How Many Exoplanets Can You Visit in Quanta’s New Math Game?

How Many Exoplanets Can You Visit in Quanta’s New Math Game?

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It’s the year 2111. Humanity has invented a warp drive that enables a spacecraft to hyperjump to distant solar systems and back to Earth. The drive promises to revolutionize space exploration. But there’s a catch. The new technology is finicky and can only make hyperjumps that follow certain numerical rules. Earth’s governing body has tapped you, an adventurous math explorer, to captain the first warp-drive-equipped starship in its fleet. Your mission is to establish hyperjump routes to as many exoplanets as you can in a different solar system each day. Teams of scientists can then safely follow in your footsteps to study each planet in detail.

Strapped into the captain’s seat, you sit in front of a console with five blank digits, one for each exoplanet you will visit on your first trip. Each planet in the target solar system has been assigned a hyperjump number. You must input the numbers in a valid order — based on addition, subtraction, multiplication and division — before you can take off. After each trip, you must return to Earth to recharge your warp drive. Earth is the only planet with a hyperjump number of 9, so every sequence ends in a 9.  Your HOW TO PLAY manual explains how to construct a valid hyperjump sequence.

A safety mechanism on the warp drive requires you to complete four five-planet trips, then three six-planet trips, then two seven-planet trips, before you can attempt the drive’s maximum trip length of eight planets. As you complete longer hyperjump trips, you level up from Beginner to Jumper, then Explorer, Expert and finally Master.

Click this link or the image above to play Quanta’s new math game, Hyperjumps!

Notes on Game Design

This project began more than a year ago, when I approached Pradeep Mutalik with a modest request: Could he, as our master puzzle columnist, come up with a basic math game that people of all ages and mathematical backgrounds would enjoy?

Not long after, Pradeep sent me his idea, which became the basis for Hyperjumps! I went home that weekend, played the game with pencil and paper, and loved the concept. (My then-12-year-old son also took to it and was able to complete a seven-planet sequence.)

At first, we thought about offering Hyperjumps! as a simple PDF printout. But we happened to be in the process of hiring Paul Chaikin as our interactive developer and decided to enlist him in building it out as Quanta’s first interactive game. Paul, Samuel Velasco (Quanta’s art director) and I further developed the game into what you see today. As newbie game designers, we faced plenty of challenges. How do we structure the gameplay and scoring to optimize playability? How do we explain the rules of the game to first-time players? How do we keep the interface simple and intuitive? How do we provide the right amount of feedback during gameplay?

We hope we got it mostly right. And we couldn’t have built this game without the help of our colleagues. Michael Kranz, who manages the web development team at the Simons Foundation, provided coding support, and several members of Quanta’s editorial and art teams play-tested early prototypes.

If you like Hyperjumps! I hope you’ll share it with your family and friends. We welcome your questions, feedback and bug reports in the comments section below.

Quanta’s Insights Puzzle

Hyperjumps! is a natural addition to Quanta’s puzzle offerings, which have long been headlined by our Insights series. Starting with our first Insights puzzle, which ran on July 7, 2015, Pradeep has written 54 puzzle columns for Quanta, exploring the Sleeping Beauty problem, infinity, random walks, quantum weirdness, Wordle and many other topics, including the art of puzzle solving itself and several variations of classic math puzzles.

Looking back at this treasure trove of brain-twisting ideas, calculations, creativity and quantitative fun, I’m awed by Pradeep’s wide-ranging interests, inquisitiveness and intellectual energy. I can’t thank him enough for sharing his love of puzzles with the Quanta community, for taking the time to read and respond to readers’ questions and solutions, and for giving me, his editor, a master class in the craft of puzzle design.

Seven years is a long run. And if there’s one constant, it’s that change is inevitable. With the introduction of this new interactive math game, Pradeep and I felt it was a good time to wind down the Insights puzzle, at least for now. We hope you enjoy Hyperjumps! and, as Pradeep likes to say, happy puzzling!

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