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I emerged victorious on August 14, 1953 at 2:35 PM to Leatrice and Norman Johnson in Hanover, New Hampshire.

I am an only child, my zodiac sign is Leo, also the Year of the Snake, and my lucky number is 3.

24 years in Bristol, CT — 2 years in Denver, CO — 34 years in Los Angeles, CA — 3 years in Vancouver, Canada.

From 8th grade through high school, I made Super 8 movies, lots of them, including a feature length comedy.

During that time, I also worked at 5 different amusement parks creating monsters for their Laff-in-the Dark rides.

I went to USC Cinema, became a teaching assistant in animation, and earned a Master of Arts degree.

I won awards for my animated shorts: Der Panther, Merlin, Genetic, Odyssey, Anything Can Move.

Throughout this time, I staged Treasure Hunt and Mystery Game parties for friends and friends of friends.

For 5 years, I made corporate and industrial films: “Heating, Air Conditioning, and Ventilation” and other classics.

Allen Pinero did the programming and I designed the content for Labyrinth of Crete, a text adventure.

My crew of 9 created the animated gags for Nickelodeon’s Out of Control.

I bought a Mac 512K in late 1984, and by 1986, I changed careers and created computer meta-puzzle games.

The Fool’s Errand, At the Carnival, and 3 in Three are my classics, which won many awards.

For Cinemaware, I did the puzzle design for Disney’s Cartoon Arcade.

My *FunHouse* crew did Hanna Barbera’s Cartoon Carnival, Merlin’s Apprentice, Labyrinth of Crete.

In the following years, I garnered contract work with Interplay, Mattel, Warner Bros. and Disney.

I designed the $100,000 Treasure Hunt for David Blaine’s book, Mysterious Stranger.

My magnum opus is The Fool and his Money, my final computer game.

Now I am retired and writing my once and future novel CRAFTPUPPET.

And since April 2016, I’m once again publishing my newsletter, The Fool’s Gold.

And in 2017, I created another armchair treasure hunt.

 Cliff Johnson’s Fool’s Errand 2015 by Jimmy Maher of The Digital Antiquarian
Announcing the free download of my Classic Games.
 MacWorld 2002  — Adventure Gamers 2004  — Playable Classics 2005  — Gaming Steve 2006 
Rediscovering The Fool’s Errand.
   Yukihime 2006  — Game Set Watch 2007  — WIRED 2009  — Progressive Boink 2013  — Tech Raptor 2015 
 Rediscovering 3 in Three.
 PC Gamer 2007 
Following the progress of The Fool and his Money.
 GamesTM 2005 — Gamasutra 2006 — Just Adventure 2007 — GameCyte 2008 
 WIRED 2009 — Just Adventure 2012 — Archive.vg 2012 — WIRED 2012 
Reviews of The Fool and his Money.
 Just Adventure 2012 — JayIsGames 2012 — Gameshelf 2012 — The Mac 512 2012 — Player Comments 
Home of the Underdogs Interview by Sarinee Achavanuntaku (September 2002)

Probably what’s on the mind of every fan of The Fool’s Errand: how on Earth did you come up with such a unique and compelling title? What was the motive/inspiration behind the game?

The Fool’s Errand began as a homemade book, years before I owned a computer. My inspiration was the popular treasure hunt book Masquerade. Its author, Kit Williams, inspired me with his unique way of hiding his puzzles within his artwork. Instead of creating a very difficult solution, however, my goal was to make the experience pleasant and solvable in a single afternoon.

In 1981, I sent away for a Rider Tarot deck and I was intrigued, for it was the first Tarot deck I’d seen that had individual illustrations on each of the 78 cards. I arranged and rearranged the cards until a plausible plot twinkled in my mind’s eye.

That Christmas I wrote a 21 page story and created an 81-piece map spanning another 14 pages (6 random pieces per page). The object was to read the story which yielded the prose clues to assemble the map correctly and then to use text clues from the story to enter into that map.

In this incarnation, there were only 13 treasures and the answer spelled Merry Christmas. Of the dozens of people who received it as a gift, only 3 solved it. My goal of pleasant solvability remained elusive.


