COLOSSAL CAVE ADVENTURE is a text-based adventure game that first appeared in the late 1970s, when the PC industry was in its infancy. It took the computing world by storm with its intriguing mix of magic, humor, exploration and puzzles.

The interface was primitive: There were no menus, no controller or joystick, and no graphics or sound. Nor were there many instructions: Users would have to guess at commands, typing in short phrases in the hope of making progress within the game; the only feedback being written descriptions of locations, situations and objects in the vicinity.

Those able to puzzle out the intricacies of the game found themselves exploring a cave filled with magic, treasures, malicious dwarves, a fierce snake, a fire-breathing dragon, a ferocious bear and even a bearded pirate.

Playing the game was simple, but beating it was hard: Only the most dedicated adventurers could find all 15 treasures and escape the fiendishly difficult endgame with all 350 possible points.

It wasn’t a commercial product sold in stores; there was no marketing or advertising for the game. But it was freely copied and spread like wildfire among programmers in the fledgling computer industry. A common jest is that the release of ADVENTURE set the computing industry back two weeks due to time lost playing the game.

How do I play the game?
The game is played by typing instructions into the game window. Commands should be short: one or two words at most. In many cases, words can be abbreviated using only their first letter.

For example: The “look” command, (abbreviated “l”) will trigger a description of your current whereabouts. It doesn’t give you any more detail than you already have, but can be useful to refresh your memory.

To manipulate objects, there’s “get” object and “put” object. Use the “inventory” command (abbreviated “i”) to see what you are carrying with you.

Directional commands allow you to move through the world of the game: You can use “north” / “south” / “east” / “west” (“n” / “s” / “e” / “w”) and also “ne” /“se”/ “nw” / “sw”. Also useful when climbing are the “up” (“u”) and “down” (“d”) commands.

To attack with an object, you can “throw” it. Don’t forget to “get” it again afterwards, or you might leave it behind! Use the “score” command to see how close you are to getting a perfect 350 points.

What are some general strategies for playing?
  1. Grab a big piece of paper and start drawing a map. You’ll need it — there are hundreds of locations to explore once you get inside the cave.

  2. You use dropped objects to help you make a map because you’ll sometimes find that there are locations with exits that loop back on themselves. Going west, for example, may return you right back where you started.

  3. Remember that not every exit from a location is listed. If west and east are given as possible exits, you might want to try others, too. Just because you go north to a place doesn’t mean that immediately going south will return you. Cave passages twist in unexpected ways sometimes.

  4. If you encounter an object that has an exclamation point at the end of its description, that is a treasure! Get it and return it to the building. (You have a limited number of objects you can carry, so returning items for safe-keeping is crucial.)

  5. If you run across a puzzle you can’t figure out or an obstacle you can’t get past, explore elsewhere in the cave — you may find something in another location that will help.

  6. If you’re having difficulty phrasing a command in terms the game can understand and getting nowhere, maybe what you’re trying to do just isn’t possible.
How do I get to the cave?
Need help getting into the cave to start your adventure? Here are the first 12 commands:

GAME: You are standing at the end of a road before a small brick building…

COMMAND: enter building

GAME: You are inside a building, a well house for a large spring.


get lamp

get keys

exit building

GAME: … A small stream flows out of the building and down a gully.

COMMAND: south

GAME: You are in a valley in the forest beside a stream tumbling along a rocky bed.

COMMAND: south

GAME: At your feet all the water of the stream splashes into a 2-inch slit in the rock.

COMMAND: south

GAME: You are in a 20-foot depression floored with bare dirt… The grate is locked.

COMMAND: “open grate”

GAME: The grate is now unlocked.


GAME: You are in a small chamber.


GAME: You are crawling over cobbles in a low passage.


GAME: It is now pitch dark. If you proceed you will likely fall into a pit.

COMMAND: light lamp

GAME: Your lamp is now on. You are in a debris room filled with stuff washed in from the surface. A low wide passage with cobbles becomes plugged with mud and debris here, but an awkward canyon leads upward and west. A note on the wall says “Magic word XYZZY.” A three foot black rod with a rusty star on an end lies nearby.

XYZZY? What’s that?
The magic spell “xyzzy” only works if you are in the building or in the room that has the note on the wall that says “xyzzy.” There are other teleportation spells that are similarly derived from a keyword associated with a particular room — see if you can find them.
How do I catch the bird?
The bird is scared of the black rod, so you won’t be able to catch it if you’re carrying it. You’ll need the wicker cage to catch it, of course.
How do I get past the snake?
To defeat a snake, you’d need a mongoose. But there aren’t any in the game. So you’ll need another small animal you might encounter to stand in for one (like a bird). Throw it at the snake!
How do I defeat those pesky dwarves?
There are seven dwarves that attack you throughout the game. Seven dwarves… get it? But once you’ve vanquished those seven, you’ll be rid of them for the rest of the game.

The first dwarf to attack you will throw an axe at you and miss. Grab that axe and keep it handy. The next time a dwarf attacks, “throw axe.” If you miss, “get” the axe and throw it again. Keep that up until either the dwarf meets his end, or you do.

