One-dimensional Connect Four




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I've been going back through my piles of stuff from the back of a cupboard personal archives, and found a sheet I had put together way back in the late nineties.

It was how to play a game of four-in-a-row (usually known as Connect 4), entirely in one dimension.  Two dimensional Connect Four is quite common, and many coffee tables have a set of three-dimensional four-in-a-row, and I have even seen a version of the game played in four dimensions, but the one-dimensional version seems to be totally absent from stores and the internet.

According to my scribbled notes to accompany the sheet, the original article was by Angus Lavery in Games and Puzzles magazine, in 1994.  It was created as about a quick game to play with loose counters, but I decided to make a coffee-table version that also automatically re-groups the counters for you.

(Unfortunately, I did not keep the original magazine page, so the above is all the information I have.  I have tried searching the internet for Mr Lavery, to no avail.  If you know Mr Lavery, or you are Mr Lavery, please get in touch so I can make sure he's OK with this Instructable.)

Step 1: Materials and Tools

The main material is 6mm plywood, along with woodglue, varnish, and two contrasting paint colours.

Tools were; Jigsaw, scroll saw, files, sander and rotary tool with sanding bits.

This is also the first time I have used a Spanish Windlass in an instructable...

Step 2: Design.

You can create your own design, or use/modify the one I have attached.

The main features of the "board" are:
  • It needs three layers - the outside two layers create a raised lip to retain the counters on edge.
  • It needs to be curved in the fashion of a cartoon smile, so that the counters roll to the centre.
  • It needs to be a little longer than the ten counters
You may need legs for stability, or you may not.  It depends partly on the actual thickness of the board you use, and on the exact design you go with.

Step 3: Cutting

However you've created your design, you need to transfer it to the wood.

The easiest way is to draw around it in pencil (pencil can be easily sanded off the wood later).

Unless you are skilled with the scroll saw, leave wiggle-space between the pieces, and, when you cut them out, do not try to follow the lines - cut a little bit outside the lines, because you can sand off excess, but you can't easily glue sawdust back in place.

Go steady, don't force the cut, and take curves gradually - you don't want to snap the blade.  If the wood starts to snag on the blade or vibrate madly, back off slightly, and try again more slowly.  If this keeps happening, you may need to replace your blade.


Specific risks and hazards will vary from machine to machine, but there are some general guidelines:
  • Fingers.  Hold the wood behind the blade as much as you can (although some modern blades have teeth on all sides!), and if you can't avoid getting close to the blade, use a piece of scrap timber as a pusher.
  • Eyes.  I would say "use the guard", but I found the view through the guard to be far too distorted.  Instead, I wore safety goggles.
  • Dust.  It turns out that scroll saw dust is finer than hand saw dust, and spends a lot of time air-borne.  I should have worn a mask.

Step 4: The Spanish Windlass

Step 5: Shaping and Finishing.

Step 6: Counters.

The counters started out as rough discs cut from the same ply as the board.

This proved to be ridiculously fiddly, and I switched instead to Kitewife's suggestion of using slices from an old wooden broom-handle.  To keep the slices even, I rolled the broom-handle through the scroll saw.

Half the counters need to be clearly different to the other counters, so I stained five of the counters with walnut stain.  Why walnut?  Because I happened to have a tin on the shelf.  I applied the stain with a scrap of sponge, rather than a brush.  I could simply dispose of the sponge without having to clean it off.  The stain is very messy to use, so do it on a surface you don't mind getting messy, but do not use paper, as it can stick permanently to the stain as it dries.

I also varnished the counters, but they did not match the board because they were made of a different, and much older wood.

Step 7: The Finished Set!

That's it, all done.

The whole thing is a little over ten inches long, but less than an inch thick - this means that it can stand nicely on a mantelpiece, or on that narrow bit of spare shelf in front of your paperbacks.

If you make a set, and leave it visible to visitors, I guarantee it will be a conversation-starter (although, if your friends are like mine, the conversation will start "What have you been up to now...?")

Although this version is hand-made from plywood and reclaimed timber, it could be made of almost any flat material. I'd like to see folk produce cardpunk or steampunk versions, and I'd love to make a set from different-coloured sheets of laser-cut acetate (or laser-cut plywood, come to that - there would be a lot less sanding to do!). I also have an idea that this could be retro-fitted to the arm of a garden chair or sun-lounger ...

Step 8: Playing the Game.

The rules of the game are simple, but winning isn't as quick as you might think.
  • Arrange all ten counters in a row of alternating colours.
  • Players take turns to move three counters at a time.
  • The counters must be next to each other.
  • At least one moved counter must be the player's own colour.
  • The three pieces must be moved to the end of the row (although it doesn't matter which end)
  • The three pieces must stay in the same order.
  • The end pieces may not be part of a group of three moved counters.
  • The gap must be closed by sliding the counters together.
  • The winner is the first player to get a row of four (or more) of their own colour.
I've drawn up a diagram of a typical starting move, and posed one in the photos, along with an example of a typical winning situation.

Give it a go, and if you make a set, please, post a photo of it in the comments.



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    44 Discussions


    2 years ago

    This may sound pedantic, but what is the purpose of moving three at a time? Would it more (or less) of a challenge to move one piece at a time?

    1 reply

    Reply 2 years ago

    The short answer is that "those are the rules that I found". I didn't design the game itself, just this particular format for playing.

    But, thinking about it, moving single pieces would quickly reduce the game to stale-mate, with players moving a single piece in and out of winning positions. Moving three pieces forces players to think more, and to think strategically - they not only have to make moves that result in a win, but that result in their opponent not being able to win first.

    Does that make sense?


    3 years ago

    ITS SO AWESOME! I make my own out of foam with a futuristic look

    photo-2015-08-14 17:28.jpgphoto-2015-08-14 17:28.jpgphoto-2015-08-14 17:28.jpgphoto-2015-08-14 17:28.jpg
    1 reply

    4 years ago on Introduction

    I Have a question: Are you not allowed the move the outside counters?

    parker davis

    6 years ago on Introduction

    please come up with a good name for this so when i make it i have a proper name and so i dont feel like i am stealing your thunder when i call it something else

    1 reply
    Kitemanparker davis

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    What do you mean, like a brand-name?

    It doesn't have a "proper" name - feel free to call it whatever you like.

    Hi, I just wanted to submit a link to my blog where I (loosely) followed your tutorial and built my version of a one dimensional connect 4:
    I'd love your opinion.

    1 reply

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    I think it might.

    My eldest took it to his Cipher Club, and they played it with "no colour" - whoever made a four of *either* colour won the game.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    I don't know - why not give it a try, and post an instructable on it?


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Very interesting. I like it. I may try to make one because I have a lot of luan pieces laying around....

    1 reply

    7 years ago on Introduction

    Great 'Ible, but I think it's more of a two dimensioned thing. Playing connect four with 1 dimension would be stacking lines.

    2 replies

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    The playing pieces happen in a single line, and pieces outside of that line are not in play.

    Mathematically-speaking, a single dimension does not have to be straight.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Considering that I have no counter-argument, I have to say you're right. BTW: Nice 'stache in the new picture.