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The Murky Origins of Zork's Name

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the murky-enough-for-a-grue dept.

Games 70

mjn writes "Computational media researcher Nick Montfort traces the murky origins of Zork's name. It's well known that the word was used in MIT hacker jargon around that time, but how did it get there? Candidates are the term 'zorch' from late 1950s DIY electronics slang, the use of the term as a placeholder in some early 1970s textbooks, the typo a QWERTY user would get if he typed 'work' on an AZERTY keyboard, and several uses in obscure sci-fi. No solid answers so far, though, as there are problems with many of the possible explanations that would have made MIT hackers unlikely to have run across them at the right time."

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Trivia (2, Interesting)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 4 years ago | (#30712340)

TFA:

It's also at least arguable that "zork" sounds less destructive than "zorch,"

"Zorch" sounds exactly like "Zork" when you pronounce the "-ch" as a "k" like the word chemistry. Could've been wordplay that became viral, like when people use "guise" instead of "guys".

The general definition of "zorch" is to destroy or render unusuable, esp with electrical current of improper or fatal voltage or current.

Calvin and Hobbes' Spaceman Spiff carries a futuristic sidearm, which was eventually named Death Ray Blaster, or Death Ray Zorcher.

Re:Trivia (1)

Jhon (241832) | more than 4 years ago | (#30712376)

There is a small mailbox here
>open mailbox

Opening the mailbox reveals a leaflet.
>read leaflet

You don't have the leaflet!
>take leaflet

leaflet taken.
>read leaflet

"Welcome to ZORK!..."

What fun it was for the impressionable lad of 12 or 13 I was...

Re:Trivia (5, Funny)

FreshKarma (1333201) | more than 4 years ago | (#30712416)

You have been eaten by a grueling day at work.

Re:Trivia (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30712514)

Well played! Very funny!

Re:Trivia (4, Funny)

husker_man (473297) | more than 4 years ago | (#30712700)

You have been eaten by a grueling day at work.

These jokes are getting a little twisty on me. All alike.

Re:Trivia (2, Funny)

The Yuckinator (898499) | more than 4 years ago | (#30712740)

You see a seedy looking heckler carrying a large bag.

Re:Trivia (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30713004)

That's in "Lurking Horror", not "Zork".

Re:Trivia (1)

The Yuckinator (898499) | more than 4 years ago | (#30715600)

I believe you are mistaken. "seedy looking gentleman carrying a large bag" is burned in my Zork memory.

Lurking horror may have borrowed the description but it was definitely in Zork

Re:Trivia (1)

bcat24 (914105) | more than 4 years ago | (#30713276)

Is is there there an an echo echo in in here here??

Re:Trivia (1)

mqduck (232646) | more than 4 years ago | (#30713800)

I liked Zork, but I hate the "twisty little passages". It practically ruins the game. It, as anyone who managed to finish the game knows, creates "difficulty" by having some places warp you to other places without any indication that it's doing so. In fact, it never gives you any indication of where you are ("all alike"). When you create a "puzzle" that can't be solved using logic or intuition, that's NOT FUN. It's just irritating.

Re:Trivia (3, Informative)

jwildstr (1354869) | more than 4 years ago | (#30714206)

I remember solving that (or rather, my mother solving it). It required a very large piece of paper and a large number of (preferably useless) items. You'd drop one in each new room you came to; that gave a unique identifier for the room, so you could make a map.

About your mother (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30716870)

I remember solving that (or rather, my mother solving it). It required a very large piece of paper and a large number of (preferably useless) items. You'd drop one in each new room you came to; that gave a unique identifier for the room, so you could make a map.

Anyone ever told you that your mother is damn cool? Now somebody has. She is. Tell her about it if you can, she deserves it :)

Re:Trivia (3, Informative)

russotto (537200) | more than 4 years ago | (#30714526)

I liked Zork, but I hate the "twisty little passages". It practically ruins the game. It, as anyone who managed to finish the game knows, creates "difficulty" by having some places warp you to other places without any indication that it's doing so.

There's no warping. It's viciously difficult because the place descriptions are identical and the object -dropping strategy is limited by your inventory and by the thief moving things around, but it's deterministic and only movement commands actually move you. The maze can be mapped, it's just quite tedious.

Re:Trivia (1)

MrWin2kMan (918702) | more than 4 years ago | (#30715188)

I'm sorry, I don't speak elvish.

Re:Trivia (2)

khellendros1984 (792761) | more than 4 years ago | (#30712972)

I swear I didn't change my sig to fit into this convo....

Re:Trivia (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30733336)

AH! now i know where my college friends' nickname came from.

Re:Trivia (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30738170)

I hope his nickname is "grue", otherwise that's possibly not a very PC nick...

