Saturday, March 29, 2008


I was introduced to Blackbox as an undergraduate many years ago. After exhausting the patience of my roommate, I wrote a computer version. Ah... Turbo Pascal. I spent a lot more time playing the game than I would like to admit. Recently, I decided to see what Blackbox games were available, and here are my findings.

In case you are not familiar with Blackbox, the goal is to deduce the position of four atoms inside an 8x8 grid (or blackbox). You can probe the blackbox by sending in particles at any of the 32 sides and seeing where or if they emerge. The rules for how the probe particles are effected by the atoms is given in the wikipedia article mentioned above. The fewer probe particles used the better.

In the original game, the scoring was one point for any probe particle that reflected or absorbed, two points for a probe particle that emerged elsewhere, and five points for any wrongly placed atom. The fewer points the better. The interesting aspect is that it often pays to guess were where that last atom is located, rather than waste a bunch of probes. Or, try to choose probes which will either be reflected or absorbed.

Web Based

This is a very faithful recreation of the original game. It plays right in your web browser using Macromedia Flash. One feature which I like is that you can click on squares to mark them. This allows you to mark excluded spots for atoms.

Simon Tatham's Portable Puzzle Collection

A stand alone Blackbox program for both the PC and Mac. Again, a faithful recreation of the original. You can also choose different sizes and number of atoms. He also includes a variant were the number of atoms varies. Now where is that last one?


There is an implementation of Blackbox built into emacs. M-x blackbox and start playing. Does this mean that any work place that forbids games on the computers has to uninstall emacs?

Aargon Blackbox

This is a combination of Blackbox and Aargon. Instead of atoms, the blackbox is filled with mirrors and other optical items. Instead of probe particles, you send in laser light and have to deduce what is in there based on where the light comes out and what color it is. Randomly placed objects in the blackbox would be too hard to deduce. So, the designers of the game made up levels. I purchased Aargon Blackbox and will review it when I am done.


This is commercial game loosely based on Blackbox. Instead of atoms, there are hidden bumpers. One odd thing is that you can hear the internal bounces. This gives you way too much information. I played the demo and did not care for it much, but it received high marks from Game Tunnel and James Allen.

Black Cube

If you are a Mac user, there is a 3-dimensional version of Blackbox. The rules are more complicated; at certain points the probe particles can split. It is a deeper game than the 2-D version, but I do not think it is a better version. It also includes the 2-D version.

Black Box+

Recently, a new variant of BlackBox was released. Here the game is played on a hexagonal board. It seems like a good idea, but I have not played the game, so I cannot be sure.

Happy probing.


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