Threat Meter Gauges Risk of Creeper-Assisted Suicide

If you’ve played even just a few minutes of Minecraft, you know what a creeper is. For those not familiar with the wildly popular sandbox game, a creeper is a monster that creeps along silently until it’s close to a player, whereupon it self-destructs by exploding. Sometimes it kills the player outright, and other times the explosion blows them into lava or off a cliff, or off a cliff and then into lava. Creepers have no friends.

But now there’s a way to avoid creeper attacks, or at least get a little heads up that these green nasties are lurking about. With [John Allwine]’s creeper detector, Minecraft players can get a real-world indicator of the current in-game creeper threat. The hardware end is simple enough — it’s just a SparkFun RedBoard and a small strip of Neopixels in a laser-cut plywood case. The LEDs lie behind a piece of etched acrylic to diffuse their glow — extra points for the creeper pattern in the lens. The detector talks over USB to a Minecraft mod that [John] wrote to interface the game with the real world. The closer a creeper gets to the player, the brighter the light. — and when it flashes, watch out. See it in action in the video below, if you can stomach watching someone dig straight down. Never dig straight down.

If interfacing the Minecraft world and the real world sounds familiar, maybe it’s because we featured [John]’s SerialCraft mod a while back and admired the potential for using Minecraft as a gateway for getting kids into hardware hacking. We agree that this is a great project to work on with kids, but we may just order the parts to do it for our own Minecraft world. Creeper hate isn’t just for kids.

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How Provably Loaded Dice Lead to Unprovable Cheating

Here’s a really interesting writeup by [Mike] that has two parts. He shows that not only is it possible to load wooden dice by placing them in a dish of water, but that when using these dice to get an unfair advantage in Settlers of Catan, observation of dice rolls within the game is insufficient to prove that the cheating is taking place.

[Mike] first proves that his pair of loaded dice do indeed result in a higher chance of totals above seven being rolled. He then shows how this knowledge can be exploited by a Settlers of Catan player to gain an average 5-15 additional resource cards in a typical game by taking actions that target the skewed distribution of the loaded dice.

The second part highlights shortcomings and common misunderstandings in current statistical analysis. While it’s possible to prove that the loaded dice do have a skewed distribution by rolling them an arbitrary number of times, as [Mike] and his wife do, it is not possible to detect this cheating in a game. How’s that? There are simply not enough die rolls in a game of Settlers to provide enough significant data to prove that dice distribution is skewed.

Our staff of statistics Ph.D.s would claim that [Mike] overstates his claims about shorcomings in the classical hypothesis testing framework, but the point remains that it’s possible to pass through any given statistical testing process by making the effect just small enough. And we still think it’s neat that he can cheat at Settlers by soaking wooden dice in water overnight.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Settlers of Catan at the center of some creative work. There’s this deluxe, hand-crafted reboot, and don’t forget the electroshock-enabled version.

[via Reddit; images from official Catan site]

Friday Hack Chat: Hardware Games

For this week’s Hack Chat, we’re talking all about hardware games. What’s a hardware game? Anything where we use hardware, electronics, or code for user interaction. This is a vast, vast topic and there are a lot of tips and tricks that go into making a unified experience that’s both valuable and can stand up to the rigors of any crowd.

Our guest for this week’s Hack Chat will be [Phoenix Perry], lecturer, CS PhD researcher, game company owner, artist, programmer, game designer, and activist. For every human-computer computer interaction to teaching computer science, [Phoenix] has had her hand in it. She founded Code Liberation Foundation, which teaches women to program games for free. She’s a lecturer in Physical Computing at Goldsmiths, University of London, she’s given talks at Hackaday conferences, she’s created low-poly trees,

For this Hack Chat, we’re going to be talking about integrating hardware into gaming, or turning the idea for a game into a reality with hardware. We’ll be discussing game design, hardware design for games (need to make it idiot-proof, after all), building communities, and educating others.

