What I’ve Been Working on Lately

Readers of this blog may notice that I haven’t been updating for the last 4 months. The purpose of this “filler” post is for me to say why.

First of all, I could easily blame the season. Summer, as is well known, is a time to “kick back and relax” as well as forgetting about important things you should be doing and reading webcomics instead.

I could also blame the wonderful 3D printer I’ve bought, which has quickly filled up my desk and emptied my wallet with tens of tiny plastic models and puzzles.

However plausible that may seem, I would more truthfully blame the projects I’ve been working on, especially my “work” in the field of sliding block puzzles.

As you may know from a post I made about a year ago, I’m quite interested in really hard sliding block puzzles such as the Panex Puzzle (30,000? moves) or Sunshine (729? moves). James Stephens, of puzzlebeast.com, is certainly a pioneer in making really hard sliding block puzzles by computer. Using his “Puzzlebeast” software, he’s made at least 23 progressively harder sliding block puzzles, ranging from 18 to 148 moves! What’s more, he restricts many of these puzzles to only having a few pieces, and in at least 11 of them the goals are “Simple Simple”, that is, move a single piece to a single corner! Even the puzzle which fits on a 4×4 grid and uses only 4 pieces and is only 18 moves to a solution, “Simplicity”, is really quite hard for a human to solve! Oskar van Deventer, maker of many mechanical monstrosities, has designed a 3d-printable version of the Simplicity puzzle, calling it the “Hardest sliding piece puzzle on a 4×4 grid”.

Gauging from Stephens’ description of Puzzlebeast, Puzzlebeast uses a genetic algorithm to create its puzzles. So far as I can tell, it starts with a random set of puzzles. It picks the hardest out of that set, then for the next generation it creates random “mutations” of the best puzzles of the last generation. For example, it may add a piece, move a piece, modify a piece, or remove a piece. Repeat this process over and over again, and eventually you’ll have a hard sliding block puzzle. I think because it seemed to work very well for him, I eventually tried to make a sliding block puzzle evolver for myself.

And so the SBP project began: The earliest version of my SBP evolver were coded in Mathematica, and was very manual.  I would start with 5 randomly generated 4×5 rectangular puzzles, without any restrictions on the number of pieces, and then for each puzzle I interpreted it as a “Simple simple simple sliding block puzzle”(see footnote 1) and then fed it into Analogbit’s online sliding block puzzle solver, which counts moves in steps, meaning that each “step” is sliding one piece one grid space in the puzzle. Once that was finished, I took the best two puzzles, converted them to 1-d arrays, “interleaved” them, and then influenced random mutations in their cells (That is, each cell had about a 1/5 chance of being added 1 to or being subtracted 1 from). Since that probably isn’t too clear, here’s an example:

Suppose the best two puzzles from the last generation were

 0,19, 1, 2      0,19, 0, 3
 2, 1, 1, 1      2,19, 1, 1
 0, 2, 0, 2 and  1, 3, 2, 0
 1, 1, 0, 0      0, 1, 1, 0
 1, 1, 0, 1      0, 1,19, 2

Then the “interleaving” of the two would be

0,19,1,2,2,1,1,1,0,2,0,2,1,1,0,0,1,1,0,1 +

0,19,0,3,2,19,1,1,1,3,2,0,0,1,1,0,0,1,19,2=

0, 19, 1, 3, 2, 19, 1, 1, 0, 3, 0, 0, 1, 1, 0, 0, 1, 1, 0, 2

and the “mutants” would be generated from there, and the process would repeat.

Notes: 1. “Simple simple simple sliding block puzzle” is my own term, based off of Nick Baxter’s definitions at the Sliding Block Puzzle Page . For me, it means that each piece is different from another only by its shape, and that the goal is to get the top-left-most piece down to the lower-right. The original definition was somewhat ambiguous, it actually means that if there is no piece with a square occupying the upper-left corner, it is not a valid simple simple simple sliding block puzzle. Additionally, many of the puzzles in this first section are copied straight from the Mathematica notebook, and so there is a distinct lack of proper number parsing. Parsing manually is simple: If two numbered pieces have the same number and are orthogonally adjacent, they both belong to one piece. Otherwise, they belong to different pieces. (Eventually I got a parser working to make these puzzles conform to standards, so the reading should get easier). Lastly, steps and moves are different, as one involves moving one piece one space and the other involves moving one piece any number of spaces. Edward Hordern’s book, Sliding Piece Puzzles, does a good job to clear this up.

Anyways, the very first incarnation of the SBP Evolver produced quite fantastic results! In about 10 generations, with populations varying from 4 to 10, the puzzles had progressed from 4 impossible puzzles and 1 8-stepper to  3 impossible puzzles and 7 possible, one a 58-stepper! Now of course this is no big result, as such puzzles as Bob Henderson and Gil Dogon’s “Quzzle-Killer” take 121 steps to solve, and so this early experiment was really just a proof of concept.

Eventually, I got tired of feeding all these puzzles through Analogbit, so I decided to write a C# program to do it for me, except instead of using Analogbit, it would use Jim Leonard’s very speedy Jimslide software. Furthermore, it would have much larger populations (perhaps 100 or so) and do many more generations. Some time later, after writing many, many lines of code to process the puzzles for Jimslide’s use, and then processing the output, I finally got it working! Almost immediately, I set it going on a huge number of 4×5 puzzles (10 million) and let it run overnight. It actually took around 4 days, but the best it found was a 176-move puzzle!

1203-4253-4673-8879-ABCC
The 176-mover (by no means the best simple simple)

The SBP Evolver also displayed some behavior which I conjecture is common to most poorly-written genetic evolution programs: Once the program found a really good optimization, if there weren’t any tiny optimizations which would improve the puzzle, it would tend to stay with that puzzle for a while unless, by pure chance, the next generation happened not to contain that puzzle. As such, the 4 days might actually not have been long enough to find the best puzzle. Additionally, Bob Henderson’s Gauntlet #2, another simple simple sliding block puzzle, trumps the 176-mover with 235 moves!

As far as I can tell from his description on Andrea Gilbert’s clickmazes site, Bob Henderson uses a very different method of generating sliding block puzzles. He inputs a collection of shapes, and then his packing program generates all possible ways that those blocks could be placed in a sliding puzzle. He then feeds those through his sliding block puzzle solving program, which returns the best results. I expect it produces results much faster, albeit only with the blocks the designer chooses.

Having been thus discouraged, I set out to go through the much easier 4×4 puzzles instead. This time, after about a day, it generated a 125-move simple simple puzzle! However, it turned out that the puzzle could be backtracked to make a 132-move puzzle, presented below. Interestingly, when I ran the same computation again, it generated another descendant of the 132! Now, of course, the question was: Is this the best 4×4 simple simple simple SBP?