Re:Trivia (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30714518)

Thanks for the laugh. ;)

Re:Trivia (1)

yttrstein (891553) | more than 4 years ago | (#30714584)

FWIW, two degrees away from the source:

A friend's father, who is a computer nerd and retired electrician and flunked out of MIT in the mid 60s swears by the "zorch" theory, and has since I met him. He supports the notion that "zorch" is an onomatopoeia for the sound that a frying electrical component makes as it dies; with a soft "ch". The hard "k" is the fault of MIT sociolinguistics of the era, he explains.

And actually now that I think of it, if any of this has anything to do with the sociolinguistics of MIT at the area, someone should probably ask Chomsky where it came from. He probably knows for sure.

Unlikely? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30712500)

No solid answers so far, though, as there are problems with many of the possible explanations that would have made MIT hackers unlikely to have run across them at the right time.

Like being written on a real woman's vagina.

Re:Unlikely? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30712584)

On the other hand, when Richard Stallman clears his throat after a gay suck and fuck, it kind of sounds like "zork"

What about Kroz? (2, Informative)

Chuq (8564) | more than 4 years ago | (#30712510)

Crappy ASCII art based shareware game... Kingdom of Kroz... "borrowed" it's name from Zork.

Re:What about Kroz? (3, Interesting)

Osty (16825) | more than 4 years ago | (#30712798)

Crappy ASCII art based shareware game... Kingdom of Kroz... "borrowed" it's name from Zork.

Crappy or not, Kroz ultimately brought us Doom, Quake, Duke Nukem, etc. Scott Miller founded Apogee with the release of Kingdom of Kroz, and the rest is history.

Re:What about Kroz? (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 4 years ago | (#30713054)

At least link [3drealms.com] us to a site [kingdomofkroz.com] or two.

Re:What about Kroz? (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 4 years ago | (#30714108)

That doesn't help us go the other way. Also, that was a RAD game for its day. Sort of a realtime roguelike.

Does there have to be a meaning? (2, Insightful)

Lije Baley (88936) | more than 4 years ago | (#30712588)

How about maybe it just sounded good?

Re:Does there have to be a meaning? (1)

Zork the Almighty (599344) | more than 4 years ago | (#30712990)

That's why I picked it. Actually, I always liked the Zork games.

What a Horrible Article (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30712616)

Pics or it didn't happen.

Re:What a Horrible Article (-1, Offtopic)

Timex (11710) | more than 4 years ago | (#30712676)

Pics or it didn't happen.

With this argument, we could say that the Democrat-controlled Congress has done almost nothing in the past year or so, especially in regards to healthcare reform...

Nethack (3, Funny)

smitty97 (995791) | more than 4 years ago | (#30712656)

The oracle asks for a donation of 1000 zorkmids to ponder your question..

Re:Nethack (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30713788)

The Oracle scornfully takes all your money and says:

"it is rather disconcerting to be confronted with the following theorem from [Baker, Gill, and Solovay, 1975].

Theorem 7.18 There exist recursive languages and B such that

(1) P(A) == NP(A), and
(2) P(B) != NP(B)

This provides impressive evidence that the techniques that are currently available will not suffice for proving that P != NP or that P == NP." [Garey and Johnson, p. 185.]

It is pitch black. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30712756)

You are likely to be eaten by a grue.

Re:It is pitch black. (3, Funny)

amiga3D (567632) | more than 4 years ago | (#30713096)

Hmm....reminds me of the movie Pitch Black. I wonder if the writers ever played Zork?

Obligatory (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30714052)

Obligatory nerdcore song. MC Frontalot- It is Pitch Dark [youtube.com]

Re:Obligatory (1)

Anil (7001) | more than 4 years ago | (#30716140)

and don't forget the walkthrough song: http://5090.fawm.org/songs/4255/ [fawm.org]

Re:It is pitch black. (1)

The End Of Days (1243248) | more than 4 years ago | (#30716018)

It is Pitch Black. You are likely to be beaten up by Vin Diesel.

Parallel invention? (2, Funny)

Besjon (781468) | more than 4 years ago | (#30712788)

As a kid in the early '80s, I created my own space marine/spy/superhero character and drew a comic book of one of his adventures: lots of spaceships and weapons and a sinister villain as part of a class project. I named him Zork because I was fascinated by the letter Z (I was a huge Zorro fan growing up) and the combination with the letter K sounded strong. I had big hopes of making him into a toy product line, Saturday morning cartoon, and a series of choose your own adventure books. Oh well...

Re:Parallel invention? (1)

neostorm (462848) | more than 4 years ago | (#30713550)

I love stuff like this. I think every creative person, at one time or another in their life, has "created" something that, hours, days, or years later they find to be an existing term, name or trademark.

I feel for you brother! Teaches you to keep your truly unique creations close to your chest...

