Electronic Connect Four Has No Pieces To Lose

Recreating classic games in software is a great way to get better at coding or learn to code in the first place. If you do it in hardware though, you’ll gain a lot more than coding skills. Just ask [Kelly] and [Jack] did, when they built this Arduino-based electronic Connect Four for a school project.

We love that their interpretation manages to simplify game play and make it more fun than the original version. All the players have to do is turn it on and start pushing the arcade buttons along the bottom to choose the column where they want to make a play. The LEDs animate from top to bottom to imitate the plastic disc dropping down through the board. If a win is detected — four in a row of the same color going any direction — the board fills up with the winning color and the game starts over.

The state machine doesn’t currently do anything about tie situations, so there’s a reset button hidden on the side. As [Kelly] and [Jack] explain in their walk-through video after the break, that is something they would like to address in the future, along with making it possible to choose whatever battle color you want. We think a reset animation that mimics the look of the discs spilling out the bottom would be cool, too.

If you’ve never implemented a game on hardware before, something like this might be a bit daunting. May we suggest a game of 4×4 Tic Tac Toe instead?

Continue reading “Electronic Connect Four Has No Pieces To Lose”

Table Tennis Ball Lamp Serves Up Style

Although RGB LEDs diffused by ping pong balls will probably never stop being cool, [thomasj152] feels that flat panels of balls have become a bit of a tired concept. After a lot of effort and two complete builds, he has spun up an 80-ball spherical lamp. The results are positively glowing!

All the balls are connected together with some clever 3D printed pieces that were inspired by the classic soccer ball layout of hexagons and pentagons. [thomasj152] chose this shape because it’s fairly easy to code animation sequences for it.

The design also breaks down nicely into two halves, which makes it easier to wire. All 80 of the balls are controlled with a single NodeMCU ESP8266 development board.

This stranded version is the second lamp [thomasj152] built. The first one used the same soccer ball style, but had RGB LED strips instead, and the balls were wrangled with laser-cut support pieces. Strips lay much flatter than strands do, leaving the inside tidy and spacious. Unfortunately, the LED strips got fried accidentally, which is extra sad because the strips version looks like way more work.

The bright spot here is that [thomasj152] can now provide instructions for both versions. He even has code that cycles through each pentagon and hexagon section, lighting them up one at a time for testing and sanity checks. Roll past the break for a walk-through video that shows both versions and explains the differences.

Got a bunch of wall space begging for blinkenlights? Apparently it’s possible to throw together a working 300-ball video wall in less than 24 hours. Who knew?

Continue reading “Table Tennis Ball Lamp Serves Up Style”

Glitching LED Display Proves Crowd Favorite

There’s something enchanting about the soft glow of a properly diffused LED, and this is only improved by greater numbers of LEDs. [Manoj Nathwani] was well aware of this, setting out to build a large display using ping-pong balls for their desirable optical qualities.Unfortunately, not everything went to plan, but sometimes that’s not all bad.

The matrix, built back in 2016 for EMF Camp, was sized at 32×18 elements, for a total of 576 pixels. This was achieved with the use of 12 WS2811 LED strips, with the lights set out on a 50mm grid. Cheap knock-off pingpong balls were used for their low cost, and they proved to be excellent diffusers for the LEDs.

With everything wired up to a NodeMCU, basic testing showed the system to be functioning well. However, once the full matrix was assembled in the field, things started to fall over. Basic commands would work for the first 200 LEDs or so, and then the entire matrix would begin to glitch out and display random colors. Unable to fix the problem in the field, [Manoj] elected to simply run the display as-is. Despite the problems, passers-by found the random animations to be rather beautiful anyway, particularly at night.

After the event, [Manoj] determined the issue was due to the excessive length of the data line, which in the final build was 48 meters long. While the problem may be rectified when [Manoj] revisits the project, the audience seemed to appreciate the first revision anyway.

LED displays will be a hacker staple until the heat death of the universe. Ping pong balls will also likely retain their position as a favorite diffuser. If you’ve got a great LED build of your very own, be sure to hit up the tips line!

Electrostatically Accelerated Ping-Pong Ball Travels The Circuit

There is a special breed of hardware hacker whose playground lies in the high voltage arena. Their bench sizzles with the ozone and plasma of Tesla coils, and perhaps it’s best not to approach it without a handy fluorescent light tube to sniff for unseen hazards. There are many amazing things that can come of these experiments, and fortunately for those of us who lack the means or courage to experiment with them there are many YouTube videos to satisfy our curiosity.

One such comes from [Plasma channel], in the form of a table-top ping-pong ball accelerator. It lacks impressive sparks  but makes up for it in scientific edification, because it uses static electricity to send a conductive-paint-coated ping-pong ball spinning round the inside of a curved glass bowl. It does this using alternate positive and negatively charged strips of aluminium tape on the inside of the bowl, each of which charges the ball as it rolls over it, then giving it a bit of repulsive force to keep it spinning. His power comes from a couple of small Wimshurst machines, but no doubt other similar generators could be used instead.