1123-4522-4678-0690
Red to lower-right.

The problem could be easily solved by just generating all possible 4×4 positions, interpreting a simple simple simple SBP out of them, and then solving each and every single one. But how would you do the former? After all, there can be 16 possible block types in a 4×4 (including holes) and each space could be one of the 16, so you’d have 16^16=18,446,744,073,709,551,616 possible combinations! My answer to this was to invoke the 4-color theorem, using 0 for the holes, and 1,2,and 3 for colors for the other pieces. After the 4-coloring of the board, a parser would assign each block a unique number, and then remove any duplicates (This was in fact WRONG; The holes could be separate, and so the 4-color theorem applied only to the blocks. I in fact had to eventually use 5-colors for the whole thing). After around a day or so, the puzzle-finder would process 4294967296 boards, and it returned only 52,825,604 different boards!

Two other methods which might have worked as well or better might be to either generate all 1-piece boards, then generate all 2-piece boards from all nonoverlapping combinations of the 1-piece boards, and so forth. There’s also a method based on dynamic programming which I currently use, which (while it is too long to write out here) is included in the SBPFinder source code, available at the bottom of the post.

After the 52,825,604 different boards were separated into files depending on the number of pieces, the host software would load up each file into a hash table, then solve the first puzzle. After the puzzle was solved, the software would process the output and remove the puzzles mentioned in the solution from the hash table. It would then solve the new first puzzle, and so on. While it isn’t very fast at all to use this algorithm (it took 48 days), it at least had an advantage: By separating the puzzles into files labeled with the number of pieces, it was possible to return the “hardest” puzzle for an arbitrary number of pieces in a 4×4 grid! Below is a table of the hardest simple simple simple SBPs in a 4×4 grid, from 2 to 15 pieces. Keep note, though, that since the computation missed out on a few million puzzles, all the below are unverified and the ones which are very dubious are removed. Also, because SBP determined which piece was the goal piece by going line by line, some of the puzzles below are simply simple simple SBPs and the ones which are just simple SBPs are removed. (Confused? Check http://www.johnrausch.com/SlidingBlockPuzzles/4×5.htm)

Note that these results are not to be trusted; for one, bugs have been found in both the problem finder and the puzzle-to-Jimslide converter itself, and so the results certainly aren’t rigorous. Also, the SBP Evolver (which also runs the puzzle-to-Jimslide converter and searcher) was originally designed to treat any puzzle as a simple simple simple, by choosing the goal piece as the first piece encountered going line by line through the board. Lastly, there’s a curious phenomenon around 12 pieces: Breaking a 1×2 into 2 1×1 pieces and shuffling the remainder about creates 9 more moves!

Since then, I’ve been trying to do a verification of the 4×4 computation, specifically by creating another program to rerun the entire search process, return the best results, and then check to see if the results are the same. The catch: I need it to be a few times faster. The optimizations I’m working on including are:

•Using one of the alternative methods to find potential SBPs faster,

•Only storing the “justsolved” puzzles, that is, puzzles in which the goal piece is already in the lower-right and can move out of it’s current position. (Based on an idea from “Rush Hour Complexity” , by John Tromp and Rudi Cilibrasi. It turns out that about 1/4 of 4×4 SBP positions are justsolved, a rather large value, mostly because in most positions there is a piece in the lower-right corner, and the only real limitation is that it must be able to move), and

•Using a custom-written sliding block puzzle solver to find the hardest puzzle in the entire group of positions the justsolved puzzle is linked to. (This can be done in 2 diameter searches, one to find the other justsolved puzzles in the group, and the other to find the starting position the furthest away from all the justsolved positions. My custom solver is about 3x as slow as Jimslide, but it makes up for it by that it’s solving the entire group of puzzles and removing the other justsolved puzzles from the list. There can be a stunning amount of other justsolved positions reachable from a puzzle- some have been found with over 14,000 !)

However, I’ve hit upon a gypsy moth in my solver causing it not to search the puzzle completely! Preliminary tests of the program though, have revealed the expected running time to be about a day, so stay posted!

Anyways, that’s my explanation as to what’s been going on, and I apologize for my relative silence.

G4G9, Day 5: Balancing Laptops, Mobius Music, and Egg Cartons

This is the 6th and final post in a series of posts about Gathering For Gardner: 1 2 3 4 5

I started the last day of Gathering For Gardner 9 by waking up late.

As a result, I completely missed the first talk and entered the conference room in the middle of the second talk, by Karl Schaffer, about “Dancing Tessellations”. It consisted mainly of a few videos in which a normal dance would be reflected along certain axes so that it effectively makes a video tessellation. The next one was a short talk on extending the Side-Angle-Side (SAS) similarity theorem to three-dimensional shapes using the least possible number of measurements. One of the especially interesting talks in the first session was by Linda Zayas-Palmer, on why the infinite number, 0.999999… , is actually not just equivalent to, but greater than, 1. The talk directly after that was about some of Salvador Dali’s puzzles in some of his paintings, in which you have to find a certain phrase. Turns out his puzzles are rather easy.  My favorite talk in the session, though, was by Burkard Polster on how to balance your laptop on a bedside table such that it occupies the minimum amount of space on the table and doesn’t fall off. It starts out by a simple dissection of a square by Martin Gardner, and then exteds it to show how to balance the laptop just right so that it’ll balance, thus leaving room for puzzles or whatever you would put on a bedside table.

During the break, Mom and I went up to the exhibit room, where the exhibitors were packing up their exhibits. Most of the exhibits were already gone, but a few were there that weren’t the first time. For one of these, involving curious polyhedral sculptures made with egg cartons, Mom actually got to talk with Jeannie Mosely, the person who made them. In fact, she actually got a model of the octahedron which had fairly novel methods of holding together as an example to make more.

After the break, the talks continued with a talk on 3-dimensional packing puzzles made out of various spheres glued together to make polyomino-like shapes. Due to the spherical nature of the pieces, some of the puzzles need the polyspheres to “snap” together, something which doesn’t normally happen. A rather good talk in this session was by Ed Pegg, about the Wolfram Demonstrations Project, and some of the best demonstrations that had been posted, such as a program to find the smallest box that squares of size 1/n can fit in:

Or even how to solve the Orchard-Planting Problem, involving finding a certain number of lines that pass through a certain number of points, given the required points:

The talk after Ed Pegg’s talk was one of the most anticipated talks of the entire conference: Finding a single shape that covers the entire plane aperiodically, which was an unsolved problem. Joshua Socolar managed to find a single hexagonal tile (with matching rules, though) which creates a Sierpinski Gasket-like shape when made. He also made a 3-dimensional tile which acts the same.

The 2-d tile

Afterwards, Vi Hart did a great talk on making music with music boxes with the music scores in Mobius strips, or the music boxes arranged in such a way so that the music played by one music box is played by another music box seconds later.

