COMPETITION ENTRY #15: ZX CHUNTEY INSPECTOR
Some time yesterday (as I write this), Jamie Bradbury had a revelation. "What's all this 'chutney' business about?" he asked the people of Spectrum Computing. The truth was soon revealed: a sauce usually associated with Indian cuisine was completely irrelevant to Sinclair folklore, and what he was really asking about was chuntey, which is defined in comp.sys.sinclair folklore as:
"The mystical field set up when the Speccy was loading that was sensitive to the slightest disturbance, e.g. your mum walking into the room. Of course causing a disturbance in the chuntey instantly causes any game currently loading to fail."
Chuntey has been denounced by readers of The Skeptical Inquirer as complete hokum, or, to use the modern vernacular, "fake news". And yet we have not only proof that it exists, but that a Patented Chuntey Disruptor is in the possession of all but the most fanatical Luddite. You try leaving your mobile phone next to your Spectrum as it's loading Castlevania: Spectral Interlude or something equally long and see what happens.
Jamie, of course, though would be it a fantastic idea to write another CSSCGC entry based on this wonderful new concept he'd discovered about 35 years too late. Within a day, this... thing had arrived in my inbox.
What happens is, you lead the program - if I were to call it a "game" I would be sued under the Trade Descriptions Act - and after displaying a particularly ugly loading screen (which does at least count for effort, I'll grant that), press any key, the screen will display R - Tape loading error (those exact characters; I can spot a fake error message a hundred miles away), and then crash. I tried again, it crashed again. Oh, how I roared with laughter at this satirical stab at the Spectrum's legendary inability to load. Except I didn't, because: (a) it was the ZX81 and ZX80 that had a far more sensitive chuntey field that would shatter at the slightest provocation, and Spectrum +2s (original or +2A/B) with their fixed tape decks were damn near infallible; (b) it wasted half my afternoon. I loaded this program 200 times - yes, two hundred - and kept a tally of what it did. 19 times, it crashed and kept the red stripes on the crash screen so I had to reset Spectaculator manually. The other 181 times, it did a standard NEW. Not once did I ever see the "win" (!) screen that Jamie had implied would appear at some stage. Imagine how painful this process would have been on real hardware...
I had assumed that the program was a random number generator that generated the "win" screen with a vanishingly small probability, so I sent the 8,000-byte code block into ZX-Assembler. The first 25 bytes were a routine that included a DI, EI and a stack pointer command, followed by about 4.7K of NOPs, then 2,302 bytes of fantastically convoluted code full of CALLs and JPs with a wide variety of conditions. Printing out each byte as its CHR$ did at least reveal the "win" message I was supposed to see in the middle of that code. There was no way this could have been written from scratch, and Jamie did admit that it was a very short BASIC program (which wasn't pure Spectrum BASIC, it looks like a weird hybrid of BASIC and C) that had been compiled.
His listing revealed that there's supposed to be a 70% chance that the "win" message is displayed, with only 30% being the R - Tape loading error...
Did I dare to dream, as my tenure of this competition started, that I might get through the entire year with the Goolus confined to their mud huts? If so, it's been a rude awakening. This is worth one solitary mask for barely being a "game" at all - I suppose it's a sort of Russian roulette, or it would be if it worked properly. Two Ricks for effort, one of which is for the loading screen, hideous though it is. And then, these are both cancelled out: there's one demerit for entering a "game" that's as fundamentally crippled as Sqij!, and another for wasting my afternoon discovering that the hard way, even if it took my attention away from the pants-down leathering that the England cricket team were taking at the hands of Rishabh Pant, Ravichandran Ashwin, Axar Patel and the excellently-named Washington Sundar.
I need not also mention that it fails the type-in test. Furthermore, if this was a genuine attempt to move into the lead for Most Crap Game Of The Year, I remind everyone at this point: "a game that has as many (or more) Goolus than masks will not be considered for the Mucho Generoso Prize. You have been warned!"
You've dropped the ball there, Mr Bradbury - just like Joe Denly, one fateful day in Hamilton. No more like this, please!