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Khet Tournament brings fun, prizes to Photonics West

By Dirk Fabian

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the invention of the laser at Photonics West will definitely be educational, but will it be fun?  If you like to game and compete against other conference goers for some nice prizes, then the answer is clearly "yes!"  The makers of Khet will host a World tournament on Wednesday of Photonics West for people looking to test their skills of logic and beam steering. 

The game Khet is an ingenious combination of lasers and basic chess concepts.  Players steer a low-power, eye safe laser beam around a game board by placing different kinds of optics (mirrors, beam splitters, etc.) on the game board.  The game is won when a player illuminates his opponents pharoah piece with his laser.  You can block the beam, redirect it, and eliminate other pieces in the process for a unique strategic game. 

The game itself has won several awards, including Mensa game of the Year, and has shipped 75,000+ copies.  This alone is an unusual success for an independent game company - the market being dominated by huge multinational companies. 

Student chapters at the Tecnologico de Monterrey and the University of Central Florida were some of the first groups to run Khet tournaments a few years ago. They talked about these events in their chapter reports and it seemed like a natural fit for SPIE and Innovention Toys to work together.  Not only is it fun for grad students looking to relax and have some friendly competition, Khet is also clearly a gateway game for teaching younger people about how lasers reflect and interact with matter. 

Recently, I spoke with Luke Hooper, inventor of the game and CEO of Innovention Toys about Khet. Hooper designed Khet as part of a product design course at Tulane University in New Orleans. Challenged to combine a piece of modern technology with a game, Hooper first sketched the game out on a napkin.  While he didn't complete the game in time for the course, the course professor and his advisor encouraged him to continue developing it.  He recruited a few other grad students to found a company with him to produce a retail version of the game. The first 5000 units arrived in New Orleans just as Hurricane Katrina struck, scattering the founders to various parts of the US. Despite this and other significant challenges, Khet has taken hold at specialty game shops and sales have grown.

When he is not working on Khet, Hooper still works with his advisor on product design and laser processing of materials, most recently tissue. His advisor is Dr. Michael Larson, now at UC-Colorado Springs, who works on laser suturing and is in charge of the Institute for Innovation and Commercialization a design institute at UCCS.

Hooper sees the main direction they are moving with Khet is as an educational tool.  They have a group of teachers working on curriculum modules utilizing Khet, which they hope to have available in time for Photonics West. 

Now, thanks to a wholesale agreement with Innovention Toys, more Student Chapters can get into the act.  Student Chapter tournaments can act as feeder tournaments for the Photonics West version, and chapters can get wholesale pricing on games to run their own competition.  For example, just this month (20 Nov.) the University of Arizona SPIE/OSA student chapter is hosting a Khet Laser Chess Tournament at the Optical Sciences Center with prizes for the winners. They have purchased some game sets that can be checked out from the library to buff up your Khet skills.  Tournaments are popping up all over.

Having Khet associated with a design firm has some added benefits for the winner of the Photonics West tournament.   Innovention Toys will use their 3D camera and CNC machine to create a Khet piece from the head of the winner of the Photonics West Tournament.  If you've always wanted to be immortalized in plastic, your golden opportunity is here.  See you on the exhibit floor in January!