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The elements of style: celebrating the seventh row with Toca Lab

Ununtrium! Ununoctium!

What's your favourite? Ununtrium? Ununoctium? Ununpentium strikes me as a bit of a rogue. Those are three of the four new elements that have just been discovered - the four that finish the seventh row of the periodic table! It was strangely heartening news: actual progress! Now on to 119!

In my house, though, we were a bit blase about it. Possibly because the naming committee is unlikely, once again, to use any of my suggestions, but largely because my daughter and I have been discovering elements for ages. Four new elements? We found ten over Christmas - one of which involved using the spinny thing, which always puts me on edge.

This is a Toca game I'm talking about, inevitably: Toca Lab, which squidged and squelched its way into my life late last year, ostensibly for the child of the house to play with, and quickly became a compulsion for all of us. The premise is still irresistible: here's an empty periodic table and a lab full of exciting toys, perfect for finding new elements. Go to it.

And we have. The delight of Toca Lab is working outwards from just one element and ending up with a dozen, of finding what happens if you heat something, electrify it, or douse it in colourful chemicals. All of this is handled with a wonderful knockabout tactility, and it's as much of a pleasure just playing with the basic lab toys at your disposal as it is closing the gaps in the table as you work.

At the heart of all this, though, is a serious point: Chemistry is the science of transformation, of tinkering with something until you have changed it into something new. Podgy and silly as the game's elements may be, with their cartoon faces and dopey voices, they crackle with unpredictable energy, and the game, such as it is, has a real sense of dynamism.

There's something else I like, too. The periodic table is a bit of a rabbit hole. Palladium, for example, was named after the asteroid Pallas, which was briefly considered to be a planet in its own right. There used to be four planets tucked in between Mars and Jupiter - I have an old diagram of the solar system that lists them and it looks quite weird. Playing Toca Lab with my daughter has captured this sense of the table: of the strange, often personal connections that link the elements of life. So 118 down? Let's get back to it.

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Christian Donlan avatar

Christian Donlan

Features Editor

Christian Donlan is a features editor for Eurogamer. He is the author of The Unmapped Mind, published as The Inward Empire in the US.

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