photograph of custom PCB assembly of NE555-based electronic dice

NE555-Based Electronic Dice

It has become a bit of a running joke in the Hackaday community to suggest that a project could or should have been done with a 555 timer. [Tim] has rather taken this to heart with his latest Electronic Dice project, which uses three of the venerable devices.

If three seems like a lot of 555s to make an electronic die, then it may be worth considering that the last time we shared his project he was using 22 of them! Since then, [Tim] has been busy optimising his design, whilst keeping within the constraints of an old-school through-hole soldering kit.

Maybe the most surprising thing about this project is the purpose to which the NE555 devices are pressed. Rather than using them for their famous oscillation properties, they are in actual fact just being used as Schmitt Triggers to clean up the three-phase ring oscillator that is constructed from discrete transistors and passives.

scope trace of the electronic dice ring oscillator
Simulation trace of the three-phase ring oscillator before Scmitt Trigger stages

The ring oscillator cleverly produces three phase-shifted square waves such that a binary combination of the three phases offers six unique states. Six being the perfect number for a dice throw, all that then remains is to figure out which LEDs need to be switched on in which state and wire them up accordingly.

To “roll” the dice, a push-button powers up the oscillator, and stops it again when it is released, displaying the random end-state on the LEDs.

It can be fun to see what can be done using old technology, and educational to try to optimise a design down to the fewest parts possible.

[Tim]’s earlier project is here if you want to see how the design has evolved. The documentation on both of these iterations is excellent and well worth a read.

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Roll The Radioactive Dice For Truly Random D&D Play

When you have a bunch of people gathered around a table for a “Dungeons & Dragons” session, you have to expect that things are not always going to go smoothly. After all, people who willingly create and immerse themselves in an alternate reality where one bad roll of the dice can lead to the virtual death of a character they’ve spent months or years with can be traumatic. And with that trauma comes the search for the guilty — it’s the dice! It’s always the dice!

Eliminating that excuse, or at least making it statistically implausible, is the idea behind this radioactively random dice roller. It comes to us from [Science Shack] and uses radioactive decay to generate truly random numbers, as opposed to the pseudorandom number generators baked into most microcontrollers. The design is based on [AlphaPhoenix]’s muon-powered RNG, but with a significant twist: rather than depending on background radiation, [Science Shack] brought the power of uranium to the party.

They obtained a sample of autunite, a weird-looking phosphate mineral that contains a decent amount of uranium, perfect for stimulating the Geiger counter built into the dice roller. Autunite also has the advantage of looking very cool under UV light, taking on a ghostly “fuel rod glow,” in the [Homer Simpson] sense. The decay-powered RNG at the heart of this build is used to simulate throws of every standard D&D die, from a D4 to a D100. The laser-cut hardboard case holds all the controls and displays, and also has some strategically placed openings to gaze upon its glowing guts.

We really like the design, but we have to quibble with the handling of the uranium ore; true, the specific activity of autunite is probably pretty low, but it seems like at least some gloves would have been in order.

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Hackaday Prize 2022: Digital Dice Towers Built In Beautiful Retro Cases

Retro hardware often looks fantastic, but we may find we no longer need it for its original function. [John Anderson] found that to be the case with some old Heathkit gear, and set about giving them a fun overhaul.

With the help of AVR microcontrollers, the devices have been repurposed into electronic dice towers for playing Dungeons & Dragons. A seed is generated based on the chip’s uptime, and supplied to a pseudorandom number generator that emulates dice rolls. The devices can be configured to roll a variety of dice, including the usual 6, 8, 10, and 20-sided varieties. Plus, they can be set to roll multiple dice at a time — useful when you’re rolling complicated spells and attacks in combat.

[John] has converted a variety of Heathkit devices, from Morse code trainers to digital multi-meters. They provide their beautiful cases and a great retro aesthetic, and we think they’d make fitting table decoration for retro cyberpunk tabletop games, too.

Creating your own electronic dice is a great way to get familiar with programming microcontrollers. Video after the break.

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Electronic Dice Is Introduction To Microcontroller Programming

By now most of us are familiar with the Arduino platform. It’s an inexpensive and fairly easy way into the world of microcontrollers. For plenty of projects, there’s no need to go beyond that unless you have a desire to learn more of the inner workings of microcontrollers in general. [Cristiano] was interested in expanding some of his knowledge, so he decided to build this electronic dice using a PIC microcontroller instead of the Arduino platform he was more familiar with.

