Can we talk about the monkey wrench puzzle?

I’m currently playing Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge. It’s great – the humour is spot on and I love how the world completely opens up after the first few challenges. It’s even possible that I’m enjoying it more than the first one.

A few days ago I reached the infamous monkey wrench puzzle. I’ve long been aware of this part of the game and the controversy over its difficulty, but it’s only through playing it myself and seeing it first-hand that I’ve come to appreciate just how obscure it is.

Monkey Island 2 spoilers ahead!

The puzzle

On Phatt Island, our protagonist Guybrush reaches the top of a waterfall where there is a pump. Presumably, Guybrush needs to turn it off to stop the waterfall, so he can cross to other side.

However the pump doesn’t turn. Further interaction offers no clues. There is seemingly nothing else in the area that would help, nor does my inventory contain any relevant items.

The solution

Guybrush must go to the Bloody Lip bar on Scabb Island where he will find Jojo the monkey playing the piano. There is a metronome ticking. He must place the banana from his inventory onto the metronome in order to mesmerise Jojo and ‘freeze’ him in his current position. Jojo can then be picked up and added to the inventory.

Guybrush can now go back to the waterfall and use the monkey to turn the pump.

Monkey Island 2 Special Edition_ LeChuck's Revenge 08_10_2018 18_11_17

The joke

The reasoning behind this puzzle is that Jojo has been turned into – drum roll – a monkey wrench.

There are two reasons why this doesn’t work well.

It relies on the player knowing what a ‘monkey wrench’ is

n. An adjustable spanner with large jaws that has its adjusting screw located in the jaw that is fixed. (English Oxford Dictionary)

As a Brit, we don’t use this term a lot. I vaguely know what a ‘monkey wrench’ is, but unless you’re a tradesman who uses one all the time, we would just say ‘spanner’ or, at the most, ‘wrench’. I believe this is the case for most countries outside of the US (where the term was invented). Even if a wrench or spanner enters your mind, you’re unlikely to think, specifically, ‘monkey wrench’. And in some languages, ‘monkey wrench’ isn’t even a thing.

It relies on the player knowing the puzzle is a metaphor

If you relayed this puzzle to a group of people in the same way as you might tell a joke, they would likely find it clever and amusing. The idea itself is a great play on words.

The problem is, in the context of an adventure game where the player doesn’t have the benefit of knowing the answer, getting there is very difficult. If you think about the thought processes involved, most people would begin thinking, ‘I need to turn this pump. I probably need a tool to do that.’ But how many would then think, ‘I need a monkey wrench. There’s a monkey in the bar that I could turn into a wrench shape by placing this banana on the metronome!’

Okay, so some might, and I salute you. But back in the day, before internet walkthroughs, my guess is that most people finished this puzzle by trial and error. Or, they already had the monkey in their inventory and just thought to try it (great if that works, but it’s not a brilliant puzzle if you don’t know what the connection is).

Even now, there are numerous comments on Steam and other forums from people baffled by the logic even after they’ve solved it.

‘Nuff said

Being a big LucasArts fan I’m not having a dig at the developers here. I just thought it would be an interesting topic to explore given all I’ve heard about it, and having reached that part of the game myself for the first time.

I guess for the most part it comes down to language differences. Oh look – that means I stayed on topic!

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2 thoughts on “Can we talk about the monkey wrench puzzle?

  1. Interestingly wikipedia says the Monkey Wrench is called “Gas Grips” in the UK

    There are also two funny false etymologies for the origin of the monkey part of the term and the boring real one

    Like

  2. Yeah, I noticed that. I’ve never heard anyone call it ‘gas grips’! I might do an experiment where I leave one at various people’s houses, then when they call to say ‘you left your … here’, I can log the results.

    Like

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