After Vi Hart’s talk the lunch break started, but instead of going to lunch  I went immediately up to the Gift Exchange area, where I would wait in line to get a bag full of exchange gifts from nearly everybody, repeated for everyone, who would get one also.

Apparently everybody else had the same idea of waiting in line early. I ended up behind Bram Cohen, inventor of BitTorrent as well as a whole bunch of super-duper-hard twisty puzzles which have some rather ingenious ideas behind them. He happened to have a few non-twisty, but still hard, puzzles while waiting in line, and I managed to almost solve one of them (the Cast Rattle), which involved getting the right pieces in the right place (That isn’t a spoiler, is it?). The other one, Cast Marble, I couldn’t get immediately, but I might have been getting close. Soon, I got to the front of the line to get my bag of exchange gifts and got the huge bag (I could barely carry it) as well as a few other miscellaneous items from people at a few nearby tables, such as a perplexing wooden object which looked like a gear, or a few pictures from Caspar Schwabe (I presume) of large inflatable solids, including the huge 59th stellation of the icosahedron seen on day 3.

I brought the huge bag of gifts up to the hotel room to open, and even though the bag’s heaviness was an indicator of the number of things inside, it still felt like Christmas when I opened it. There were mathematical dice with the sides only using the number nine and a set of plastic rings with interchangeable art based on the Traveling Salesman problem; there was a CD containing rather high-quality pictures as well as a digital copy of the exchange book from G4G8; A set of pieces for an unsolved puzzle and a key to open doors with using a hammer; A book about formulae that changed the world and a second copy of  A New Kind of Science(Ah, so that’s where the heaviness came from);Even a mysterious back-scratcher and tapper. These are just a few of the things in the bag, and to list them all out would certainly lengthen this blog post by quite a lot.

By the time I had gotten to the bottom of the bag, the third session was about to start so I had to rush down to see the talk by Gordon Hamilton (of the Magical Mathematics Museum) about having problems in K-12 classrooms involving unsolved problems such as the circle-packing problem (In how small a square can you pack n circles?), the 3n+1 conjecture (Do all Collatz sequences end in 4,2,1?), and others. Also in the same session was Solomon Golomb’s talk about the Pentomino Game on nxn boards. The “Pentomino Game”, is a rather interesting two-player game in which players alternate turns placing pentominoes onto an 8×8 board. The first player who can not place another piece loses. One of the most interesting talks of the session was “Fun with Egg Cartons” by Jeannie Mosely. In the talk,  she described how she made most of the Platonic Solids – out of egg cartons! The process of making these is pretty easy- just interleave strips of egg cartons at the vertices to make the edges- but the results are still interesting.

Immediately following was a talk not relating to mathematics at all (but still cool), about restoring various ancient text adventures. The talk was by Adam Atkinson, and it was about cross-compiling old text adventures (running on mainframes) so that you could play them on newer computers. Many of them are stored at ifarchive.org (the Archive for Interactive Fiction), including Acheton, probably the third text adventure ever made. Just don’t get eaten by a grue.

After the last short break, the last session of G4G9 began. Kate Jones started of with a philosophical talk involving pentomino puzzles,followed by Bill Mullins, who talked about Martin Gardner’s search for the person who wrote “The Expert at the Card Table”, probably the most important book ever on sleight of hand with cards, who wrote his name as “S.W.Erdnase”. It can be reversed to make E.S.Andrews , but from there it’s much harder. So far, they’ve found 5 suspects as to who S.W.Erdnase might be, 2 by Gardner and 3 by others, but the writer remains hidden. Hirokazu Iwasawa (also known as Iwahiro) then followed that with a talk about the subclass of “Hat-Team Puzzles” , how to solve them, as well as other variations on the problem. A bit later, Colin Wright did a double talk about “How far is the Moon?” and about notations for juggling. The former was left out (the pdf is available here) , but the talk about juggling was amazing. Not only did he juggle normally with up to 5 balls, but he also showed how to use a notation for juggling to make up your own tricks, some insanely complex and others trivial. Following that, George Hart talked about his new sculpture, “Comet!” which involves multiple smaller versions of the main model (a puzzle-like polyhedral-ish form) with different colors. It’s so big that it has to be hung on the ceiling of an atrium. After that, Mike Keith did the second-to-last talk about his book, Not A Wake, in which every word of the text- including the subtitle and the title- has the same number of  letters as the nth digit of pi does. The book goes on for 10,000 digits, with 10 stories followed by the digits of pi in that story, each story being a different style than the others.

After the last talk and closing notes, G4G9 was over. However, the fun(at least for me) continued. I was invited to dinner (along with Bill Gosper, Mom, Julian and Corey Hunts) by Dick Esterle to the Varsity Jr., an old-style fast food diner that had been operating for 45 years. Bill and Julian declined, but the rest of us went.

The diner had good food (especially the burgers) , and talking with Esterle was quite interesting. I brought a box puzzle (the same from the prelude) , and he managed to solve it in record time just by shaking it hard. He also, using the materials that were available, gave me 2 versions of the same puzzle. First, arrange 3 cups in an equilateral triangle such that a knife can reach from any cup to any other cup. Then, use the knives to balance a salt shaker in the middle of the triangle above the table. (This can be done using 2 knives) Then, set the cups so that they are just a bit too far for the knives to reach, and once again balance the salt shaker using 3 knives. Corey and I eventually solved it and put a few straw decorations on (from my solution to the problem using straws to extend the knives and only using 2 knives). To prevent spoilers, it’s at http://daftmusings.stattenfield.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/Neil-and-Corey-at-the-Varsity-copy.jpg .

After dinner, Dick Esterle drove us back to the Ritz-Carlton, where we went back up to our hotel rooms and played with puzzles until bedtime.

The day after that, I was waken up very early to get packed up for the airplane trip back to San Jose. We met Bill Gosper in the hotel lobby, and took a cab to the airport, at which point we waited until dawn-ish. On the airplane trip back (with an exchange in Chicago), I looked at all of the exchange gifts in the bag and Bill Gosper programmed on his laptop. Eventually, after having 2 breakfasts due to time zones, we landed in San Jose, drove over to my house, whereupon Bill drove back to his house. And because of time zones, I still had the rest of the day to play with puzzles.

Thus the epic of Gathering for Gardner 9 ended.

It was an absolutely great experience from before it even started to it’s end, and I met a lot of new people and saw a lot of puzzles and magic tricks and optical illusions. I would certainly go the next time it happens, and the time after that. Certainly, it was one of the best events that I attended ever, if not the best.

As an afterword, on May 22, Martin Gardner died. Hearing the news of this was incredibly saddening to me, as well as sudden. He was one of the most important people that ever lived, for mathematics and as well as for many other subjects. He helped popularize M.C. Escher and Godel,Escher,Bach , and introduced mathematics in a fun way to at least everybody at any of the G4Gs. He was truly amazing.

