One of the items on my to-do list is to sit down and gain proficiency in KiCad, the open-source electronic circuit board design software suite. I have had the “Getting Started” guide open in a browser tab for months! I’ve played around with it before to produce simple schematics and board layouts, and I remember routing wires in a schematic/on a board is not an exact science. There’s no one best practice, it’s more of an art that the skilled practitioner can do far better than a beginner. Looking at all the places a wire has to visit, avoiding the places it should not visit, and repeat the process for more wires keeping them out of each other’s way. It tickles a very specific part of my brain.
The same part of my brain came out to play recently in an entirely different context: the single player puzzle game “Freshly Frosted“. A given game board is the floor of a doughnut factory, with all the machines of the assembly line already installed. Our job is to route conveyer belt, so a plain doughnut receives the proper toppings (or none at all) on their way to the delivery counter. Simple in concept, but there is surprising depth. The game has a total of 144 levels, organized by a dozen doughnuts in a dozen boxes. The first level of each box is always very easy, but it introduces a new concept. Each level in the box uses the same concept but increases difficulty. By the time we get to the twelfth and final level of the box, we have a serious challenge on our hands. Fortunately, the game lets us skip levels to a limited degree, so we can set aside some of these challenging puzzles for later.
I felt the levels were accurately sorted by difficulty, which ramps up smoothly. The jump from one level to the next never felt jarring. In my personal experience, most the first box was easily solved within a minute, and I was almost ready to write it off as a simple kid’s game until level 1-11. This eleventh level of the first box was the first one where I had to sit and think over the problem for a bit before I could figure it out. Level 3-12 (final level of the third box) was the first puzzle where I had to leave the game and ponder the problem overnight before I solved it. (Picture of this post.)
My only gripe about this game is a handful of puzzles that didn’t just depend on order of operation, they also depended on the timing of those operations. I would get very close and, to cross the finish line, I had to lengthen or shorten certain belts to adjust timing. I did not enjoy those puzzles, because I end up spending a lot of time struggling to fine tune timing instead of the more enjoyable and rewarding adventure of solving to fit logical constraints. But this fits with my KiCad analogy, where we’d have to struggle with keeping lengths of differential signal wire pairs the same. Routing and timing, just like circuit design!
I wouldn’t go as far as to call Freshly Frosted “PCB Routing: The Game” but it’s pretty darned close. A skilled Freshly Frosted player may or may not find it easier to learn KiCad routing, but I expect it to exercise relevant portions of the brain either way. For the month of November 2022, Freshly Frosted is free for Amazon Prime members to play on Amazon’s Luna game streaming service. Otherwise, it is ~$10 on all the supported game platform stores. Steam for PC, Microsoft Xbox, etc. Highly recommended from me!