Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Adventure of the Week: Nancy Drew #22 - Trail of the Twister (2010)

This week, we're returning to Her Interactive's series of point-and-click first-person adventure games based on the popular books by the pseudonymous Carolyn Keene, with Nancy Drew: Trail of the Twister.  This 22nd game in the long-running series was designed by Cathy Roiter, with Story Concept work by Anne Collins-Ludwick and Marc Templin as Technical Director.  We'll be playing on the PC on the Senior Detective difficulty level.


This time around, Nancy Drew has been hired by a storm research team funded by business magnate P.G. Krolmeister -- Nancy's job is to investigate equipment issues, possibly sabotage by a rival team in a competition for a hundred million dollar research grant.  This "storm chasers" theme represents the series' more recent trend towards topical plots, rather than the old dark house/inn/cottage staples of the books and earlier games.

I haven't been playing the Nancy Drew titles in any particular order, but I should note that these later games benefit from some interface enhancements -- a Task List helps keep us on track if we're not sure what to do next (this is only available on the Junior Detective difficulty level), and a Journal records important facts in case we haven't been keeping notes.  There are more flexible 360-degree views of interiors as well, reducing navigation frustration, though the pre-rendered approach still has its limitations and there are unexpected dead ends here and there that have to be backed out of before we can move to another area.  The series follows its established formula fairly consistently -- Nancy can die, but we can always get another chance with a reset prior to any fatal mistake, and most of the gameplay centers around exploration and conversation.

As always, interested adventurers are encouraged to follow the Trail of the Twister first-hand before reading my comments below.  I will note that it's more linear than some of Her Interactive's other titles, and sometimes feels more constrained and less investigative as a result, so you may want to take that into account.  The game is commercially available through many channels, including Steam.  Beyond this point, I will be discussing my experience of the story and its puzzles in detail, so there are certain to be...

***** SPOILERS AHEAD! *****

After we read the case file -- following the standard startup format of the later Nancy Drew games -- to learn about the premise of Trail of the Twister, we can click on Nancy's plane ticket to launch the game.  We can choose to play on a Junior Detective or Senior Detective level, with more challenging puzzles on the Senior difficulty setting but no plot or content differences.  We'll play as Senior Detectives here.

As the game starts, Nancy pulls up to an aging farmhouse, with heavy rains and winds.  The case file is in her inventory, in case we forgot to look at it earlier.  We can move some debris piled up by the side door to find a tin box -- it contains some money, with a note reading, "Once again, amazing job!"  Hmmmm.

Clicking on Nancy's car leads into an overhead-view driving mode, something I haven't seen before in this series, which allows Nancy to drive around and explore the area.  We'll stay at the farmhouse a bit longer before we go driving, though. 

The barn contains a yellow car, inoperable, and a workbench.  Poking around, we can find an article about the local Canute College's leasing of some of its land, to help cope with financial difficulties.  A side door on the garage/barn isn't locked but appears to be blocked by something behind it; it's just a cylindrical plastic bin, visible if we enter through the big barn door.  The blockage can't be moved, so it isn't clear if this is meant to be a puzzle or might come into play later in the story.

Nancy can play with a tire swing out in the yard, to no apparent purpose, and witness some prairie dogs playing near the cornfield that surrounds the house.  We can find a copper coin, not US tender but a commemorative piece -- it bears a profile image of a man, and reads "IN PA WE TRUST - SINCERITY - 1998."  There's a cellar or access door of some kind out in the yard, near a WARNING sign, neither of which we can really examine. 

We can enter the farmhouse to find a greeting note from someone named Debbie, welcoming Nancy -- the storm team is currently out looking for a possible tornado forming to the north.  Nancy is asked to take a Tornado Quiz on a computer in the cellar, file some papers using Debbie's ordering system, and visit Ma 'n Pa's General Store down the street using the GPS in the car.  Nancy is posing as an intern here, in order to have better access for her investigation -- it's an unfortunate design choice, as it means she doesn't have her customary degree of freedom as the story develops.  But we have some puzzles to solve here, so we'll get to work.

The filing system uses cryptic symbols to identify categories, with a positional code we have to crack, e.g. "A is to the left of B" and "D is to the right of C."  We just have to tab 6 file folders with tags marked with these symbols to be consistent with the 9 rules given, and Nancy gives us basic pass/fail feedback whenever we fill all the slots.  Then we have to file all the folders on top of the cabinet by the same symbols, which are easy to file under the matching tabs once we've done the first part.  Underneath the last folder is a wrapper for Koko Kringle Milk Chocolate Crunchies, which Nancy discards as garbage.  Once we click on the trash can, the perspective shifts and we can examine its contents, finding a receipt from Ma 'n Pa's General Store for 3 Corn Bags at $6.99 each; there's nothing else with which we can interact.

As we return to the room view, a mouse squeaks and runs by near the wall; Nancy is uncharacteristically unhappy with the critter's presence.  A computer on the desk nearby shows topographical maps and weather patterns, and a grid on the wall is festooned with post-its, which we can't examine closely(it appears a few of them are in-jokes by the art staff, though none are quite clear enough to really read.)

