a game for spatial reasoning

BlockBuilder challenges and develops your ability to think about spatial relationships. In this simple game you build and manipulate a block structure both mentally and on the screen. What three letters does the block structure above show?

How it's played
Given a matrix of blocks 5 x 5 x 5, make a structure that spells out your three initials in shadow when three spotlights are shown on it. Turn the blocks on or off as you traverse the structure in the construction view, then go to the shadows view and see what the silhouette looks like.

What's special about BlockBuilder?

  • It's a construction environment: you build something.
  • You build something personal and set your own goals.
  • You solve the problem through iterations of building and testing.
  • Testing is done by inspection: if it looks like a "B," it's a B.
  • When you're done, you have something you can print or save. You can keep it or give it to a friend.

This game was invented by Scott Kim and me in 1992, with the help of Rolf Faste. The development was done as a project at Stanford University supported by the National Science Foundation Synthesis Engineering Education Coalition.

Try it!
BlockBuilder is a part of VizAbility. You can try out a Shockwave version online. If you have access to a HyperCard capable machine, you might try the original HyperCard version, downloadable from the National Engineering Education Delivery System. For inspiration, see the animated gallery of early BlockBuilder solutions.

What three letters are at the top?
One day we heard that the Synthesis funding agency would be in town, and we wanted to show off some work that they had supported. I tackled their three initials, not believing that there might actually be some three-letter combinations that are unworkable. After an hour and a half of attempts, changing sequence, using lower case, etc., I was stuck and about to give up.

Then it occurred to me that a letter could be reversed -- made white on black. I excitedly dismantled my previous attempt and built a reversed 'S'. From that moment I became a BlockBuilder believer. Not simply because it's a delightful puzzle, but because it fosters the kind of fluent and flexible thinking that's at the heart of a vital design experience: personal engagement with the problem, a vibrant action-reflection cycle, iterative problem solving, visual/analytical ambidexterity, etc. For more on this go to the classroom. Yes, the three letters are "NSF".



Gayle Curtis  .  Send a note  .  Garden Home