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Domino Computer

Stand-up mathematician Matt Parker and a team of volunteers build a functioning calculator out of dominoes, because… er… well, because they worked out how they could.

This has been festering in my pile of ‘unfinished hobby projects’ for longer than I’d care to admit, but just before I gadded off on holiday last month Matt prodded me with a very pointy stick. I’m delighted the film is finally seeing the light of day.

The film follows the domino computer build weekend at Manchester Science Festival with all its up and downs, and while we did try to explain how it works… well, turns out that’s quite tricky with hundreds of people milling around and thousands of dominos ready to fall over at a moment’s notice. So you might also want to check out this Numberphile film in which Matt explains the circuit with a little more care:

The team have also put together some worksheets, and can provide schools’ workshops (and dominoes!): think-maths.co.uk.

Elin also has a great bunch of stills of the weekend over on Flickr. Here’s one now. Note the breaks in the circuit during building, so an accidental fall doesn’t destroy the whole thing. There was a heap of work and expertise involved in building this thing, it really was a remarkable effort.

Set up

3 thoughts on “Domino Computer”

  1. Calling this a computer is a bit like calling a hydrogen bomb a fusion reactor. It does a very small amount of the work required for a computer. In terms of capability, it’s a small part of the way between an abacus and a difference engine. Even the unfinished ‘Analytic Engine’ only just qualifies for ‘computer’. With no memory and only 1 instruction this is a long way off being a ‘computer’.

  2. If your definition of ‘computer’ includes phrases like ‘stored program’, ‘Turing-complete’ and so on, absolutely: this isn’t a computer. On the other hand the circuit clearly performs a computation, so… well, we each make our own judgement.

    My take is that since the approach is clearly not of practical use, that gives one a little leeway to be bold. It’s plain funnier to call it a ‘computer.’

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