Cellular Automata

Cellular automata are simulations on a linear, square, or cubic grid on which each cell can be in a single state, often just ON and OFF, and where each cell operates on its own, taking the states of its neighbors as input and showing a state as output.

One of the simplest examples of these would be a 1-dimensional cellular automaton in which each cell has two states, ON and OFF, which are represented by black and white, and where each cell turns on if at least one of its neighbors are in the ON state. When started from 1 cell, this simply creates a widening black line. When the layers are shown all at once, though, you can see that it makes a pyramidal shape.

All layers at once

For example, in the figure above, the second line is generated from doing the rule for all cells in the first line, the third line from the second line, and so on. More complicated figures can be generated from different rules, such as a cellular automaton in which a cell changes to ON if either the cell to it’s top left or top-right is ON, but not if both are on. This creates a Sierpinski Triangle when starting from a single cell:

Stephen Wolfram developed a numbering system for all cellular automata which base only on themselves, their left-hand neighbor, and their right-hand neighbor, often called the elementary cellular automata, which looks something like this for the Sierpinski Triangle automata (Rule 18):

This code has all possible ON and OFF states for three cells on the top, and the effect that it creates on the cell below them on the bottom. Using this system, we can find that there are 256 different elementary cellular automata. We can also easily create a number for each automaton by simply converting the ON and OFF states at the bottom to 1s and 0s, and then combining them to make a binary number (00010010 in the Sierpinski Triangle example). Then, we convert the binary to decimal and so get the rule number. (128*0+64*0+32*0+16*1+8*0+4*0+2*1+1*0= 18 for the example).  We can also do the reverse to get a cellular automata from a number. Using this method, we can create pictures of all 255 elementary cellular automata:

Some of these are rather interesting, such as Rule 30 and Rule 110:

Rule 30
Rule 110

Whilst some are rather boring, such as Rule 0, which is just white, or Rule 14, which is a single diagonal line.

There are many variations on this basic cellular automata type, such as an extension of the code where next-nearest neighbors are also included. This results in 4294967296 different cellular automata, a few of which appear to create almost 3-dimensional patterns such as the 3D Tetrahedrons cellular automata (rule 3283936144 ) which appears to show certain tetrahedral-ish shapes popping out of a plane.

There are also totalistic cellular automata, which are created by basing the next cell somehow on the average of the top-left, center, and top-right cells above it. These can have more than two states, and sometimes produce very strange-looking patterns, such as Rule 1599, a 3-state cellular automata:

As well as all these, there are continuous-valued cellular automata, which, instead of having cells that can only be in certain states, have the cells have real-number values. Then, at every step a function is applied to the cell that is to be changed as well as it’s neighbors. A good example of this is the Heat cellular automaton, in which the function is ((left_neighbor+old_cell+right_neighbor)/3+ a number between 0 and 1) mod 1). It produces a “boiling” effect, in which it resembles a pot of water slowly boiling on an oven.

There are tons more 1-dimensional cellular automata; Stephen Wolfram filled most of an entire (1200 page) book with these. However, there are essentially only 4 classes of cellular automata. The first type is the most boring; it is where the cellular automata evolves into a single, uniform state. An example of this would be the Rule 254 elementary cellular automata (the first example), which eventually evolves into all black. The second type, repetition, is a little more interesting, as it does not evolve into a single state but is instead repetitive. This can include a single line, simple oscillation, or fractal-like behavior, an example of which would be Rule 18. The third type is simply completely chaotic behavior- not very interesting, but definitely more than the previous two- such as in Rule 30.   The last type, type 4, is where there are many individual structures that interact, sometimes passing right through, other times blowing up. An example of this would be Rule 110. This type is probably the most interesting to watch, as the eventual outcome is unknown.

These 4 types cover nearly any cellular automata, except for the ones which appear to be midway in between the types.

We can easily go past 1-dimension and study two-dimensional cellular automata. Probably the most famous of these is Conway’s Game of Life, invented by John Conway in 1970. In it, clusters of cells appear to grow, and then collapse as “gliders” move across the screen. It only uses 4 rules, and easily falls into the category of Class 4 cellular automata.

The rules are:

1. Any live cell with less than 2 neighbors dies. (starvation)

2. Any live cell with more than 3 neighbors dies. (overcrowding)

3. Any live cell with 2 or 3 neighbors stays alive.

4. Any dead cell with three live neighbors becomes alive (birth)

Here, the neighborhood of a cell is defined as the 8 cells that surround it.

When the Game of Life was first shown, tons of people went crazy writing programs for simulating it  on computers, and supposedly thousands of hours of computer time were “wasted” simulating these patterns. One worker at a company even installed a “Boss” button for switching the display from Life to whatever he was supposed to be working on when his boss walked by!  Conway had offered a $50 dollar prize to whoever could find a pattern that expands infinitely. This could be a sort of glider gun, which shoots out gliders, a puffer, that leaves a trail of debris, or a spacefiller which expands out in all directions. The prize was claimed by Bill Gosper when he discovered the Gosper Glider Gun.

Since then, lots of new patterns have been discovered in the Game of Life, such as a puffer train, a hexadecimal counter, a fractal-generator, and even a “computer” which will do practically anything it is programmed to do.

Parts of the Life Computer

There are many other 2-dimensional cellular automata, which can be written in a certain notation which tells with which neighbor-numbers the dead cell turns alive, and for what neighbor-numbers the live cell stays alive. For example, Conway’s Game of Life could be written as B3/S23 . Many other cellular automata can be written using this notation. Some of the more interesting ones are Fredkin’s automaton (B1357/S02468) , which replicates any starting pattern. That’s all it does, no exceptions, so there’s no possibility of making anything like an adder in it.  Another interesting one is the “Maze” rule (B3/S12345) , which produces maze-like patterns. Changing the rule to B37/S12345 creates dots that move through the shape. One of the most interesting of these, though, is 2×2 Life (B36/S125) , a rule that is similar in character to Life but has much different patterns. Gliders are also a bit more rare, although there are a lot of interesting oscillators.  In rules like these, such as Day & Night (B3678/S3478) it makes almost no difference whether the colors are reversed. Day & Night also, at the end of patterns, has lots of oscillators.

Naturally, you can extend this form to allow multiple states. Brian’s Brain (/2/3) is an example of this, in which there are three states,  and in which gliders and glider guns are very much common. In fact, Still Lifes are almost nonexistent! The notation above means that a cell in state 1 (and only in state 1) stays alive if  it has (null) neighbors, that a dead cell becomes a state 1 cell if it has 2 neighbors, and that there are 3 states (0,1,2) .

A typical simulation

There are many modifications of this rule, one which causes scaffold-like structures to form, and even one which combines with Conway’s Game of Life!