As usual with Hack Chats, we’re taking questions from the audience. If you have a question that simply must be answered, here’s a discussion sheet. Fill that out, and we might get around to your question

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events on the Hack Chat group messaging. This Hack Chat will be going down noon, Pacific time on Friday, October 6th. Wondering why the Brits were the first to settle on a single time zone when the US had a more extensive rail network and the longitude so time zones made sense? Here’s a time zone converter! Use that to ponder the mysteries of the universe.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on

You don’t have to wait until Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

Simulating Snakes and Ladders for Fun, Not Profit

A great many of you will remember the game of Snakes and Ladders from your youth. It’s a simple game, which one grows to realise involves absolutely no skill – it’s purely the luck of the dice. [Alex Laratro] noticed that without player decisions to effect the outcome, the game was thus a prime candidate for simulation. 

[Alex] wanted to dive into the question of “Who is winning a game of Snakes and Ladders?” at any given point in the gameplay. A common approach would be to state “whoever is in front”, but the ladders might have something to say about that. [Alex] uses Markov analysis to investigate, coming to some interesting conclusions about how the game works, and how this compares to the design of more complex games like Mario Kart and Power Grid.

Overall, it’s a breakdown of a popular game that’s simple enough to really sink your teeth into, but has some incredibly interesting conclusions that are well worth considering for anyone designing their own board games. We love seeing math applied to novel and fun problems – and it can solve important problems, too.

33C3: Works for Me

The Chaos Communication Congress (CCC) is the largest German hacker convention by a wide margin, and it’s now in its thirty-third year, hence 33C3. The Congress is a techno-utopian-anarchist-rave with a social conscience and a strong underpinning of straight-up hacking. In short, there’s something for everyone, and that’s partly because a CCC is like a hacker Rorschach test: everyone brings what they want to the CCC, figuratively and literally. Somehow the contributions of 12,000 people all hang together, more or less. The first “C” does stand for chaos, after all.

What brings these disparate types to Hamburg are the intersections in the Venn diagrams. Social activists who may actually be subject to state surveillance are just as interested in secure messaging as the paranoid security geek or the hardcore crypto nerd who’s just in it for the algorithms. Technology, and how we use it to communicate and organize society, is a pretty broad topic. Blinking lights also seem to be in the intersection. But on top of that, we are all geeks. There’s a lot of skill, smarts, and know-how here, and geeks like sharing, teaching, and showing off their crazy creations.

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Controlling a Game Room with Amazon Echo

If there are two things we love here at Hackaday, it’s games and automating mundane tasks by adding a lot of electronics and voice control. A game room is, therefore, the perfect sandbox for projects that get us excited in all of the right ways. Liberty Games, a UK-based games room company, already had a really impressive game room (as you might expect). They’ve just posted an awesome build log showcasing how they went about automating mundane game room tasks by adding a lot of electronics and voice control.

There were four tasks that Liberty Games wanted to be able to complete with voice control: releasing billiards balls on their pool table, adding credits to an arcade machine, releasing pinballs on a pinball machine, and control of a CD jukebox. For all of these tasks, they used an Amazon Echo, which already has built-in support for adding new “skills” (Amazon’s term for user-created Alexa commands). These skills allow the Echo to communicate with other devices using JavaScript Object Notation (JSON).

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A Trove Of Arcade Projects

[Ryan Bates] loves arcade games, any arcade games. Which is why you can find claw machines, coin pushers, video games, and more on his website.

We’ve covered his work before with his Venduino project. We also really enjoyed his 3D printed arcade joystick based off the design of a commercial variant. His coin pushing machine could help some us finally live our dream of getting a big win out of the most insidious gambling machine at arcades meant for children.

Speaking of frustrating gambling machines for children, he also built his own claw machine. Nothing like enabling test mode and winning a fluffy teddy bear or an Arduino!

It’s quite a large site and there’s good content hidden in nooks and crannys, so explore. He also sells kits, but it’s well balanced against a lot of open source files if you’d like to do it yourself. If you’re wondering how he gets it all done, his energy drink review might provide a clue.