Life at 50

In March of 1970, Martin Gardner opened a letter jammed with ideas for his Mathematical Games column in Scientific American. Sent by John Horton Conway, then a mathematician at the University of Cambridge, the letter ran 12 pages, typed hunt-and-peck style.

To mark the 50th anniversary, the ConwayLife.com community -- which hosts the LifeWiki, with more than 2,000 articles -- created an Exploratorium, a large, explorable stamp-collection pattern. [...]

Life is the world's most wholesome computer game! True, it used to be dangerously addicting to some of us, but not so much now that nearly all of the theoretically possible gun and oscillator periods have been found. It took 40 years to find the coveted Snark, a stable pattern that reflects gliders 90 degrees.

But there are still open questions: for example, what spaceship vector velocities are possible, or what constructions are possible with glider collisions. A startling recent theorem states that any construction, no matter how large, can be accomplished with a reverse caber-tosser built from a certain fixed number of gliders -- that number was 32, but as of September it is now down to 17.

These days it has become harder and harder for an amateur to find a newsworthy pattern without fancy software and hardware. Perhaps Life can remain a gateway drug, luring newcomers into the effectively inexhaustible universe of different Lifelike rules.

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