What’s a Wumpus?


You might have heard of Hunt the Wumpus, a game originally programmed for BASIC by Gregory Yob in 1972 or 1973. It was a map-based game with the Wumpus hiding out in one of the spaces, and your job was to reach an adjacent space and shoot it with an arrow. In its original incarnation, it was entirely text-based. When ported to the Texas Instruments home computer, however, it had a graphical interface, and it’s this version I grew up with.

Both versions of the game had hazards including pits that you could fall into and die and bats that could take you anywhere on the map. While this pretty well covers the game itself, what is a Wumpus, and why are you hunting it? As far as I know, the only hints given by the creator are that it’s heavy and has suction-cup feet, which explains why it can’t be picked up by a bat or get trapped in a pit. The TI game represented the Wumpus as essentially just a head with sharp teeth and legs, and when it ate you its jaws could be seen closing while the Death March played.

A Magic: The Gathering card offers an interpretation of the Wumpus by artist Thomas M. Baxa, and explains that its meat can feed a dozen people for a month, which might explain why people hunt it.

It seems that people generally prefer eating meat from herbivores to that of carnivores, but beggars can’t be choosers. Okay, that’s not true. Beggars are choosers all the time. Maybe the Wumpus is the only food source in the area, however. I don’t know. It never struck me as entirely fair that you’re hunting this creature when it never did anything to you. It only eats you if you bother it, which makes me wonder what it normally lives on. Maybe it eats bats and the slime from the pits. And if blood indicates the Wumpus is close by, it must have been eating some kind of animal, unless it was bleeding itself. Also, is there any connection between the Wumpus and the word “catawampus”? While the term actually comes from the same root as “catty-cornered” or “catercornered,” Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary says that it can also mean an imaginary wild animal, perhaps inspired by “catamount.”

So maybe the catawampus is a product of cross-breeding between a Wumpus and a mountain lion, and it moves diagonally. I should use that idea somewhere.

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2 Responses to What’s a Wumpus?

  1. Joe says:

    Its social conditioning. Dungeons & Dragons, a game I loved growing up, did the same kind of thing. As the protagonists, you invade and stumble into the lairs of creatures minding their own business, slaughter them as they try to protect themselves and their offspring, and, following that bloodbath, plunder their homes, whilst being rewarded by wealth and “experience points” from the godlike Dungeon Master. Rapacious capitalism at its finest training young boys to perpetuate cycles of violence against man and beast.

  2. There’s a full-blown Interactive Fiction game from 1999, called “Hunter, in Darkness”, which is more or less “Hunt the Wumpus” as it might have been, had it been created by Infocom.

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