I Spy: New App Lets You Hunt for 'Agent Higgs'

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Higgs fever continues to mount, on the heels of growing rumors that a major announcement is likely to be made next month; CERN is holding a July 4 “seminar” to discuss the latest results.

While you’re cooling your heels waiting for the big reveal, you can kill some time with a clever new app for your smart phone or tablet: Agent Higgs.

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The brainchild of independent game designer Andy Hall, Agent Higgs casts the boson as a secret agent trying to escape detection. The LHC physicists are the villains in this scenario, and the player’s goal is to help hide the Higgs by masking it with other elementary particles — much like the genuine Higgs can be obscured by signature decay patterns of other particles.

It’s remarkably easy to play, and you don’t need a physics PhD to do so. Each particle is represented by an icon on a square, and the player slides a given particle around the grid to keep the stationary Higgs boson hidden. (You can watch a demo of the game play here.)

Here’s the catch: those moveable electrons, muons, neutrinos and so forth have different properties, and you have to contend with various physical forces and decay patterns.

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That means you can’t have an electron approach another electron — they will repel one another. And if any particle meets its antimatter counterpart, both will “annihilate.”

Per Hall’s Website: “An electron has a negative charge. A muon neutrino has no electric charge. … Opposite charges attract, like charges repel. Matter and antimatter will explode in a burst of energy.” You get the idea.

Did I mention there are more than 100 levels? As with any game, as you move up, the game gets harder. You might want to brush up on your Standard Model.

Not surprisingly, Hall used to a physics grad student, and did a stint at the Museum of Science in Boston doing science outreach before branching out into the world of game design.

“My goal is the make things that bridge the gap between the worlds of simulations and games,” Hall claims, and he thinks these games like Agent Higgs are a great way to introduce players to some pretty abstract physics concepts. “I want to combine the value and rigor of simulations with the learning curves and motivation of games.”

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So how did he do? ATLAS physicist Pauline Gagnon found one minor scientific error: “An antineutrino meeting an electron should form a W boson,” she told New Scientist, but added, “Who cares? I just wasted two hours on a sunny Saturday morning on it.”

Sounds like a hit to me. You can purchase Agent Higgs at the iTunes store for a reasonable 99 cents.

Images and video: Test Tube Games