Taking on Day of the Tentacle without a walkthrough

This article was originally published in PC Gamer issue 292. For more quality articles about all things PC gaming, you can subscribe now in the UK and the US. 

I never played Day of the Tentacle, despite its reputation as one of the best adventure games ever made. With the remastered edition now available, Andy has challenged me to finish it without a walkthrough. It’s my chance to experience the game as it was meant to be played—without the safety net of the internet. In the spirit of the era, I can use Andy as my very own LucasArts helpline. Be warned, there are puzzle and plot spoilers throughout this article.

I’m not too bad at modern adventure games—I completed the Blackwell series without a walkthrough—but I’m less adept at the older ones. Monkey Island 2 had me utterly stumped. Judging by Day of the Tentacle’s opening cutscene, I’m worried this will be more of the same. It appears to take place in a slapstick cartoon, where logic has upped sticks and bought a quaint country cottage in a heartland of zany adventure. I’m in trouble. 

We open to the lobby of Doctor Fred’s combined hotel, laboratory and psych ward. I recognise my first puzzle: a coin on the floor that’s stuck to some gum. I go to pick it up, but it won’t budge. No doubt this is part of some long, elaborate puzzle chain. If I was a standup comedian, here is where I’d go on a long routine imagining common tasks through the lens of adventure game logic. Perhaps a skit about acquiring milk by using leather cushions to trick a cow into letting me near her udders. 

No time for that, though, as I trigger a cutscene by climbing into a grandfather clock. Soon, a time travel mishap occurs. The three playable characters now exist in three different time zones. Equable roadie Hoagie is in the past, and skittish student Laverne finds herself in a future ruled by tentacle monsters. Both must get power to their Chron-o-Johns. Back (or forward) in the present, bookish Bernard must buy an expensive diamond to bring his pals home.

I quickly make what seems like progress by picking up every item I can find. Pretty soon Hoagie and Bernard’s pockets are bulging. Not Laverne’s though, because she’s stuck up a tree. Also, I’ve talked to the founding fathers of the United States. They seem nice. 

Climbing into a grandfather clock in the past as Hoagie, I find Fred’s ancestor, Red Edison. He’s going to help me build a super-battery, but only if I provide him with three things: oil, vinegar and gold. I suspect these aren’t the ingredients for a battery, but then Fight Club lied about the recipe for homemade napalm, and the most cartoonish thing about that was Jared Leto’s hair. Thanks to my earlier hoarding, I already have the oil. 

Next: vinegar. I don’t find any, but I do have a bottle of wine. As any sommelier will tell you, wine plus time equals rhyme. And also vinegar. I’m about to drop the wine bottle into the Chron-o-John—which lets me transport inanimate objects between time periods—when I realise a conceptual flaw in my plan. If I send the wine forward in time, it will still be wine. I need to hide the wine in the past, and have one of the other characters retrieve it and send it back. I am a clever boy. 

Admittedly not that clever, as it takes me a while to realise I need to put the wine in Thomas Jefferson’s time capsule. In the meantime, I cajole George Washington into cutting down a kumquat tree by painting its fruit the colour of cherries. This frees Laverne. I’d gloat, but it was accidental. I recognised the basic template of an adventure puzzle, and attempted to solve it regardless of reason. I also add an amendment to the Constitution requiring vacuum cleaners in every basement. I assume this will, at some point, be of use. 

Freed from the tree, Laverne is locked up by tentacles. Releasing her proves surprisingly easy. Feigning sickness, I steal a chart of tentacle anatomy and send it back to Hoagie. He hands it to a seamstress who assumes it’s the template for a new American flag. In the future, Laverne is able retrieve the flag and wear it as a disguise. Did I say it was easy? I meant stupid. Free to wander the future mansion, I find the time capsule. Laverne can’t open it with her bare hands, though. Didn’t I see a crowbar back in Bernard’s time? 

Doing things for no reason works for a while, but pretty soon I’m stuck.

I did! The crowbar lets me pick up the coin from the lobby, and also steal a stack of quarters from a candy machine. What I can’t do is send it into the future to help Laverne. Instead, I do more things that don’t make sense. I use the dime to shake a fat man off a sweater. (Why?) I put the sweater in a tumble dryer and use my stack of quarters to send it spinning into Laverne’s time. (Er?) Later, I tell Bernard to steal a hamster. (What?) I put the hamster in an ice box. (Oh, come on!) In the future, Laverne retrieves the frozen rodent and puts it in the microwave. (Seriously?) I place the thoroughly damp hamster in the dryer-shrunken sweater to warm him up. (WTF, adventure games.) 

Doing things for no reason works for a while, but pretty soon I’m stuck. It’s time to turn to my only hope: Andy Kelly, who is standing in for the LucasArts tips line. For a while, I’d harboured dreams of completing the game without ever calling him—especially as he’ll be billing me for every hint I receive. Alas, I’m at a loss. I email Andy and ask how to send the crowbar to the future. 

“Thanks for calling the LucasArts hint line. Calls to this 1-900 number are charged at $3 for the first minute, and $1 for every additional minute. Your hint is as follows: there are other ways to open a time capsule. The charge for this call is $4.”