Going downstairs to the cellar, we find a laptop which lets us view photos of storm systems and take the Twister Trivia quiz mentioned earlier; I got 5 out of 8 on my attempt, so I did learn a few things.  The laptop also has a camera feature which apparently works with Nancy's phone somehow, though I wasn't able to figure out how to transfer images back and forth at first.  There are some instructions on the laptop, indicating we need to attach the camera to the computer -- I probably need a cable for that?  Ah, there's a cable attached to the laptop -- we have no real reason to do this yet, anyway, but now we know how it works.  We can download pictures from the phone to the laptop, but there's no mechanism going the other way.

As we step back from the laptop view, Debbie and team leader Scott Varnell arrive back.  Nancy can ask Scott about the storm team; when she tells him she witnessed a small tornado on the way in, he seems frustrated and annoyed at missing it.  It seems his team is at risk of losing its academic funding without some results.  Scott asks Nancy to put a disaster kit together for a presentation he has to give next week, and redesign the local community's warning siren system so that everyone will be within earshot of a siren based on a chart in the next room.

Scott doesn't want to be bothered with further conversation, but we can poke around his cluttered office a little.  There's a news clipping recounting the story of "Ma," Betsy Ochs of General Store fame, who was killed in a tornado some years ago when the warning sirens didn't go off before a twister touched down.  Scott Varnell is quoted in the article on the difficulty of predicting these violent events.  We can also look at a chart of Oklahoma on the wall, showing where major EF5 (on the Enhanced Fujita scale) and lower-intensity storms hit during the 2009 season, and listen to a radio near the doorway to hear an ad from Krohlmeister Industries for a lockbusting product, among other bits of random radio traffic.

Before we leave the office, Scott asks Nancy if the tornado excited or scared her, and we have some influence over the tone of Nancy's response.  Scott is an interesting character, well-written and acted by Nancy Drew standards, frustrated about the stalling of his academic career.

Going upstairs from the farmhouse living room equates to bedtime -- we never see Nancy's accommodations -- and Nancy's not ready to hit the sack just yet.  There's a copy of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein on the coffee table, and the television doesn't really work, though we can pick up brief images and audio clips for fun.

We can't go back downstairs to the basement yet, as Debbie, the Project Manager, insists on talking to Nancy.  We're supposed to talk to her every morning for Nancy's intern assignments, and this will indeed prove to be an unavoidable ritual.  Debbie just got her doctorate in Metereology and has been on Scott's team since she was a student; she's used to dealing with him, but there's clearly some tension there.  In addition to her other tasks, Nancy is supposed to go out to the cornfield and fix the sprinkler system.  Nancy also gives Debbie the box and cash found out front upon her arrival.  We also learn that Debbie is the sound and lighting director at the community's Grange Hall theatre, as a hobby outside of her storm team duties.  "Pa" is involved with the big upcoming show.

Heading back to the computer downstairs, we re-check the tornado quiz and note that a disaster kit requires specific elements: water, sugar, salt, granola bars, batteries, flashlight, can opener, toothpaste, duct tape, and bleach.  So we'll have to acquire some supplies at the General Store.

Now that we have time to poke around the basement some more, we can find a list of storm weather symbols under the sink -- some of the symbols used here were also used in the filing system.  Is there any correlation between these symbols and the filing system?

Another mouse is squeaking around here -- Nancy seems to have an issue with mice in this game -- and we can examine a partially assembled disaster kit, which oddly contains a Thank You note with a family photo.  There's also a book of surface charts, recording high and low temperatures, wind speed and direction, dew point, and weather using the standard symbols, for the month of March -- no year is given.

We can also talk to 'Frosty' Harlow, the storm team's media guy, who has a desk in the basement.  He earned his nickname after he chanced to capture some rare photos of a major hailstorm system.  He's currently sporting some scratches he claims he got from a bramble patch when he dropped his camera.  Frosty joined the team after their previous photographer quit, and he's more than a little cocky about his skills, though he doesn't seem like a saboteur.

It's time to head into town and assemble that disaster kit.  The driving interface's overhead perspective is a little tricky to control -- we have to get the car oriented correctly and moving in the right direction using mouse clicks, and the vehicle can take damage that intensifies with speed, so if Nancy doesn't drive safely the game is over.

While trying to find the store, we run across a little shed built into a hillside.  It doesn't seem we can do anything here, but stopping at a destination refills the vehicle's damage bar, and while I'm looking through inventory, I find the welcome note that mentions the car has a GPS.  Too bad I took the truck -- ah, wait, the truck has a GPS also.  That's a big help, and also alerts us to a new destination -- the windill -- as well as identifying the little shed we've discovered as the Spring House.

When we finally get to the general store, Pa is pretty personable, and the set design here is nicely evocative of small-town marketing.  Pa already has Nancy's cell phone number as part of the storm team's emergency contact list, which throws our heroine off a little.  But he seems harmless enough -- he gives Nancy one of his "Pa Pennies" like the one we found earlier, and we learn that these can (actually must) be used to buy items not on the storm team's official line-of-credit shopping list.

We can ask Pa about the play he and Debbie are involved with -- it's a local history play, and Pa is playing the town's early sheriff and librarian.  He is fatalistic about tornadoes, understandable considering his personal history.  Nancy can shop here for all the items needed to populate a disaster kit.  But there's a puzzle aspect to this, as many prices are based on a buy-two-items-with-same-tag-color sale, and we have a limited budget; I was able to get everything with $1.89 to spare.  There are some fun little jokes on the shelves too -- Broth of Khan soup and DingBats cereal ("All your Favorite Unicode symbols" in colored shapes!)

