Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Pode and Abode play WatUR

Pode and Abode are prototypes of a knitting pattern I developed to celebrate a new genus of octopod discovered by the Okeanos Explorer. They're going to play a game of WatUR. Pode is on the left and is playing with black dice and black stones. Abode is on the right playing the white stones and white dice.
Roll to see who goes first. Pode rolls a 2. Abode rolls a 3. Abode goes first.

On her first roll Abode gets a 2. 
She places a white stone on the second square above the notch on her side of the board 
Pode's first roll he gets a 3.
He places a black stone on the third square above the notch on his side of the board.

On her second turn Abode rolls a ZERO!
She doesn't get to play this turn.

Pode rolls a 1.
He moves his stone one space to the star. The star means roll again.

Pode rolls again for being on the star. He gets a 2.
He decides not to move that same stone.
He places another stone on the board instead, 2 spaces from the beginning. 
Abode takes her turn. She really rattles those dice to make up for that zero. She gets a 4!
She places a stone on the star in the corner on her side. Abode gets to roll again.
On her roll again Abode gets a 3.
She thinks about her options and decides to move out into the center column.
Pode's turn. He rolls a 1.
He moves one space forward into the center column.
Abode's turn. She rolls a 1.
She moves her stone forward on to the center sun.
She gets to roll again AND she is safe from being bumped off by Pode.
On her roll again Abode gets a 3.
She can bump Pode's piece off the end of the board. So she does.
 Now that we've seen how to get started, let's cover some what-ifs.
On Pode's turn he rolls a three.
He is blocking himself from moving his first two stones.
And the last stone needs a 2 to move off the end.
He decides he can't move.
Look carefully to see if Pode missed something. 
How does the game end?
Pode and Abode both only have one stone left.
Whoever rolls the special number first wins.
Abode rolls a 1! Abode wins!

But what if she didn't roll a 1? Roll it back.
What if Abode rolls a 2?
She can't play her stone. It's Pode's turn. Pode rolls a 2 as well.
Pode wins!
WatUR was launched with a KickstartUR in October 2017.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

WatUR: The World's Oldest Board Game, ModURnized

I've been working on a new project all summer. I saw a video in April of Tom Scott and Irving Finkel playing an ancient board game and I became obsessed with it. I loved the dice especially. It uses four dice that represent 0 or 1. You add them up. This appeals to me because I have trouble adding big numbers and I have some relatives with the same genetic deficiency. It's not an impediment to doing higher mathematics or anything, but if you're playing a game for fun it's nice to be able to relax and not have to face your shortcomings whenever the dice come up with too many spots showing.

I decided I could make this game myself. It's 4500 years old, surely it's in the public domain. I got some blank tetrahedral dice like they found in the Royal Tomb in Ur and I modified them for the game. The ones in the museum were carved from bone. I was ready to embrace modern materials though, so I used plastic.

I had some scrap 1x6 pine boards so I cut out the shape of the board. I bought Affinity Designer when  they came out with the upgrade recently so I set out to learn that software and design the decorations for the squares. I studied the original closely.

Screenshot of board from YouTube video playthrough

I don't actually like the original design. It's a lot of variations of the all-seeing eye and it sort of creeps me out. There are a lot of copies of this game and they all just look like this. Why? As long as the designs repeat in the same places it could be anything. Why not be original when you're copying the oldest board game in the world?

I thought the 5 spot squares looked like frog eggs. So I designed Frog Ur as my first version.

I took this one to the coast and played it with my nieces and their friends on vacation. They liked it a lot. We played it enough to establish an average time it takes to play (25 minutes) and we tested an alternative route for a more complicated game and timed that too (45 minutes to 1 hour 30 minutes). We discussed changes I could make to lead you through that alternate route. They had ideas for other Ur puns, like a boat themed one called SailUR or one with domesticated animals called FarmUR. I wanted to do one of star fish and sand dollars called EchinodURms. There could be a Game of Thrones themes one called WintUR.

I tried several of these but I felt compelled to be true to the 8 pointed rosette theme that ran through all the artifacts I saw on the British Museum website. I finally came across Enki, the god of Water. He was often shown as a mountain goat with a fish body, or he had a river just shooting out of his head with fish jumping in it. That's how I settled on WatUR, with mountain goats, turtles, fish, and sun and stars instead of rosettes.

I made some more of the wood boards with decals and played it with a friend. He complained that the dice were hard to pick up. I didn't mind sliding them off the table, but I wasn't crazy about how hard it is to make them. I'd contacted all the dice makers to see if they could customize these dice to have contrast colored tips and they refused to even try. They were happy to customize dice on the flat faces. So I decided I could solve two problems at once by having 6 sided dice made to only have 2 outcomes. Put spots on 3 sides, leave 3 sides blank. Now the odds are the same as the tetrahedral dice. And it's this probability that makes the game work. The fact that your opponent is more likely to roll a 2 than a 1 or a 3 helps you decide where to put your pieces.

I found some ready-made binary dice that had 1 and 0 on them. 1 and 0 made me think of digital logic and that made me think of printed circuit boards. TransistUR was born.


I did some research and found there are prototype board houses in China with no set-up charges and quite a low fee per board. Cost less for fiberglass cut with a CNC router and shipped express from China than it costs me to cut out a piece of wood and sand it, let alone decorate it and hand paint it.

While I was working on my board layout I was also exploring the possibility of doing laser engraving on wood. In the process of getting the vector file to a laser engraver I figured out I could convert my Affinity Designer files to AutoCAD format, good old DXF.

CardboURd, laser engraving sample with lighter for scale, courtesy of Chris Warnock
The board layout program can import that. In just a day or so I had my WatUR design rendered as a printed circuit board too. But I can't have 1 and 0 with Sumerian artifacts. They used cuneiform, not Arabic numbers. So I had to find a source for custom dice. It turns out they're just as affordable as the circuit boards. But only if you buy 2000 of them.

After all this work I really really want these custom dice. I got a dozen made one at a time by hand for $3 ea to photograph, but I want the custom molded ones from the UK. I continued working on the rest of the steps to product launch and decided I could buy the dice if I could get 250 people to pay $35 ea for a set.

Here's the KickstartUR link! It's not going to make it, but it was fun. I have some ideas. I may try it again later.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Grady the Traveling Tardigrade

Tardigrade under an optical microscope
I posted a photo of the wire frame poseable nudibranch on Twitter and immediately got a request to make a poseable tardigrade. Since I like knitting as close to realism as possible I based mine on an optical microscope image. Most tardigrade art is based on scanning electron microscope images which make them look much more solid than they really are. They are really quite see-through. You can distinguish their last meal inside them, usually algae. So I set out to make a blobby, clear, 8 legged creature with wires inside. How'd I do?

The client asked for a taridgrade he could wrap around a martini glass

I started the project by wrapping the plarn around a stitch marker onto DPNs. The head is knit in the round.

The client also asked that the tardigrade be durable so he could take it on adventures

OK, that's the beauty shots out of the way. Here's how I made this thing.

It bothered me a bit to make what amounts to a skeleton inside an invertebrate, but I gotta do what I gotta do. First I made a sort of fleece covering by sewing two layers together like so.
 Next I cut into one layer in the center so I could get inside.

Then I put in a wire  backbone running through 4 wires making up the legs. I put beads on the ends to stop the wires poking through the fabric and to aid sewing up.

Here's the back of the inner body with all the wires in place.

 I sewed the wire to the fabric through the beads

I stuffed the body part with polyfill and sewed it up
 Here's the rather blobby and not impressive tardigrade innards

I cut another piece of fleece and shaped it into a head by adding some padding and sewed it down the back so the wire wouldn't be so pronounced. I didn't take separate pics of this step.

Next I needed a cuticle. Tardigrades actually have an outer skin that they shed as they grow. When they shed their cuticle they leave their eggs inside it. (Citation)

I stacked up a couple of plastic produce bags and cut across them to make rings. I interlocked the rings to make a long chain I could knit
 I knit by eye, holding the knitting up to the body to tell what I was doing

After I had the cuticle knit all the way I sewed it on. Notice I put some algae "inside" the tardigrade first by sewing some bright green merino wool and retroreflective thread onto the body. Also notice I sewed some glass bead eyes to the head.

That was it except for the sewing up! I used nylon monofilament thread to sew it up. It was pretty hard on my eyeballs because it's practically invisible.

Finally I finished up by making the toenails out of some stretchy clear tubing that is meant for making toy pony bead jewelry. I cut it at an angle and then sewed it to the ends of the legs.


After I finished knitting pussyhats for the Woman's March I had a lot of hot pink yarn leftover. There's some hot pink sea creatures so I thought I'd knit one. I present the lowly nudibranch. Doesn't bother with camouflage because they taste terrible. Make fish puke. They eat tunicates and integrate some chemical from them into their flesh.

Here's the first nudibranch I knit. I finished it while I was watching the Okeanos Explorer live feed. That's the ship in the background retrieving the Seirios camera sled.

Hot pink nudibranch
When I put this picture on twitter I was promptly asked if I could knit this exact nudibranch in this photo by David Doubilet, the famous underwater photographer. These nudibranchs are 6 centimeters long so he took a white box down to the reef and posed them like this.
 I said I could do it.
Unlike Doubilet I do not have a DSLR camera and brilliant lighting
She wanted high quality merino wool yarn. I ordered it special from Webs. I am allergic to lanolin but I can knit superwash. I used Cascade 220 Superwash Merino in Dark Teal for the body and a combination of laceweight and roving in neon green for the stripes. I changed my mind on the orange and went with laceweight baby alpaca and silk blend. I started with a Turkish cast on from the gills to the rhinophores and knit it in the round. I had to frog it several times trying to work out how to make the tail so pointy. I finally came up with a good way. I may write it up and make a video. I need to make another one first. Here's more photos of this first one.

I had a lot of this beautiful yarn left over so I decided to try a hat inspired by the nudibranch. It came out too small for the client who wanted the nudibranch and I forgot to cast on with the blue and then switch to green so the stitches wouldn't show through the 3 needle pickup. And I had my camera settings messed up when I photographed it. 

At the last minute when I was about ready to ship the nudibranch I decided it needed a piece of coral to pose on. I used two shades of cream in dishcloth cotton. It was hard knitting but it came out ok.

I ordered more yarn to try the nudibranch again. First I had another go at the hat. This one is better. I'm still not happy with the lace I made up for the gills. I like it ending with a plain graft. I am hoping to do some more tests and write up a pattern for this nudibranch beanie for this Fall. I'd love to have feedback from people who live where it's cold enough to wear a wool hat.

Nudibranch beanie prototype 2, no gills, slouchy

I made the edge of the hat intentionally loose to mimic the flare on the nudibranch

I think the looser edge will make it more comfortable over the ears

The contrast edge can be folded up for a tighter fit and triple thickness over the ears