Friggin Lasers

I have this (extremely loose) idea for an activity in which a laser beam shines onto a gameboard, parallel to the board, and you have to use mirrors to reflect the beam toward an end goal.

Crude cave iPad drawing of a green laser shooting a beam, bouncing it off mirrors, and reaching an end goal.

Maybe you’re solving a logic puzzle of sorts, where you are reaching the goal with limited equipment. Maybe it’s a game where you battle another player and balance offensive and defensive moves (Khet already exists). More likely, since I’ve been thinking about this for years and haven’t landed anywhere near an interesting idea, perhaps just a fun playground where you make a laser look extra cool.

In my mind, you can literally see the laser beam as you move the mirrors, obstacles, and whatnot.

Have you ever seen a green laser at night? This isn’t an exaggeration:

At night time, you can see the beam of a green laser no problem.

The first thing I wanted to do was get a super bright laser in which you could see the beam in normal room lighting conditions. Spoiler alert: this ain’t happening (safely). I have some very early memory of my uncles standing around a table playing with a (red) laser, bouncing it off mirrors and screwing around, and I could see the beam. Now that I’ve done my own experimentation as an adult, I’m fairly convinced I either couldn’t see the beam back then in the daylight/roomlight conditions, or they somehow heavily darkened the room.

This is how my thinking went: since you can very easily see a green laser at night, I should be able to buy a more powerful green laser and see it during the day. I’m aware that particulate matter in the air helps (clap two chalkboard erasers together, blow some smoke, use a fog machine, etc.), but that doesn’t seem like the only thing that matters. There is no more or less particular matter in the air at night, yet you can see the laser far more easily. Just needs more power!

The brightest lasers to the human eye are indeed green, so I started the journey there.

You can buy a green laser right off Amazon. There are a million options but they are all the same.

They weirdly don’t even list the power on any of the product pages I looked at, but they are gonna be 50mw

I have several of these. They are very bright lasers and are fun at night, but you definitely cannot see the beam in room light.

So I figured, more power! The best source I could find online is Big Lasers. I figured I’d email first, and they were very responsive.

Question: I know a fairly cheap off-the-shelf green laser produces a visible beam when it's quite dark, but what's the deal with visible beams in kind of "normal" room lighting situations? I'm not worried about the color I'm just interested in seeing the beam without having to turn out all the lights and block the windows and such. Not a laboratory, just a fun experiment/game I'm working on.

Answer: ok so you don't need the highest powers for this sort of thing, but I'd recommend something like the GX3 200mW, where you get a solid beam at night, can use it during the daytime at ranges 100 feet or less in the flush sun, or use it well in an indoor setting that will be visible with ambient light.

I ended up buying both a 100mW and 200mW version. The results? Well, you can tell they are both super damn bright when you look at the dot they produce on a wall, even in room light. But, sad trombone, you can’t see the beam. My laser guy was just wrong.

It’s very tempting to try a 400mW version, but that’s nerve-wracking territory there. You can see at the 1000mW (1W) version that’s a “burning” laser. Ain’t nobody playing a “game” with lasers that beefy. Too dangerous.

Ughghk I want it.

Annnnnyyyywayyyyy here’s where I’m at now. I’ve got the 200mW mounted on a stand at the edge of the playing field. I can bounce the beam around some stand-mounted mirrors, avoiding some obstacles.

It all works, except you can barely see the beam (as seen above). You can see the beam a bit at the end a smidge. That’s because that contraption in the middle is a little Ultrasonic Pond Fogger to emit some water mist. It kinda works, it’s just a bit splashy (hence the bowl-guards) and doesn’t emit quite enough mist/fog for it to make much of a difference in the room light.

If I spray some mist, you can see the beam pretty nicely for a second:

My dream of seeing a friggin laser beam blast its way across a game board in normal room light isn’t realized yet. I could probably get a more robust fog machine and build some walls around the board to contain it. Or just play with it at night with the lights off.


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9 responses to “Friggin Lasers”

  1. OA DESIGN says:

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  5. (Source)rer says:

    Fog Game dynamic. You pull cards / roll dice for added smoke, which helps you tune the laser, but creates time urgency.…

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  7. Andrew says:

    Maybe spread/scan the beam downward so it’s visible on the board?

  8. Brian Hart says:

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  9. Ann Bergin says:

    Aligning lasers is a real skill that not everyone has the patience for, so I totally get the logic puzzle aspect of this.

    However, ngl, I’m concerned for your safety with the setup you have, it looks way too easy to knock the laser over as it’s not fixed to the table, same with the mirrors. I’m also worried about the beam bouncing off the window behind. To do this more safely, you’d need something like an optical breadboard and mounts for the laser and the mirrors that you then screw down.

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