We can also browse the local publications; an article on Scott mentions that his Canute College team's biggest rival in the Green Skies grant contest is New York's Kingston University, led by Brooke Tavanah.  There's also a mysterious "surprise package" box for sale at $99.90 -- too expensive for Nancy's circumstances.

Before we go back to the farmhouse, let's visit the windmill.  There's nothing to do here, but it might be useful for checking wind direction later.  Returning to the farmhouse, we can talk to Debbie about the little piles of dried corn Nancy has been finding around the place, and the General Store receipt in the trash can.  Telling her we think someone's trying to lure the mice inside produces a simple dismissal of the whole idea.  We can talk to Scott some more -- he admits he's lost enthusiasm for his work over the years, and confirms that the farm facility will be sold if his team doesn't win the grant competition, leaving the team without a headquarters.

Getting back to Nancy's tasks for the day, we need to redesign the warning siren system so that everyone in town is within earshot.  This is a visual puzzle -- we can see the sirens and their ranges, and have to position them so at least one range overlaps each point in town.  This takes some trial and error (at least it did for me) but it generally works out if we consider both range (circle size) and pin placement, as we can only mount a siren with its center at specific locations.  Nancy confirms we've got it right when we get the last piece correctly into place.

Next, we have to fire up the sprinkler system out in the cornfield.  Another Pa Penny is hidden under the lid of the sprinkler system's control panel.  To turn the sprinklers back on, we have to open eight valves in an 8 x 8 matrix, with no sprinklers in the same row, column, or diagonal line related to each other; this generic puzzle isn't really related to the task at hand in any sensible way, a trend that will unfortunately afflict much of this game.  We have to stagger the pattern to make this work, avoiding backing ourselves into a straight line combination so we can reset the pump.  It's hardest to avoid the diagonals, but it is possible.  Once we get eight valves in valid positions opened, the pump comes back on.

With these three tasks done, Nancy will allow us to send her upstairs to bed.  The rooster crows bright and early the next morning, and Debbie gives Nancy some new tasks; so far the intern work is taking up all of Nancy's detection time.  Nancy is now supposed to realign some sensors out in the corn field, and learn the basics of storm photography from Frosty.

The sensor puzzle is a beam-and-mirror affair -- we have to rotate mirrors to get the red beam shining at the red sensor, the same for the blue.  This isn't too difficult, as many options are ruled out because they bounce the light beams irretrievably out of bounds.  After Nancy finishes setting up the sensors, we overhear Debbie saying something about staying at Canute, and "we just have to give him a little push.  No one is going to suspect a thing" -- and Frosty sounding uncertain about agreeing to help.  They seem to be planning to get rid of Scott, though whether that means encouraging him to quit or killing him isn't blatantly spelled out.  And it could always a be a theatre thing.

P.G. Krolmeister, Nancy's employer, calls afterward to get Nancy's impressions of what's going on with the storm team; this seems designed to recap the current story for the player's benefit.  Talking to Frosty oddly doesn't produce any new conversation topics, so it's not clear how Nancy is supposed to learn about storm photography from him.  Entering the barn while looking for something to do, we are asked for a hand by Chase, the team's fix-it man, who is working on the broken-down car stored there.  He asks Nancy to fix the car's LED display, by rearranging some numbered fuses so that no consecutively-numbered fuses are touching each other.  What worked for me was to put fuses 7 and 2 in the top and bottom slots, allowing us to spread out the "neighbors" in the remaining six slots.

Chase is willing to talk a little -- the damaged car was being driven by the previous intern when it crashed.  He says Scott is pretty negative and a bad luck magnet, which in his opinion is why stuff breaks down all the time.  The intern's car broke down because its coolant had leaked out after mice chewed through the hose.  He still has the damaged hose, so we'll take a look at it -- it looks more like it's been cut, really, with a V-shaped incision in the line.  Chase doesn't think Scott's team is going to win, just on account of Scott's pessimism.  Nancy can also earn some Pa Pennies by wiring up circuit boards for Chase here -- it's a voltage/wiring puzzle with time and correctness constraints, so I'll put that off until we really need the Pa Pennies.

Can we drive somewhere to find Frosty?  Ah, if we get in the car, he joins Nancy automatically.  Our first destination is the windmill, where Frosty gives Nancy a book identifying the shots Nancy needs to capture.  This provides an opportunity to learn about various cloud types, but the skies are realistically uncooperative in terms of presenting clouds that look like the illustrations.  It seems Frosty is happy with any dark shape Nancy can snap with her cell phone camera.  If we've run out of possibilities, driving away for a little bit and returning presents randomly different views, some of which are much more dramatic.  We can do this a few times, taking pictures of interesting formations. 

How do we finish this activity?  We don't have to cover all the cloud types; we just have to take some photos back to the farm and download them onto the laptop there, after which Frosty gives us an MP3 player to return to Chase.  As we head toward the barn, Debbie tells Nancy it's time to turn in, so we must be about done for the day.  We don't get to talk to Chase now anyway -- as Nancy attempts to enter the barn, we hear Chase yelling at somebody or something, and Nancy peeks through a knothole to see him cleaning his boots and telling something to get out of them.  Mice?

