Friday, April 7, 2023

The hidden mysteries of Black Box

I have to marvel at that people played Black Box without the help of a computer :D

Black Box is a game from 1977 and it is what you get if Shrodibger’s cat designed Mastermind. One player creates a puzzle/code and the other player has to figure it out.

The idea of the game is that the code breaker is trying to find four or five molecules by shooting rays into a black box. The way that the rays are deflected or absorbed will give them the necessary clues to find the molocules.

Black Box is a game that actually simulates a real scientific process (albiet in a simplified, two dimensional manner) but feels as abstract as Go.

Here’s how it works in the analog game. You have a grid (usually eight by eight) The code maker secretly placed four or five marbles on the grid. The code breaker chooses one of the columns or rows to shoot a Ray. Using colored marbles, the core maker will use colored marbles to indicate if the ray was absorbed, reflected or deflected. If it was deflected, they show where the ray comes out.

I have never played the game in person. I even went so far as to actually buy the physical game but was never able to get it on the table. To be fair, playing the role of the code maker is much tricker than Mastermind or even the master in Zendo.

But I have played a lot of Black Box online. It was one of the solitaire options on BSW back when I practically lived on that site (it might even still be there for all I know) I also recently found out there was another site I could play it ( and I have been binging.

The original game came with a book that let you play solitaire via flowchart/choose your own adventure. So, even from the beginning, the publishers knew that it was more fun to be the code breaker and it was good to have a system that couldn’t make a mistake the way a human code maker easily could.

From what I can tell, almost every version of Black Box was published in the 70s. (It looks like there was one edition in 1990 in Germany) but it has had a very active life as a computer game, one way or another. The desire to play is out there. Just not in person lol

Black Box isn’t my favorite deduction game. That’s Zendo and I haven’t found anything in fifteen years to beat it. But I can play plenty of Black Box.

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