XYZZY is a magical little piece of computer history. No, seriously, it’s magical… it was a spell used in the original text adventure game, called Adventure.
They were pioneers, they didn’t have to be too creative.
Actually, the full name of the game was Colossal Cave Adventure. The spell transported people between two points of the maze, and that would have been the end of it except that it was memorable, and it sounded cool.
It was also, as it turned out, a mnemonic for performing cross products, but according to friends of the Colossal Cave Adventure designer, he insisted he’d just made up the word.
It was a good word to make up, because future programmers started to include it into their work as tributes to the game they’d enjoyed. It would generate a response (often, “nothing happens”) in any Infocom game (Zork, Planetfall, Enchanter, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, etc…) if typed in. Other interactive fiction video games followed their lead and would treat it as if it were a real command. It would even trigger responses in some pre-Windows operating systems.
Windows programmers decided to up the ante. If the term was entered while the right shift key was held down during a game of Minesweeper, a dot would appear over the boxes that held a mine. From there, it became one of the first commonly used cheat codes.
Now it is used as the name of the Interactive Fiction Awards, a not-especially-prestigious award for computer game programming. Prestige comes hard for programmers. Here’s the 2017 winner, The Wizard Sniffer.
Still, not bad for a word designed to be unpronounceable.
Question of the night: What’s your favorite computer game?