Day 3 begins with an early weather alert -- multiple tornado touchdowns have been reported in the area, and as Nancy attempts to head down to the cellar, she finds the power out and Debbie huddled fearfully in the living room.  At least that was my impression, though the glimpse in a lightning flash is so brief that it could have been Scott working a jigsaw puzzle on the coffee table.  Morning comes shortly, and things are back to normal.  Debbie asks Nancy to round up the prairie dogs living near the corn field before an exterminator arrives.  We are supposed to talk to Scott and Chase about how to move them in a humane fashion.

Strangely, when we visit Scott, he thanks Nancy for driving during the chase yesterday.  That doesn't seem to have happened in my game?  He also asks us to get rid of the mice infesting the house.  Chase says he and Frosty aren't really close, but Debbie seems to spend a lot of time talking to him, though not in a romantic way.   He has a vacuum device Nancy can use for moving the prairie dogs, though we'll need to trade its rubber hose in for a bigger size at the general store.

So far, Trail of the Twister seems to be much more linear and errand-focused than Nancy's usual free-form investigative approach; we can't find a lot of clues on our own, and have to earn them by solving puzzles that often seem arbitrary.  Pa doesn't sell live mouse traps, but he has an antique one Nancy can borrow if she does something for him first -- setting up a display that compares the old Fujita scale for measuring tornado strength to the new Enhanced Fujita scale.  And he'll upgrade the rubber hose if Nancy sets up his new snack display.  Cheap folksy old son-of-a...

Apparently Ma 'n Pa's is a bigger outfit than it would appear, as the Wickford snack display we need to set up features items available exclusively at the General Store.  There must not be a lot of shopportunities in these parts.  We have to arrange the snack display of different-shaped boxes into a frame so they all fit and no space goes to waste.  The trick is figuring out that we can rotate the items with the right mouse button to make better use of the available real estate.

I somehow totally missed the swinging doors leading into Pa's mini local history museum during my first trip to the General Store, but found them while looking for the Fujita scale puzzle.  The museum contains information about the Dust Bowl, and mentions that spring houses were used to keep things cool before electric refrigeration came to the area.  There's also a display about the Trail of Tears, the forcible removal of the Cherokee from their ancestral lands during the 1830s, during which many died.  There's also a nice mythbusting tornado facts display, a Jackalope Fight amusement machine, and a Land Rush arcade game, a territory-claiming contest that can be played with Pa Pennies.

More subtle educational content is provided by the Fujita scale puzzle, which asks us to arrange damage levels and wind speed values matching the F0-F5 and EF0-EF5 scales.  The numeric scales for wind gust speeds follow continuous sequences, so it's not hard to order the values -- we just have to get the right column of values in the right place.  As we finish that puzzle, we overhear someone named Brooke gossiping with Pa, gathering information about Scott's team's failures.  After she leaves, Nancy can talk to Pa to get the mousetrap along with his grammatically imprecise "Y'all earned it."  Pa also confirms that Brooke heads the other storm team, and says she and Scott are always looking for news about the other's team via Pa.  Asked about Ma's whereabouts, he looks away and says she's running errands, apparently still unable to deal with her death; this is a nice little character touch, and the animation here is well handled.  While looking for the mouse trap, Nancy notices a divining rod is missing from one of the displays.  But we have some animal wrangling to do, so we'll go back to the farm now.

The hose we got at Pa's store is a good fit for Chase's prairie dog vacuum -- we have to minimize sucking at empty burrows, as when we do some of the animals we've captured will escape, and bring the vacuum back to Chase when we're done.  Persistence pays off, and this isn't really a puzzle -- we just have to watch which burrows have visible prairie dogs in them, and suck them up as quickly as possible until they're all captured.  We have to find a new home for them before we give the vacuum back to Chase -- there's a suspiciously similar group of burrows out behind the barn, so we'll dump them there.  We earn a whopping 100 Pa Pennies when we return it to Chase, too, which should come in handy if we need them later on.

The mice are harder to trap than the prairie dogs.  Placing the trap near a pile of corn is possible, but we don't get any immediate reaction, and if we leave the area Nancy takes the trap with her.  It looks like we need some bait -- Nancy mentioned that the Moon Chunk cheese snack in the Wickford display we assembled earlier would seem appetizing if she were a mouse, so let's start by buying some of that.

While we're here, we'll take a moment to let Pa know that his museum's divining rod is missing -- he says some folks believe divining rods can be used to find oil, though he's mostly dismissive of the concept (the game misses an opportunity to discuss the ideomotor effect here.)  The Moon Chunk cheese has to be bought using Pa Pennies -- which, as it turns out, are worth exactly one penny each, so the 95-cent cheese eats up most of Nancy's budget.  We also have to be careful baiting the trap, as Nancy will gladly eat the cheese herself if we just click on it in her snack inventory!  The same thing happens if we select the trap from inventory and click on the cheese with it.  Ack!  Ah, once we have the cheese, an icon in the main game window shows our available bait inventory after we put the trap down in appropriate spot.

