This puzzle belongs to the puzzle series: hyper-modern art

Two visitors are standing in front of a painting in the hyper-modern art gallery, discussing it.

"Well, I have to admit that I really don't understand hyper-modern art. It seems artists nowadays just plot anything without thinking and call it art. What do you make of this?"

"My friend, this clearly shows that one needs a certain eye to see the art. I think, actually, the artist did a very interesting job here..."

"Really? I know art isn't something to look 'nice on the wall', but I simply can't stand work like this. There is no thought going into it... Just some paint... and then pick a random name for your work and let the art critics come up with some meaning of it all, and voila, that's what it has been about all along..."

"Oh, quite the contrary my friend. Looking at the work, the name of the painting couldn't have been chosen more appropriately. In fact, one could discover the name in the painting, if it hadn't have been labelled. I think it was quite cleverly done..."

Can you determine the name of the painting below?
It consists of 4 characters.


The puzzle is solely contained in the digital image above. You may want to download it for full resolution and processing. In your answer, you have to state a clear and detailed explanation why your 'name' is the correct one. The name alone and some loose connections are not enough.


5 Answers 5


Here is an answer that decodes this image. Not being a programmer, I used ImageJ and Stegsolve to look at this file.

Viewing with bit0 then bit1 provides these two images:

The left images are from the modern art picture above. The right images are generated from this Game of Life
Bit0 Bit1

Then continuing to toggle through bit2, bit3, bit4 provides the following images:

Bit2 Bit3 Bit4

And finally, these images with bit5, bit6, bit7

Bit5 Bit6 Bit7

So the name of the painting is:

LIFE because toggling through the bit planes provides images that match the original rules of Conway's Game of Life.
At each step in time, the following transitions occur:
- any live cell with fewer than two live neighbours dies, as if caused by under-population
- any live cell with two or three live neighbours lives on to the next generation
- any live cell with more than three live neighbours dies, as if by overcrowding
- any dead cell with exactly three live neighbours becomes a live cell, as if by reproduction

  • $\begingroup$ How about XOR-ing them instead of subtracting them? $\endgroup$
    – justhalf
    Commented Mar 5, 2015 at 8:59
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Hmm, can't think of any 4-character word other than the obvious answer of completing the phrase "The game of" with "Life". @Len: It's standard Game of Life rules, btw. $\endgroup$
    – justhalf
    Commented Mar 5, 2015 at 10:50
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ While I really like this question, I find it a bit hard to believe that you could deduce this from looking at a painting on the wall. In other words, the fluff doesn't really match the objective :P $\endgroup$
    – Set Big O
    Commented Mar 5, 2015 at 16:06
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Any self-respecting hyper-modern visitor to a hyper-modern art gallery would be wearing their favorite brand of hyper-modern HUD hardware, @Geobits, which should, as a core trade show demo feature, include the ability to run a Game of Life simulation with any arbitrary visual input filtered to yield a starting configuration. $\endgroup$
    – jscs
    Commented Mar 5, 2015 at 19:50
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Josh Good point. I'm more of a hack in this area of art; I just know what I like when I see it. $\endgroup$
    – Set Big O
    Commented Mar 5, 2015 at 20:00

Both answers make sense, but I believe it is called

Life. The pixels seem to represent Conway's Game of Life, and the (50) shades of gray represent how long ago/how many times the cells were living.

If not, then I believe it comes from that idea, but maybe

it has to be reversed to find a starting position in the shape of a word. I don't think this is the case because GoL is not reversible, but it is possible that this configuration is.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The 1x3 blinkers don't look right for cell life count, though, since the ones above and below should be roughly the same shade as the ones to the left and right. $\endgroup$
    – user88
    Commented Mar 4, 2015 at 19:36
  • $\begingroup$ +1 and on the right track. The word is correct, but I'm not accepting yet. It is possible to look into more detail and give a less ambiguous reasoning. So, I'll wait a bit longer and accept then the "best" (correct) answer. $\endgroup$
    – BmyGuest
    Commented Mar 4, 2015 at 22:09
  • $\begingroup$ My guess is that it's a bunch of iterations after the word "LIFE" spelled out in an initial configuration. $\endgroup$
    – user88
    Commented Mar 5, 2015 at 1:58
  • $\begingroup$ The puzzle does not involve guesses. Neither does it require you to go hunting trial and error style. $\endgroup$
    – BmyGuest
    Commented Mar 5, 2015 at 6:14
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Looking at the correct answer, technically "how long ago/how many times the cells were living" is correct, just that it is not linear =) $\endgroup$
    – justhalf
    Commented Mar 6, 2015 at 1:36

I'm calling it:

Life after death.


If you rotate the bottom half 180 degrees you'll notice that it's almost identical to the top half. However, the second "blob" (for lack of a better word) in the bottom half is now clearly an upright person. In the top half, the corresponding blob is a human curled up on the ground, dead. The blob just to the right of the person is the car that hit him. The rectangular blobs to the left and right are the crosswalk signs, and the blobs to the far left are the bystanders. To the far right is clearly a skunk that has been frightened by all the noise and is in the act of spraying.

  • $\begingroup$ I found your answer humourous. :-) $\endgroup$
    – kanchirk
    Commented Mar 4, 2015 at 21:47
  • $\begingroup$ Interesting idea and +1'd your comment about the rotation in the other answer. But your answer here is too much "interpretation" to be valid. And it is wrong ;c) (But I didn't down-vote it.) $\endgroup$
    – BmyGuest
    Commented Mar 4, 2015 at 22:13
  • $\begingroup$ now what's funny if this is not :D $\endgroup$
    – Donbhupi
    Commented Mar 5, 2015 at 10:00
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The puzzle states that the answer consists of 4 characters, so this is clearly wrong. And way too much "interpretation". $\endgroup$
    – KSmarts
    Commented Mar 5, 2015 at 17:33

I think it is named

Flip The bottom is the same as the top (with some allowance for distortion of colors) rotated 180 degrees.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Potential spoiler (since I can't put spoiler tags in a comment: If you rotate them, you'll notice that they're very similar, but the second "blob" is different. $\endgroup$
    – Duncan
    Commented Mar 4, 2015 at 17:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Duncan Thanks. I was having trouble with the markdown. $\endgroup$
    – Paul Rowe
    Commented Mar 4, 2015 at 17:53


Spin. If you rotate the image 180 degrees it remains the same. Flipping it vertically results in a horizontal flip, and does not remain the same.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Are you sure it has a rotational symmetry? ;c) $\endgroup$
    – BmyGuest
    Commented Mar 4, 2015 at 22:10

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