamer, I'll be honest.  I have PCs and a Nexus 7 tablet but I use them for surfing the web, searching for information, I use Microsoft Office for running spreadsheets and, of course, writing books.  I even write the odd blog entry now and then.  Some contend that all my blog entries are odd.

When I first started with computers, back in the early Eighties, it was with initially a Sinclair ZX81 (known as the Timex ZX81 in the US), then a Sinclair Spectrum (also badged as a Timex over the pond).  My main aim for these was to learn programming and I did a bit of that. But those were halcyon days and there was a large amateur industry that grew up generating games for the new computers.

I quickly gravitated to games that were puzzles - text adventures featured highly in my software list.  I'd like to see someone try to make a living out of text computer adventures today now that 3D virtual reality web-based interactive gaming is the rage.  To be fair, I'm not sure I'd be up for them either, but nostalgically I  have a soft spot for them in my memories.

As the computer industry matured, affordable PCs arrived.  I say affordable, but of course that's a relative term.  I paid £1200 for an Amstrad PC 1512 with twin floppy disk drives and no hard drive in 1989 to help me with my Open University studies.  That's over $1800 at today's exchange rate.  For that kind of money I reckon I could buy a pretty powerful PC or a stock Macintosh today.

Although the PCs were still very expensive in real terms, a new industry grew up.  It was called Shareware and amateur programmers produced games and other software that was very competitively priced.  Some of the companies that are huge today started out as Shareware programmers. However I suspect most peaked at about this time, when software was simple enough for one guy to write and complex enough to make it worth buying.  Hardly anything from that era has survived as a commercial prospect, such is the rate of change.

There was one program that I bought way back then, not Shareware but similar in that it was produced by a one man band and sold at a modest price.  Like most of the leisure software I've enjoyed over the years, it was a game that stretched my braincells.  It was, and is, called Sherlock, and it has recently been ported over to Android and iOS platforms.  The brains behind it is a guy named Everett Kaser.  I don't know a whole lot about Everett - Wikipewdia doesn't seem to know much about him either - but anyone who has taken the time to read his notes or has received his newsletters will realise he has a wicked sense of humour. He's also almost pathological about logical paths.  Sherlock is almost certainly his finest hour.  So, what is it?

It's a game where 6 people, 6 coloured houses, 6 numbers (1-6 inclusive, who'd have thought?), 6 fruit, 6 road signs and 6 letters (H, O, L, M, E & S) are arranged in a unique way.  At the start of the puzzle one or two of the items (people, houses etc) are revealed, although not always.  Some puzzles start with no pieces in their resting places.

Then, below the playing area are a series of visual clues.  Have a look at this screenshot from the Everett Kaser website:

Now this tells me that the Neanderthal Man is in the same column as the number 4 and the letter H.  Looking at the horizontal clues I notice that the number 4 is between the banana and the yellow house.  This means two things straight off:  Number 4 cannot be in either of the outside columns (because it's between two other items) and therefore the Neanderthal Man and the letter H are also not on the ends.  A good start.  You work through the clues and solve the problem.  Sometimes it's like a war of attrition, sometimes you get to make leaps of logic.  Wild stabs in the dark are rewarded with maniacal laughter - this is a game for the thinker, not the gut instinct soldier.

It works great on the Nexus 7 in Android (I haven't seen it working on iOS, but I've been buying this game for years for various platforms - Everett doesn't let us down).  It costs £2.50 for the full fat version, which is probably the least expensive version I've bought over time, available from Google Play store and Amazon (presumably for the Kindle Fire users).  For the Apple version, pop along to the iTunes store.  There are free trial versions available for you to download to see if it works for you - whatever your favoured platform. Once you get the hang of the game, it's easy to play, always challenging to win.  There's always one single solution and it's always solvable.  Everett provides a hint service for those times you can't see the wood for the trees, but it rapidly becomes a badge of honour (cool name for a game, I think) to avoid hints, swerve notifications and yet to beat the clock.  

A great game to while away a few minutes or even hours.  Everett has helpfully made the clock hold automatically if you close the app down, so you can dip in and out of the same game over the time it takes to commute to work, stopping as you board your train or cross the street.  Don't even think of trying it while you're driving!  If you prefer to use a PC or Mac for your leisure, then Sherlock plus a whole host of other logic games await you on Everett's website.

If you enjoy a cerebral challenge and have a tablet computer, mosey over to Everett's webpage and help keep a computing legend rolling.


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