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Making names in Life

2016-06-05
The Game of Life is a cellular automaton invented by John Conway in 1970, and popularised by Martin Gardner.
In Life, cells on a square grid are either alive or dead. It begins at generation 0 with some cells alive and some dead. The cells' aliveness in the following generations are defined by the following rules:
• Any live cell with four or more live neighbours dies of overcrowding.
• Any live cell with one or fewer live neighbours dies of loneliness.
• Any dead cell with exactly three live neighbours comes to life.
Starting positions can be found which lead to all kinds of behaviour: from making gliders to generating prime numbers. The following starting position is one of my favourites:
It looks boring enough, but in the next generation, it will look like this:
If you want to confirm that I'm not lying, I recommend the free Game of Life Software Golly.

Going backwards

You may be wondering how I designed the starting pattern above. A first, it looks like a difficult task: each cell can be dead or alive, so I need to check every possible combination until I find one. The number of combinations will be $$2^\text{number of cells}$$. This will be a very large number.
There are simplifications that can be made, however. Each of the letters above (ignoring the gs) is in a 3×3 block, surrounded by dead cells. Only the cells in the 5×5 block around this can affect the letter. These 5×5 blocks do no overlap, so can be calculated seperately. I doesn't take too long to try all the possibilities for these 5×5 blocks. The gs were then made by starting with an o and trying adding cells below.

Can I make my name?

Yes, you can make your name.
I continued the search and found a 5×5 block for each letter. Simply Enter your name in the box below and these will be combined to make a pattern leading to your name!

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 Visualising MENACE's learning Building MENACEs for other games MENACE at Manchester Science Festival The Mathematical Games of Martin Gardner

Comments in green were written by me. Comments in blue were not written by me.