Dr. Nick Montfort, who figures prominently in GET LAMP and who I’ve mentioned several times in this weblog, has put out an unusually detailed travelogue in trying to find the origins of Zork. Not the game, mind you – he wrote extensively about that in his book Twisty Little Passages. No, in this case he’s trying to track back the specific word Zork, which was bouncing around MIT at the time the game was being written and which hopped in as the title when it was used as a placeholder by the programmers. The name stuck, and the marketing and growth of Infocom forever enshrined the word with the game.
The entry, “A Note on the Word Zork“, utilizes a number of predecessors to the word (such as zorch) that were in MIT slang from the 1950s, and paws around for a few pieces of literature, writing and citation that might have caught the eye of either the Zork creators, or people who then influenced the Zork creators.
What’s interesting about this sort of speculative work is that it is, by its nature, transient – over time a more firm connection might be found, or no connection ever found. It’s the kind of work that can be thankless, or tossed aside by a few choice words of the still-living creators. But it’s a great exercise, and I’m glad Nick has done it.