A blog for fans of Bananagrams, word games, puzzles, and amazing things

Friday, May 18, 2012

The power of recursive drawing

An MIT student has released a simple CoffeeScript/JavaScript-based tool for creating recursive drawings - combinations of rectangles and ellipses that can have a fractal-like structure. It is available at RecursiveDrawing.com. This video briefly explains and demonstrates how the tool works: Essentially, you can:
  1. Drag shapes into the canvas area.
  2. Move a shape around by clicking on its center and dragging.
  3. Resize a shape by clicking on its edge and dragging in and out with respect to the center.
  4. Rotate a shape by clicking on it edge and dragging sideways.
  5. Change the aspect ratio of a shape by clicking on its edge and dragging while holding the SHIFT key.
  6. Move around on the canvas by clicking and dragging the canvas.
  7. Zoom in and out by scrolling on a mouse or trackpad.
You can make more drawings by clicking on the "+" button in the sidebar, and shift between them by clicking on them. And then, by dragging the little representation of the canvas in the sidebar into the main canvas, you get the magical recursive effect.
I found it very easy to form a close approximation to a golden rectangle, subdivided into squares...
...or this spiral of home-plate-like pentagons:
I then made a pretty cool fractal tree:
Every time I play with this tool, I make something even better.
The interface is intuitive and powerful, making it terrific fun to play with. I would like to see a triangular shape, some control over color, and perhaps some kind of symmetry operator to allow flipping and reflecting of drawings. And since the source code is available, maybe someone will eventually add these features...

Friday, May 11, 2012

Lexcavator: A cool word-exploding arcade game

A great new arcade-like word game has just been released for desktop computers. It's called Lexcavator, a name that evokes the idea of digging for words. In this game, you tunnel down through a bottomless grid of letters by forming words Boggle-style. Then you jump your little avatar (represented by the "@" symbol) around in the various tunnels that you create, as you try to avoid being pushed up to the top of the screen by the constantly rising letter grid.
The game feels like a hybrid of Boggle and an inverted Tetris. Once you get used to using the mouse to click and drag through letters to form words and navigating with the keyboard, the interface becomes quite intuitive. There are power-ups in the form of other symbols: "!" creates a deep one-column-wide vertical shaft, ">" clears all the letters in the row that it is sitting on, "_" destroys a random set of tiles, "?" randomizes all the letters, and "*" takes out all letters in a 5-by-5 grid.
You don't necessarily need to activate the power-ups when you uncover them. I find that using the "?" power-up usually causes the resulting letters to be harder to make words out of. You also have the option of delaying usage of a power-up by guiding it down with you: for instance, standing next to the power-up and excavating under both yourself and it works nicely.

Once you finish a game, you get a report of various statistics about your performance. If you enable the "Internet" option in the Settings, the game will also report your scores to the central server and tell you how well you did compared to other players...

and what words you were the first in the world to find:
As of today, only 2% of the words on the word list had been found, according to the Lexcavator Twitter account. According to the developer's blog, the leaderboard is completely anonymous, so you don't have to worry about generating a login or a password or recovering a password when you've forgotten it. It's simple and done the right way, just like everything else about the game.

This is the kind of game that you will find yourself wanting to play repeatedly. There is also a Quest Mode which consists of a series of untimed challenges (like, find four 4-letter words, all in lines, without finding any other words).

You can get the game at lexcavator.com. It is being distributed on a pay-what-you-want model. I initially downloaded it for free, but I'm going to go back and pay for a copy to support the developer.