You can easily make your own rules by simply choosing numbers to put in. Many of them appear to just be chaotic, but you can find rules which create rather interesting patterns. A good one is the Star Wars cellular automaton, 345/2/4 , which starts out like the Brian’s Brain rule but soon creates structures which shoot out gliders. A fun thing to do in this rule is to make “Train tracks” which let 1×3 rectangles move around them in both directions. Of course, you can also simulate all of the Life-ish rules by changing the number of states to be 2, so that there are only ON and OFF states.

As if all this weren’t enough, there’s even a generalization of the previous into arbitrarily many rules for arbitrarily many states, as a rule table. Basically, the rules are based on a large table that tells the cell in a certain state to change to a different (or the same) state if it has <this> many live neighbors. The different rules for each state makes it easy to get the cellular automaton to do exactly what you want it to do.  A good example of this type of rule is the Wireworld cellular automaton, invented by Brian Silverman, in which electrons travel down wires simulating the connections in a computer. It’s easy to make a 1-way gate, an AND gate, a clock, a NOT gate… and nearly everything you’d need to create a computer.  In fact, Mark Owen even made a wireworld computer that calculates and displays the prime numbers!

Amazing when actually run.

Rudy Rucker has also made a lot of Rule Table cellular automata, one of the most interesting being his Cars cellular automaton, which produces racing cars in several types, not usually something you’d expect to see from a cellular automaton.  The cars also crash into each other, and, in the process, make rather strange cars.

I have also made an interesting cellular automaton, which only uses 2 states, but still shows interesting behavior on wrapped grids, called SkyscraperMakers. In it, large structures are easily made, and there is a very simple puffer which requires only 6 cells. Signals also appear to transfer through the structures, but mostly just lower the towers.

There are also cellular automaton rules where only 1 cell is actually active at any one time. An example of this is the Langton’s Ant cellular automaton, in which the moving cell has two rules:

1. If you are on a white square, turn right, flip the color of the square from white to black, and move forward one square.

2. If you are on a black square, turn left, flip the color of the square from black to white, and move forward one square.

Although this seems very simple, when the cellular automaton runs on a blank grid the pattern produced is rather chaotic. In fact, you have to wait around 11,000 steps until the “ant” produces a “highway” in which the ant repeats the same pattern over and over.

The first 200 steps of Langton's Ant

Naturally, there’s a generalization to multiple states and different rules, in which you simply tell the ant what to do when it touches a certain state. It is usually expressed using a string of Rs and Ls to show what direction the ant takes when it touches a certain-colored cell. For example, the classic Langton’s Ant rule could be expressed as RL, meaning that it turns right when it touches a cell of state 0 (white), and turns left when it touches a cell of state 1. Using this generalization, there are some rather interesting cellular automata. For example, LLRR makes a cardiod shape:

Whilst one of the longer rules, LRRRRRLLR fills space around itself in a square.

Naturally, the infinity of 1-dimensional and 2-dimensional cellular automata wasn’t enough for some people, who proceeded on to 3-dimensional cellular automata. The notation for these is similar to the normal Life notation (i.e., B (something)/S (something)), except that the numbers go from 0 to 26 instead of from 0 to 8. There are some interesting analogs of 2d cellular automata, such as Brian’s Brain, which have been discovered (B4/S) :

As well as some new rules, such as the “Clouds” rule (B13,14,17,18,19 /S13,14,15,16,17,18,19,20,21,22,23,24) in which random patterns quickly form cloud-like blobs and bridges between the blobs. The “clouds” eventually shrink down, sometimes to nothing but sometimes forming rather simple oscillators:

There has even been a version of Life in 3D, however, it turns to simple oscillators very quickly. Supposedly, gliders can be formed, but I haven’t seen any.

The problem with 3D cellular automata, though, is that computer screens are 2-dimensional. When a computer screen displays a picture of a 3D cellular automata, the front (that we see) may be rather dull, while the other side may be very chaotic, but we wouldn’t know the difference. Also, there may be lots of action inside a blob, but we can’t see what is happening inside.

An interesting way to make a 3-dimensional shape out of  a cellular automata is to simply stack all the stages of  a 2-dimensional cellular automata on top of each other. This makes the cellular automaton seem quite a bit different. Patterns like the Gosper Glider Gun in Conway’s Game of Life turn into a tower with suspension cables on one side, Langton’s Ant into a Sears Tower-like skyscraper, and Brian’s Brain I don’t even want to think about. It’s rather fun to construct these out of blocks (specifically ones that can be joined together) , as the results are often surprising.

Part of Wolfram’s book was devoted to designing and finding certain cellular automata that can do anything– calculate what 2+2 is, emulate other cellular automata- even display letters- called Universal cellular automata. The simplest of these to show universal would be Conway’s Game of Life, by making AND gates, OR gates, a memory cell, a 90 degree reflector ,and a NOT gate. Many of these base on bashing gliders together to form certain outcomes, and the NOT gate is the hard one- it needs to use a glider gun, or something to send out gliders, in order to actually be a NOT gate. Once that’s made, the rest is simple.

A similar method can be used to show that WireWorld is universal- by making the necessary logic components, various computers can easily be made, such as Mark Owen’s massive prime calculator. There are even constructions made by putting logic gates together such that 1-dimensional cellular automata can be made!

Von Neumann also designed a 2-dimensional cellular automata, the sole purpose of which was to show that computers were possible in cellular automata. The rules are quite complex, mostly operate on signals passing through wires and writing cells, and the cellular automaton has a whopping 29 states. Replicators are possible, but they use humongous “tapes” to store how the structure should be built.

Now here’s the amazing part: Even 1-dimensional cellular automata can be universal. In particular, Wolfram showed a certain 19-state next-nearest neighbor cellular automaton which, given the right setup, will emulate any other 1-dimensional cellular automata on a huge basis (20 cells per cell). Some examples of it emulating cellular automata are below:

Rule 90 and Rule 30, emulated

In particular, although it is hard to see, the 19-state cellular automaton is emulating rule 90 and rule 30, respectively.

Most amazing, though is that, though it is anything but straightforward to prove, Rule 110 is a universal cellular automaton. This was done by showing how it could emulate another 1-dimensional cellular automata class, the cyclic tag system, and working from there. Eventually, Wolfram shows it emulating other elementary cellular automata, computing, and even emulating Turing machines.

Quite a lot of cellular automata programs exist (many of them are listed at http://cafaq.com/soft/index.php), so I’ll simply list some of the best ones that I have found.

One of my favorite programs is Mirek’s Cellebration (MCell), made by Mirek Wojtowicz, which has quite a lot of cellular automata rules (200+), and even more cellular automata patterns. It has a large Life pattern database, as well as allows you to make your own rules and save them easily. Probably the only problems with this are that the speed of the automaton may vary depending on the number of life cells on the board, and that the software is no longer developed. However, you can add on small extensions and even change the source code of the online Java version. You can either download it here, or see the Java implementation.

