Meet the Minnesotan behind Turing Tumble – a game that's blowing up on Kickstarter

People are excited about Turing Tumble – a Kickstarter for the game met its original goal within 14 hours.
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If you like to learn how things work, a Minnesotan has created a new game that'll be right up your alley.

It's called Turing Tumble, and it's a game designed to teach kids about computers and coding – but it's fun for adults too, especially if you enjoy puzzles. It was created by Paul Boswell, a self-proclaimed nerd and former professor at the University of Minnesota.

Don't get intimidated by the coding aspect – the components of the game are pretty simple: a board, little pieces that you attach, and marbles. Players build a mechanical computer powered by the marbles to solve logic puzzles.

Here's how it works:

To make the game even more engaging and fun for kids, Turing Tumble comes with a comic book of 51 puzzles, where each puzzle brings Alia the space engineer closer to rescue from a seemingly deserted planet. It's designed by Jiaoyang Li, a senior at the University of Minnesota majoring in art and computer science.

After working on the game for about two years, Boswell and his wife, Alyssa, launched a Kickstarter at the end of May. They weren't sure whether it would be successful.

"We figured we needed about 800 people to buy games to reach the $48,000 goal, and we thought OK – we know maybe 300 people. So we sent some emails to various online publications and some of them were interested in writing stories, and we thought that might bring in another few hundred contributors. And then we just kind of hoped the rest would come from people browsing Kickstarter," Boswell told GoMN.

Well, it turns out the Shoreview couple way underestimated the public's interest in Turing Tumble. The Kickstarter was funded within 14 hours, and contributions are now creeping towards $300,000. The extra funds have allowed for upgrades to the game's features and better-quality materials.

Now with seven days to go, Boswell is looking forward to starting production and trying to get the word out even more.

"The more backers we get, the faster we can do things like create an educator's guide, translate the book to other languages, and create online resources to bring out even more of the educational value of the game," he told GoMN.

People who contribute $60 by June 29 will get one of the first editions of Turing Tumble.

After the Kickstarter ends, it'll be available for preorder. And after that, people will be able to buy Turing Tumble from www.turingtumble.com or from whatever retailers the couple can get to stock the game.

Q & A

How did you come up with the game and what was your inspiration? It started about two years ago when I was a professor at the U of M. A lot of the work I did was chemistry focused, but there was a lot of need for programming, and it was really hard to find students that knew how to program. So I was looking around for some different things that you could use to teach kids how to do it, without using a computer.

That's when I found this mechanical computer from the 1960s called DigiComp 2, it's sort of like a little toy calculator. It was cool to demonstrate concepts, but it wasn't a game. So I started thinking about how to turn it into a game, and just kind of went from there.

Can you explain why coding is important for someone who doesn't know much about it? Computers are everywhere around us. You learn at a young age how to use computers, but it's common to not understand in the slightest how a computer works. And if you're only reliant on software, then you're really limited in what you can do. So in all sorts of jobs, you can find ways that programming is helpful.

Explain the story aspect. What made you want to add this? There's a lot of logic games where you have a problem to solve, but I think it's a lot more fun with context. So with this comic, while you're solving problems, you're helping Alia, the main character, escape. I think it makes it more interesting for everybody to have some sort of a story line.

Did you design all the puzzles or how are they created? I made all 51 puzzles, it was a lot of work (laughs). It was challenging because there's not really anything like this out there. One thing I hope for is that people will come up with their own ideas for puzzles – things that I would have never thought of.

What's the benefit of kids using the game vs. a computer? When you're using a computer, you learn how to use it, but not how it works. And when learning on a computer, there's all this syntax that you have to get just right, like putting a semicolon at the end of the line, capitalizing a letter or not – that puts a big barrier in front of kids when they're still learning to type.

The advantage with the game is there is no syntax. You program just by putting parts on the board. You learn raw logic without having to get over the hurdle of learning the language first. And there's other reasons, like parents aren't comfortable with their kids having too much screen time, you have to worry about getting it charged, taking care of it, internet connection ... all sorts of things that can go wrong.

Why did you decide to use Kickstarter? Well, I don't have enough money to make it myself. Needed some help there. And it's a good platform for testing an idea out – it's hard to get a feel for whether people would actually buy a product, unless you can test if it works in the market. So it's really nice to have that proof already that it is worth scaling up.

And there's a whole section dedicated to STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math]. I think people in education often go to Kickstarter to look for platforms they might want to back.

Fill in the blank: If you like ___, you'll like Turing Tumble. To learn how things work.

What's in the future for Turing Tumble? The way I thought this would go is that we would make just enough to give the game to the people that ordered it, maybe a few more to start taking to toy conventions. As it is, we can actually start a little business. I think our ultimate goal is really to be able to get this in every classroom, and I think we can do that.

Meet the Minnesotan is a new weekly feature at GoMN focusing on creators, do-gooders, and interesting people throughout our state. Do you know someone who should be in the spotlight? Email suggestions to ksapp@gomn.com.

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