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Team Untangle: Collaborative performance in a physical puzzle

How do people solve problems together, which strategy proves best? Or might we even be better off alone? By providing a deceptively simple game in a large interactive playing field, Team Untangle tries to explore and measure our problem solving behavior.

Team Untangle is an interactive installation which gathers research about how people work together in problem solving using pervasive gaming. We invite people to play in an simple installation based puzzle with an unspecified amount of players. The puzzle could be solved quicker with an increased amount of participants if people work together. Interesting behavior patterns may be found in how people choose to solve the puzzle together, or alone, including communication, co-operation and leadership.

Illustration: Casper Schipper

Graphic by Casper Schipper

Do people work better together or alone?

We have created a puzzle based interactive installation to explore the possibilities of this question. The simple ‘Untangle’ game has been around for years as a small game made by computer scientists which uses various algorithms to search for intersections between nodes. It has a number of nodes connected by lines and the aim of the game is to move the nodes, along with the lines connecting them so that no line crosses over another. As the game goes up in levels the more intersections there are and the more complex the puzzle becomes to solve. We have taken a different approach to interacting with the game, instead of one person moving one node at once, we allow multiple players to move many nodes at the same time.


We created a playing field and used motion recognition system to track ‘blobs’ as people entering the area. On this playing field we project our puzzle of nodes and lines ready to be solved. We created pre-existing set levels, and therefore data of the number of players and time it takes to solve the puzzle can be compared and our results will show us how well people work together, along with exploring some of the latest technological advances in image recognition and interactive pervasive gaming environments. It was important to us that the players didn’t have to do anything special in order to interact with our installation.

Set up

Simply walking on to the playing field is all we want our participants to do, yet provide these protagonists with a rich, immersive and challenging experience as we collect the data for this research. We placed a webcam above our playing field and used blob detection in the c# programming environment which passed information to an Adobe Flash application which is the game engine. Another Flash application was created to display the high scores though a separate projection on the wall.

Download Installation Requirements here

What do people need to do?

People need to solve a puzzle game. Depending on the number of players, this game can be played by one up to eight players simultaneously. The goal of the game is to solve a untangle puzzle as quick as possible; the less time it takes to complete the game, the higher the score will be. The game is collaborative: this means all players will have to team up in order to solve the puzzle.

Team Untangle in play
Image by Casper Schipper

The game is to be played physically. People control the game by moving around in a physical space. The game consists of a number of nodes, each connected to other nodes by at least two lines. Players can move the nodes around freely, aiming to remove all intersections between these lines. The moment no intersecting lines remain, the puzzle is solved and the game is finished.

Check out Casper’s website for other projects here.

Subscribe to Lieven’s YouTube account to see the other great projects he’s working on here.

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