The Powder Toy - the grown boy's sandbox of fun

Updated: September 4, 2020

One thing that defines (and unifies) the typical male between the age of 5 and 85 is the desire to blow things up. Which is why, if you have the ability to exercise explosive desires in a safe way, you should. Commence computer simulations. Commence The Powder Toy. To wit.

After I wrote my article on a similarly but less violently themed Biogenesis, a few readers mentioned The Powder Toy, a physics sandbox game that lets you realistically simulate interaction between gravity, air, pressure, heat, and various substances. Sounds like a recipe for awesome. Naturally, I set about testing.


We didn't start the fire

The game setup is trivial. Download, run. On Linux, 'tis a single binary that runs inside a faux CDE terminal window. Graphics wise, The Powder Toy doesn't look impressive - something like a typical 1985 game but with a lot more pixels. Then, the real fun starts.

Now, The Powder Toy tries to achieve a lot - with a single interface menu to boot. Which is why it looks super busy and hard to understand at first. I struggled figuring out what I need to do. But slowly, I discovered the complex magic of the simulation.

On the right side, you have a vertical toolbar that lets you select a substance type - solids, liquids, gases, explosives, elements, electronic parts. Then, in the bottom, you have a horizontal toolbar with a more detailed list of materials for the selected substance. For instance, under explosives, you will find bomb, bigger bomb, fuse, ignition cord, lightning, fire, and a bunch of other cool stuff. You're getting where this is going of course.

The Powder Toy lets you create an environment where your creation, shall we say, a big bang, comes to bear. You can draw a settings, with walls, receptacles, solids, etc, and then fill them with materials. This way, you can trap gases and liquids, or add solids. Indeed, the first thing I did was a crude vessel, which I filled with broken glass, metal powder, some explosive, and set this ka-boom. You then witness and enjoy the realistic destruction of your sandbox as the CPU revs up.

My work, ignition cord

My work, explosion

Cue Mission Impossible music ... and enjoy the fireworks.

Existing gallery of simulations

But this is only the beginning. You can also load one of the many existing simulations, created by the Powder Toy community, with a Minecraft-like variety of the beautiful and the bizarre. You are only limited by your patience and desire to invest, and perhaps some creativity. Overall, the range of options is limitless. You can create stickmen, operate machines, generate electronic circuits, and of course, make things explode. Indeed, the presence of explosion-prone simulations is not surprising. There's quite a few atom bomb saves you can select. Someone even modeled the Tsar Bomba.

Simulation 1

Simulation 2

Simulation 3

Simulation 4

Simulation 5

You can pause and resume your simulations, as well as save them as many times as you like, so you shouldn't be afraid of making small modifications to your setup. Now, this is just the tip of the iceberg, and mastering The Powder Toy takes an intimidating level of dedication, attention to detail and time. It's quite addictive. Speaking of icebergs, you sure want to make one, and then make it come in contact with a volcano, and then add a nuke or five into the mix ...


The Powder Toy is a blast. I am really happy to have been told about it, because for some reason, I've not encountered it until very recently. Such a delightful find. The simulator is devilishly simple and intricate, somewhat difficult to use but also challenging and motivating in a good way, and totally totally fun.

There's something magical about blowing things up. Especially when it's done in a nice, realistic way. Serious fun, then. Definitely worth testing, just make sure to vacate time, because 'tis a black hole. Speaking of black holes, did I mention you can add those too? Whole family entertainment. Highly recommended.