The Sun’s Map illustrated by David Wood

How long did it take you to finish The Fool’s Errand, from conception to release?

2 years and $50,000 of credit card debt.*

I bought a Mac 512K in late 1984, and by Spring 1985, I was noodling with Microsoft Basic. By 1986 I’d created 30+ individual data-driven programs whose sum total was The Fool’s Errand. Only one problem. I had to convert this multitude of interpretative files into one single compiled application if I wanted to sell it.

By mid-1987, I had converted the whole kit and caboodle into ZBasic. The labor seemed more Sisyphus than Hercules, e.g. trying to fix the “Print Story” feature which ultimately crashed and burned upon the release of the Mac SE. Little did I know that the system “standards” were a moving target.

*After the game was a success, I paid off the debt immediately. Then I confessed to a friend how I’d financed it and how ridiculous I felt having risked so much on an unknown entity in an unknown field. He, on the other hand, thought it was a great idea and credit-carded $80,000 to open his successful art gallery in Beverly Hills.

I think people would be interested to know a bit more about the making of The Fool’s Errand - specifically, the approach you used to make the “meta-puzzle” and make everything (puzzles, each story segment etc.) fit very well together.

The meta-puzzle aspect was a happy circumstance. The 1981 book provided the structure of the story and map relationship. The 1987 game added the idea of earning those elements.

Creating the game was a delight for me on many levels. Foremost I am a storyteller and film animator. To the latter, I swing toward the abstract, surreal, and avant-garde (and saying things in groups of three).

The silhouettes set the mood I desired, and then I digitized ruffled cloth to create the sky background effects.

I used patterned concentric rectangles to create backgrounds on the fly, and for free, storage-wise.

As to computers, I had no idea I would be any good at programming, for I mistakenly thought it had something to do with math.

Happily, I discovered it was akin to playing with an Erector set. I was astonished when anything I did actually worked.

Until the very last moment the compiled game was completed, I maintained a morbid pessimism, that with all the many bits and pieces, the thing would ultimately crash. Either I’d break the spine of the language or the computer or myself. Luckily, I was mistaken.

Beyond the story and map, I had no master plan for the computer puzzles. I worked in an intuitive manner, allowing myself to ponder this and that, tinker around, try things, and seeing what I could discover. I created whatever I felt was appropriate as I went along, checking off each story segment/map piece as I went.

I’m a big fan of collage, montage, and assemblage, so I endeavored to imbue the game with endless variety, that is, as much variety as I could pack onto a 400K floppy.

In fact, one of my favorite puzzles, The Auction, never made it into the game because it had a bitmap overhead of 57K.

The Fool only has three silver coins and he must purchase three expensive items for which the others are willing to pay far more.

What to do?

What’s your single most favorite puzzle in The Fool’s Errand?

Earning the four Keys of Thoth to solve the puzzle of the High Priestess is by far my favorite, both for its abstract visuals and equally abstract solutions.

Tied for second would be The 3 Ships elusive button, The Humbug’s snaky maze button, and Death’s unrelenting button.

Which puzzle are you most disappointed with?

I’ve no disappointments whatsoever with the original Macintosh game, but the MS-DOS version felt to me like a “bizarro world” counterpart, though many people prefer it.

Keep in mind, I spent nearly two years perfecting a look and feel that took best advantage of the Mac’s black & white high resolution. Then to see the game displayed with chunky oblong pixels and 16 colors gave me the willies.

At the Carnival was a bit of a letdown for The Fool’s Errand fans, as it doesn’t have the compelling “meta-story” element of The Fool’s Errand and 3 in Three. Was it meant to be just a collection of puzzles, or is there some other reason?

In 1989, At the Carnival was the first in a series of puzzle disks for The Puzzle Gallery, yes, a themed collection of puzzles.

I had a blast crafting this game, for its silly MAD Magazine slapstick humor, for the opportunity to learn how to program in Pascal instead of Basic, and for the chance to experiment with color and sound. It permitted me to refine the interface of the ten traditional puzzles from Fool; for example, by adding an undo move to the Concatenation and XOR puzzles, they were remarkably easier to solve.

Oh, and it helped finance 3 in Three.

