Smashing Atoms In SpaceChem’s Sandbox

No crosshairs? :(

I won’t pretend to understand the complexities of SpaceChem, Zachtronics’ chemical puzzler. Not in the guided single-player mode, nor the sandbox that was added to allow a player to complete the computer he was building within the game. With that sandbox came a challenge for players to build “the most awesome sandbox pipeline imaginable”. The winners are almost mocking in their complexity, given that my chemical romance never got beyond first base. Come revel in their ingenuity and marvel at my utter ignorance. I have marked where I lose the ability to comprehend each.

That player, Peer, got his wish. The sandbox additions enabled him to create a computer within the game: it took 60 hours of game time and a month of real-world brainwork to produce his “programmable interpreter for the brainfuck programming language”*.

I can only appreciate it in the way a dog appreciates the writing of an Ingmar Bergman movie on the telly. It is pretty.

GuavaMoment’s Recycler Looks simple, but then his video shows you the underlying structure and how it unbonds** whatever passes through it, turning anything into water.

I thought I had a chance when I saw cave>pie had made a Tic-Tac-Toe game, but then it used pairs of H/He/Li to describe coordinate positions***. I was robbed of the simple pleasure of an understandable game of Xs and Os.

I’ll leave you to discover the final winner on the SpaceChem page, because I’m a) nice, and b) crying.

* Nope. Dunno.
** I’m making that “way over my head” hand sign”.
*** Tic-Tac-Wow, more like. Not got a clue.


  1. WMain00 says:

    I consider myself doing well in SpaceChem if i’m able to complete a puzzle within an hour…

    • Sassenach says:

      Just an hour? I didn’t even get to the final set of the original missions and it was starting to get towards the better part of a day to work out a solution.

    • Carra says:

      I’m in the third last world and it’s taking me days to come up with a solution.

      But it’s fun, I can just try it from time to time.

  2. Kaira- says:

    Brainfuck eh?


    And no, I am not going to program with that, even if you pay me.

    • Hooi says:

      “and b) crying.”

      Initial reaction: Ahhh, there’s the trademark RPS hyperbole I know and love.
      2min into first video, and I’m a giggling, panicky mess, manic with confusion and awe in equal amounts. Tears of frustration slide down my cheeks.

    • DBG says:

      Um. Dude, you didn’t close the parenthesis…

    • John Brindle says:

      Oh god! They’re behind us!

    • Kaira- says:


      If wikipedia is to be trusted, if the code is written on a single line no closing parenthesis is needed. I’m not going to dig deep enough to learn the language and see if it is needed.

    • Premium User Badge

      Hodge says:

      Yeah, a parenthesis is missing along with some other characters and it bothered me enough that I installed a brainfuck interpreter to try to debug it. As far as I can tell it’s a slightly truncated version of the example on the Wikipedia page and it prints “Hello orrr!”.

      I’m guessing that the RPS comment-o-tron chopped some characters out of Kaira’s original post.

  3. Richard Beer says:

    I’m not sure I really trust the talent of anyone who thinks that cake is better than pie. That’s clearly rubbish.

  4. John Brindle says:

    There goes my engineering self-satisfaction. Spacechem really is awe-inspiring.

    btw, Craig, you’ve got the wrong link for the winners page, which is located here,

  5. Premium User Badge

    Bluerps says:

    Huh. Well, at least I can say I knew brainfuck before seeing this.
    (I also know that it is closely related to Ook, the programming language for monkeys)

    • Raiyan 1.0 says:

      “… Ook, the programming language for monkeys…”

      Orangutans! Shame on you!

    • Premium User Badge

      Bluerps says:

      Oh no! You are right, of course.
      I apologize to the Orangutans.

    • slight says:

      Ook? Surely you mean VB! *rimshot*.


  6. serioustiger says:

    If I get SpaceChem, and play it for like, ever, will I understand a single word of what any of these people are saying?

    ‘Cos that would rock.

    • subedii says:

      You don’t play Spacechem to become smart.

      You play Spacechem to feel smart when you finally crack that puzzle with an absolutely amazing “super-genius” solution (the one that took you AGES to figure out and program in all its beautiful synchronicity) .

      Then you glance at where you lie on the bell curve, and start weeping quietly in a corner somewhere.

      Seriously, the way the game aggregates stats and shows you where you lie in the grand scheme of things is one of the most brilliant and outright DEVIOUS things about it.

      I don’t care about high scores in other gamers, but it becomes intensely personal when you take forever on a solution and find out someone’s made one that makes your elegant solution look like the application of a hammer and nails.

    • serioustiger says:

      Oh, I was kidding before, but now I really am going to have to buy it. And then kill myself.

    • theleif says:

      I finished a level on the 63 Corvi DLC some months ago, and when It compared my solution online It was the worst solution in cycles, reactors and symbols count.
      I’m clearly too smart for this game.

      Edit: Checked it out, and I’m not worst at symbols used any more.

  7. MythArcana says:

    This game should come with a health care package and a 401k plan.

  8. Vinraith says:

    Freaking amazing, I truly wish I had a brain that worked like that.

  9. Lizard Dude says:

    I think the fourth winner that Craig didn’t showcase is the funniest:

    “It is an implementation of a cellular automaton using a molecular ring. Technically, it is a one-dimensional elementary cellular automaton of length 12 with periodic boundary conditions. Using a common template and toolbox, there are actually several sandboxes that implement a variety of the Wolfram rules for cellular automaton.”

  10. Bhazor says:

    Video 2

    “Why not turn it into water? Yeah. Thats probably the most important material for life”
    Woah, don’t fuddle my mind with that fancy high falutin theoretical jargon.

  11. Scythe says:

    Past first… base?

    Not sure if intentional chemistry joke.