A Clock Created With Conway’s Life

Conway’s life has to be the most enduring zero-player computer game in history. Four simple cellular automaton rules have been used to create amazing simulations since the 1970’s. The latest is an entire digital clock implemented in life. StackExchange user [dim] created this simulation in response to a challenge from [Joe Z]. We have to admit that we didn’t believe it at first, but you can run it yourself by importing [dim’s] gist to the online Javascript Conway’s Life Simulator. To say this is impressive would be an understatement. We don’t know exactly how long it took [dim] to build this clock, but the challenge has been around since August of 2016.

[Dim] does a pretty good job of describing exactly how the clock works. The timebase is at the top. Below it is clock distribution and counters. After that come counters, latches, and lookup tables. Data moves around the clock in the form of gliders. P30 (aka Queen Bee) gliders to be exact. It might make things simpler to think of the glider paths as circuit traces, and the gliders themselves as clock pulses.

We couldn’t get over all the little details in this design. If you zoom way in, you can see all the lookup table patterns have been annotated, much in the way a schematic would be. For [Dim’s] next feat, we hope he takes on [Joe Z’s] Tetris challenge!

Conway’s life is like honey for hackers. We’ve seen it running on our own Hackaday Badge. We’ve even seen clocks that run the game on their display. Someone needs to implement a clock that runs the game that runs this clock. Clockception, anyone?

22 thoughts on “A Clock Created With Conway’s Life

  1. That is just crazy, there are so many nuances to streamlining that to not have interfering parts. One wrong pixel and I’m sure it will likely cycle itself out of existence and/or go inert.

      1. These days you have so many chips that could pull this off that are smaller than the display your actual choice is the display size. Higher end arduinos are capable of the maths required and a raspberry pi could do this in sleep modes.

      2. There are these tiny logic cells that work on magnetic polarity, and some weird quantum variation of that so if you imagine each cell being 10 nano-meters across that would be how small. It would also run in parallel at enormous clock rates so you’d need to change the timing sections to slow it down.

  2. This is amazing to me.

    I used to spend hours playing with this program. And I even found a sci-fi novel (sadly don’t recall the name) built around this “game” as part of it’s plot.

  3. >Anyway, there is actually nothing extraordinary in this design. There are no amazing reactions that have been discovered in this process, and no really clever combinations that nobody thought of before. Just bits taken here and there and put together (and I’m not even sure I did it the “right” way – I was actually completely new to this). It required a lot of patience, however. Making all those gliders coming up at the right time in the right position was head-scratching.

    >I was actually completely new to this

    This is probably the most amazing part

  4. Totally showing this to my Intro to CS students.

    I loaded the gist in the simulator and if you zoom in on the oscillator circuit at the very top it looks like a flux capacitor. Time circuits on!

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