The legend of the chainsaw fuel in „Maniac Mansion“

If somebody would ask me to point to one game which can be blamed for what has become of me, it’s „Maniac Mansion“. I was 13 years old when it was released, and I did not copy it, no, I BOUGHT it with my own money. Because I wanted to OWN it. (I still have it, of course.)

It was all that I hoped for. A game that was like a movie. With a brand new thing: cutscenes! A blend of schlocky humor, character cliches and crazy puzzles with multiple solutions.

Only one thing left me and many others who played it early on clueless: how can we get the chainsaw to run? In the following months and even years a rumor began to circulate among fans that, in fact, it was possible to find fuel for the chainsaw.

That rumor kept going, even if no one was able to validate it in the game itself. As I was browsing old German games magazines (yes, it’s something I do regularly, I have my butler bring me a tea, sit down in my armchair in my library and then I read PDFs with scans from the late 80s, do you NOT do that?!) I found some hints how this all came to pass.

For non-German readers: one of the most influential games magazines in Germany in the 80s was the „Aktueller Software Markt“ (short: ASM). It had a wonderfully improvised appearance, covered all machines, all platforms, all topics. And they published a lot of letters from readers. Unedited. Sometimes even as scans, with the address of the sender (in retrospect: hly fck). People responded to earlier letters, flamewars kept going for months. We didn’t need the internet for that. We had the ASM.

Readers also sent in hints for games, and sometimes the staff checked those hints before printing them, but as we will see now – not always.

So in issue 5/1988 there was this hint:

It reads: The chainsaw in MANIAC MANSION can get started with the fuel from the car. All you have to do is use the hose to siphon it from the tank and fill it into the chainsaw – and it purrs!

The hint was sent in by Marc from Berlin, and I have no idea what Marc has made with the rest of his life, but he may partly responsible for this legend.

But it was getting worse.

The next issue was 6+7/1988 (in summer the ASM simply made one very big issue covering two whole months) and it had this … well … „hint“:

The staircase in MANIAC MANSION (a reader had asked in issue 3/88) can be repaired by cutting the planks in the room with the carnivorous plant with the chainsaw and using them accordingly. Thanks, Celtic!

Yeah, THANKS CELTIC for confusing us even more! Not only did that generate a whole new legend about the staircase, no, it was even building on an existing misinformation! I almost respect that. ALMOST.

So … the next issue. In the section with the letters the editors printed one inquiry about that and replied that they had received 150 letters only with the question where that hose can be found for the fuel siphoning:

We were hunting a hose. And we had to wait months for another hint. So when issue 10/88 came out we wanted answers. And … there was an answer:

HERE IT IS! Sascha Schlotter from Mannheim has told us, where that bad, bad hose is. You have to open the „Medical Cabinet“ with the hot key, and that’s it! Hooray, gun salutes, etc …!

A „Hot Key“?

Well, in the December issue the editors at least felt the heat:

Daniel here complains that he had to wait for months for new information, and then there was this hot key thing which didn’t help.

So the reply of the editors is the admission that they MAY have been wrong here. More than a year after the release of „Maniac Mansion“. And they mention that a reader claims to have found the fuel in the new Lucasfilm game „Zak McKracken“. But they don’t really confirm that – after all, that’s just a reader saying he did it. Which is pretty funny, because it’s the first undisputed fact in this saga, whereas all other fake hints were taken at face value.

And they ask readers to send in more detailed hints, pretty please, because that would make their research easier (research lol).

I’ve always been wondering if this whole chainsaw fuel legend was purely a German thing, perhaps it even originated in these fake hints. David Fox, one of the creatives behind the games, was nice enough to answer on Twitter (back when it was fun to use the platform). He wrote: „We did know a lot of players wanted to know where to find gas for the chainsaw, hence the in joke in #ZakMcKracken„.

So obviously this was a global phenomenon. It seems natural, though. When you pick up a chainsaw in an adventure game the first thought that you can’t help but have is:

Now, how do I turn that thing on …

PS: When we made a little game ourselves, of course we obliged and put in a reference when you found some chainsaw fuel.

Look at:

Use it: