Father Magnus Wenninger died last month.

# Category Archives: Art

# Is there hexagonal analog of Conway’s Game of Life?

The short answer is that in the hexagonal case the best analog of Conway’s Game of Life — in my opinion as someone who has been a CA hobbyist for 30 years or so — is an original creation which I will describe for the first time in detail in this blog post. (Note: The links to cellular automata in this post go to a custom web-based player which may not run correctly on mobile devices.)

Regarding a hexagonal Game of Life, a key thing to understand is that Conway Life isn’t just the rule; it is the rule (Life 2333) running on a square grid with an 8-cell neighborhood i.e. the neighborhood of four squares directly adjacent to a square plus those diagonally adjacent. You can, of course, apply the same rule on a hexagonal grid using the natural six hexagon neighborhood but what you will get won’t look anything like Life. It will look like this: Life 2333 on a hexagon grid.

So if the above does not qualify as a hexagonal Game of Life then what would? Well, at the very least we need a glider. Carter Bays, a professor at the University of South Carolina, presented a Conway-like rule that admits a glider on the hexagonal lattice in 2005, Life 3,5/2 in his notation. However, by Bays’ own admission “this rule is not as rich as Conway’s Life” and indeed when we run Bays’ Hex Life on random input we do not see gliders: Life 3,5/2 on random input. The problem is that its glider is too big to occur randomly. Its glider is in a sense artificial. Part of the beauty of Conway Life is that gliders are frequently spontaneously generated. The other thing you’ll notice about Bays’ Life 3,5/2 is that it descends into still-lifes and oscillators too quickly. Conway Life is dynamic. It sprawls and grows, descends into bounded chaos, before finally decaying into still-lifes and oscillators.

To summarize, we want a hexagonal cellular automaton that

- Has a glider that is frequently generated by random initial input.
- Frequently exhibits bounded growth from random initial input.

It is my contention that there is no simple totalistic rule over two states and the hexagonal grid using the natural 6-cell neighborhood that exhibits both 1. and 2.

In order to achieve what we want, we need to drop one of the constraints. Using my cellular automata breeding application Lifelike, I explored dropping the constraint that the rule must be a simple totalistic rule over two states. What I have come up with is a cellular automaton that uses a simple totalistic rule over three states, states 0 to 2. One way to view this move is to view the live cells in Conway Life as counters — beans, pennies, whatever — and imagine dropping the constraint that a cell can only contain one counter. Anyway, my rule is as follows:

- Take the sum S of the 6-cell neighborhood where death=0, yellow=1, and red=2.
- If the cell is currently dead it comes to life as yellow if S is exactly 4.
- If the cell is yellow it goes to red if S is 1 to 4 inclusive or is exactly 6.
- If the cell is red it stays red if S is 1 or 2 and goes to yellow if S is 4.
- Otherwise it is dead in the next generation.

The above, which I call “Joe Life”, is as rich as Conway life: click this link to see it run. It exhibits bounded growth with about the same burn rate as Conway Life and features two gliders, the little fish and the big fish, which are frequently generated spontaneously.

The little fish

The big fish

I concede Conway’s rule is more elegant than Joe Life’s rule but if one thinks about it, Conway Life’s neighborhood is less natural than the six hexagon neighborhood in that it is kind of weird to include the the diagonally adjacent squares. So in my opinion, elegance that Joe Life lacks in its state table it makes up for in its neighborhood.

# A Woven Icosahedron

You can weave an icosahedron from 10 strips of paper — or anyway you can weave a construction that has icosahedral geometry; it is actually more of a snub icosahedron.

From about 11″ strips of printer paper folded lengthwise to have two layers with a little overlap to lock into rings, as pictured below, locks well and is rigid:

Construction follows the pattern implied by the following:

# A higher order sonobe ball

Below is a modular origami construction known as the 120-unit sonobe ball. It has the geometry of an icosidodecahedron but with the 12 pentagonal faces of the icosidodecahedron split into five of the little equilateral pyramids that sonobe units demand.

The above was made from 120 Post-it notes, three sets of forty in each color. I haven’t seen anyone post a picture of one of these 3-colored like this, i.e. in three colors such that no two units of the same color are adjacent to each other, so I thought it was of some interest…

A schematic of the coloring I found is below. I have no idea if it is unique:

# Untitled Escher Game Update

I’ve decided my “untitled Escher game“, i.e. Zoop on a double logarithmic spiral, is going to be named “Draak”, which is the Dutch word for dragon. The title bears no relation to the game beyond the fact that I am going to use as its logo art based on the following novel tesselation of the plane that I discovered while fooling around with the tesselation tool that I implemented to construct the sprites for this game, and also that I thought it would be cool to make the title art be an ambigram with rotational symmetry and I think I could figure out a way to do this with the word “draak”.

Notes on a novel tiling of the plane

Rendered in Escher draw

# An Application for Creating Novel Escher-like Tessellations of the Plane

Over the past several weeks I have been investigating desktop applications for creating novel Escher-like tilings of the plane. Basically I’ve determined that none of what is publicly available is useful to me. The game I have in development will involve an animated Escher-like tessellation of a double logarithmic spiral — see here. The “logarithmic spiral” part of it means the publicly available applications can’t help me: they are too limited in what they will do and I can’t extend them because they are proprietary, so I have created my own tool.

These applications are “too limited” in the sense that none encompass everything possible that one would regard as a 2D tessellation. You have some applications that simplistically shoehorn you into a few kinds of geometries ignoring the richness of the whole domain of tiled patterns. You have other applications that try to take the domain seriously and follow the mathematical literature on the subject. What this means, generally, is that they allow the user to construct a tessellation in terms of its “wallpaper group” which is the mathematical classification of a plane pattern based on the symmetries the pattern admits.

The latter seems like what one would want but in practice it isn’t, at least it is not what I want. It is too heavy of a constraint to work only in terms of wallpaper group because there are all kinds of patterns one might be interested in that fall outside of this formalism: Escher’s tessellations of the Poincare disk model of the hyperbolic plane, for example, or, say, any kind of aperiodic tiling or any tessellations that admit similarity as a symmetry, i.e. scaling, such as Escher’s square limit etchings, or my case: various spiral patterns.

It is instructive that Escher himself did not work in terms of symmetry groups. He created his own classification system which Doris Schattschneider refers to as Escher’s “layman’s theory” of tilings in her book *Visions of Symmetry* (the authoritative text on Escher’s tessellations). Escher’s classification system comes from a pragmatic perspective rather than a formal mathematical perspective. He starts with basic cells — a square, a rectangle, an isosceles right triangle, etc. — and then enumerates the ways in which one can surround the cell with itself that result in tilings of the plane. There is a good overview of his system here.

What I like about Escher’s approach is that it is geared towards construction. When you try to make one of these things you start with a tile or some a small set of simple tiles that tile the plane. You try to modify them until you get something you like. I decided to implement software that captures that approach. I didn’t want to have to be too concerned with “wallpaper group” or other abstractions which I don’t personally find to be intuitive anyway.

What I came up with is the following application that is written in C#. Below is video in which I use the application to construct something like Escher’s butterfly tessellation — system IX-D in his layman’s theory — but on a double logarithmic spiral (This is going to be the basis for the art of the first level of my game; the butterflies will be animated, flapping their wings, etc.)

The way the application works is that there are two kinds of tiles: normal tiles and tile references. Normal tiles are composed of “sides”. There are two kinds of sides: normal sides and side references. Tile references and side references point to a another tile or side and say basically, “I am just like that tile or side, except apply this transformation to me”. The transformations that tile references can apply to a tile are defined in terms of affine transformation matrices. The transformations that side references can apply are just two kinds of flipping relative to the sides’ end points, either flipping “horizontally” or flipping “vertically” or both. The application then allows the user to add and move vertices on any sides that are on tiles that are marked as editable and then resolves all the references in real-time.

Right now, all of the information about tiles and sides and which is a reference to which has to be hand coded as an XML file, which is a pain (for the above I wrote a separate Python program that generated the XML defining a double logarithmic spiral of tiles that interact with each other according to Escher’s IX-D system), but it is an extremely flexible formulation (it could, for example, handle hyperbolic tessellations in theory … if you added a kind of side that is a circular arc and moebius transformations to the set of transformations the applications knows how to apply to referenced tiles).

Eventually I’d like to release this application as open source but I am not sure it will be useful to anyone but me in its current form. I need to incorporate the part that one has to hand code in XML into the actual GUI … fix bugs and bezier curves and so forth, but please feel free to contact me if you are interested in the application in its current state or otherwise.