I keep telling myself that I should write material that appeals to a wider audience. And yet, here I blog about something only of interest to those who were in primary school in the UK between about 1983 – 1988. And then I wonder why my website hit-counter is so low …
Granny’s Garden was an educational software title for Acorn’s BBC Micro series of computers. Released in 1983, its aim was to help primary school children with their reading, teach a bit of computer interaction and possibly some simple puzzle solving along the way.
It was one of the first examples of using computers as a teaching aid in primary schools. To see the computer trolley being wheeled-in to class after lunch was even more exciting than the video-player-and-TV-on-a-stick (Dark Towers or The Boy From Space, anyone?) on Fridays; easily beating sing-along with Mrs Lockie (the bejowl’d dinnerlady with the hairy mole).
For many people my age, Granny’s Garden is the very embodiment of nostalgia. It is always discussed in very endearing terms. But please don’t hate me when I point this out: it really isn’t as amazing as you remember!
It gave the illusion of decision making where there really wasn’t any. (“Do you want to help the King and Queen? Don’t be silly. Yes you do, Jimmy.”) The puzzles were solved mostly by luck (and remembering what caught you out last time you played) rather than any real judgement. And the graphics were only as good as the Beeb’s teletext chip could manage.
Despite all its faults, it still has a certain charm – even after all these years. It harks back to a much more innocent time in our lives; a period we’d all like to see again if we had access to a time-machine for an afternoon.
In a fit of boredom the other day, I found myself playing it on my laptop. A sudden desire to play it from start to finish and see how it worked led me to looking at the program and tracing it through. Then I started taking notes and screenshots … you get the idea …
And so, to scratch the itch of all those grownups who never managed to put the collars on all the dragons, Oddbloke Labs is proud to present:
A walkthrough of Granny’s Garden for the BBC Micro
Any time you’re expected to give a yes or no answer, the code only checks the first letter of your response. So “Y” or “N” is fine.
When it says “Ready to start?” at the beginning, if you append an “f” to the end (like “Yf”) then it disables the irritating sound effects and intro music. Highly recommended if you’re playing on a proper Beeb, as there’s no volume control!
Find the Magic Tree
The player’s first puzzle is to pick out a magic tree from the screen. It is decided at random, and they all look identical. There’s no trick to this (though in my experience it always seems to be B2 or C2) – it’s just a simple way of teaching kids to read grids, and interact with the computer. One little useful tip here though: examining the code reveals that a small cheat has been left by the developers. If, at the “Ready to start?” screen, you entered a “T” instead of “Y”, the magic tree will always be A1.
Otherwise, you will remain at this screen until you pick the correct tree.
The Kingdom of The Mountains
This part gets the player reading (by outlining the plot), using a bit of their imagination, and encourages a bit of interaction with the computer. But don’t imagine for a moment that you have any control about the outcome – being deliberately bloody-minded in your answers makes little difference. Suffice to say that come the end, you’ll have met a talking blue raven (sorry, what?) and be on a magic quest to find six missing children kidnapped by a wicked witch. When this game was released, Narnia and Enid Blyton were Big Deals to primary school kids.
Failure to complete a puzzle would summon the witch. Now would be a good time to remind ourselves how scary the witch was when we were seven. I’ve made an animation so you can properly bask in the animated, low-resolution evil:
If she catches you, the outcome is brutal: she will send you home at once. That biddy don’t take no shizzle from nobody.
First child to find is Esther, who is being held in …
The Woodcutter’s House
I hope you don’t need me to tell you: the word hidden in the house is “Fig”. Each time you get it wrong you’ll get a more blatant clue, until eventually it simply tells you.
Take the apple on your way in, but don’t bother with the stick.
You can go in the kitchen if you like, but don’t look in the pot. That will summon the witch.
You can go in the backroom and look in the box, which has no bearing on the solution but is a bit of extra reading for the kiddies.
Enter the cupboard, but don’t take the red broom.
Head up the stairs. At the top of the stairs is the witch’s pet snake. Throw the apple at the snake to kill it. Perhaps it is a combat-apple (as used by the ancient scrumpy-ninjas of olde Somerset). If you picked up the long stick on entering the cottage then you would also have the opportunity to use that – don’t. It’s a magic wand, and will summon the witch. A decoy stick. She’s a cunning old low-resolution biddy, that one.