How do I get over the fissure?
At one point there is a fissure you can’t cross. Find the black rod, bring it there, and “wave rod.” A crystal bridge will materialize across the fissure, granting you access to diamonds on the other side!
How do I kill the dragon?
“Kill dragon.” Yes, the game sarcastically asks you, “With what? Your bare hands?” But what would happen if you took that question at face value?
A pirate just stole all my treasure! What now?
Believe it or not, that’s good news. The pirate’s treasure chest will be hiding in a maze after that, waiting for you to find it.
How do I escape the mazes?
There are two mazes in the game, both extremely complex. One of them has a vending machine hidden within that you can use to “drop coins” and receive fresh batteries for your lamp, which runs out of power eventually. With practice, you should be able to solve the game before that happens.

The other maze will contain a pirate’s treasure chest, provided you’ve already met the pirate that is roaming around the cave. He’ll steal any treasures you have and put them and the chest in the maze. Find the chest and you’ll get your booty back — and the chest itself is a treasure!

What’s the story with the Spelunker Today magazines?
If you happen to find some Spelunker Today magazines in the cave, drop them in the room just to the east of where you found them. This will increase your score by one point. Many people who originally played the game came up one point short of a perfect score until this secret was discovered via careful analysis of the game.
How do I water the plant?

The bottle you find in the building can be refilled with water at various places in the cave or in the building itself. It can also be filled with oil. (Don’t try to water the plant with the Ming vase. It’s far too delicate for such mundane tasks.)

What is “fee fie foe foo”?
You’ll see a reference to “fee fie foe foo” in the game, next to a nest full of golden eggs in the “Giant’s Room.” No, not “fum,” “foo.” This magic phrase is entered one word at a time instead of all at once, and has to be entered exactly.

Normally this doesn’t seem to do anything, unless the golden eggs have been moved away from the Giant’s Room. Then the spell causes the eggs to teleport back to their original location. This is useful when a troll later demands a treasure from you. Give him the golden eggs! Then later, use “fee fie foe foo” and triumphantly snatch them back.

How do I open the door?
It’s rusted shut, so perhaps the oil at the bottom of one of the pits in the Twopit Room would be of use.
How do I get past the troll?
You’ll have to throw him a treasure, and then he’ll let you pass. Unfortunately, the greedy little guy will be waiting for you on your return trip, too. But there is a way to cheat him both times if you are clever.
What do I do with the giant clam?
The “giant clam” you find in the game is actually an oyster. If you pry it apart with the right object (“open clam”), a pearl will fall out and roll out of sight. Go “down” several times until you find it again — it’s a treasure!
How do I get the emerald?
The Plover Room is reached via a passageway so narrow that you need to drop everything — including your lamp — to get in. But you will learn another magic word that enables you to teleport in and out of that section. The emerald inside that room has to be carried out by hand, however, being impervious to that particular spell.
How do I explore the dark room just beyond the Plover Room?
Once you learn the magic that takes you to the Plover Room, you can teleport in with the lamp in hand, and exploring that section will be child’s play.
Any other secrets I should know about?
The game originally restricted the hours it could be played, since only large computers at universities were able to play the game and they didn’t want people tying them up playing games all day. There was a secret command in the game to bypass this restriction, resulting in the challenge, “Are you a wizard? Prove it!” followed by a cryptographic puzzle. This command was long ago removed from the game, but the command “hours,” used to list the hours the game was allowed to be played, often still works. Try it!

To experience the game’s signature humor, see what happens when you use the magic word “abracadabra.” Or try to attack the troll at the Troll Bridge with the dwarf’s axe. Water the plant three times instead of two… or pour oil on it. Try watering the door instead of oiling it.

Most of the cave descriptions are remarkably faithful descriptions of the geology of the Bedquilt region of the real Colossal Cave in Kentucky. There actually is a room in the cave with a rock inscribed “Y2” (a caver survey marker), a Twopit Room, and a room called Hall of the Mountain King.

The history of ADVENTURE
COLOSSAL CAVE ADVENTURE — originally named ADVENT because the computer systems of that day often couldn’t handle filenames of more than six characters — was developed in a loose collaboration between Will Crowther and Don Woods, way back in 1977.

But who were Crowther and Woods, and how did this game come into being?

In 1972, William Crowther and his wife Pat were working for Bolt, Beranek and Newman in Boston, otherwise known as BBN, which was developing the original routers used in creating the ARPANET (the first Internet).

In their spare time the Crowthers, both avid cavers, explored and mapped portions of the Mammoth and Flint Ridge cave systems in Kentucky for the Cave Research Foundation. Still thinking of the many beautiful sights they had seen, including caverns with colorful names like “The Hall of the Mountain King” and “Twopit Room,” Will Crowther produced plotter line-drawing maps of the cave from survey data of their explorations.

Other activities Crowther enjoyed were rock climbing and a regular game of Dungeons and Dragons, a role-playing game in which Crowther took on the persona of “Willie the Thief” among a circle of close friends.

Unfortunately, Crowther’s marriage ended in 1975. Sometime thereafter, feeling estranged from his two daughters and wanting to be closer to them, he decided to write a program that they might enjoy: a simulation of his cave explorations that also contained elements of his fantasy role-playing.

He wrote a computer simulation game based on the maps, for a Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-10 computer, in FORTRAN. Crowther’s daughters enjoyed the game, and it was passed from friend to friend during the early days of the Internet.

In 1976, Don Woods was working at Stanford University’s Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab. Woods found a copy of Crowther’s game left on one of the university computers. After corresponding with Crowther and getting his blessing, Woods greatly expanded the program and unleashed it on an unsuspecting world.

Overnight, hackers worldwide were obsessed with playing and beating the game, after which many authored similar games such as Zork, birthing an entirely new genre of game known as the “text adventure” or “interactive fiction.”