Trapping the mice is an interactive, timing-based action puzzle -- we have to rotate a gate at the intersection in the center of the trap to send each mouse to a different area of the trap, until all available squares of the trap are filled with mice.  When a mouse is facing another mouse or a dead end, it will turn around.  This isn't too hard to do, and once we have the trap filled, Scott tells Nancy to set them free out by the Spring House. 

Unfortunately, one load of mice isn't enough -- there's at least one more infested spot, downstairs in the basement.  So we need to earn some extra Pa Pennies -- this guy seems to have the local snack economy squarely under his thumb -- by wiring circuit boards for Chase.  We have to hook up fans with the specified number of wires for each, interconnecting them so each fan has the expected set of connections.  This puzzle isn't too hard, despite the time pressure, as we can quit at any time once we've earned some pennies, though if we damage a lot of circuit boards by checking bad solutions our pay will get docked substantially.

Off we go to buy more Moon Chunk cheese and bait the trap again.  Pa remains reluctant to discuss Ma's whereabouts.  Hmmmm... there's another corn pile, by the filing cabinet on the main floor of the farmhouse, but it doesn't seem we can set the trap there.  Are we already done for the day?  Nancy says it's too soon to go to bed if we try to send her upstairs.  We can try to give Scott some Moon Chunk "candy," after angering him by asking if he's been asking Pa about Brooke's team.  He seems touchy if we poke around his business too much.

Debbie has nothing new to talk about.  We can offer Debbie and Frosty some candy, but it's probably better to keep it in case we find another spot with mice.  Nobody seems to have anything new to say, and nothing obvious has changed out by the cornfield.  Checking out the new prairie dog location again, Nancy spies a flash from a flowerbox along the side of the barn.  It's a metal box similar to the cash box we found at the beginning of the game, and contains a cryptic note -- someone is paying $500 for a series of "CB, with CC or CG," from an HP storm, to delivered by June 2nd.  We know an HP storm is a high precipitation storm.  Attempting to show the box to Debbie or anyone else produces no response, it just acts as a generic conversation mouse click.

What else?  The coffee table in the living room has changed a bit -- there's a paper under the open copy of Frankenstein.  It's a letter offering Debbie an assistant professorship at Gorge University in Ithaca, New York.  So maybe it was Debbie we saw during the storm!  We can ask her about her plans, now that she's finished her degree, but she won't discuss any specifics.  It's not a topic we can discuss with Scott, though we can ask about the mice problem to learn he's allergic to cats.  Frosty and Chase have nothing new to say either.

Well, when in doubt, we can always use Nancy's phone to seek advice and hints from her friends. Except Nancy's usual friends, Bess and George, are not in her contacts list!  She can call the Hardy Boys, in case there's a crossover in the offing -- actually, yes, it's a promo for the one and only Hardy Boys game Her Interactive has released to date, and they spend some time yammering about the plot of that game.  Frank and Joe do suggest that vehicle sabotage via coolant house is inept at best, and Nancy says she believes Debbie is turning down job offers in hopes of taking over Scott's team soon, maybe because she is planning to push him off the team.  Calling P.G. Krolmeister reveals a little bit about rival team leader Brooke Tavanah -- he thinks she's too smart to need sabotage, but wouldn't put it past her -- and he waxes rhapsodic about the quality of his products, given the chance.  Krolmeister's fascination with storms is due to their refusal to be tamed by technology; he once lost a house to a tornado, and his friend Prudence Rutherford was injured by the same one.  But we haven't really learned anything new or useful.

Nancy's Journal reminds me that her usual consultants Ned, Bess and George are off hiking, hence unreachable, and she indicates an interest in getting a look at Scott's records when he's out of the office.  I seem to be out of things to do, but Nancy still won't turn in for the night.  It seems I've gone everywhere and looked at everything a few times after some trying, so I turn to the web for help.  It turns out that a number of people have gotten stuck here -- Her Interactive's community website clued me in to a couple of possibilities.  We actually have to put the survival kit items into the duffel bag downstairs -- they're in inventory as a bag of items, similar to the candy sack.  This seems to be a bug -- Day 1 finishes if we have done the shopping for the disaster kit, but the task isn't really "done" until we've put them away.  Once that's done, Frosty mentions we should talk to Debbie... and yes, now we're moving again, with a storm to chase!  (I think this was supposed to happen on Day 1, which is why Scott congratulated Nancy on her storm driving, though it never happened in my game!)

We have to drive to the northwest, into the thick of the storm, with Frosty riding shotgun.  Of course, just as we see what we're looking for, his video camera dies and Nancy has to fix it.  This is a tricky puzzle -- we have to arrange the numbers 1-88 in a partial grid so that a complete sequence can be navigated contiguously, with adjacent numbers touching on a side or corner, with the red numbers fixed in place.  The red numbers are actually helpful, as they constrain the solution a bit, but there are many possible paths.  What worked best for me was to build in from both ends of the sequence, putting the pieces with the fewest possibilities in place first and then working out the rest using as many overlapping diagonals as possible to keep as many possibilities for filling in the matrix open as I could.  Fortunately, although Frosty repeatedly tells Nancy to hurry it up, the storm lasts as long as necessary while we figure this out.

