The Apple II Gains Eternal Life in the Web Browser

Back in 1989, in the same year Tim Berners-Lee was cooking up the world wide web, I asked myself if there were some way to connect joy and thinking in the minds of elementary school children. With the help of a talented Apple employee, Dave Lyons, I assembled a collection of logic puzzles named Number Squares that ran on Apple II computers. Back in those days the Apple II was king.

I founded a software company and sold that software commercially between 1990 and 1995. When the Apple II computer was discontinued by Apple in 1994, I thought the lifespan of that software had come to an end.

What I didn't anticipate is the talented person who created AppleIIGo, a Java applet that runs Apple II software within a web browser. When I heard about AppleIIGo, I posted a short note on the AppleIIGo discussion forum asking if there was anyone who could help create a disk image of the Number Squares logic puzzles I designed way back when. Robert Stone, from Columbus, Ohio, answered the call.

And soon after I was running Number Squares on various modern computers. Thanks to to Bill Martens at the Apple Puget Sound Program Library Exchange you can now play these puzzles right in your web browser on the Virtual Apple web site. The direct link to the puzzles is right here.

A QuickTime screencast I created showing the puzzles in action can be seen here.

Here are a few tips for playing these puzzles. First off, you need to remind people playing these puzzles that this software does not respond to any mouse actions. All the game play occurs via the four arrow keys -- along with the return key (also known as the "enter" key.) Sometimes you need to use the mouse to click onto the window of the Number Squares puzzles for the software to respond to the keyboard, though.

Start off with the 4 x 4 puzzles. You'll enjoy those most. My favorite puzzles are the 5 x 5 puzzles. Use the arrow keys to move the numbers into the open space. Keep in mind that if you solve a puzzle one or two seconds faster than you did before, you'll receive more substantially more points for doing so.

The points you receive for solving puzzles is based on how fast you solve the puzzles and how difficult the puzzle is. I've seen kids play these puzzles for more than an hour and not get tired of them. With the gentle guidance of an adult or older sibling, the puzzles become even more fun and interesting.

If you know some kids who like thinking, thanks for introducing them to the Number Squares puzzles. And if you know some kids who don't like thinking, thanks for introducing them to the Number Squares puzzles. It's useful to note, too, that these puzzles run well in Firefox on Ubuntu Linux, although you'll need to install Java onto Ubuntu first. The steps for installing Java on Ubuntu are not all that difficult. If you need help, ask one of your Linux buddies. If you don't yet have a Linux buddy, this is the time to find one.

Here are directions for installing Java on Ubuntu that worked for me:

First make sure the multiverse repository is enabled by going to

System->Administration->Synaptic Package Manager->Settings->Repositories

Then close Synaptic and open a terminal (Applications->Accessories->Terminal) and type

sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install sun-java6-jre

Here is a neat little part of this story that's worth sharing. Back in 1992 I sent out the Number Squares logic puzzles to be evaluated and rated by various educational software evaluators. The software evaluators in the Iowa City Community School District gave Number Squares a 5 out of 5 rating -- and recommended this software for the annual educational software guidebook called "Only the Best." (This guidebook is no longer published, but was a very useful guidebook back in the 1990's.)

If there is anyone in the Iowa City Community School District reading this blog posting today, it's thanks to you that this software is now available for free use on the web. You saw the reason why I designed this software. It took me about 6 months to design the software and it meant the world to me to receive your software evaluation. And now I give that software back to you for your students -- and all other students in the world -- to enjoy and use.

Thanks, Tim Berners-Lee, for inventing the web, too. I'm finding the web to be a pretty useful invention. It looks like our inventions from 1989 have converged in a way that I would have never imagined.

Phil Shapiro

(The blogger is an Adjunct Professor of Education at American University and works as the public geek at Takoma Park Maryland Library. He can be reached at philshapiroblogger@gmail.com)

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