Another program for simulating cellular automata is Five Cellular Automata, which simulates exactly 5 types of cellular automata: A small generalization of Life, using 4 parameters and q states; The Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction, as a cellular automaton;  a cellular automata in which blobs of colors try to meet with each other, and eventually take over the board; a probabilistic cellular automaton in which “viruses” break out among the population, kill everybody, and eventually die as the population regrows; and lastly, a DLA model.  The program simulates all 5 rather well, but it only does those 5, and there are no manual editing features. This makes it so that the program is good for watching, but not useful for any experimentation. You can download it at the Hermetic Systems website.

The best of these which is being developed on would easily be Golly, a cellular automata program that has infinite universes, uses Bill Gosper’s speedy Hashlife algorithm, has hundreds of patterns, including a few Life lexicons, and even is scriptable (with examples!) in both Python and Perl. And it reads practically every CA file ever made. The only problem is that completely new rules, such as making a rule table cellular automaton, isn’t very easy unless it’s a Life-like cellular automaton (B something/S something). You can download it at the project’s Sourceforge page.

Lastly, there’s CAPOW by Rudy Rucker, which is a program for generating continuous-valued cellular automata. It supports 1D and 2D rules, as well as a number of discrete-valued cellular automata. It also has a mode in which the 2D cellular automata is extruded, based on what state the cell is at, into a 3D grid. It has quite a lot of cellular automata, can make up new ones, and includes a screensaver which shows various cellular automata animating. The only bad part is that it’s a bit confusing to make different rules or make new CA classes. You can download it at Rudy Rucker’s website.

There are tons more cellular automata that have not been studied, so the field of Cellular Automata is still an interesting field to explore in and find new and interesting rules.

G4G9, Day 4: Lasers, Sculptures, and Balloon Polyhedra

This is the 5th post in a series of posts about Gathering For Gardner: 1 2 3 4

We woke up the next day, and soon realized that the first talk had already started, but only by around a minute. Luckily, the conference was in the hotel I was staying in, so I only arrived a few minutes late. The first talk was by Jean Pedersen, about the extended face planes of various polyhedra. The next few talks were rather interesting:  Zdravko Zivkovic introduced a puzzle called “MemorIQ” where you have to make various shapes out of octagonal pieces which are colored on the sides. The sides of the pieces touching must also be the same, so it is a bit of a challenge to make a square with the pieces. Al Seckel then did a talk on “The Nature of Belief”, talking about various ambiguous optical illusions which change completely when you add a simple line to them, as well as a music track reversed which originally sounds like gibberish, but when words are added, comes out very clear. Greg Federickson did a talk on “Symmetry vs. Economy in Dissections of Squares and Cubes”.  In it, he showed many demonstrations of  dissecting squares and cubes into many smaller squares and cubes, in very symmetrical ways and also in the minimum number of pieces. He also showed examples for hinged dissections, some of which were very ingenious, especially for the cubes.  Lastly, Robert Crease talked about his new book about some of the most important equations in mathematics and science.

After a short break, the 2nd session began. Pablos Holman stated out with a great talk about “Hackers and Invention” in which he demonstrated how to kill mosquitoes by shooting lasers, changed the voicemail sound on Al Seckel’s phone by spoofing his caller ID, displayed a robot that wheels up to people and shows them their passwords, and showed how to pick a lock very quickly using a filed-down key and a hammer. After this talk, I went out with Bill Gosper, who was going to show John Conway the Universal Game Of Life Computer which Calcyman had made computing Pi. Bill also showed Conway some other Game of Life patterns, such as the same universal computer computing the digits of the Golden Ratio, and a Python script for going to a particular step in a Life simulation faster than the normal algorithm, which he demonstrated by simulating a pattern to a googol-1 steps. Because of this, I was a bit late for the last talk of the day, the overview of the math sculptures that were to be made later that day at Tom Rodger’s house, which ranged from a button knot to a huge zonohedral pavilion.

I had a quick lunch (i.e, none) and boarded the bus that would be going to Tom’s house. On the way there, I tried to figure out some particularly hard puzzles which had little or no instructions, and also talked with some of the other attendees. When we arrived, they had a lot of Japanese-style lunches set out on a table for us to eat before building the various sculptures and seeing some of the things that were already set up. Some of the most interesting things there were a metal polyhedral-ish sculpture that George Hart was making, an impossible box that you could stand in, and a huge black hyperbola that towered over everything else.

After eating my lunch, I helped build the base for the zonohedral pavilion by soaping the pieces and then placing them into place on the supports. When that was done, they started on the roof of the pavillion, and I showed a few puzzles to other attendees, inlcuding a version of the Enigma puzzle as well as a “chopstick” puzzle using some of the left-over chopsticks from lunch.

Afterwards , I helped out on another sculpture, this time a metal sculpture of a three-dimensional Peano curve, which had to be put together using  near-identical pieces and screws. The pieces were very rusty, so my hands got very dirty. Eventually it was almost done and I wandered off somewhere else. Back near the house, Vi Hart had been showing people how to make various polyhedra out of  balloons, such as simple octahedra and cubes.

I went with Gareth Conway and Max to explore a section of the landscape which Max said was an entrance to a gold or a silver mine, and which was almost completely covered with leaves from the surrounding trees. At some point, Max said that we’ll get famous for discovering this gold mine, to which Gareth responded that he was already famous for that he knew 130 digits of pi. I promptly responded with all of the digits of Pi I knew (only 30), and Gareth corrected me when I added on a few extra digits. It’s good that Michael Keith, the author of a book entirely written in Pilish wasn’t there at that point, because then I’d have to listen to quite a lot of digits of Pi. Eventually, however, it turned out that the “gold mine” was actually just a well.

Meanwhile, the polyhedral balloon-making had gotten completely out of control:

I went back to the main area, where I saw that a lot of the sculptures had been finished, such as the Chinese Button Knot and George Hart’s sculpture. I got to talk with Clifford Pickover about various things, such as the non-paradox that 100% of all integers have a 9 in them, and about some of the artwork in The Math Book, Pickover’s new book. Nearby was Ivan Moscovich, whom I talked with as well about various puzzles, such as his Mirrorkal series of sliding block puzzles in which you have to make a certain image with the pieces, which have mirrors on them so that the first puzzle is figuring out what configuration the blocks should be in afterwards. Soon, nearly all of the sculptures had been finished except for the pavilion which was almost finished and it was getting dark.

