A colleague of mine received the item pictured below as a gift from Diana Conway, the widow of the mathematician John H. Conway. It was found among Conway's many recreational possessions, but was not accompanied by any identifying information. Presumably it is some kind of game, though possibly it is some kind of puzzle. In case it is not clear from the photo, there is a 7x7 wooden board accompanied by some number of (but far fewer than 49) tiles, each of which fits snugly into one of the squares of the board. The tiles are dark on one side and light on the other, which is reminiscent of the game Reversi/Othello. The game was found in a plastic bag, so it's possible that some pieces were lost.

Someone suggested to me that this might be a version of Pathagon, but in Pathagon, there is no reason to have tiles that are dark on one side and light on the other side. Tiles that fit snugly in the squares are also a bit strange if the tiles are meant to be removed or flipped easily when surrounded by other tiles.

On my own website you can view a short video that demonstrates that the tiles can be slid along the board (as in the game Wąż), although not especially smoothly.

John Conway board game

2 Answers 2


Most likely it’s Infection (aka Ataxx), which Conway was at least aware of, having referenced it in Winning Ways for Your Mathematical Plays, Vol 1 enter image description here

See http://www.pressibus.org/ataxx/gen/gborigines.html

  • Thanks for this suggestion. Do I understand correctly that there should be 49 tiles, or close to that? This isn't impossible but it would mean that a lot of pieces were lost. Aug 23, 2021 at 16:20
  • I've never played, but the production board there indicates yes. Maybe Conway didn't complete his set build, or maybe he just used it for testing variants, or (insert other wild speculation here) ...? Aug 23, 2021 at 16:35

I hate to point out the obvious but, if there are indeed missing pieces, couldn't this just be a small board on which to manually conduct a Game of Life simulation?

  • This does seem like a possibility that should be considered. Perhaps a one off gift from a fan that he kept?
    – Pat Ludwig
    Aug 23, 2021 at 17:35
  • @PatLudwig While it could be a possibility it seems there should be more to this answer to explain why it could be to conduct said simulation.
    – Joe W
    Aug 23, 2021 at 17:46
  • @JoeW - I would agree that this isn't a perfect answer, but as it stands, I feel this answer has merit and should be considered rather than summarily deleted.
    – Pat Ludwig
    Aug 23, 2021 at 17:49
  • I would have added it as just a comment, but for some reason as a new contributor I can only comment on my own posts.
    – DKqwerty
    Aug 24, 2021 at 7:00
  • 4
    nb: the game of life wouldn't have flippable pieces. Flippable pieces mean each cell has three possible states: empty, dark-side-up, and light-side up. In Conway's Life, cells have only two states. "dead" cells would simply be empty. Aug 24, 2021 at 12:01

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