Turing Tumble Review

I will preface this review for my regular readers: Turing Tumble is not a boardgame. It’s an educational puzzle ‘game’.

The Turing Tumble is a piece of highly intricate, alien computing technology. Developed on a world where a complex phenomenon prevents the operation of conventional computers (maybe we are just in the wrong Zone of Thought), the Turing Tumble performs the same functions that our computers do, but in a physical way. Alia, the universe’s best space engineer, has crash landed on the planet Eniac. Her computers don’t function there and in her search for rescue she stumbles across an enormous monolith containing a marble powered computer. Unfortunately, it’s not fully functioning, and it’s our task to figure out what’s wrong and put it back together, one panel at a time.

1 Player | Designed by Alyssa and Paul Boswell

The Turing Tumble is a passion project developed over a few years at home by Paul and Alyssa Boswell, initially as a tool to teach children about the fundamental building blocks of computers. After a few years of development a Kickstarter campaign was launched in June 2017 which was very successful, and allowed the Turing Tumble to be manufactured and delivered to Kickstarter backers as well as brought to market as a product. I actually found out about this during the Kickstarter campaign and was very excited about it, but didn’t back it at the time. I ended up picking it up recently as it had made it’s way through to an Australian distributor, and so shipping was a lot cheaper.

A solved Turing Tumble puzzle

How does it work?

Turing Tumble is a puzzle game, where players learn about how computers work while solving puzzles of increasing difficulty. To solve puzzles, players build a path of components between the marble release mechanisms at the top of the Turing Tumble board, and the levers at the bottom of the board that activate the marble release mechanisms (each time a marble reaches the bottom of the board, another is released). The Turing Tumble is gravity powered, no batteries needed!

The various components implement different ways of  ‘passing’ marbles through the computer. The most common is the green ‘ramp’ part, which simply receives a ball, and gently lowers it in a certain direction. There are also blue ‘bits’ which flip direction each time they are passed by a marble, orange ‘crossovers’ which allow marbles to pass one another, black ‘interceptors’ which halt a marble, and purple gear pieces, which can be connected together so that when one is passed by a marble they will all flip.

The puzzle book leads you through a story (wonderfully illustrated by Jiaoyang Li) and presents puzzles one by one. Each puzzle has an initial setup of components, a desired ‘end’ condition, and then a list of components that are allowed to be used to construct a solution. The player adds the components to the board in a way they think will solve the puzzle and then triggers the release of the first marble.

Once the first marble is released, the player is not allowed to interfere with the Turing Tumble until it runs out of marbles to release or terminates. If the Turing Tumble has been correctly assembled, then the output will match the desired condition and you have solved the puzzle. Otherwise, try something else, think about how each piece is influencing what happens as the puzzle solution is executed.

As you move through the puzzles more complicated components are introduced, and concepts such as registers are taught, building up your problem solving toolkit and allowing you to tackle the harder and harder challenges as they are presented. There are 60 puzzles provided in the book, and potentially limitless more puzzles provided by the online community on the Turing Tumble website.

What do I think?

At the point of writing this review I’m a bit over halfway through the puzzle book. All the components have now been introduced to me, and the puzzles are starting to get seriously hard. I’ve been having a lot of fun sitting down and playing through the puzzle book with a TV show on in the background, but I’m not sure if that will be an option for much longer as the puzzles are starting to require my full concentration to solve!

