how and when you discovered the game of life?

A forum where anything goes. Introduce yourselves to other members of the forums, discuss how your name evolves when written out in the Game of Life, or just tell us how you found it. This is the forum for "non-academic" content.
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how and when you discovered the game of life?

Post by Toad4 » July 29th, 2012, 11:03 pm

It says on the subject

My story: when I was 12 years old (I have 13) I was watching a TV documentary about artificial life and showed the game of life. And I said: cool game Im going to play it and then i meet golly and these forums and then Im making this topic :lol:

Well submit your story :wink:


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Re: how and when you discovered the game of life?

Post by Extrementhusiast » August 4th, 2012, 2:07 pm

I think I was in the second grade or thereabouts, when my math tutor showed me the Game of Life. He ran some simple patterns, and that was what started it all.
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Re: how and when you discovered the game of life?

Post by Dr. Monstaa » August 4th, 2012, 3:46 pm

I was reading Stephen Hawkings' new book "The Grand Design"
In the last chapter he talked about The Game of Life and my interest grew from there.
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Re: how and when you discovered the game of life?

Post by flipper77 » August 4th, 2012, 5:30 pm

My math teacher from elementary school introduced us to the national library of virtual manipulatives. I was exploring until I ran across something called The Game of Life, so naturally I went to look at it. After exploring the patterns, and the rules that governed it, I had been hooked.

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Re: how and when you discovered the game of life?

Post by William Leonard » August 5th, 2012, 3:21 am

I was playing this game called 'The Powder Toy' on the computer and there was a 'Life' section on it where you could experiment with tons of different Life rules at the same time. I looked up 'Game of Life' and yeah.

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Re: how and when you discovered the game of life?

Post by beebop » August 9th, 2012, 11:38 pm

I was introduced to it in a CS class

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Re: how and when you discovered the game of life?

Post by chineseman » August 26th, 2012, 6:43 am

I found it on a CS book.Two weeks later,I found this site.

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Re: how and when you discovered the game of life?

Post by Nicbudd77 » March 30th, 2013, 12:53 pm

One word, Vsauce (youtuber)
I use golly and make lots of patterns
I have dreams of becoming famous

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Re: how and when you discovered the game of life?

Post by Tropylium » March 31st, 2013, 6:05 pm

I was first introduced to Life in the early 90s by my father, who had found LifeLab from either online or potentially some colleague in simulation (he's a chemist). I frequently tinkered around the program during my (pre)teens but never got much done. I belive I found the 3c/7 "swimmer" independantly around the early 00s though and even emailed someone about it.

After some computer changes and new responsibilities I stopped frequently really doing anything but kept passively following LifeNews. Downloaded Golly in 2008-ish for a test run, lost it in a computer crash, redownloaded in 2011 and I'm likely to be here to stay now. :mrgreen:

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Re: how and when you discovered the game of life?

Post by velcrorex » March 31st, 2013, 6:53 pm

Growing up in the 90's, found an old (Scientific American?) magazine that had a neat write up about life in the games/puzzle section. And around the same time one of the computers in my school had a life screensaver that I though was fascinating. Between the two I was hooked.
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Re: how and when you discovered the game of life?

Post by MikeP » April 1st, 2013, 5:45 am

I've known about GoL for most of my life. My father bought a Sinclair Spectrum when I was very small, and one of the programs on the demo tape was a GoL implementation. It didn't come with any interesting patterns, though.

Then some time in the early 90s I read "The Recursive Universe" by Poundstone, which outlines the original proof of universality. That's when I realised how much depth there is to it.

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Re: how and when you discovered the game of life?

Post by dvgrn » April 1st, 2013, 1:13 pm

In June 1980 I was ten years old, and my family had just gotten our first personal computer, a TRS-80. On the cover of our first 80 Microcomputing magazine was a collection of strangely squashed Life patterns. TRS-80s had a display resolution of 128x48, so the pixels were impressively far from square. Dennis Kitsz had written an assembly-language program that could run a 128x48 Life universe at the blinding speed of 75 ticks per minute.

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Pointless Tangential Reminiscences on Computer Hardware and Software in 1980

Our computer was a "TRS-80 Model 1 Level II", with 16K of RAM -- the Level 1 had had 4K.  This was long before IBM PC clones; TRS stood for "Tandy/Radio Shack", one of many competitors in the strange new home-computer playing field.

The source code for Kitsz's Life programs was printed in the magazine -- both the assembly instructions and the BASIC code for the support program.  This was a fairly standard way of communicating programs; people got a lot of practice typing code in from magazine listings.  Initially the alternative was a rather unreliable cassette player, which took a couple of minutes to load a 16K program, when nothing went wrong... sometimes it seemed easier just to type a program in again.

