Too Much Free Time

Discussion and reviews of games for NES, Intellivision, DOS, and others.

Archive for the ‘Educational’ Category

History Mystery

Posted by Tracy Poff on March 12, 2015

In the early eighties, the sudden popularity (and, indeed, the recent existence) of home computers gave rise to a new kind of publication: the disk magazine. These periodicals were published not on paper but on computer disks (and sometimes cassettes), and although the content varied, they generally featured computer programs (including games) in addition to, or even in place of, articles. The most famous of these are perhaps Softdisk for the Apple II (launched in 1981) and Loadstar for the Commodore 64 (launched in 1984). The medium flourished1 alongside more traditional magazines which might offer (inconvenient!) type-in programs. There was a price to be paid for this convenience: a single ‘issue’ of Softdisk cost about the same as an annual subscription to a paper magazine.

Among the many disk mags was Scholastic’s Microzine for Apple II. Featuring (as you might expect) primarily educational content, Microzine began publication in 1983,2 continuing for about a decade. It also inspired a spin-off series, Microzine Jr., which was launched in 1988. Each issue of Microzine included four programs, one of which was a game.


Which all brings me to the subject of this article: History Mystery by David A. Bowman and Mark A. Malamud, which was included in Microzine #18 in November 1986. According to the ‘Letter from the Editor‘ in that issue:

You’ll have fun reading The History Mystery Twistaplot™ adventure. A priceless hourglass has been stolen from the Microville History Museum. Some of the ghosts in the museum will help you find it. (Yes, the museum is haunted!)

You play the part of “the ace reporter of your school newspaper, The Chronicle” (incidentally, of selectable gender), out to get a story about a stolen Babylonian hourglass. After chatting with the ghost of Mark Twain about the situation, you find yourself in the lobby of the museum.


The museum consists of 29 rooms3 which you must navigate, gathering items and clues to solve the mystery of the stolen hourglass, which the museum’s ghosts believe is actually located within the museum. Each room has a description, seen on entering the room, and an entry in the self-guided tape-recorded tour, accessed by pressing T. The tour often contained educational information4 which might be used to solve the game’s puzzles.


Some rooms have items to be collected, while others have ghosts to talk to or other objects to interact with. The game is in two parts (purely for practical reasons, I presume). Selecting the second part from the menu requires the player to input the password given at the end of the first part (“The Sands of Time”) and begins the second part, in which the player must collect the hourglass and escape the museum while being chased by Winsome Slugg, the criminal who had stolen it.

Tracy's Gift Shop

Upon completing the game, the player gets a rather neat reward: the museum’s gift shop, called “Amy Minkley’s Gift Shop”,5 will be renamed after the player. Not only in the ending text, either: in future playthroughs, the in-game name is changed. Which, I suppose, might make this the first game with a New Game+ feature.

History Mystery took me about an hour to complete, though I suppose it took me quite a bit longer when I was a child. I remember having a lot of fun with it, back then, and it’s still neat as a bit of nostalgia, today.

My copy of the game is this 1987 compilation, Tales of Suspense.

My copy of the game is this 1987 compilation, Tales of Suspense.

I’ll try to look at some more games from Microzine and other disk mags in the future. There’s a lot to be said about them, and the resources on the internet are scarce at best. This post has been several years in the making, during which time I’ve been contacted a number of times by people who, like me, had fond memories of a game which might have been History Mystery, but who couldn’t be sure. My thanks to them for providing me the impetus to do my civic duty and get this out there. Fans of old educational games, you are appreciated!

  1. Wikipedia has a substantial list
  2. According to this article: “The first issue of Microzine was first displayed at the January 1983 Consumer Electronics Show, and was available in stores by March 1983.”) 
  3. I mapped them out here 
  4. “…Welcome to the Telephone Exhibit. The first telephone call was made by Alexander Graham Bell. As he was calling, he accidently spilled acid on himself and yelled for his assistant: ‘Mr. Watson, come here. I want you!’….” 
  5. According to the game, “named after one of the great school reporters” (probably the editor of your school newspaper, Amy Minkly), but likely actually named after Amy E. McKinley, the editor of Microzine–though perhaps she was a school reporter, once. 

Posted in 1986, Adventure, Apple II, Educational, Full Review, Good | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Where in the USA is Carmen Sandiego?

Posted by Tracy Poff on June 23, 2008

Where in the USA is Carmen Sandiego? is an educational game released in 1986 by Brøderbund Software, Inc. for DOS, Amiga, Apple II, and Commodore 64. I’ll review the DOS version.

We begin by learning that some crime has been committed, and we’re given a deadline for solving it–about a week, in the games I played.

The Great Serpent Mound has been stolen by a masked female! Who ya gonna call?

Once we’re told of the crime, we’re dropped in the city where it took place, so we can begin to investigate. There’s a little information about the city (education!) together with a fairly nice picture, and we have the option of questioning witnesses, leaving for another city, or putting what we know about the thief into the crime computer to figure out who the thief is and get a warrant.

Each city has three locations you can visit to question witnesses. Questioning them takes times, and there’s a deadline, so if you just need to know where the thief is headed, you don’t have to talk to all three people–only as many as it takes to learn the thief’s destination.

The witnesses generally tell you some clue to where the thief was headed next, together occasionally with a little information about the thief. In this case, the comment about the Bears tells us that the thief’s favorite sport is (according to wikipedia) football, which we can use to narrow down the list of suspects.

Once we know where the thief headed, we can go there, and question the residents of the new city to discover more about the thief.

If we don’t know enough–if we only know the thief’s sex and favorite sport, for example–the crime computer can only tell us who the possible suspects are, and we have to keep searching for more evidence to discover the thief’s identity.

Once we have enough information to positively identify the thief, though, the crime computer will issue a warrant, and all that’s left is to follow the thief to the next city or two and eventually catch her.

Success! Once again the day is saved, thanks to my rudimentary detective skills.

I’m guessing the game was intended for children around ten years old or younger. Despite the young intended audience, Where in the USA is Carmen Sandiego? is really quite good. The graphics are nice, the game’s mechanic works, and kids may even accidentally absorb some knowledge about geography while playing it. It’s a little too simple for adults to play for long, but fans of educational games will surely want to give it a try, if only to see an early entry in the series which spawned over a dozen games, a similar number of books, and several television programs.

Posted in DOS, Educational, Full Review, Good | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »