Turing Tumble is a computing “board game” for kids and adults alike.
By Eric Limer
Typically, the brain of a computer is tiny and made out of silicon, buried deep inside a much larger gadget with control mechanisms like a keyboard or a touchscreen. But it doesn’t have to be that way. This slanted pegboard and its colorful plastic pieces are just as much of a computer as the chip inside an iPhone and, believe it or not, it’s build for gaming.
The premise behind Turing Tumble is simple. A cache of blue and red marbles are stored at the top of the board. At the bottom there are a pair of levers. When a marble hits the bottom on left side, a blue marble is set free. On the right side, a red one. In between, the marbles hit a mess of levers and pieces architected by you to guide their fall. That’s all you need to build a Turing complete computer—a computer that if large enough (much larger than the board actually is) could do anything a normal computer can do.
This gadget might be fun enough on its own for the sufficiently nerdy, but Turing Tumble is also a game, complete with a book of 51 puzzles that prompt aspiring programmers to build all kinds of programs that count, compare, and do various calculations. It’s a crash course in basic computing logic that’s simple enough a kid can pick it up, and complex enough that a computer programmer might even find a challenge building out puzzle 51.
Here’s how the Turing Tumble works
Turing Tumble is currently looking for funding on Kickstarter, with the full game offered at a pledge as low as $55 for early birds. Of course the standard crowdfunding warnings apply—there are no guarantees things will go as planned, even if the project reaches its goal—but this simple, plastic, gravity-based game should be a lot less risky than your average gadget crowdfunding campaign. And for a pledge of $15, you can just snag the CAD files to make one yourself.
This delightful mechanical computing system really is a brilliant bit of engineering. Just a tip though: If you get one, don’t try to divide by zero.
This article was originally written for and published by Popular Mechanics USA.