Wouldn't it be neat if there were free software for Windows 95/98 that could engage children and adults alike in hours of stimulating logic puzzles? Software that could easily be downloaded and passed around on a floppy disk? Software that lets people design their own puzzles, extending the program's usefulness? Software whose easier puzzles could engage kindergartners and whose more difficult puzzles could engage chess masters?
There is such a program: SokoMind, created by a brilliant German programmer, Gerald Holler. SokoMind can be downloaded from http://sokomind.de a web site that itself is lovingly crafted.
The SokoMind logic puzzles are inspired by the famous Sokoban logic puzzles invented in Japan in the 1980's. Over the years these puzzles have gone through dozens of incarnations for different computer platforms. SokoMind is the most beautiful, most enjoyable version I've seen on any computer platform.
The SokoMind puzzles challenge puzzle solvers to push boxes, one by one, around a maze on the screen. The boxes must be pushed into pink "storage areas." Each maze has an equal number of boxes and storage areas.
Figuring out the puzzles involves several false starts followed by an "aha" moment of insight. Many times the solution to a puzzle requires figuring out which box to push first, which to push second, etc.
In other words, these puzzles are an "order of operations" kind of puzzle. The SokoMind puzzles combine the thrills of geometry proofs and physics problems. The experience of figuring out a puzzle is so sweet that it's easy to get hooked solving SokoMind puzzles. Creative thinking is about the only way you're going to figure out a solution.
SokoMind comes with 60 SokoMind puzzles, along with a bonus 20 "SokoMind Plus" puzzles. SokoMind Plus puzzles have numbered boxes you maneuver onto a series of matching numbered storage areas. SokoMind Plus puzzles can be difficult. Diabolically difficult. And more fun than anything you can imagine when you solve them.
How difficult are the 60 original SokoMind puzzles? Difficult enough that most adults require at least a half hour to solve one. When a very bright friend of mine quickly progressed past puzzle number 10, over a 2-day span, I warned him that the SokoMind puzzles are like an intellectual Mt. Everest. "Dave, it's not wise progressing beyond puzzle 10 without oxygen tanks," I joked with him. "I do hope you use oxygen tanks as you progress higher."
How can these very challenging puzzles appeal to young children, too? Built into the SokoMind software is a graphical puzzle editor that lets anyone edit or create their own puzzles with just a few mouse clicks. With hardly any effort you can modify the original 60 puzzles, making then easier and more accessible to novice puzzle solvers. Simply remove some boxes and storage areas in a puzzle and you simplify it. To help others learn how to do this, I've simplified about 40 puzzles and made them freely available for downloading at http://www.writersforliteracy.org/sokomindpuzzles.zip (This download includes the SokoMind software, file name sokomd32.exe)
Want to see how to play and edit SokoMind puzzles? View a narrated QuickTime movie showing SokoMind in action at http://www.writersforliteracy.org/sokomindvideo.mov This QuickTime file is 4.5 megabytes and lasts for 6 minutes 21 seconds. I created this QuickTime file by pointing a DV camcorder at a projection of the SokoMind puzzles on a white wall.
If the SokoMind puzzles had just those above-mentioned features, they would be remarkable. But the puzzles have several lesser known --- but valuable --- features. If you get tired playing the puzzles in the standard-size maze matrix, you can design your own puzzles using a larger maze matrix. In testing larger SokoMind mazes with elementary students, I found they relished solving the larger puzzles. (As long as the puzzles were not too difficult.) The larger puzzles require more pushing of boxes to arrive at a solution. Kids like to push boxes. The larger puzzles have more pushing. (Several "sokobig" puzzles I've designed are in the download at http://storymakers.net/sokomindpuzzles.zip)
If you run into trouble solving any puzzle I designed, you can choose "Replay Solved Puzzle" from the Level menu in SokoMind. Then a horizontal "puzzle solution controller" will appear at the bottom of the screen. This controller looks and works like the controls on a cassette tape recorder. Press the green "forward" triangle to start the animation of the puzzle's solution. View the animated solution step by step, if you want just a hint of how to start solving the puzzle.
There's a myth that all good educational software is expensive. Not true! Some of the best educational games are entirely free. How can you find out about them? Join a free email list like the Benton Foundation's Digital Divide Discussion List, http://digitaldividenetwork.org
On this and similar lists, people around the world share exciting free resources to bridge the digital divide. The divide is being slowly bridged. Can you help spread the word? Do your part?
(Phil is a digital-divide activist in Arlington, Virginia. He designed simplified Sokoban puzzles for the Mac in 1993, available as part of the free Sokoban for the Mac program at http://members.aol.com/sokobanmac/
Sokoban for the Mac runs on just about any Macintosh ever made, including the older black-and-white Macs. All the simplified SokoMind puzzles were designed using Virtual PC 3.0, on his iBook laptop. An article about the educational value of Sokoban/SokoMind puzzles can be found at http://www.his.com/pshapiro/about.ss.html)
This article is freely distributable and reprintable for any nonprofit purpose. Publication in other publications by arrangement.
Screen shots of the 42 simple Sokomind puzzles (PDF format. 2 megabytes)
Sokoban for the Mac (includes 61 Simple Sokoban puzzles)
Pikoban for the Palm Pilot (includes 61 Simple Sokoban puzzles)
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The Man Who Gives Computers to Kids
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Digital Divide Network
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