Crayon Physics at Thanksgiving

I couldn't resist - I brought my tablet to Thanksgiving dinner, with Crayon Physics loaded up, and showed it around. Watching people work with it was even more interesting than the game itself!

My older aunt (in her late sixties), who plays a lot of online poker, was a bit mystified by the whole thing. I had to explain what the point of the game was several times (e.g. 'get the red ball to the star'). I found it rather interesting that something as simple as that sort of objective would be difficult to understand. I suspect that she didn't get it because the game has no "payoff" - loud sounds or images to celebrate your "victory". Also, there was no money involved. :)

Once she sort of got the point, she was very tentative with the stylus. She didn't want to touch the screen with it. Once she sorta got over that, she kept wanting to "push" the ball directly. Of course, this is not the nature of this game - you can only indirectly interact with the ball by creating a variety of objects).

Then, when the ball wasn't rolling fast enough for her, she tried tilting the tablet! That was awesome. It gives me an idea for a little card (either pc card, sd card, or whatever) that could give that sort of feedback. Note: the iPhone has a limited accelerometer of that sort.

When I showed her how to reset the level (by pressing escape and
clicking "reset level") she was also a bit confused. She never did get
used to just touching things with the stylus. Once again, I would guess this is because of the great pains she had to go through to unlearn all of that intuition when working with computers, and is now loath to give that up!

Next up was my small cousin. He's five. He had absolutely no problem with the stylus. In fact, he took to the whole interface like a fish in water and was delighted (at least for about 30 minutes). The interesting thing with him is that he liked to draw smaller squares right on top of each other, and right on top of the ball, which has an interesting (and useful) effect in the game. He got through "teeter-totter" level by basically squirting the ball with a succession of small squares. (for the record, when I solved it, I was enthralled with the idea of using the the teeter totters to hurl the ball in an elegant arc. I eventually settled on an elegant two box approach, which none of the children ever figured out. But when I showed them they were duly impressed.).

He had a few good ideas on the "space" level - building a structure on the lower level, rapidly drawing boxes to try to control the ball's decent. But he eventually started trying the "shotgun" approach of drawing lots of (big) squares over the ball and hoping that it would squirt in the right direction. He got really close a couple of times. (The solution I used is 3 boxes. I tried to give him hints in that direction, but I don't think it took).

Anyway, I could see him getting frustrated and by this time we had a crowd of little cousins watching us, so I skipped the level. Once again, he surprised me with a new approach to the "barrier" level - after a few false starts, he used little boxes to successively raise the ball to an equal height with the barrier and then push it over. I think that was clever. (My own solution was very, very different, and relied on getting the ball under the barrier.)

If you have a tablet, I highly recommend doing this experiment. Let me know how it goes (either in email or comments.)

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