The storm takes out a barn (we think it's abandoned) but as Frosty tries to film it, he says the camera was still broken even though Nancy is quite sure she fixed it.  Scott asks Nancy if she still thinks tornadoes are "cool" -- we can choose positive or negative responses more often in this game than is usual for Nancy Drew, which gives us a little bit of control over Nancy's personality if not her agenda.  Scott blames Nancy for the camera snafu, taking Frosty's word for it, and tells her she can call it a day.  Whew!

Day 4 gives us yet more chores to do -- fixing some antennae (which we noticed mysteriously appeared on the landscape as we were doing the storm chase drive), and then checking in with Chase.  The car's GPS has an additional new location, called Viewpoint, as well, though this seems to be a barren pull-off at the side of the road.

The antennae were severely damaged in the storm, with pieces lying around; we have to put the loose pieces back in place, rotating them and placing them in perspective, basically restoring displaced pieces of the location's painted image.  This puzzle feels extremely artificial, because the structures clearly wouldn't still be standing in place with so many supporting pieces missing, but it doesn't take long to solve.  Under the foreground tower, Nancy finds another metal box, and a mysterious key.

Suddenly, an HP storm comes up, and Nancy has to race back to the farm -- with a buggy or sabotaged GPS system that's giving faulty directions.  If we take a wrong turn or drive into the storm, we run into fatal hail, so it's best to head east and drive around it, ignoring the malfunctioning GPS (which is normally silent but chooses this moment to start issuing verbal directions.)

We're given another puzzle to do -- Chase wants Nancy's help reassembling a transmission, by aligning gears on rods so they mesh but don't overlap; we also have to "stack" the gears on the rods so we have to put them on in a feasible order.  Once that's done, Chase gives us an auto repair estimate to deliver to Scott, for fixing the former intern's car.  Nancy can also ask Chase about the malfunctioning GPS system -- he is very apologetic, says he doesn't know what could have happened and promises it will never happen again.

Debbie asks Nancy to trap the mice by the file cabinet (now she asks) and doesn't agree with Nancy's hypothesis that they are being lured in by someone using corn.  She also promises to have Chase look at the GPS, though we've already asked him.  The second mouse trap puzzle is like the first, with a slightly more complicated trap structure with multiple gates; since the mice never leave the trap after they enter, we just have to play traffic cop until all the slots are full.

Giving Scott the auto repair estimate produces no strong reaction other than a comment about how much damage hail can do, but while we're talking Frosty screams from downstairs.  Nancy investigates -- nobody else in the house can be bothered, apparently -- but it's just another mouse sighting, behind the dryer.  We have to dump our current load of mice first, however; funny how this one trap keeps changing configuration.  (The mouse animation, incidentally, is nicely done -- there's a cutscene of a mouse entering the trap, and it has more personality than most of the human characters!)

Frosty confirms that the camera was still broken during the storm, and says he's left the camera in the living room for Nancy to look at.  The video footage is all black, though it clearly picked up audio during the event.  As we leave to free the mice at the spring house, Debbie says she's going to hit the sack -- odd, as it's clearly still daylight outside, though I think this is just an art design issue.  Before we call it a day, we'll visit Pa's store again and ask if the team has always been so accident-prone; he blames it on the nature of the work they do.

Day 5 dawns with a storm front moving in that might produce supercells -- exciting stuff!  But Nancy doesn't get to go along, as a lightning strike just took out Scott's phone connection so we have to fix it.  We can open Scott's desk drawer and see that he has been denied tenure due to a poor publication record.  We can also see that his phone's wall jack is actually on fire!  We have to fix the phone by traversing a "wiring" grid without crossing the same section of wire twice, though we can revisit intersections and this puzzle isn't too difficult.  Are there any more Scott files we should inspect?  We overhear Scott and Brooke talking, somehow, though the audio is fuzzy and it sounds like they're just making repetitive small talk -- until we click on Scott's headset on his desk, and overhear Scott and Brooke apparently conspiring to fix the competition!

Entering the barn, we see Chase's boots are dirtied by oil.  There are some Pa Pennies behind a stall gate, and an empty case under the workbench with foam padding in unusual shapes that may make sense later.  Pa has nothing new to say at the General Store.  Frosty's desk features a newspaper ad for a slightly-used expensive sports car, which he has apparently already been test driving; a handwritten note reads, "Drives like a dream.  If only..."  Scott's desk has nothing new to investigate, but the radio table in his office has a movable spool of cable -- moving it reveals a retractable utility knife, with orange splotches.  Nancy recognizes the odor as coolant.  So is Scott sabotaging his own team?  Given the huge $100 million prize in this grant contest, it wouldn't be out of the question for two leading teams to conspire for one of them to throw the competition and then split the winnings.  Though it seems there would be easier ways to go about this, especially as there's no guarantee one of the other teams won't actually win in the end.

Now Nancy's cell phone rings -- it's Krolmeister, checking in on the team during this storm.  He tells Nancy to go to the General Store, even though we were just there a little while ago.  Pa doesn't have any messages from the boss, at least not yet -- instead, now he wants Nancy to trap some mice in his museum.  Sigh.  At least he gives us a Moon Chunk cheese snack for bait so we don't have to buy one from him.

Finding the mouse trap spot takes a little doing, it's not an obvious location to check even though Pa's told us it's by the Homesteaders display.  This one isn't too difficult either, and we'll go dump the mice at the spring house again.  Surprise!  The divining rod from the museum is here, along with an oily footprint.  Was Chase "borrowing" the divining rod?  Taking the rod to Pa produces only mild surprise, and he asks Nancy to put it back in the display.  Lazy old... at least he gives us some of his self-serving fiat currency, fifty Pa Pennies to spend in the company store.

