Virtual Memory and The Thing King

Are you somewhat confused by virtual systems? Do you understand them but have a hard time explaining how they work? Then the following explanation, developed by Jeff Berryman, a Systems Programmer at the University of British Columbia (UBC) Computer Center, and originally published in the UBC Computer Center Newsletter, may help.


  1. Each player gets several million things.
  2. Things are kept in crates that hold 2048 things each. Things in the same crate are called crate-mates.
  3. Crates are stored either in the workshop or warehouse. The workshop is almost always too small to hold all the crates.
  4. There is only one workshop but there may be several warehouses. Everybody shares them.
  5. Each thing has its own thing number.
  6. What you do with a thing is to zark it. Everybody takes turns zarking.
  7. You can only zark your things, not anybody else's.
  8. Things can only be zarked when they are in the workshop.
  9. Only the Thing King knows whether a thing is in the workshop or in a warehouse.
  10. The longer a thing goes without being zarked, the grubbier it is said to become.
  11. The way you get things is to ask the Thing King. He only gives out things in multiples of eight. This is to keep the royal overhead down.
  12. The way you zark a thing is to give it thing number. If you give the number of a thing that happens to be in a workshop it gets zarked right away. If it is in a warehouse, the Thing King packs the crate containing your thing back into the workshop. If there is no room in the workshop, he first finds the grubbiest crate in the workshop, whether it be yours or somebody else's, and packs it off with all its crate-mates to a warehouse. In its place he puts the crate containing your thing. Your thing then gets zarked and you never knew that it wasn't in the workshop all along.
  13. Each player's stock of things have the same numbers as everybody else's. The Thing King always knows who owns what thing and whose turn it is, so you can't ever accidentally zark somebody else's thing even if it has the same number as one of yours. (VS/2)


  1. Traditionally, the Thing King sits at a large, segmented table and is attended to by pages (the so-called "table pages") whose job it is to help the king remember where all the things are and who they belong to.
  2. One consequence of Rule 13 is that everybody's thing numbers will be similar from game to game, regardless of the number of players.
  3. The Thing King has a few things of his own, some of which move back and forth between workshop and warehouse just like anybody else's, but some of which are just too heavy to move out of the workshop.
  4. With the given set of rules, oft-zarked things tend to get kept mostly in the workshop while little-zarked things stay mostly in a warehouse. This is efficient stock control.
  5. Sometimes even the warehouses get full. The Thing King then has to start piling things on the dump out back. This makes the game slower because it takes a long time to get things off the dump when they are needed in the workshop. A forthcoming change in the rules will allow the Thing King to select the grubbiest things in the warehouses and send them to the dump in his spare time, thus keeping the warehouses from getting too full. This means that the most infrequently-zarked things will end up in the dump so the Thing King won't have to get things from the dump so often. This should speed up the game when there are a lot of players and the warehouses are getting full. (Not applicable to VS/1)


Dr. Michael R. Williams
Editor-in-Chief, Annals of the History of Computing
Department of Computer Science
University of Calgary
Calgary, Alberta