The whole is an entertaining if a little hazardous talking point, and a fun weekend build. The parts are easy enough to find that you might even have them to hand. If continued electrostatic diversion floats your boat, you might like to read our recent excursion into the subject.

Continue reading “Electrostatically Accelerated Ping-Pong Ball Travels The Circuit”

Roll Your Own Trackball Mouse

What do you do when you’re into trackball mice, but nothing out there is affordable or meets all your murine needs? You build one, of course. And if you’re like [Dangerously Explosive], who has a bunch of old optical mice squeaking around the shop, you can mix and match them to build the perfect one.

The mouse, which looks frozen mid-transformation into a rodential assassin, is a customized work of utilitarian art. Despite the excellent results, this project was not without its traps. [Dangerously] got really far into the build before discovering the USB interface chip was dead. Then he tried to sculpt a base out of Plasticine and discovered he’d bought the one kind of clay that can’t be baked. After trying his hand at making homemade salt dough, he painstakingly whittled a base from scrap pine using a drill and a hacksaw.

Every bit of this mouse is made from recycled bits, which, if you pair that with the paint job and the chosen shade of blinkenlights, makes this a green mouse on three levels. One of the two parts of this mouse that isn’t literally green, the cord, is still ecologically sound. [Dangerously] wanted a really long tail, so he scavenged a charger cable built for fruity hardware and threaded it through a hollowed-out piece of purple paracord.

We love the thumb-adjacent scroll wheel and the trackball itself, which is a ping pong ball painted black. The cool part is the guide it rolls around in. [Dangerously] spent a long time hand-whittling the perfect size hole in a particularly wide mouse palm rest. All that plastic shaving paid off, because the action is smooth as Velveeta.

[Dangerously] certainly designed this mouse to fit his preferences, and ergonomics seem a bit secondary. For a truly custom fit, try using whatever passes for Floam these days.

Arduino Laser Pinball Is On Target

Have you ever wanted to roll your own pinball machine? It’s one of those kinds of builds where it’s easy to go off the deep end. But if you’re just getting your feet wet and want to mess around with different playfield configurations, start with something like [joesinstructables]’ Arduino Laser Pinball.

It’s made from meccano pieces attached with standoffs, so the targets are easy to rearrange on the playfield. [joesinstructables] wanted to use rollover switches in the targets, but found that ping pong balls are much too light to actuate them. Instead, each of the targets uses a tripwire made from a laser pointing at a photocell. When the ping pong ball enters the target, it breaks the beam. This triggers a solenoid to eject the ball and put it back into play. It also triggers an off-field solenoid to ring a standard front-desk-type bell one to three times depending on the target’s difficulty setting.

The flippers use solenoids to pull the outside ends of levers made from meccano, which causes the inside ends to push the ball up and away from the drain. Once in a while a flipper will get stuck, which you can see in the demo video after the break. An earlier version featured an LCD screen to show the score, but [joesinstructables] can’t get it to work for this version. Can you help? And do you think a bouncy ball would actuate a rollover switch?

This isn’t the first pinball machine we’ve covered. It’s not even the first one we’ve covered that’s made out of meccano. Here’s an entire Hacklet devoted to ’em. And remember when an Arduino made an old table great again?

Continue reading “Arduino Laser Pinball Is On Target”

Hand-Cranked Cyclotron

Okay, not actually a cyclotron… but this ball cyclotron is a good model for what a cyclotron does and the concepts behind it feel kooky and magical. A pair of Ping Pong balls scream around a glass bowl thanks the repulsive forces of static electricity.

It’s no surprise that this comes from Rimstar, a source we’ve grown to equate with enthralling home lab experiments like the Ion Wind powered Star Trek Enterprise. Those following closely will know that most of [Steven Dufresne’s] experiments involve high voltage and this one is no different. The same Wimshurst Machine he used in the Tea Laser demo is brought in again for this one.

A glass bowl is used for its shape and properties as an insulator. A set of electrodes are added in the form of aluminum strips. These are given opposite charges using the Wimshurst machine. Ping Pong balls coated in conductive paint are light enough to be moved by the static fields, and a good crank gets them travelling in a very fast circuit around the bowl.

When you move a crank the thought of being connected to something with a chain pops into your mind. This feels very much the same, but there is no intuitive connection between the movement of the balls and your hand on the crank. Anyone need a prop for their Halloween party?

If you don’t want to buy or build a Wimshurst machine you can use a Van De Graaff generator. Can anyone suggest other HV sources that would work well here?

Continue reading “Hand-Cranked Cyclotron”