But I will make no apologies for Hazard Park. When I die, I want to be propped up in the Laff-in-the-Dark ride next to Elmer J. McCurdy.

At the Carnival was touted as the first in “Puzzle Gallery” line, but no more games were made. What happened?

Miles Computing went bankrupt.

You said you used to build monsters for amusement parks. Anything you can share with us, e.g. which monster are you most proud of?

My specialty was rotting skeletons with grim grinning skulls.

I built monsters from 1971-1974 to pay my way through USC film school at Lake Compounce in Connecticut as a Senior in high school, then Riverside Park and Elitch Gardens (both bought by Six Flags), Lakeside Park, and the now extinct Queen’s Pike in Long Beach, CA.

The photo — Brad Parker (renown artist of Labyrinth of Crete), the chewed-off head from Jaws, and The Fool and his earrings — has little to do with amusement parks.

We all love Halloween, that’s all.

How come 3 in Three was never released for the PC?

In 1991, the fanciful look and feel of 3 in Three was developed as a practical solution to limited floppy disk space.

CD-ROMs were on the horizon, but not widespread, and color pix could fill up a 800K floppy in no time flat.

Necessity being the mother of invention, I had to create my own data-driven Mac graphics language to display all the story, art, animation, puzzles, and sound I envisioned.

I still find it amazing that the final application was only 286K and the data file, 616K.

The publisher, Cinemaware, had a formidable in-house programming team who had created BOLT, a proprietary conversion language, especially to solve this problem of porting their graphics-heavy games to other platforms. They were planning a 3 in Three MS-DOS conversion.

Then they went bankrupt.

Inline Design picked up the game and they were instrumental in it winning MacUser’s Best Game of the Year. Naturally, they wanted to do an IBM conversion, too, but with a third party developer without heavy graphics credentials. I had to decline.

And then they went bankrupt, too, so it was a moot point.

Could you please explain the history of *FunHouse* and how you came to design three CD-I games for Philips Media?

I had designed Disney’s Cartoon Arcade for Disney Home Video and Ideal Toys. Their system used a VCR to display video and a linked console to overlay computer games. Basically, watch a cartoon of Donald Duck trying to fix a flat tire and then play a game to help him fix it. There were 10 pairs of cartoons and games with a bonus cartoon if you aced all the games.

Philips approached me to do Hanna Barbera’s Cartoon Carnival in CD-I, ostensibly the same concept, except that it would be the first CD-I disc to use their Full Motion Video capability to show cartoon rewards for completing computer play.

I started work on Cartoon Carnival as a team of one, prototyping the concept in Hypercard in a tiny office on the second floor near the men’s room.

Also during that time, I used HyperCard to prototype Merlin’s Apprentice and Labyrinth of Crete which were green-lighted as well. I had garnered a $4,000,000 budget and had no staff whatsoever to create the projects,

That’s how *FunHouse* came to be, first as 8 people and then as 30 artists, animators, and programmers. Our specialty was hand-drawn animation, and we were the first stop when international visitors toured the facility, which became a weekly occurrence.

What is (are) your favorite recent computer game(s) (if you’re playing any)?

Asteroids, Space Invaders, Defender. My first and last game console was an Atari 2600.

Truth be told, I’d rather create computer games than play computer games. When I do play games, I play board games with real people on social occasions — Scrabble, Risk, Acquire, Pictionary, et al.

Aside from your games, what games would you rank among the best puzzle games ever made? (Mac, PC, or any other system)

You’re asking a person who hasn’t even played The Seventh Guest or Myst (or anything since).

If you were given an unlimited budget and time to make a game today, what kind of game would it be?

I’m not sure I’d want an unlimited budget or unlimited time. I prefer working within limitations and I’d rather not work more than a year on anything. If I can reach my core audience and self-publish one game a year, I’d be in Fool’s Paradise.

What’s your most favorite mythical character (aside from The Fool, of course ;)) ?

Everything from Greek mythology to Spider-Man.

Want to say something to your fans?

Charles de Montesquieu pens “An author is a fool. Not content to merely bore those around him, he insists on boring future generations as well.”

And Bertrand Russell adds “The problem is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, leaving wiser people so full of doubts.”

Thank you, one and all.

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