Computer lab was one of my favorite classes when I was a kid, for exactly the reason you might expect. In between typing tests and learning how to use Microsoft Word we had free time, and that meant one thing: Flash games.
Flash was our bread and butter and the foundation for a lot of our favorite games, from Poptropica to Club Penguin and Webkinz. When the sites hosting those ultimately got banned from the school computers because we spent too much time on them, we moved on to Flash compilation sites, like Cool Math Games. There were a lot of class favorites like Fireboy and Watergirl and Crazy Taxi. But what really grabbed our attention was The Impossible Quiz.
The Impossible Quiz consisted of 110 questions. What made it “impossible” was that the questions were obtuse and riddle-like. For example, the second question was “Can a match box?” It’s a multiple choice question with the answers “Yes,” “No,” “Yes, one beat Mike Tyson,” and the correct answer, “No, but a tin can.” If you got an answer wrong, a loud bomb sound played and the game took away one of your three lives. At some points you could earn arrows that let you skip questions. The game also featured a lot of poop jokes, which was perfect for our blossoming edgy minds.
Looking back, it’s clear to me that this was the first “rage” game I had ever encountered. A quiz was supposed to be logical and have answers that made sense. But The Impossible Quiz operated on its own brand of logic. The quiz was intentionally antagonistic to the player, like Getting Over It With Bennett Foddy or Unfair Mario, the kind of thing that would make a YouTuber get out of their chair and start screaming. It would have been impossible for a single child to beat it within the 10 minutes of allotted free time. But what was possible was several children working together over the course of years to beat it.
It was a bit of a phenomenon in class. At any given point, there could have been eight children on different computers playing The Impossible Quiz, young minds at work. We were always trying to see who could make it the furthest. While this was competitive, it also resulted in a strange group collaboration. Because the questions made no sense to us, the only way to move forward was to memorize as many correct answers as we could. By watching each other play, we learned the answers to riddles and practiced memorizing them. I remember playing The Impossible Quiz while another kid coached me on the answers over my shoulder, telling me when to strategically use my skip arrows. (Spoiler: This would later bite us in the butt when the last question required using all seven skips.)
So to beat The Impossible Quiz, not counting the three lives and the skip arrows, you had to memorize the answers to 110 Flash game riddles. Even with the combined forces of several 9-year-old minds, this was no easy task. I don’t exaggerate when I say it took years before a few of us were able to beat it.
I returned to The Impossible Quiz as an adult to see how the game stacked up against my memory. I got as far as level 46 and was pleasantly surprised that I still knew some of the early-game answers off the top of my head. I suppose all that memorization wasn’t for nothing. There’s something satisfying about that work paying off. That is, until you hit an answer you don’t know, but that just means you need to memorize that failure for the future. It’s almost like playing a roguelike in that my main skill was the unrepentant need to keep trying. I think a lot of other people in my class must have shared this sentiment, or else we would never have made it that far.
The computer lab was a unique environment that led to collaboration even though we were playing individually. I would not have had the drive to complete The Impossible Quiz if I hadn’t had other people in my lab — both to compete against and to work with. Maybe the computer lab can change the way we play and cooperate with others. Or maybe kids just love Flash games with poop jokes.