Puzzling Circuits: An Introduction to Electronics


Joshua Bradley, CS Ph.D. Student

Brendan Fruin, CS M.S. Student

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Introduction


Puzzling Circuits has been created to introduce the fundamentals of electricity to all ages. Players are allotted sixteen path pieces, three special pieces and the LED piece. Pieces are connected by bridging the gap between pieces with conductive dough and then connecting a piece on each side to the copper tape. The goal is simple: complete a circuit flowing from the positive left side of the board to the negative right side of the board and light the LED piece. Puzzling Circuits can be played as an individual or cooperative game.

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Puzzling Circuits is inspired from the math based puzzle game Puzzled described by Winkler[1] where players are given sixteen pieces and the objective is to rearrange the pieces so that no line ends before reaching an edge. Players are allowed to move, but not rotate the pieces. Puzzling Circuits modifies this game to require that only a valid circuit is created by moving, rotating or flipping a piece. A path piece is simply a square piece of wood with a conductive black path on each side. A path can be anything from a straight line, to an ‘L’ shaped pipe to a star. To make a connection between the pieces, players must connect them with the provided conductive dough. When enough path pieces have been connected to create a valid circuit extending the board, the player has won. To ensure the path is valid, the LED piece can be substituted for one of the path pieces.

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Three special pieces are also included to make the game more challenging and to introduce basic components of electronics. These include a resistor, a transistor and a diode piece. The resistor piece adds resistance to the circuit and will reduce the amount of current flowing through the circuit. The transistor piece must receive power to its ‘switch’ connection in order for the circuit to flow through. The diode piece allows electricity to only flow in one direction. The special pieces are optional to use and they are not required to complete a valid circuit.

While Puzzling Circuits comes with twenty preset pieces, it is encouraged that players extend the game by creating their own pieces with any conductive materials that they want to learn more about.

Parts

  • Bare Conductive Paint
  • Conductive Dough
  • Copper Tape
  • 2.5'' Square Blocks
  • 2' x 2' Wood Board
  • 9v Battery with Connector
  • Super Glue
  • Saw (for cutting square blocks)
  • Dremel or Drill
  • Resistor
  • Transistor
  • Diode
  • LED

Challenges

  1. We initially used three Jenga pieces glued together as puzzle pieces, but we found that we lost a lot of the current on the edges between the pieces. We solved this by cutting a straight piece of wood into squares.
  2. The Bare Conductive Paint is water soluble and the dough is water based which means that if the dough is left on the paint for too long or the dough has too much moisture in it then it will smear and remove some of the paint on the path pieces. We plan to cover the pieces in tape or a clear polish to prevent this.

Thoughts about the Project

Overall we believe this project was a success in that it reinforces the basics of electronics that many CS students have not been exposed to. We believe that it is a great tool for learning about certain components in electronics and can be extended further to include more.

References

[1] Peter Winkler. 2012. Puzzled: Designs on square grids. Commun. ACM 55, 5 (May 2012), 120-120. DOI=10.1145/2160718.2160743 http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/2160718.2160743