A year or two later we upgraded to 48K (maxing out the two-byte addressing system, since 16K was needed for the BASIC interpreter in ROM, plus video memory and suchlike) -- and a dual disk drive, which stored 73K on a single disk.  It was mighty hard to fill up one of those disks, we thought.

I suppose this was partly because word processing hadn't really been thought of yet, at least not for the TRS-80 which didn't get lowercase letters until the Model 3 (or a custom upgrade was possible -- the main problem was that Tandy had decided to save money by having only seven-bit bytes in the video memory).  Our first printer did have lowercase letters, but no descenders, so g's and p's and such were printed way high up on the line, and it printed on three-inch-wide paper tape.

_80 Microcomputing_ magazines are all archived online nowadays, and here's the June 1980 issue featuring Life:

Might be worth a look if you're interested in ancient computing history:  there are many places where the implication is that 16K is quite spacious and 48K is downright huge... My father spent his working career in the 1960's and 1970's programming mainframes for a big government institution in Albany, NY, and for a good while anyway, he had to do everything with 4K of RAM plus those big 10.5-inch magnetic tape reels.  Plenty of storage there, probably around 128 bytes per inch and no shortage of tape -- but the seek times weren't too good.
I thought square pixels would look better, though, though, so I tried writing a BASIC program, and found it could run Life at 64x48 at about one tick per minute. My first and only assembly-language program came along a few years later, managing one tick per second on the same grid. My bit-twiddling skills were nothing on Mr. Kitsz's, but at least the program ran!

As far as actual Life investigations go, I seem to recall I got about as far as rediscovering pulsars. All random experimentation, no thought of doing systematic searches or anything. I got hold of Gardner's articles, tried out a few glider constructions, got a Gosper glider gun going, and was suitably impressed by it all -- especially the thought that somebody somewhere had enough computer power to run a quadratic-growth breeder pattern. Don't remember knowing anything about switch engines, though they were old news by that time.


So then I dropped the subject for a decade and a half. Spent a lot of time on computers investigating fractals, chaos theory, aperiodic tiles, and so on, but didn't think much about B3/S23 at all. I think I did write a Life simulator for every new computer I got my hands on, though, as a kind of speed test. Computers just kept on getting faster... but that's all I knew.

Imagine my surprise when I thought to look for Conway's Life on the Internet in early 2000. A whole new universe had opened up! XLife, MCell, and Life32 were available. Alan Hensel and David Bell and Jason Summers and others had put together collections of patterns that did incredible things -- enumerate primes (or prime pairs, or Fermat primes), simulate B3/S23 inside a larger Life pattern, emit gliders at every imaginable period, and so on. Achim Flammenkamp had his huge list of unlikely-looking objects that appeared, very very rarely, out of random soup. Mark Niemiec and Heinrich Koenig had improbably large databases of how to construct every conceivable still life and oscillator, and many inconceivable ones. Stephen Silver had put together an incredible lexicon, hinting at just how much Life I had allowed to pass me by. Huge flotillas of spaceships had been collected, with various new and old velocities -- spiders, darts*, and weekenders, oh my!

[Not to mention Corderships. I always did like Corderships. Everybody seems to forget about them most of the time.]

And that was just what I ran into first, the tip of the iceberg -- I've left many other people, pages, and programs unmentioned and unlinked, but most of these were there waiting for me in 2000. Something like a Cambrian Explosion of new Life forms had happened when I wasn't looking.

... Bear in mind that -- just for example -- up until 1995 nobody had managed to build an odd-period glider gun. A true-period gun, that is; a pseudo-period p15 gun showed up in 1992, when a 373x372 pattern was considered "HUGE". Then in the mid-90s Herschel tracks appeared on the scene; all kinds of new possibilities opened up, and now it's hard to imagine that an odd-period gun would ever have been something especially remarkable.

So I've been fascinated by Conway's Life ever since that sudden re-discovery in 2000-2001.

Guess this has been a long answer to a simple "how and when" question -- but I had two very different answers, separated by fifteen years that saw an incredible run of technological change, in Real Life as well as Conway's Life.

* Why on earth hasn't anybody been able to synthesize a dart yet, anyway? EDIT 12/4/2014: Must not have been trying hard enough: turns out it takes 25 gliders (so far).

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Re: how and when you discovered the game of life?

