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[TC: This is the readme for pattern file from Alan Hensel. I've converted it to HTML. ]


Here is a list of life programs that support these patterns:

LIFE 1.06 by Al Hensel, for PC's running MS-DOS.
As of this writing, this is still the fastest life program available (per CPU cycle) that reads the patterns in this collection.

WLIFE, ported by Glen Summers, for PC's running MS-Windows 3.1.
A decent port of Xlife to Microsoft Windows.

WinLife by John Harper, for PC's running MS-Windows 3.1.
Probably the best overall Windows Life program.

LifeLab 3.1 by Andrew Trevorrow, for Macs -- Mac Plus to Power Mac.
Very powerful. Autodetects gliders and oscillators, has sophisticated editing, does automated searches for new patterns.

Xlife by Jon Bennett, for X window systems under Unix.
A classic. Source code included.

.LIF files are in a simple ASCII-based format that can be edited using any text editor. However, you still need a Life program to enjoy the action.

If you are writing a new Life program, you may wish to refer to the technical details of the .LIF file format found in WRITERS.DOC.

The collector who is responsible for this whole mess is Alan Hensel. You can contact this nut at

What is the meaning of LIFE?

LIFE is a classic computer game. It was invented by John H. Conway in 1970, and has entertained many hackers and wasted many years of computer time ever since. If you're smart and creative, it can be very intellectually stimulating. It's a simulation game which can generate strange and beautiful patterns, sometimes in complex and interesting ways. Yet the rules of Life are delightfully simple:

For example, consider the following pattern, where '   ' represents an 'off' cell and '   ' represents an 'on' cell:

Notice that the cells in the middle on either side are off and have 3 neighbors: they will come alive. But the two '*' cells on the ends each have just 1 neighbor; they will die of loneliness.

So the next generation is:

LIFE is like a box of chocolates....

Since Life begins as a blank canvas, there is no end to the possible ways to be creative with it. Variety is the spice of Life!

It's common to start out by drawing random junk and seeing what it turns into. You can also draw lines, boxes, your name, etc.

Some of the patterns in the collection are like puzzles to figure out: How do they work? And how would anyone create such a thing? For example: randgun, p94s, breeder? What happens when you change just one little cell...? OK, that's fun for a while. You get familiar with the common stuff -- the stable patterns, the blinkers, the movers and the shakers.

Then there's the engineering approach: try to invent a pattern that does something interesting. This is a challenge -- the Game of Life is definitely not horseshoes or hand grenades! Ever hear of the Butterfly Effect?

For example, try to create one long, snaking line that remains perfectly stable. Along the way, you will discover rules, like the offset-by-2 rule... You'll know what that is when you find it.

Or you can try to create "billiard table configurations". These are mostly stable, with just a few cells blinking or bouncing around inside. Here's an example of a billiard pattern:

Other patterns involve gliders -- generating them, bouncing them around, absorbing them, and generally using them for your general amusement. Gliders look like this:

There are other moving objects ("spaceships"). In this pattern collection, I put them in "aquariums", called "AQUAxx", where xx is their speed. They are so hard to create that nearly every one of them had to be found by computer search programs. No human could possibly be expected to find a unique new spaceship (try it!). Although, sometimes parts can be recognized and mixed and matched with other parts, to make hybrid ships and other new stuff.

If enough spaceship pieces can be correlated, you can form what is called a "grammar": the pieces are like words in a sentence, which can only go in a certain sequence according to syntactic rules, and can form spaceships of any length. In the patterns in LIFEP, most of this redundancy has been omitted and left for you to discover, because otherwise there would be an infinite number of patterns. Not good for hard disk space.

It's easy, though, to play with wicks. Wicks are long stable repetitive patterns that can "burn" at one end. You can try to go make them go around corners, branch out, explode a bomb...

And once you've tried all that, you can go back to the patterns in LIFEP and gape in amazement!

You can also set up betting games. For example, pick a gun, then put something in its line of fire.... One of 3 things must happen:

Place your bets!

This is fun with SAWTOOT4. Another good betting game is to put a fleet of spaceships in the path of some debris (AQUA25B is best for this, in my opinion), and bet how many of them will survive.

By changing the rules, you can explore other universes. You'll find a lot of deadbeat universes at first, so let me point you to a few good ones:

everything dies every generation... yet you can hardly contain the explosion! Try this simple pattern:
(That's right, just a little 2x2 square.) Hey wait, is this art? I thought it was math. Hmm...

If you want to circumnavigate the universe with a glider, this is the universe to do it in: Its gliders go at the "speed of light":
produces very beautiful fabric-like patterns. Try the above square.
is an even better "artist". Though some starting patterns leave the canvas blank, many others are very artsy.
aMAZing -- another exploding universe, but look how it crystallizes... Also, try 1234 for the first half. And try /37 for the last half: Rats! If you don't like the explosion, try /45 for the last half.
Things die out quickly, but there are a few neat things:

An attempt at the most stable "amoeba" universe. Best viewed in Hi-Res mode, starting with a large pattern. Does it die out, or go on forever?
This one goes pretty well, neither dying quickly nor always expanding, and there are about a dozen weird naturally occurring repeaters. Also, try 2-by-n boxes (thick lines), where n is an integer not of the form 4k-1, 2^k-2, or 2^k-3. Try also the slight modification 1258/36. Suddenly change the rules to 4567/345. Watch how it rots if you break the 2x2 block symmetry. This kind of symmetry occurs in only 32 ways. They are the 2^5 combinations of 3/12, 4/4, 5/3, 67/5, and 8/. You can also add 0, 1, or 2 to the Survival list and 6, 7, or 8 to Birth list, with no consequence to its 2x2 block properties.
Similar to the normal game, but it's still not clear whether there are any ever-expanding patterns, like a glider gun or a puffer train. I know of only one spaceship in this universe, and I haven't been able to make anything out of it.
Even more similar to the normal game, but there are a few interesting things about this one. First of all, one might expect, naively, that adding more neighbor counts to either the birth or survival side of the rules would make the universe more excitable. But this universe actually dies out more quickly than regular life. There is one good exception:
This rule has actually generated enough interest to have a nickname. It is called "HighLife".
Ice crystals. Close variations of these rules almost always expand forever, but this one curiously does not.
Close variation of the above, which forms really neat white coagulations as it expands forever. Definitely view in high resolution.
Interestingly, the above 2 universes support the regular life glider.
White coagulations that catch up with the border and stops it in many places. But it does generally grow forever.
The above universe supports 125/36's glider.
Slowly expands forever with little tentacles.
a favorite of Dean Hickerson, author of PUSHER, P94S, and many other great patterns. You need to start it with a rather large white blob, larger than the default random-cells function can provide. It forms rectangles that look pretty stable for a while, then, suddenly... Note: This is another 2x2 block universe.

Also try slight modifications of the normal rules, like 237/3 and 023/3... 2378/38, for example, looks pretty normal at first... Or, you can use an expanding universe to "grow" a pattern, then watch how it decays under normal (or other) rules. This produces some pretty kaleidoscopic effects. And some patterns can probably even be used as Rorschach tests.

Or, if you're really smart and have some time on your hands, you can ponder the more intellectual questions, like: Can a pattern in the Life universe be built that reproduces as though it were really alive? (Exactly what kind of patterns can be built, anyway? For example, can they be Turing-complete? The answer to this last one is "yes". Now find the proof. Better yet, write a C compiler whose target language is Life instead of Assembly!) And how is entropy in the Life universe related to entropy in our own universe? Can any of the laws of thermodynamics apply to a universe that does not observe conservation of mass and energy?

In the Life universe, is there an irresistible force? The answer is "no", because otherwise you could oppose two of them. Alright, but is there an immovable object? That is, can you surround a cell with some kind of "wall" such that no matter what you put outside the wall, the state of that cell can never change? That question remains unanswered.

A pattern that has no predecessor ("father") is called a Garden of Eden pattern. What is the smallest one? A satisfactory one is in the collection (EDEN.LIF). Another question: Is there a pattern with a parent but no grandparent? (This question is trickier than it sounds at first.) In general, is there a pattern with an immediate predecessor but without an infinite sequence of ancestors? Is there a stable pattern that is its only predecessor?

What is the smallest object (measured by number of initial "on" cells) whose population grows unboundedly? The current record is the switch engine (SWITCHEN.LIF) which starts with only 11 cells. What is the smallest object that grows quadratically? The current record is "jaws" (JAWS.LIF) with 150 cells.

The average density that a random field will settle to, from 1/2 density, is about 1/(34.83 +/- .02), as measured by Achim Flammenkamp. What is the highest possible average density of a periodic field? It is conjectured to be 1/2, and proven to be between 1/2 and 8/13, inclusive. If the maximum is really more than 1/2, then the growth rate of spacefillers may not really be the max!

For each positive integer T, what's the largest possible quotient of the population in gen T divided by the population in gen 0? (For T=1, we can get arbitrarily close to 3, but can't reach it. For T=2, the upper bound again seems to be 3, but is unproven.)

How many distinct 3-glider collisions are there? 4-glider? 5?

Some yet-unfound but sought-after objects: A c/6 orthogonal spaceship, a c/3 diagonal flipper spaceship, a c/6 knightship (2 up, 1 over in 6 generations). An oscillator with a natural period of 19, 23, 27, 31, 33, 34, 37, 38, 39, 41, 43, 49, 51, 53, or 57. A way to grow an infinite spiral-shaped object. Some method for lightspeed fuses (such as in ZIPS.LIF) to interact with other known objects, such as glider streams. A glider synthesis for a Cordership, a glider synthesis for a dart (c/3), or a glider synthesis for the smallest c/4 spaceship.

It would be interesting to find a collision of a glider with a stable pattern that leaves the pattern displaced in a certain direction and emits a glider back. If a few of those were found, then some combination of them might be put together to create a brand new kind of spaceship -- slow, with variable speed.

That's the end of my suggestions, but by no means the end of the possible ways to play the game. Discover your very own "way of Life".

More enlightenment:




Thanx go out to:

John Conway, the British mathematician who invented the game; Dean Hickerson, who not only helped me build this awesome pattern collection, but also created many of the patterns; Jon C.R. Bennett and his henchmen at Carnegie-Mellon University; Other pattern authors (certified geniuses/nuts): Bill Gosper, Dave Buckingham, Mark Niemec, Hartmut Holzwart, David Bell, Rich Schroeppel, Tim Coe, Dieter Leithner, Achim Flammenkamp, et al.; And thanks also to everyone else who has contributed along the way.

Well, enjoy!
In fact, have the time of your Life!

Merrily, merrily,
Merrily, merrily,...
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Toni Cornelissen
7 juni 2007
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