This is a lexicon of terms relating to John Horton Conway's Game of Life.

This lexicon was compiled by Stephen A. Silver - see below for additional credits. See his web-site for contact information.

The lastest versions of this lexicon (both HTML and ASCII) should be available from the Life Lexicon Home Page.


The largest single source for the early versions of this lexicon was a glossary compiled by Alan Hensel "with indispensable help from John Conway, Dean Hickerson, David Bell, Bill Gosper, Bob Wainwright, Noam Elkies, Nathan Thompson, Harold McIntosh, and Dan Hoey".

Other sources include the works listed in the bibliography at the end of this lexicon, as well as pattern collections by Alan Hensel and David Bell (and especially Dean Hickerson's file stamp.l in the latter collection), and the web sites of Mark Niemiec, Paul Callahan, Achim Flammenkamp, Robert Wainwright and Heinrich Koenig. Recent releases also use a lot of information from Dean Hickerson's header to his 1995 stamp file.

Most of the information on recent results is from the discoverers themselves.

The following people all provided useful comments on earlier releases of this lexicon: David Bell, Nicolay Beluchenko, Johan Bontes, Scot Ellison, Nick Gotts, Dave Greene, Alan Hensel, Dean Hickerson, Dieter Leithner, Mark Niemiec, Gabriel Nivasch, Peter Rott, Andrew Trevorrow and Malcolm Tyrrell.

The format, errors, use of British English and anything else you might want to complain about are by Stephen Silver.


This lexicon is copyright © Stephen Silver, 1997-2003. It may be freely copied and/or modified as long as due credit is given. This includes not just credit to those who have contributed in some way to the present version (see above), but also credit to those who have made any modifications.


I have adopted the following convention: all characters (including spaces) other than letters and digits are ignored for the purposes of ordering the entries in this lexicon. (Many terms are used by some people as a single word, with or without a hyphen, and by others as two words. My convention means that I do not have to list these in two separate places. Indeed, I list them only once, choosing whichever form seems most common or sensible.) Digits lexicographically precede letters.


The main thing to note about the format of the HTML version is that all keywords are preceded by a colon. For example, entering :foo in the dialogue box of your browser's Find command will take you straight to the definition of the first word beginning with "foo" (or at least it would if there were any). This is the recommended way of finding a particular definition when there is no link to click on.

The diagrams in this lexicon are in a very standard format. You should be able to simply copy a pattern, paste it into a new file and run it in your favourite Life program. (Note that Internet Explorer 4 has a bug which causes this not to work sometimes.) If you use Johan Bontes' Life32 or Mirek Wójtowicz' MCell then you can, of course, paste the pattern directly into the Life program. I have restricted myself to diagrams of size 64×64 or less.

Most definitions that have a diagram have also some data in brackets after the keyword. Oscillators are maked as pn (where n is a positive integer), meaning that the period is n (p1 indicates a still life). Wicks are marked in the same way but with the word "wick" added. For spaceships the speed (as a fraction of c, the speed of light), the direction and the period are given. Fuses are marked with speed and period and have the word "fuse" added. Wicks and fuses are infinite in extent and so have necessarily been truncated, with the ends stabilized wherever practical.


This lexicon covers only Conway's Life, and provides no information about other cellular automata. David Bell has written articles on two other interesting cellular automata: HighLife (which is similar to Life, but has a tiny replicator) and Day & Night (which is very different, but exhibits many of the same phenomena). These articles can be found on his web-site.


If you find any errors (including typos) or serious omissions, then please let me know.


When deciding whether to use full or abbreviated forms of forenames I have tried, wherever possible, to follow the usage of the person concerned.


Every other author may aspire to praise; the lexicographer can only hope to escape reproach.    Samuel Johnson, 1775


This lexicon is dedicated to the memory of Dieter Leithner, who died on 26 February 1999.