PCC or Dr. Dobb's? (1)

SEWilco (27983) | more than 4 years ago | (#30712876)

It is also possible that the People's Computer Company newsletter or Dr. Dobb's Journal of Computer Calisthenics used a bit of Brunner's material as filler. The "bit of zork" illustration would have fit their style. Unfortunately, I don't definitely remember such an example.

I didn't say 'zork'. (1)

Drewcool (726257) | more than 4 years ago | (#30712892)

'Zork'? What is 'zork'?

Re:I didn't say 'zork'. (3, Informative)

osu-neko (2604) | more than 4 years ago | (#30713554)

My lawn... get off of it. :p

Re:I didn't say 'zork'. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30714260)

I don't understand that.
>

Re:I didn't say 'zork'. (3, Interesting)

GaryOlson (737642) | more than 4 years ago | (#30714292)

He can't. He is caught is a twisty little maze of bushes all alike. And you smell suspiciously like a grue....

When spaceman spiff (1)

hoytak (1148181) | more than 4 years ago | (#30712994)

next goes to the planet Zork, he'll ask them. That is, if they can stop reading slashzork, the local, well, you know.

Tjaden4815 (0)

Tjaden (1373959) | more than 4 years ago | (#30713052)

Right off the bat I knew this was a poorly written article. The author says "foobar" is a nonsense word when it means, when spelled correctly 'FUBAR', F***ed Up Beyond All Repair. /DNRTFA

Re:Tjaden4815 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30713360)

No, foobar is not fubar. foobar is a nonsense word used often in programming examples. It may have derived originally from fubar.

Re:Tjaden4815 (1)

mauddib~ (126018) | more than 4 years ago | (#30713556)

Since the word has meaning for programmers, it could be a non-dictionarized meaningful word (in a certain context).

(just as dictionarized is not a dictionary word, but has meaning nevertheless)

Re:Tjaden4815 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30715912)

How did you know my password!?

Re:Tjaden4815 (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 4 years ago | (#30714124)

Second this. Programmers knew what FUBAR meant when they used "foo" and "bar"; I will bet you hard currency that the "foobar" convention appeared as a way to dodge the fact that the creators had been referring to "profanity", which is more than enough to offend many. You'd name your temp variable "foo" and not "fu" because "fu" is too short. You've got to have at least three characters. The AC who disagrees with you is a troll or an idiot, shock amazement.

Re:Tjaden4815 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30715372)

No, he's not. Programmers used foo for a temp. variable. It had nothing to do with fubar. Although, bar was often used when a second temp. variable was need. This was a joke alluding to fubar, but the original foo didn't. So, it is YOU and the OP who are the idiots, not the AC. You can be shocked and amazed and lose your bet.

Re:Tjaden4815 (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30714216)

Idiot --> YOU

Re:Tjaden4815 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30715532)

You do even know who Nick Montfort is? He's written a very good, in-depth history of interactive fiction. It is you that is the moron here. Being a programmer for about 30 years, I can tell you the original of "foobar" is not "fubar." The similar sound is just a coincidence.

Hello Sailor (2, Interesting)

amiga3D (567632) | more than 4 years ago | (#30713078)

I swear that game made me buy a commodore 64 just to play it. I saw it on a friends C64 and bought one a week later with a 1541 disk drive and the games Zork and F15 Strike Eagle. I lost more sleep wandering around the rooms in that house. I doubt the name has any real meaning, just more of the same bizarreness of the game.

Luxury (1)

BrightSpark (1578977) | more than 4 years ago | (#30713790)

You had it easy! Best we could manage was a tape drive on our C64. You had to forward the tape (an audio tape) to your save point and then enter load" etc before our Dad would slash us in two w'it breadknife, if we were lucky! I was too busy playing Elite and Impossible Mission to get Zork. I got Zork first on my PC (Atari 286) - who could afford an 80086? My one at work cost A$5,600 with a 10Mb Tadon step drive disk and a Hercules graphics card in 1986. My 286 in 1987 was A$3,600 - with a 9pin dot matrix printer. You could buy a house for A$46k back then. I must have been mad. And you tell that to the young people of today and they won't believe yer!

Re:Luxury (1)

ubrgeek (679399) | more than 4 years ago | (#30721400)

Yeah, yeah. And when I was a kid, I had to wander through a maze of twisty little passages, all alike, in the snow, with no shoes, uphill both ways. Get off my open field west of a white house.

Re:Luxury (1)

justinlee37 (993373) | more than 4 years ago | (#30721552)

Amusingly, you can also buy a house for $46,000 today.

Re:Hello Sailor (1)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 4 years ago | (#30726852)

I remember seeing Zork for the first time on a friend's Apple II. He was the neighborhood Richy Rich who could afford an Apple (us normal kids had to settle for C64's). I never realized it was released for the C64 too (it would have certainly made me less jealous of Richy Rich, if I had known that).

