Nord and Bert Couldn't Make Head or Tail of It

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Nord and Bert Couldn't Make Head or Tail of It
Nord and Bert box art.jpg
Designer(s)Jeff O'Neill
Platform(s)Amiga, Apple II, Atari ST, Commodore 64, MS-DOS, Macintosh
ReleaseJuly 22, 1987
Genre(s)Interactive fiction
Mode(s)Single player

Nord and Bert Couldn't Make Head or Tail of It is an interactive fiction computer game written by Jeff O'Neill and published by Infocom in 1987. It was released simultaneously for several popular computer platforms of the time, such as the PC and Commodore 64. Nord and Bert was unique among Infocom games in that it used the game engine to present wordplay puzzles rather than an adventure story. It was Infocom's twenty-seventh game.


Each chapter of Nord and Bert is dedicated to a different style of wordplay. The first seven chapters can be played in any order, since each exists as an independent "short story" unrelated to the other chapters; to begin the eighth, however, the player must provide seven "passwords" provided by completing each of the other sections.

The only effort made to interlink the separate parts of the game is as follows: reality has somehow been altered around the town of Punster. Idioms and clichés are suddenly manifesting themselves quite literally, and it falls to the player, as it always does, to sort things out.

The sections of the game:

  • "The Shopping Bizarre" - this portion takes place in a grocery store where normal products have been replaced by outlandish homonyms. The player must change all the oddities back to their original form by simply typing the correct names. For instance, when confronted with a large, awkward-looking mammal sporting hooves and antlers that smells of fudge, the player must type "chocolate mousse" (a homonym for "moose").
  • "Playing Jacks" - this section is rather short and unfocused, and involves a gadget called the "Jack of All Traits" (which is, of course, a play on the phrase "Jack of all trades"). When presented with a series of unusual situations, this item proves useful by displaying attributes of other items whose name contains "Jack". For instance, when a mermaid tangled in fishing line washes ashore, the player can turn the Jack of All Traits into a Jackknife and cut the lines.
  • "Buy the Farm" - this chapter takes place around a farm and requires the player to use a variety of clichéd expressions literally, for instance BEAT SWORDS INTO PLOWSHARES or BUY A PIG IN A POKE.
  • "Eat Your Words" - another section of idioms presented literally, this time revolving around a diner. The player must alternately insult and apologize to a waitress by using phrases such as GIVE THE WAITRESS THE EVIL EYE or EAT HUMBLE PIE. When the waitress is sufficiently exasperated, she allows the player to enter the kitchen, where the chef is murderously hostile until the player "leaves the cook to his own devices" and "gores his ox".
  • "Act the Part" - the player must take part in a 50s-style sitcom and perform visual gags and bits of slapstick comedy, including giving someone a "hotfoot" and playing along with knock-knock jokes.
  • "Manor of Speaking" - this chapter takes place in a house filled with bizarre rooms. Although this section has several puzzles reminiscent of Infocom's "straightforward" interactive fiction games, they are played for surreal humor. As an example: a room called The Kremlin has a talking portrait of Karl Marx. The player must wind a clock and place it inside a box, and then enter the Kremlin. The portrait of Marx assumes that the ticking box is a bomb and falls off the wall, revealing a safe which can be opened using the clock's "winding" key.
  • "Shake a Tower" - this section ties a number of situations into an absurd story using spoonerisms. The tangled phrase can be entered by itself, such as "pretty girl" for "gritty pearl". Sometimes certain actions must be performed first, such as feeding stones to set up the change from "fed rocks" to a "red fox".
  • "Meet the Mayor" - the final chapter can only be played after the rest of the game has been successfully completed. Elements of many of the preceding sections are mixed here as the player tries to convince Punster's mayor to sign a law. Some puzzle solutions are phrases that are merely hinted at by the surroundings, such as "Possession is nine-tenths of the law" or "taking something under false pretenses."


For years, each game released by Infocom contained feelies, or extra objects, in its packaging. The only "feelie" included with Nord and Bert was Home on the Range, a booklet of wordplay-themed cartoons drawn by Kevin Pope (who also illustrated the front and back of the game package). The cartoons generally illustrate several of the types of puzzles in the game, such as "All Alone on a Desserted Isle", which shows a castaway sitting on a tiny island (complete with requisite palm tree) surrounded by pies, cakes, and ice cream. Each cartoon corresponds to a section of the game.


By the time Nord and Bert was released, Infocom had abandoned their habit of printing games' difficulty level on the external package. Fan opinion of the difficulty level of Nord and Bert ranges from "Standard" to "Expert", depending largely on the player's penchant for wordplay. Since Nord and Bert makes extensive use of English-language puns, clichés, and idioms as plot points, the game can be extremely difficult for non-native English speakers to complete without assistance.

In an effort to simplify the "menial tasks" of interactive fiction, the classic "compass point"-style exits were rarely used, and mapping was unnecessary. Available exits were displayed at the top of the screen, and once a location had been visited it could be revisited (as long as it was reachable) by simply typing its name. Nord and Bert also featured hints available with the HINT command.

This was one of Infocom's most unusual releases. Published in their waning days of financial difficulty and pressure from parent company Activision, Nord and Bert proved quite difficult to market; its apparent target audience of wordplay enthusiasts was quite small, and uneven gameplay doomed the title to sell very poorly.

Appropriately enough, Wordplay was the working title of this game.


Computer Gaming World's reviewer did not enjoy Nord and Bert as much as the "more complete" previous Infocom games, stating that the game often did not accept seemingly valid word play responses. He suggested that the game might be used to teach word play to students.[1] Compute! more favorably reviewed the game, praising its humor, the puzzles' creativity, and the fact that individual games could be finished in a brief period.[2] Compute!'s Gazette also liked the wordplay, stated that the game "should appeal to most everyone", and especially recommended it to those who avoided other text adventures.[3] Antic's reviewer was critical, stating "I cannot recommend this game" because puzzles could not be solved by logic alone. He concluded, "I give Infocom an A for originality but will spend my money on something else".[4]


  1. ^ Wagner, Roy (November 1987). "Eight Tales of New Cryptics / Infocom's New "Liebrary" of Short Stories". Computer Gaming World. p. 52.
  2. ^ Trunzo, James V. (January 1988). "Plundered Hearts And Nord And Bert Couldn't Make Head Or Tail Of It". Compute!. p. 44. Retrieved 10 November 2013. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^ Bobo, Ervin (January 1988). "Nord And Bert Couldn't Make Head Or Tail Of It". Compute!'s Gazette. p. 40. Retrieved 24 January 2015. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  4. ^ Pierson-Perry, Jim (May 1988). "New ST Entertainments / From dungeons to outer space". Antic. Vol. 7 no. 1.

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