We had quite a nice dinner, although the tables were full so I had to sit nearby, where Gosper was.  We talked for some time, and I mentioned a formula that can calculate Pi to 42 billion digits but then soon diverges. After the dinner, I went into Tom’s house which, as I have said before, is absolutely filled with puzzles. I played with a few puzzles, including  a 3-piece burr and a few Japanese puzzle boxes but then encountered a puzzle that fell apart and then was impossible to put back together. By that time, it was time to go back to the hotel. I boarded the bus in the back- right next to George Hart and a few other people who had made the sculptures at Tom’s house that day, who I talked with for the ride back.

It had been a great day, and there was only 1 day of the conference left.

G4G9, Day 3: Random(Blog), Crazy Detectives, and the Rubik’s Cube

This is the fourth post in a series of blog posts about Gathering For Gardner 9: 1 2 3

We started out the 3rd day by changing the hotel where we were from the Peachtrees to the Ritz-Carlton, where I missed the first talk, which was apparently about “The Odd One Out and Unrevealing Coin Weighings”

The very first talk that I saw, then, was by John Edmark about “Geometric Patterns of Change”. It was mostly about the sculptures that he has made, some based on the Fibonacci sequence and the Golden Angle, while others were on various spirals which could change direction by simply changing the angle at the top. Adrian Fisher also did a talk on that he was making Custom Designed Mazes, specifically hedge mazes for any people who had a castle somewhere and liked mazes. Last in the first session was a 15-minute talk by Ed Pegg, called “Meet the Attendees”, which was where he would bring up various attendees who weren’t doing talks and have them describe themselves in 20 seconds, as he would show a slide that he had made for them.  I thought that he would only bring up the attendees who wanted a slide in the presentation.

Turns out, I was wrong. He really had made 70 individual slides, one for each attendee who wasn’t giving a talk, including me.

I was around 5th, but because many of the attendees had decided not to come up, I was instead in 2nd place for a 20-second talk. Of course, I hadn’t expected this, and so I had around 30 seconds to figure out what I was going to say.  When my time came, I went up and gave a very short description of my website, this blog, and my Scratch Projects, somehow in less than the 20 second I had. Many other people came up and gave short descriptions of what they did, some seeming to go over 1 minute, but Ed’s talk still came in before the 15 minutes he had.

The next session started out with two Dr. Matrix (one of Martin Gardner’s characters, a numerologist) impersonators, Scot Morris and Bruce Oberg, talk about the number 9. Scot’s talk was about “Cosmic 9” which detailed how 9 lay at the center of the universe: He pointed out the methods of counting out nines, that 9 was a square number, and so on. Bruce Oberg’s talk was about “Nein to Nine”, in which he pointed out how bad 9 was. My favorite line in his talk: “First, I will show that 9 is lazy. What happened in 9 A.D.? (pause) ABSOLUTELY NOTHING!” After a few more talks, Stephen Wolfram did a talk on all the work he has been doing, such as Mathematica, Wolfram|Alpha, and A New Kind of Science, a rather large book weighing in at 1,200 pages.

We had a short lunch break, in which I skipped eating in order to buy a few puzzles, which included a combinatorial puzzle in which you have to rotate 3 controls in order to get 10 disks to line up, as well as an interesting packing set of polyhedra. After this, I went back downstairs for the 3rd session.

Steve Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde started out with a talk on why we are fooled by magic. They pointed out that this was because of the magician’s skillful use of misdirection, and showed us a few videos on this effect, starting out with a card trick:

And then following up with a case of “Whodunit”, where there are 21 changes in the scene:

David Kaye also did a talk on how to perform magic for groups of  children, using a video as an example where he is dressed up as a clown and proceeds to do a trick with scarves, except that many things go wrong while he is doing the trick. Adam Rubin then did a talk on “Gravity Unmatched” which was a magic trick where a knife, attached to a string which goes over a pole and is tied to a pen, is falling towards him, yet it stops just before stabbing him. Kenichi Mura then did a talk on using Reulaux triangles for buckets in a chaos experiment.

There was a short break, in which I went to the Thinkfun exhibit showing nearly all of the games and puzzles that Thinkfun has made, from its first puzzles based on the Chinese Rings to the classic Pentominoes to the new Tipover. I talked with some of the creators, such as Bill Ritchie and Tanya Tompson, and said that many of their old puzzles were really neat, and that perhaps they should do sort of a “2nd edition” of some of them.

The last session of the day was themed around the Rubik’s Cube, and started out with Jerry Slocum doing a talk on the history of the Rubik’s Cube which was very interesting especially in the part where he talked about various Rubik’s Cube variants, such as the Void Cube or some of Bram Cohen and Oskar Van Deventer’s twisty puzzles. Lucas Garron followed up by talking about speedcubing and other types of Rubik’s cube. My favorite talk of the session, though, was Bram Cohen’s demonstration of the twisty puzzles that he has been making, in which the cubes can have very strange forms once twisted in certain ways (They no longer in any way resemble cubes) and also where the cube is distorted and so will not permit certain moves once twisted. Many of the cubes he and Oskar have invented can be seen at Oskar’s Youtube page:

Rik Van Grol, editor of Cubism For Fun, did a talk on “The Quest for God’s Algorithm”  which is the algorithm which solves the Rubik’s Cube in the minimum number of moves. He detailed on how the number has gone down from a high 60 to a lower bound of 20 and an upper bound of 22. (News Flash! Tomas Rokicki has found an algorithm which solves the Cube in 21 steps. Could this be God’s Algorithm?) Roice Nelson, creator of many wonderful programs, then did a talk on his program for displaying 3-d Rubik’s Cubes as 2-dimensional stereographic projections which you can rotate.  Julian and Corey then went up and gave a talk entitles “Fun with the Minsky Circle Algorithm”. It summarized nearly all of their research with the Minsky Circle Algorithm, which is supposed to make circles, but they managed to tweak the variables so that it makes crazy fractal-like structures. For some reason, the plots of the periods often have symmetry, often based around a central point:

Click to view full size

After the last session, we waited while the room in which the talks were held was being converted into a dinner/magic room. While we were waiting in line to get food, a person managed to find me and said “Stephen Wolfram wants to see you.” I was absolutely amazed by this, so I followed her to where, in fact, Stephen Wolfram was. I talked with him for a bit about various cellular automata and his book, and then went back in line to get food.

The magic show was amazing. It started out with Mark Mitton bringing Gareth Conway (he must be getting awfully tired of these magic shows) up to demonstrate an optical illusion with a rotating spiral. Then a dancer came up and performed an act in which she would produce seemingly endless flowers and cards from a single flower. Mark went back up for an act in which he would get a (very confused) audience member to perform a magic trick, without him speaking any words. A few other magicians came up for acts, and Gary Foshee presented a gift to Tom Rodgers. Lennart Green did an amazing card trick where he would blindfold himself, duct-tape his entire face,  cover it with aluminum foil, and then perform a magic trick, sometimes spilling cards, but performing the trick flawlessly. I was actually called up for a trick by Derek Hughes, in which he would perform a card trick in which supposedly, whatever answers I gave to his questions, he would show that I did not have free will by showing that I chose one particular card.