I'm more concerned with "Zort" and "Narf" (1)

jcatki (782677) | more than 4 years ago | (#30713468)

Pinky may have played Zork...

Zork as at about 1979-80 (1)

A Pressbutton (252219) | more than 4 years ago | (#30713842)

There was a uk based comic called Warrior that had a recurring character in one of the strips called Zork. I think the character was based on earlier work from another underground comic - possibly us based.

Re:Zork as at about 1979-80 (1)

alices ice (699932) | more than 4 years ago | (#30717046)

do you mean 'zirk, silver sweater of the spaceways?'

Stuck for a name (1)

MrKaos (858439) | more than 4 years ago | (#30714002)

"You can't call it Dorkz - anyone got any other ideas..."

"Zork" was originally MIT hacker jargon for an... (1)

sobolwolf (1084585) | more than 4 years ago | (#30714232)

"Zork" was originally MIT hacker jargon for an unfinished program. The implementors named the completed game Dungeon, but by that time the name Zork had already stuck.

AZERTY (1)

Soiden (1029534) | more than 4 years ago | (#30714908)

To me, this article is more interesting because of the AZERTY keyboard configuration. I didin't know that existed.

Re:AZERTY (1)

Hardtrance (55355) | more than 4 years ago | (#30715796)

That's funny. For some reason I always thought AZERTY just meant a crappy typist.

Re:AZERTY (1)

andrewa (18630) | more than 4 years ago | (#30716336)

Oh, believe me they exist. Every time I do any consultancy work in France I have to use those keyboards.... *shudder*

The Origin Of A Name... (5, Informative)

Xin Jing (1587107) | more than 4 years ago | (#30715178)

An hour of searching revealed these clues to the origin of the classic gaming name Zork. Here's a 2001 interview with Dave Lebling, one of the devs from Zork and the early days of Infocom posted on Adventure Gaming Classic http://www.adventureclassicgaming.com/index.php/site/interviews/171/ [adventurec...gaming.com] :

Q: There had been numerous speculations regarding the origin of the word "Zork." For the record, who among the "Infocom Imps" came up with this name? Where is the exact origin of the word "Zork"?

A: I'm pretty sure it was Marc Blank who first applied the word to the game. The word itself was current as an exclamation or nonsense word (like "foo" and "bar") around the lab. Programs in the ITS operating system were had to have six-letter or fewer names, and it was pretty common to use a placeholder name when working on something new. I think Marc used "TS ZORK" as the placeholder, and it stuck.
I think "Frobozz" was similar, of a variant of "foobar." Bruce Daniels was, I think, largely responsible for its ubiquity in the early parts of Zork.

We briefly changed the name of the game to "Dungeon" (which was my bad idea, I sheepishly admit), then changed it back after TSR (the D&D people) threatened us with a lawsuit over it. MIT's lawyers squashed them like bugs but we decided we liked "Zork" better anyway. The widely distributed Fortran version of Zork was written during the period when the game was called Dungeon, which is why that version is often called Dungeon.

Also here's a further clue in "The History of Zork", as recounted by Tim Anderson http://www.csd.uwo.ca/Infocom/Articles/NZT/zorkhist.html [csd.uwo.ca] :

"...Marc, Bruce, and I sat down to write a real game. We began by drawing some maps, inventing some problems, and arguing a lot about how to make things work. Bruce still had some thoughts of graduating, thus preferring design to implementation, so Marc and I spent the rest of Dave's vacation in the terminal room implementing the first version of Zork. Zork, by the way, was never really named. "Zork" was a nonsense word floating around; it was usually a verb, as in "zork the fweep," and may have been derived from "zorch." ("Zorch" is another nonsense word implying total destruction.) We tended to name our programs with the word "zork" until they were ready to be installed on the system."

Anyone got the email address for Marc Blank? Undoubtedly the absolute truth lies with him.

Re:The Origin Of A Name... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30733198)

Maybe you should have spent some of that hour reading the article. The word "zork" was already in the hacker lexicon when the MIT trio used it for their game. What Montford is search for is the real origin of the word, not why the game was gamed that. But of course expecting anything silly like actually reading the article and knowing what the fuck you are talking about is just too much for most people on Slashdot. They'd rather just read the title, make baseless assumptions, then make asses of themselves trying to bash someone who is actually doing something with their life.

Re:The Origin Of A Name... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30738432)

Aside from the fact that GP's post was pretty interesting of itself, I didn't see him trying to bash anyone. And as for bashing someone who is "actually doing something with their life" - while we all enjoy the trip down memory lane and would probably be interested to hear what the actual original of the word is, it's hardly feeding the hungry or finding a cure for cancer. Calm down.

Twisty Little Passages by Nick Montfort (2, Interesting)

longhairedgnome (610579) | more than 4 years ago | (#30716358)

An entire chapter of Twisty Little Passages is devoted to Zork. Twisty Little passages [google.com]
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