is creating software

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per creation
  • You'll find out the moment I release a new public puzzle. I'd prefer this to be a free reward. So don't use this – sign up to the mailing list.
per creation
  • A hug (if you do those)
  • A firm handshake (if you'd prefer)
  • Your name in the credits (if you like)
  • You'll find out the moment I release a new public puzzle.
  • Access to a back-channel for the puzzles where we can chat about how you use them (and more).
per creation
  • Get the puzzle a week before I release it publicly
  • Chance to get your favourite hint into the public release.
  • Everything in Supporter




I make tiny, simple Black Box Machines. They're puzzles – but they don't have a solution.

They're free. They work in your browser. They can appear complex, but they've each got a simple and findable underlying behaviour. I know that they're used by testers, teachers and recruiters. They're often used to reveal how someone tends to test. They have a habit of sticking in your mind.

People seem to like them. You can play with the current set at

I'd like to give you a hand in their development. I'd like to get to know you better. So that's what this page is for.

Please sign up and inspire me to make more.

Thank you so much for coming here, and for reading this far.

Patreon and patronage, rewards and goals
I want these toys to be free to use. I want to think of (and talk to) my users when I'm making new Black Box Machines, and some of you want to reward me for making them. 

Patreon connects makers with supporters both by building a community and by aggregating small payments. If you sign up, I'll get a dollar from you each time I finish and release a new free puzzle. You get a warm fuzzy feeling from helping me make these things, and we all get to be in touch about current and new puzzles.

As a thank you, I'll credit you on any Black Box Machine to which you've contributed. I've also set up some more valuable rewards for people who make larger contributions. And I've set myself some goals – the more people sign up, the more I can contribute.

Answers to anticipated questions
  • The Black Box Machines will remain free to use. 
  • I aim to release 3 - 12 puzzles a year.
  • Credits will be on a slide-in list. You'll be credited forever.
  • A Sponsor will have a clickable logo on the front of their puzzle for a year (and gets credited forever).
  • I'm currently building in HTML / CSS / JavaScript, and those puzzles work on most devices. My earlier ones are in flash, and they... don't. One of my later goals is to convert the old ones. You won't pay for conversions, just new puzzles.
  • You'll get access to a private area. I'll ask questions, think out loud, take suggestions. And, of course, you can chat to each other. Great hints get prizes.
  • I may make them into apps... my friends at Altom made them into real Black Boxes.
  • I'm not at all connected with the very excellent iOS app BlackBox Puzzles – Think Outside the Box.

Why I want you to sign up
Building an audience on Patreon helps me to gather people who are particularly interested in these puzzles. I want to know that you're out there, because it will help me stay keen to make more. And I want to know how you use them, because that will help me to make the next puzzles novel and interesting. 

Why you might want to sign up
You might want to encourage me to make more. You might want to say thank you for the ones that have been around for a while. You might want to get an advantage in case you come across one of these in a job interview. You might want to know how I make the things. You might want to use them to enthuse your team.

What other people say about the Black Box Puzzles...
Elisabeth Hendrickson @testobsessed: "James Lyndsay’s marvelous black box testing machines" (blog article)
Weekend Testing @weekendtesting "one of the most awesome sessions"
Emma Keavney @emjaykay80: "They are awesome..head wrecking but [expletive deleted] awesome!! :D give me more! :)"
John Stevenson @steveo1967: "the black box machines by @workroomprds are fantastic"
Shrini Kulkarni @shrinik: "What can be more challenging than cracking these machines."
Richard Bradshaw @friendlytester: "I DID IT, I BLOODY SOLVED IT!"

How do I use them?
I use them to give people a chance to remember how it feels to explore without requirements, to move from frustration to revelation, to pair in discovery, to hypothesise and experiment and test and model and test again, to help intuition and analysis work together, to practice hinting and coaching, to approach (and cross) the boundaries of the system they're playing with, to watch their ideas move from simple to WTF and back to simple. Mostly, I hand someone a device, ask them to tell me what's going on, and watch casually but carefully.

The puzzles are a perennial feature of @TheTestLab events at conferences around the world.

I occasionally run Black Box Puzzle workshops. Here's video of me running a 100-person workshop for Manchester's North-west Tester Gathering in late 2015 (vast thanks to Phil Hughes for camerawork and intensive editing).

I teach exploratory testing with a different set of similar exercises, designed to give a positive learning experience for a collection of approaches. It's usually a 2-day on-site workshop. I've taught it at Nokia, Oracle, Adobe, Google, the BBC, GE and many others. Here's more about that.

Sponsorship and customised puzzles
Patreon pledges are recurring – which doesn't work so well if you want to make a one-off payment for something special.

Contact me directly with the following email links.
  • You want to sponsor my next puzzle: For £250, you'll get your name and logo with a clickable link on the front of the next new Black Box Machine. One sponsor per puzzle, and your payment sponsors one puzzle for one year.
  • You want an exclusive puzzle: For £500, you'll pick an unreleased puzzle. I'll give you everything you need to host it on your own site, and it's exclusively yours. Your name and logo go on the front. Patrons don't pay for these.
  • You want me to make an exclusive puzzle to your own design: For £1000, we'll jointly design the puzzle (as in, its principles and mechanisms – not the simple skin). When we get something which you like and which I feel I can deliver, I'll make it and send it to you for your exclusive use. Patrons don't pay for these.
  • You want something else: I'll be absolutely delighted to hear from you – you have the best ideas.

I've been wondering about this for years. It's great to be off the fence. I'm looking forward to finding out how this plays.
12 of 15 patrons
Four puzzles in 2019
I'll prepare to make at least four puzzles this year.
1 of 12
By becoming a patron, you'll instantly unlock access to 13 exclusive posts
By becoming a patron, you'll instantly unlock access to 13 exclusive posts

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