(Off-topic) Fun time-waster

by admin on September 27, 2014

Today I discovered a fun new computer game — new to me, that is — called Fantastic Contraption 2. I had a great time with it, because it allows more creativity and originality than any other computer game I’ve played (besides chess, of course!). Most puzzle-type games have only one solution, or they may have more than one but they are still more or less the same in some way.

Fantastic Contraption is a physics-based game, where you are supposed to design a mechanism to transport an object from one place to another. You have a few tools at your disposal: powered wheels, unpowered wheels, rods, magnets (actually, magnetic monopoles), and the laws of physics. In addition, each puzzle will give you certain obstacles to overcome and occasionally it will provide some ingredients that can assist you if you use them right.

The puzzle that got me seriously hooked was level 12, which was called “Fight the Tide.” Here it is (with my solution).

Screen shot 2014-09-27 at 2.14.25 PM

The goal is to move the red rectangle from anywhere inside the light blue square so that it ends up completely inside the pink region. My solution is the 41-piece tower of brown rods. Everything else is out of my control. The top and bottom green pieces are static, and the middle (horizontal) green piece is a platform that slides alternately left and right (all the way to the left, so eventually my contraption isn’t going to have anything to stand on).

First I tried hooking the red rectangle up to some powered wheels, but that didn’t work. The wheels didn’t roll fast enough to the right to overcome the platform sliding to the left. That’s the origin of the name of the puzzle: “Fight the Tide.” Your tools don’t seem good enough to overcome the tide.

That’s when I started thinking like an engineer. The problem is how to keep the red rectangle aloft after the green platform has slid all the way to the left. Any contraption you build is going to fall down to the level below. Aha! I thought. Maybe you can build a tower that will drop down and hold the red rectangle above the level of the green platform. Then when the green platform starts sliding to the right again, it will knock the tower over but the rectangle will stay above the platform, and then the moving platform will deliver it to the target region. Ta-dah!

Except it didn’t work! The concept was sound, but the red rectangle landed horizontally rather than upright. When it’s horizontal, it’s too wide to fit entirely within the pink target region, so you don’t get credit for a solution. Oh! Those tricky game developers!

I tinkered around a little bit more with the shape of the “tower,” and then miraculously came up with a configuration where the rectangle actually lands upright. I was so proud of myself, even though it was 95 percent luck. I don’t know how to make a movie of my solution, so the following stop-action sequence will have to suffice.

Screen shot 2014-09-27 at 2.14.41 PM

Step 1. Green platform starts sliding to the left. My contraption is pulled up against the left-hand wall.

Screen shot 2014-09-27 at 2.15.12 PM

Step 2. The bottom is about to slide out from underneath my “tower.” It’s going to topple to the right and fall, rotating clockwise. Green platform is still moving to the left.

Screen shot 2014-09-27 at 2.39.01 PM

Step 3. A lot is going on here. The green platform slid all the way to the left, and has now turned around and started coming back to the right. As predicted, my tower has toppled over, but its fall was broken by the orange ball on the lower ledge. (As I said, finding a way to use the random items that the game gives you is part of the challenge!) The ball starts rolling to the right, pushing the yellow rectangle up. The tower hits the corner of the yellow rectangle, and this gives it a jolt that changes its direction of rotation from clockwise to counterclockwise. I was surprised at how energetic the rebound was; I think that the orange ball and yellow rectangle must have been more like rubber than wood.

Screen shot 2014-09-27 at 2.15.29 PM

Step 4. The green platform has continued sliding to the right, giving the tower yet another counterclockwise torque. The long “finger” of the tower is now going to fling the red rectangle up and to the left. The orange ball and yellow rectangle, their work done, are rolling off the lower platform.

Screen shot 2014-09-27 at 2.15.45 PM

Step 5. The green platform continues to move to the right, pushing my now useless tower off the screen. The red rectangle is bouncing off of the left wall of the green structure. Note that it is safely above the green platform now.

Screen shot 2014-09-27 at 2.16.05 PM

Step 6. Miraculously, just like a gymnast, the red rectangle stuck the landing! After bouncing off the wall it landed in the vertical position that it needed to. I think the odds must have been something like 100 to 1 against this, but I managed to get it right on the second try. (The program is deterministic, so once you’ve built your contraption every run is the same. By “second try” I mean that I only had to tinker with the shape of the tower one time.)

Screen shot 2014-09-27 at 2.16.28 PM

Step 7. The green platform continues to slide to the right and delivers the upright rectangle to its destination. Yeah! Just like I planned it!  😉

It’s fun to get on the Internet and see how other people solved it. One person solved it with just one piece, jamming the red rectangle up against the upper left corner of the green structure with a long rod. A computer glitch happened and the red rectangle was propelled with high velocity to the right. To me, this solution doesn’t count. Another person used a cool double-level “wheels on top of wheels” arrangement, where the second level was able to go fast enough to overcome the momentum of the green platform. A third person used a large number of magnetic monopoles to propel the red rectangle to the right — sort of a railgun approach. As I said at the outset, it’s really rare to find a computer game that allows such vastly different solutions.

But I still like my solution! I got a bunch of within-game awards for it: Awards for using no powered wheels, no magnets, only rods, for removing all extra objects (the orange ball and yellow rectangle), and for removing all traces of my contraption. Also, my solution was the only one I saw that uses the sliding platform as an aid rather than an obstacle, and that makes any use at all of the orange ball and yellow rectangle. It’s just like finding a solution of a math problem or a chess puzzle that uses all of the available ingredients; it gives me a feeling of “rightness.”

If anybody has actually read this whole post, thanks for your indulgence! I’ll get back to chess next time.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Dan Schmidt September 27, 2014 at 6:08 pm

This looks like basically a new version of the great game The Incredible Machine from the early 90s. The more things change…


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