Play John Conway’s Game of Life

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Life Lexicon

(CC BY-SA 3.0)

This Life lexicon is compiled by Stephen A. Silver from various sources and may be copied, modified and distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported licence. See the original credit page for all credits and the original download location. The styling has been adjusted to fit this website.


:phoenix Any pattern all of whose cells die in every generation, but which never dies as a whole. A spaceship cannot be a phoenix, and in fact every finite phoenix eventually evolves into an oscillator. The following 12-cell oscillator (found by the MIT group in December 1971) is the smallest known phoenix, and is sometimes called simply "the phoenix".

Game of Life pattern ’phoenix_(1)’

This is extensible and is just the first of a family of phoenixes made by joining components together to form a loop. Here is another member of this family. Every known phoenix oscillator has period 2. In January 2000, Stephen Silver showed that a period 3 oscillator cannot be a phoenix. The situation for higher periods is unknown.

An easy synthesis of the phoenix is possible using four blocks as seeds. A puffer creating a growing row of phoenixes has the unusual property that the percentage of live cells that stay alive for more than one generation approaches zero. See lone dot agar for an example of an infinite phoenix.

John Conway’s Game of Life

The Game of Life is not your typical computer game. It is a cellular automaton, and was invented by Cambridge mathematician John Conway.

This game became widely known when it was mentioned in an article published by Scientific American in 1970. It consists of a collection of cells which, based on a few mathematical rules, can live, die or multiply. Depending on the initial conditions, the cells form various patterns throughout the course of the game.


For a space that is populated:

Each cell with one or no neighbors dies, as if by solitude.

Each cell with four or more neighbors dies, as if by overpopulation.

Each cell with two or three neighbors survives.

For a space that is empty or unpopulated

Each cell with three neighbors becomes populated.

The Controls

Choose a pattern from the lexicon or make one yourself by clicking on the cells. The 'Start' button advances the game by several generations (each new generation corresponding to one iteration of the rules).

More information

In the first video, from Stephen Hawkings’ documentary The Meaning of Life, the rules are explained, in the second, John Conway himself talks about the Game of Life.

Stephen Hawkings The Meaning of Life (John Conway's Game of Life segment) Inventing Game of Life (John Conway) - Numberphile

The Guardian published a nice article about John Conway.

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