Post by LumpsOfMuck » April 2nd, 2013, 8:59 pm

Not sure of the exact year but I think I actually had my first brush with conway's game of life when I was younger than ten. There was some online collection of interactive mazes I went to often and one of them was the maze of life, where you controlled a cell in life that had the ability to nove where it wanted, but still had to abide by the survival rules. The goal was to make certain still lifes like the loaf, bloack, and others I think (although this is likely just guesasing after such a long time. They do need to remake that maze of life game though, it wasfreaking cool). After that I pretty much forgot about it for years, although I did manage to watch animations of a couple puffers from some website. Later on, someone gave me "the colossal book of mathematics" I believe it was called, and I think what drove me to conway's life was the fact that A. it was cool, but especially B. it was pretty much the only thing mention which I could do without a ridiculous amount of thought. Since then, I've forgotten about conway's life occasionally when my life becomes busy but I don't think I've ever totally forgotten about it.

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Re: how and when you discovered the game of life?

Post by glider_rider » April 11th, 2013, 11:49 pm

My 5th grade math class was boring me, so I looked up math games, and I found it first.
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Re: how and when you discovered the game of life?

Post by JohnF » June 26th, 2013, 2:42 am

I was a student at Cambridge in 1970, and often used to hang out in the Maths department common room.
One day I noticed Conway (and Mike Paterson, I think) messing around with Go pieces, but not playing Go.
It turned out they were tracking the "R" pentomino by hand, and had completed a hundred or so generations.
I was intrigued, and thought this looked like a task eminently suited to a computer. In the next day or two I wrote a quick-and-dirty Life program (in FORTRAN), and ran it on the IBM 360 at the Institute of Theoretical Astronomy (I'd written some utility code for them, so I got to use the computer in the afternoon if no-one else needed it).
The following day I dropped a stack of pages of printout on the table in front of Conway (200 generations, IIRC), and asked him if this agreed with what he had calculated. I don't remember now exactly what he called me, but I do remember that it wasn't polite!

Later on I extended the universe to something larger than one page of lineprinter output (which is what had constrained my initial run), and tracked the R pentomino for 1000 generations. If only I'd been a little more ambitious I might have found the final configuration (attained at generation 1103), and had my name enshrined in the annals of Life. Still, at least I have the satisfaction of knowing that I wrote the first ever Life program.

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Re: how and when you discovered the game of life?

Post by v00d00 » October 24th, 2013, 2:08 am

It's weird really. I've known it for quite a while now. Say maybe 3 years back I got a book on fractals from the library. It had a section on cellular automata ad I thought "nice" it had a very brief explanation about Conway's Life.
Then, this year I got an android tablet. And since it's my first personal computer I finally could actually get into programming. So I did. I found among the apps an implementation of GoL and said "oh I remember this, cute" and forgot about it. Then I was curious about hacking, hacking lead me to virus writing, virus writing lead me to artificial life, artificial life brought me back to cellular automata, and I thought "So Conway's rule is somewhat disperse" and started checking other rules as well as Generations and Turmites, then I thought "oh well" and just a week ago I found a gif of Gospel's Glider Gun and I was truly amazed. I didn't know that kinda stuff could be done. Bit of research and I'm here, amazed at how many things can be done with such a simple rule (Life in Life, Turing Machines, Factories, DAMN!)
So yeah, quite a story huh?

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Re: how and when you discovered the game of life?

Post by Rhombic » October 26th, 2013, 6:06 pm

I had been reading a book on Alan Turing and this book had just a couple of pages dedicated to Conway's GoL, and the way the Turing machine was modeled in this algorithmic system.
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Re: how and when you discovered the game of life?

Post by mniemiec » November 2nd, 2013, 7:17 pm

I was a freshman in high school, when a friend discovered Martin Gardner's Scientific American article about cellular automata and Life. This got three of us interested in the game. He also found out that Robert T. Wainwright had recently started a Life newsletter called LifeLine, that was the first way that Lifenthusiasts from all over could shared discoveries. I've wasted years of my life on Life ever since. :)

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Re: how and when you discovered the game of life?

Post by NickGotts » January 27th, 2014, 4:51 pm

I came across first it in Martin Gardner's first Scientific American article on it, in October 1970, when I was 16. I first explored it on graph paper (we didn't 'ave these 'ere new-fangled home compyooters in my young day), then some years later using an incredibly slow program I wrote in a completely unsuitable language called Pop-11, then with a succession of programs written by others, culminating, of course, in Golly.

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Re: how and when you discovered the game of life?

Post by codeholic » January 28th, 2014, 4:27 pm

First time I read about it in "Юный техник" ("Young Technician") magazine in 1989. ... -08--num11

There were earlier articles in Soviet magazines about the Game of Life though, in particular, in "Наука и жизнь" ("Science and Life"), the earliest reference dates back to August 1971.
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Re: how and when you discovered the game of life?

Post by tracefleeman » January 29th, 2014, 5:25 pm

Yeah, sadly, I think it was a mix of Vsauce and reading about math on Wikipedia. I think I came to it from existential crises I have a lot, and I was researching determinism and...yeah.