After killing the snake, you’ll read a note at the top of the stairs. Because apparently signposting where people are being held prisoner in a magic kingdom is rather mandatory behaviour for an evil witch.
Head back down the stairs and enter the cupboard again. Now you’ll find that the red broomstick has been joined by a green one. Take the green broomstick.
I’m not sure whether the broomstick is supposed to be a lever, or whether the green broomstick is really Esther in a green frock. Perhaps she’s anorexic.
The Giant’s Garden
To help you on this quest is a talking toadstool. Sometimes I suspect the author of this game was completely whacked off his tits when he wrote it.
Tom is hidden on the far side of the garden. The player is given a number of creatures who can help defeat the hazards encountered – it’s another exercise in simple comprehension and imagination.
- Use the butterfly to cross the pond.
- Use the snail to cross the small wood.
- Use the worm to burrow under the army of ants.
- Use the bee to chase off the big black dog. The bee stings the dog’s bottom. When you’re in primary school, reading that on the class computer is the very definition of sophisticated humour.
- Use the spider to climb the tall tree.
The City of the Dragons
When Ah-Choo (the Keeper of the Gates) asks you what your favourite food is, it has no bearing on the game. It’s just a way of getting kids to read and interact. And if you were one of the really naughty kids (I’m looking at you, Wayne Harrison) then entering “poo” was highly amusing. Though you’d never get away with that if you were playing in a group with a horrid GURL (poo-gosh chiz) in it – they could never keep their mouths shut.
To tame the baby dragons you must entice them out so you can put collars on them. You are given food to tame them; three lots of chips, oranges, lollies and buns. Use any more than three of any foodstuff and the witch will come!
Each dragon has a food that it loves, one it hates, and two that it isn’t fussed about. The trick to getting the combination right is to use a food that one dragon likes (to put a collar on it) and that another dragon doesn’t mind. Then the next time, use food that the second dragon likes, preparing for the third … and so on.
|Red Dragon||Green Dragon||Blue Dragon||Yellow Dragon|
|Chips||not fussed||not fussed||hates||loves|
|Oranges||not fussed||hates||loves||not fussed|
|Lollies||hates||loves||not fussed||not fussed|
|Buns||loves||not fussed||not fussed||hates|
As you’re given three of each foodstuff, there’s plenty of scope for getting the combinations right eventually. But to do it in just four selections, use one of the following combinations:
- Buns, Lollies, Oranges, Chips
- Oranges, Chips, Buns, Lollies
- Chips, Buns, Lollies, Oranges
- Lollies, Oranges, Chips, Buns
When you have collared all four dragons, you have completed the puzzle.
The Land of Mystery
The final part is a exploratory puzzle around some locations in The Land of Mystery, There is no movement counter before the witch is triggered, so you can move around as much as you like. However, never go between the forest and the castle, or cottage and lake; these paths will always trigger the witch.
There’s no real skill to playing this level – there are a lot of easy ways to get caught, and no rhyme or reason to a lot of the answers you should give. The emphasis is more on getting kids to read, enjoying themselves, and remembering what they were caught out by last time they played.
Note that my solution involves a lot of repeating steps in order to get every piece of information (names of trees and creatures, for example). However, there’s nothing to stop you from doing it in multiple attempts (answering questions from bits of information you picked up last time you played). I suspect this is to try and get the kiddies to pay attention.
You start on the path halfway between forest and cottage.
- Go to the forest
- Take note of the tree types: “Pompom”
- You can’t go straight to the lake from here (blocked by a low-pixel elf thing) so instead, go to the cottage.
- Take the key
- Go to the hill
- Say “yes” to the giant (see what I mean about responses really making no sense?)
- Say “yes” to take a stone
- Head back to the cottage, and go inside
- Take the cake from the witch
- Go to the hill
- Go to the lake
- Say “Pompom”
- Say “no” when he asks about water and about his name
- Head to the castle
- The cake will be handed over to the Keeper, and the key will get you inside
- Say “yes” to exploring
- Watch a minute of tripped-out madness, finding Daniel at the end
- Go to the lake
- Say “yes” to water
- Give the key
- Say “yes” to the name, and note “redhorn” (though you don’t really need it for this solution)
- Go to the forest
- Enter the tower to find Jessica