The Good Stuff

  • Turing Tumble is an absolute pleasure to play with. Building and testing your own computational machine to solve problems is something that I can get extremely excited about. It’s both engaging to setup and ponder over, and then fun to build your solution, and very satisfying and rewarding to watch what you’ve assembled solve the puzzle and spit out the correct solution.
  • The story that comes along with the puzzle book is fun and thematic, if a little bit silly. I can see it really engaging children by giving the puzzles they are solving some meaning. The artwork is lovely and the little comments and annotations that you find as you move through the puzzle book are entertaining.
  • The way that the puzzles ‘ramp up’ is great. You begin using only the most basic components to learn how the Turing Tumble works, and then the puzzle book introduces new ideas, mechanics and components slowly so as to build up your familiarity and tool set at a manageable pace. By about halfway through the puzzle book you have been introduced to all the components and the puzzles start to get very interesting!
  • The component quality and production of the device itself is very good. The widgets and board are all made of high quality plastic which seems to be quite tough (despite having lots of delicate looking protrusions they seem to be quite resilient). The box has a great storage solution which neatly lays out all the components, and has appropriate places to store the stand and board on top. The marbles are lovely enamel covered ball bearings which are small, but very weighty.
  • Unlike other puzzles (e.g. jigsaw puzzles or things like Rush Hour), the Turing Tumble also has scope to simply be experimented with or played with. I’ve found myself just laying out pieces to see what crazy contraptions I can come up with, or thinking ‘Hey I wonder if I can do this!’ and trying it out.
  • I’m an Engineer and Programmer, and I among my studies were the intricacies of how computers work on a low level. As an educational tool, I think that the Turing Tumble provides a great insight into how computers actually do what they do at the lowest of levels. I think that in a world where ‘how digital devices work’ is increasingly abstracted from the average person, it’s important for children (and adults!) to have an appreciation for how computers work at a basic level. It gives an insight into crazily complex the digital world is, and gaining the tools that Turing Tumble teaches helps set up kids for a lifetime of thinking like a programmer and solving problems.
  • Along with the game teaching useful computer and programming related skills, it also teaches (children especially) very good problem solving skills. The way the puzzles are structured and solved encourages building solutions out of smaller blocks (partial problem solving), as well as testing and evaluating solutions as they are made. You can trace paths through the contraption before triggering it to get a good idea of what will happen when you execute it. This skill of planning and prediction is something that is very useful to have, and hard to teach!

The Bad Stuff

  • The physical process of solving a puzzle or resetting can become a little bit fiddly. There are lots of parts and placing them when you know what you want to make can take a frustratingly long time! Also packing up/disassembling for the next puzzle can become a little bit time consuming. Of course, there is really nothing that could have been done to improve this.
  • Handling the marbles is not the easiest, especially for someone with ‘regular sized’ fingers. I imagine it would be much easier done for children, but it feels like the tray could have been differently designed to make the marbles easier to retrieve and load, or maybe a tool provided (scoop, tweezers ,etc) to grab them with.
  • Being an analogue device there are occasionally one off ‘bugs’ which happen that throw off your solution. Maybe this is something more interesting than ‘bad’ though, as it shows that even in computers, physical effects can sometimes disrupt computations.
  • I’m not sure how I feel about extra pieces being occasionally provided in puzzles as red herrings. In some cases I was not able to figure out how you would be able to solve the puzzle by including the extra pieces, and it led me astray for quite some time.
  • A hint system could be useful for those times when you are getting frustrated and fed up with a puzzle. When this happened to me I had to resort to glancing at the solution page, but sometimes you just want a nudge. With the way the puzzles build off each other this could be potentially done by having some ‘hints’ directing you to have a look back at previous puzzles which provide the building blocks you need to solve the current one.
  • It’s noisy! Can’t play it late at night while others are sleeping. But … the mechanical clicking is one of the best parts of this puzzle!
  • The online community for puzzle sharing is a bit lacklustre. I’m not finished the puzzles in the book yet, but I had a look at the Turing Tumble Community website for this review. There are a few people sharing puzzles but it’s not really a thriving community yet.

This isn’t my traditional sort of review as the Turing Tumble isn’t really a game so much as an educational puzzle experience. As far as recommending it though, I certainly find it an extremely enjoyable ‘thing to do’ and can definitely see its value as an educational tool for kids. If you liked the look of it from my description and pictures you can find out more about it at the Turing Tumble website, and I can definitely say it’s very fun, very satisfying, and comprises a wholly unique puzzle solving experience that is perfect for kids and adults with an interest in programming or puzzles.

2 thoughts on “Turing Tumble Review

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