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Re: how and when you discovered the game of life?

Post by checkman » February 25th, 2014, 5:47 pm

I can't remember exactly, back that far.

Most likely, it was in my junior high years, around the mid 1980s. I probably heard about it from someone via the first edition of Winning Ways.

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Re: how and when you discovered the game of life?

Post by drc » December 25th, 2015, 1:25 pm

Sorry to bump an old topic, but I was watching random Vsauce videos at around 11 years old and this intrigued me enough to download this shitty (pardon my french) executable that was just a 100*100 grid. Then, I looked up Conway's game of life and found the LifeWiki. It introduced me to Golly, and I was amazed at how much better it was. I was still hesitant to join the forums because I have bad luck when it comes to getting banned on forums. I joined it and here I am.

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Re: how and when you discovered the game of life?

Post by Scorbie » January 7th, 2016, 12:02 pm

Hehe I have a pretty dramatic history in Life. I started Life in um... 2007 and kept playing it off and on, drifting across the web until I got here :) Here are the list of events, very roughly on chronological order:

I first encountered GoL in an math book. The book introduced a lot of math games and online resources, and Life was the most interesting among them. That's how I got to's Life page. (With Alan Hensel's Java Applet. I still like the nostalgic white-background-dark-blue-cells design the most.) But... for some reason the pattern collections didn't open so I just played with the r-pentomino, squiggled some patterns, played with the queen bee shuttle. My interest dwindled eventually and did not play Life for some time until 2. Alan's pattern collection worked.
After rummaging my memories I think 3. Paul Callahan's applet also didn't work at that time. So squiggling patterns at was my only degree of freedom. No wonder I got bored after not tooo long.

2. Viewing Alan Hensel's pattern collection.
Several months later at a friend's house I entered the pattern collection in Alan Hensel's applet... and it worked!!! And wow, that was pretty amazing! I think I saw these after Paul's Page but am not sure... My memory is a mess...

3. Paul Callahan's Life Miscellany
Paul's Page of Life Miscellany was on the first link of so I got to look at it. I think the applet didn't work, so I'm not sure when I got to see that first. I was pretty amazed to see all those patterns in the catalog. Whenever I had time I got through some or all the patterns from acorn to zips. I first got to know the B-heptomino but didn't understand why a pattern with a 200 gen lifespan is considered an important methuselah until later. I got to know the twin bees and the bi-gun. I got to see all the complex p30 technology and constructions. The most interesting things were Paul Callahan's cherry pick of the email archives in 1990s. That p24 gun making dense glider streams were a total wonder. So was the stable glider reflector. So were the swan, snail and the spider.
There were other sites linked to yet another sites linked to, but Paul's Page of Life Miscellany was the most inspiring and accessible. Also, all the seemingly more interesting sites had RLE encoding that I couldn't read. I was dying to figure out what those patterns were. That includes Jason Summer's Life Page and Dean Hickerson's Page.

4. Getting Life32 and Viewing RLE
I'm pretty sure this happened after 2 and 3. I did struggle to view all those really new cutting edge patterns in RLE. I searched the web to find Johan Bontes' Life32, only to find the download page not available. I also stumbled into Mirek's site which had and online RLE viewer. Although it was REALLY slow, that was the only source to view RLE, but I lost how to get to even that, so for a while I couldn't read RLE again. Then a miraculous thing happened. I'm not sure how, but a link to Johan Bontes' Life32 was available, and I downloaded the program right away. I never got access to that site again. And the program was magnificent. I loaded almost everything on Jason Summer's site and played with it.
I remember perturbing the debris of the Schick engine by hand for quite a long time and am proud to present that I manually discovered this rake:

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x = 15, y = 17, rule = B3/S23
I can still draw this by heart. (Just did :))
I knew something like gencols existed, but thought that was for the smart geeky computer experts, not me. Never thought I would be really into programming. (Although I'm not good at it.)

5. Finding Conwaylife
I can't remember how I got here, but I was really surprised to see all those high-tech things happening here. I can't remember what I saw specifically but I was pretty astonished, to see that I was really behind of time.
And Golly! This was really fast, even without hashing. After playing with it for some time, my eyes soon got adjusted to the even faster speeds. And the extensive functionality available was really nice.

I learned introductory C in high school and got the courage to learn Python. That's how I started scripting and doing things that the younger me thought only super computer experts would do.

Well, so that's how I started and got into Life!
Best wishes to you! - Scorbie

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Re: how and when you discovered the game of life?

Post by SuperSupermario24 » January 7th, 2016, 1:00 pm

My dad has a computer that has a Life program on it, and playing with that many years ago is how I first learned about it. Years later I "rediscovered" it, and gained interest in it.
...and yep that's pretty much it.

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