Likely To Be Eaten By A Bottomless Pit

Observation is good. If you want to write about caves, go look in one. If you’re actually an adventurer, and not a wimp like me, go caving. Report back. We’re curious what it’s like beyond the handrails. —Andrew PlotkinLikely To Be Eaten By A Bottomless Pit (

When I read this Usenet posting in 2001, I started thinking.

Now, I am a probationary member of the Cave Research Foundation (CRF). Later today I embark on a week-long exploration trip to Mammoth Cave, Kentucky. Among the cavers I’ll meet will be Roger Brucker, co-author of The Longest Cave, a chronicle of Pat Crowther’s completion of the Everest of caving — making the connection between two huge networks of caves that were previously thought to be separate.

Pat and her husband Will mapped the Cave Research Foundation’s progress on a PDP-10 in the 1970s. After the Crowthers divorced in 1975, Will used the PDP-10 to write Adventure — which lent its name to a new genre of computer games. And the rest is history.

Nick Montfort’s excellent Twisty Little Passages, while named after a maze in Adventure, has far more to say about Zork. Booker’s recent article on digital medievalism does a good job of connecting the dots that are already laid out in canonical sources that explore the influence of Middle Earth and Dungeons and Dragons on Adventure, supplying a context that Buckles did not supply in her 1985 dissertation on Adventure. Still, much of that history contains nooks and crannies that deserve further attention. In caver lingo, any one of those leads might “go” – that is, might open up new, hitherto unmapped regions that that contain new wonders to be examined, and new connections to be made.

Pardon the fanboy geekery, but it seems appropriate here to quote part of Gimli’s praise of caves The Two Towers

Do you cut down groves of blossoming trees in the springtime for firewood? We would tend these glades of flowering stone, not quarry them. With cautious skill, tap by tap — a small chip of rock and no more, perhaps, in a whole anxious day — so we would work, and as the years went by, we should open up new ways, and display far chambers that are still dark, glimpsed only as a void beyond fissures in the rock. (194-95)

I’ll be sure to bring extra coins for the battery vending machine, though Lynn Brucker says she’s bringing a gas carbide lantern for me to try out. I hope someone with the National Park Service has the keys. I guess I’ll have to supply the tasty food and the water bottle myself.