As a result, this project is set up as a how-to for others looking to dive further into the world of microcontrollers that don’t have the same hand-holding setup as the Arduino. To take care of the need for a random number for the dice, the PIC’s random number generator is used but with the added randomness of a seed from an internal timer. The timer is started when a mercury tilt switch signals the device that it has been rolled over, and after some computation a single digit number is displayed on a seven-segment display.

While it might seem simple on the surface, the project comes with an in-depth guide on programming the PIC family of microcontrollers, and has a polish not normally seen on beginner projects, including the use of the mercury tilt switch which gives it a retro vibe. For some other tips on how to build projects like this, take a look at this guide on how to build power supplies for your projects as well.

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555 Timer On Its Own In Electronic Dice

One of the most common clichés around here is that a piece of equipment chosen for a project is always too advanced. If a Raspberry Pi was used, someone will say they should have used an Arduino. If they use an Arduino, it should have been an ATtiny. And of course, if an ATtiny was used, there should have simply been a 555 timer. This time, however, [Tim] decided to actually show how this can be done by removing some of the integrated circuits from an electronic dice and relying entirely on the 555 timer for his build.

The electronic dice that [Tim] has on hand makes use of two main ICs: a NE555 and a CD4017 which is a decade counter/divider used for cycling through states. In order to bring the 555 to the forefront of this build, he scraps the CD4017 and adds an array of 555 timers. These are used to generate the clock signals necessary for this build but can also be arranged to form logic circuits. This comes at a great cost, however. The 555 chips take up an unnecessarily large area on the PCB (even though these are small surface-mount chips), consume an incredible amount of power, and are very slow. That’s fine for an electronic dice-rolling machine like this one, but that’s probably where [Tim] will leave this idea.

The 555 timer is a surprisingly versatile chip, and this project shows that there is some element of truth to the folks claiming that projects need naught but a few 555s. We’ve seen entire CPUs built using nothing but 555s, and even a classic project that uses a 555 timer to balance a robot.

Handheld Farkle Really Sparkles

Farkle is a classic dice game that only requires 6 dice and a way to write down scores based on the numbers rolled. Even so, this type of game isn’t inherently portable — it would be fairly difficult to play on a road trip, for instance. [Sunyecz22] decided that Farkle would make an excellent electronic game and got to work designing his first PCB.

This little game has everything you could want from a splash screen introduction to a handy scoring guide on the silkscreen. After choosing the number of players, the first player rolls using the momentary button and the electronic dice light up to indicate what was rolled. As long as the player rolled at least one scoring die, they can take the points by selecting the appropriate die/dice with the capsense pads, and either pass or keep going. The current player’s score is shown on the 7-segment, and the totals for each player are on the OLED screen at the bottom.

The brains of the operation is an Arduino Pro Mini. It controls two MAX7219s that drive the 42 LEDs plus the 7-segment display. A game like this is all in the code, and lucky for us, [Sunyecz22] made it available. We love how gorgeous the glossy 3D printed enclosure looks — between the glossy finish and the curved back, it looks very comfortable to hold. In the future, [Sunyecz22] plans to make a one player versus the computer mode. Check out the demo and walk-through video after the break.

The capsense modules are a great touch, but some people want a little more tactility in their handheld games. We say bring on the toggle switches.

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Dice Roller Keeps Germs Out Of Your Snake Eyes

Do you need a to find a more sanitary way to roll the dice at your next socially-distanced board game gathering? [CJA3D]’s pop-o-matic mason jar dice roller can roll the bones two different ways — either by hitting that big, inviting arcade button, or though a web app that everyone can access on their own phones.

We think this looks great, and is a great reuse of a glass jar. The brains of this operation is an ESP8266, which drives a continuous-rotation servo underneath the dice. Push the button or use the web app and the servo disturbs the plate, moving the dice around.

Besides the sanitary aspect, one benefit of using the web app is that there are four different speed presets for the servo. As a bonus, [CJA3D] included the files for a pair of printed 6-sided dice. Click through to the project to see it in action.

We know you take games seriously, and so do we. Just look at this dice roller that uses machine vision to ensure fairness.