Apparently I do have free will, because I managed to somehow mess him up by not cutting the cards.

There were many other acts, and the show in general was great. In the above video, there’s a multicolored blob to the left, which was because the first act was of Caspar Schwabe blowing up a giant inflatable model of the 59th stellation of the icosahedron.

After the magic show, we went back upstairs and went to bed.

Gathering For Gardner, Day 2: Fractals, Puzzles, and Magic

Continued from a previous post… and the one before that

The next day was Thursday, marking the start of the talks, where various mathematicians, optical illusionists, computer programmers and magicians would give short 10-30 minute talks about various subjects. The talks started at 8:30, but we got there a bit early, so my mom dropped off my exchange gift (a puzzle where you have to put together 9 nonahedral shapes together to make a nonahedron), while I watched the start of the talks. The very first talk was by Erez Lieberman-Aiden, who talked about how the human genome might fold itself into spacefilling curves, rather than in a big tangle. The talk was supposed to be 30 minutes long, but he finished 3 minutes early, so (due to a rule/tradition that any speaker who finished before his time limit was given 1 dollar for each minute that he was under time) he received 3 dollars. Vladmir Bulatov did a talk on models of hyperbolic geometry, starting with Escher’s Circle Limits and moving on to computer models and animations. Jason Rosenhouse also did a talk on “The Monty Hall Problem, Revisited” in which he described various variations on the Monty Hall problem, such as a Monty who completely chooses random doors, and sometimes shows the car before he allows you to make a decision. Gary Foshee did a 1-minute talk on the Tuseday Birthday Problem, based on the original birthday problem, except that one of the children is born on a Tuesday.

Then there was a 20-minute break, in which I went up to the exhibit room to help and watch the exhibitors set up.  Hans Schepker was setting up a large staircase which appeared to defy gravity, even though wires were attached to each of the cubes that made it up. He also made a type of flexagon based on seven tetrahedra taped along their edges in which the shape folded out progressively around the circle instead of all at once. John Edmark was also there, with many sculptures based on the Fibonacci sequence, the Golden Ratio, and the Golden Angle, such as a whirligig which, when spun one way, made a smooth spiral, and when spun the other way, made a shape that looked like a pine cone.

The next session started out with John Conway doing a talk on the Lexicode Theorem Non-Theorem Puzzle, which led to the system of Nimbers, in which 8+8=0, and where 8*11=9. Uri Levi was next, with a demonstration of a new puzzle he had found called the “Magnetic Tower of Hanoi”  which normally needs 3^n moves to solve, but variations on it can have rather complicated formulas for the minimum moves required. Neil Sloane also announced that the OEIS was going into a wiki format, and Benjamin Chaffin did a talk on computing the curling number conjecture and the Recaman Sequence.

By then it was time for lunch, and I skipped lunch to have a look at the sales rooms, where various puzzle creators were selling their puzzles for various prices. The first booth that I recognized when I first came in was that of Pavel Curtis, creator of  insanely hard puzzles, who was selling nearly all of the puzzles he had on his website. I also noticed that the people who made ZomeTool had set up a booth selling the product. Inside the other room was even more puzzles, including various combinatoric puzzles, mathematical books, puzzle boxes and suitcases, and much more. Sandro Del-Prete, who I had met before before the Bar Bets session, was there and my mom bought one of his books for me, provided that he would sign the book in German, and that I would have to read what he had written.  Nearby was Clifford Pickover, one of my favorite writers of math and computer science books, who I talked with shortly and then – something that would only ever happen in Gathering For Gardner- Ivan Moscovich, another one of my favorite authors of math and puzzle books, turned out to be right beside us. Of course, I talked with him for a while, and then went back to the other room, where I noticed that Kadon Enterprises, makers of tons of polyomino-based puzzles, were there, and quickly solved one of their easier puzzles, a set of pentominoes which could be stacked to make 3D shapes. By that time I went back down for the next set of talks, as an hour had already passed.

The next set of talks started out with a set of puzzle fonts by Erik Demaine, where you have to solve a puzzle to even figure out what the letter was, and then repeat that for each letter in the text. Kenneth Brecher did a talk on ambiguous figures, in 2D and also in 3D, and proposed a problem about 4 or more perspectives of an ambiguous object that I quickly solved by placing the Rubin Vase on a type of striped disk which produces either 4 or 6 perspectives, depending on what you consider it to be. Clifford Pickover did a talk on the making of his newest book, called The Math Book, and Glen Whitney finished off the session with a talk on The Museum of Mathematics, which is to be built very soon. Another short break, and then the last session for the day began.

First, there was a 30-minute talk on “The Art of Throwing Up” which is not what you may think it is. It was actually about juggling, and by the end of the talk I could actually juggle three scarves without grabbing everywhere. Tomas Rokicki, one of the programmers of Golly and a searcher for God’s Number on the Rubik’s Cube, then did a talk on ‘Modern Life” which was about recent developments in Conway’s Game of Life patterns. David Spies introduced GamesCrafters, a service where you can play around  70 games against a perfect opponent, and Robert Bosch talked about using the Traveling Salesman Problem to generate artworks. Sandro Del-Prete also did a talk about some of his illusions, a few of which were animated. Alex Bellos, author of a new book, Here’s Looking at Euclid ( Alex’s Adventures in Numberland in Britain) talked about why they still use abacuses in Japan (those kids are scary fast), and Eve Torrence, lastly, gave an improvement to Lewis Carroll’s Condensation Method.

Afterwards, we went to the 50th floor of a nearby tower for a large dinner with other attendees of G4G9. After the dinner, we were led into one of a few rooms where we were shown a number of short magic shows. I was in the room with Gareth Conway and John Conway, who I talked with about the Game of Life (it was originally simulated on Go boards), the talk about Nimbers he gave, and the Century Sliding Block Puzzle, which he apparently found by modifying the L’Ane Rouge puzzle. The magic shows were great, and I noticed that for some reason, Gareth, my mom, and I were chosen very frequently. Some of my favorite acts were a trick by Victoria Skye, who had 3 cards which would correspond to any answer to one of the questions she asked you; A trick by Mark Mitton in which he would place a card on the table, stand on top of a chair in a corner, and the card would turn out to be whatever the person named; and nearly all of Lennart Green’s card tricks. I was especially amazed by a trick by John Railing in which he turned a pack of cards into a sheet of plexiglass. This was especially amazing to me because I was holding the pack of cards at the time, and my hand was small enough that I could see in from the outside, and I still couldn’t tell when the switch happened.

Afterwards, we went back to our hotel and went to sleep, amazed by what had happened today.