What now?  There's that new Viewpoint location on the map, so let's go check that out; there's nothing there of note at the moment, just an empty field.  Back to the farmhouse, I guess.  Checking the cut hose in the barn again, this time Nancy confirms that the V-shaped cut looks like it was made by the knife we found in Scott's office.  Chase says he was able to put a sensor in the path of a major downdraft.  Asked whether he is spending his spare time trying to find oil, with supporting allegations about the divining rod, he admits he has been doing exactly that, believing there's a large crude deposit under the farm.  But he denies he's sabotaged anything, and shows Nancy something interesting he found after the lightning strike -- a lightning rod was set up to direct the surge into the house wiring, instead of away from it.

Debbie says Nancy didn't miss much on the chase, and thanks her for fixing the phone, then asks her to fix the static-plagued TV in the living room.  This time, when we turn the TV on, we get a color RGB test pattern (remarkably crisp for a CRT display), and we can fiddle with five small knobs on the set's control panel which we haven't been able to interact with before.  This puzzle is not based in anything reality-based regarding scan lines or phosphors, it seems -- by turning the small knobs, we rotate rings in the circular test pattern, trying to line everything up with the small displays in the corners of the screen.  But something doesn't make sense here -- the small images don't match the available colors in the rings with any consistency?  Ah, okay, there are cells where it doesn't matter which color is displayed.  If we focus on a single color at a time, we can get a set lined up fairly easily.  But we have to do it in the traditional R-G-B order -- I did blue first, and nothing registered until I set up the red positioning, at which point red was grayed out and I was able to calibrate the green, then the blue elements.  We're not trying to create a composite pattern, just arranging the dials to match the patterns for one color at a time.  Nancy gets the television fixed just in time to see what appears to be the "lost" footage from Frosty's camera -- shot at the same location, it seems, and broadcast on the local news!  Curious.

Talking to Debbie about the footage is fruitless -- she assumes somebody else was at the same vantage point as Frosty and Nancy, and seems to be mad at Nancy for bringing it up.  Confronting Frosty reveals some details I didn't realize Nancy had noticed -- like scratches on Frosty's arm from the rose bushes where the money boxes are found, apparently evidence of his sales tactics (odd in these Internet days, when financial and video transactions could have been conducted more secretly online.)  Nancy lets fly with accusations that Frosty and Debbie are trying to get Scott to blow up and jeopardize his position leading the team.  Frosty says Nancy sounds crazy, though he admits selling the footage to a girl who wants to be a nature photographer.  He tries to get Nancy not to tell Scott any of this.  Nancy seems to believe him, and they talk about cloud photography a little bit.

Confronting Debbie with her collusion in Frosty's sales of the team-funded work yields nothing more than advice that Nancy should focus on her own responsibilities and not worry about these things.  This seems to be the end of Day 5, as Debbie says it's time to hit the sack, but let's try talking to Scott first.  We can't bring any of this team misbehavior stuff up, unfortunately, though we can talk a little more about Brooke -- Scott seems fatalistic about his own team's chances, and it's hard to tell if he's being deceptive or not.

Day 6 seems to sweep yesterday's controversies under the rug, as there are now some new storms brewing.  We have to drive the storm tracking vehicle into a pull-off to the west (the Viewpoint location), and use the Doppler radar unit, riding with Scott and Debbie.  Getting the radar working is a switch puzzle -- to warm up the old equipment, we have to arrange a bank of switches so all the lights are blue, by flipping them in banks of three.  This is a trial-and-error puzzle, trying three-switch combinations methodically until we get a set to stay blue; we have to flip at least one switch twice, but even if it's already blue we can touch it to get the set completed.

The Doppler system doesn't work for long, shorting out almost immediately after we get it working.  The next puzzle is a cable-sorting exercise -- Scott tells us that the top cable goes in the first plug, the bottom in the last plug?  Ah, we have to observe the depth of each cable in the layered wiring, and arrange the colored plugs in that order; all the wires are pulled taut so this is like visually parsing a set of pick-up sticks.  This isn't too difficult, as we can test the arrangement by pressing a button at the bottom of the screen -- the display progressively removes the wires we've ordered correctly, revealing a clearer picture of the underlying wiring as we make headway.

With the wiring fixed, we head back to base, as the weather is not developing as expected; we don't have to drive back to the farmhouse, we're taken there automatically.  Scott hasn't come back to base, though?  Checking his desk, we find a piece of paper sticking out of the drawer we unlocked earlier.  It indicates Brooke has been paying Scott to throw the competition, as we have been suspecting -- the arrangement is that Scott disappears, leaving his group without leadership until Brooke's team has been named the winner.  The conspirators are supposed to meet at a site encoded in the surface charts downstairs -- clues point to days with 45+ dewpoint and continuous moderate rain or 85 degrees with either light hail/no thunder or severe thunderstorm with hail.  Odd that we are left such detailed instructions for a secret code, but... the surface chart notebook downstairs points us to March 19th, if I'm reading the symbology correctly.  March 19th is marked with a B on Scott's calendar, and there are twelve slots to fill in the calendar display that seem meant for decoding this puzzle.  What does that suggest?  Ah, maybe we're supposed to decode letters from the calendar using all the matching weather dates for the criteria given, not just the common set.  So we're really looking at March 8, 9, 12, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 26, 3, 16, 18, and 19th again; twelve distinct dates matches the number of typeable slots in the calendar view nicely.  But I am not seeing any real words in the mix?   Ah, I misread the original note -- I'm using the wrong dates, I was conflating the two clues.  Trying again, I realize there are more pages in the Surface Charts notebook as well, covering April and May as well as March.  The dates we need to look at are in fact March 3, 8, 18, 21, 26, April 3, 6, 10, 23, 29, and May 6th and 12.

Using these dates, we come up with... WM9A, GV2C, and SH4A.  These aren't words, at least yet, but they must be codes of some kind, as they share a similar structure... but what kind of code?  The storm strength map in Scott's office doesn't use these.  Aha!  The gallery photos on the laptop computer are labeled with these codes.  Nancy helpfully notes this as we browse images -- all three correspond to images of windmills, and as we go through these, Nancy explicitly notes the meaning.

So I guess we're going to the windmill to see if we can intercept the skulduggery at hand!  Nancy confronts Scott with the evidence she has found, and he gets rather upset, attempting to justify his behavior by bemoaning the lack of respect he gets for his work.  A storm comes up -- a tornado is forming, Scott feels -- and he suggests that Nancy could just accidentally die out here, what with the weather and all.

He knocks Nancy out, and she is briefly unconscious until Debbie calls on her radio.  We have to get in the car to converse -- I couldn't figure this out at first, looking for a radio in Nancy's inventory -- and Debbie asks us to meet her at the Grange Hall, a new destination on the map that's used as a tornado shelter as well as a playhouse.  When we arrive at the Grange, hail is already falling.  Debbie is somewhere here, but the shelter is locked!  Debbie gives Nancy the Grange Hall keys, which lets us unlock the storm cellar doors, but we don't have the right key for the basement doors beyond.  There's a set of additional keys here in a case -- nine keys, but which is the right one?  We only have time for one try, it seems, and if we back away from the puzzle the tornado hits and we're all dead.  We only have time to try three keys even if we don't back out.  As it turns out, there's no actual logic to this "puzzle" -- we just have to grab the right key after dying as many times as necessary before we randomly pick the correct one and succeed.

The worst of the storm passes, and we can exit the shelter -- Debbie advises Nancy to return in case it gets bad again, but Nancy is determined to keep Scott from getting away.  Some excitement at last?  For once, the GPS actually works the way we'd expect, with a trackable dot and a compass arrow onscreen as we chase Scott in the storm tracking truck.  Even though time is of the essence, there's room for a conversation between Debbie and Nancy about Debbie's plans to oust Scott from the team before the chase ensues -- Debbie says she wanted to take over because he was losing focus and putting the team in danger.

The chase itself requires us to stay out of the storm's way and chase Scott's truck until he stops -- it's the only other vehicle out in this weather, but there's a lot of storm debris on the roads.  We can't make him pull over, but if we stay close long enough he drives into the fringes of the storm and crashes into a telephone pole by the spring house.  Nancy has to get herself and her quarry into the building for safety, which we can achieve by simply picking up a handy crowbar and pulling the boards off the door.  And this final bit of drama leads straight to victory!

The story is over and Nancy wraps it all up with a letter to her boyfriend Ned.  Scott has to do some community service, and the university fires him.  Brooke is also punished for her misdeeds, and Debbie combines the two teams for the remainder of the season.  Frosty renegotiates his contract so he can also work as a storm photographer on his own, and Chase stays busy doing repairs, moving up to be Debbie's second-in-command.  Nancy arrives home to find herself receiving a lifetime supply of Krolmeister's Koko Kringle bars, and the industrialist indicates he will continue to employ her (so now she's making a living with the detectivey investigatory stuff instead of just treating it as her hobby.)  Pa sends a postcard indicating that the show will go on after the Grange Hall is repaired, with a new scene about Nancy's adventures added to this and future productions.
The game awards the player a variety of medals, based on how thoroughly we explored and played the side events -- I only earned the Couch Potato, Glass Half Full, Sightseer and Super Sleuth awards.  The game wraps up with a promo for Nancy Drew game number 23 (well, the next new one after a remake of the first one, Secrets Can Kill), called Shadow at the Water's Edge, set in Japan and inspired by Japanese horror films (Ju-On is a big influence, if the trailer is any indication.)  The credits are followed by a few mock outtakes using assets created for Trail of the Twister, though the jokes are a little heavy handed.

I didn't enjoy Trail of the Twister as much as some of the other Nancy Drew adventures -- this one is so linear and puzzle-driven that it feels closer to a hidden object game than a true adventure game, and the puzzle difficulty seems to be arranged at random.  The puzzles aren't always realistic, either, missing some of the genuine hands-on educational character of other games in the series.  Most clues and all essential ones aren't there for the finding with careful sleuthing, but are treated mostly as rewards for doing what various characters want the player to do, which makes the whole affair seem less like an investigation and more like a checklist.  I'm hoping the next one of these I tackle will feel more like a mystery.

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