Think Excel is just for spreadsheets? Think again — there are plenty of fun and interesting things to do with the program that are sure to change your mind.
If you’ve ever used Excel in the classroom or the office, you will already be familiar with its ability to create charts and organize data. However, delving a little deeper into its capabilities will reveal just how powerful a program it really is.
With a surprisingly broad range of graphical options, as well as the flexibility that its implementation of VBA and macros offers up, there’s plenty of scope to use Excel beyond its intended use. The only limit is your imagination — as well as your knowledge of how to make your ideas become a reality. Here are some of the most creative uses of Excel to create fun, weird projects.
Awesome AutoShape Art
Excel might not seem like to go-to program for digital art — or even rank as one of the top ten — but that hasn’t stopped 73-year old Tatsuo Horiuchi. For much of the past decade, Horiuchi has been using the AutoShape tool to create seriously impressive artwork.
While the finished product might look like a traditional Japanese painting, Horiuchi’s high-tech method couldn’t be any more different to the old ways. Countless AutoShape designs are layered over one another to build up a picture — apparently the artist initially tried to use Word for his creations, but found that Excel offered a much less limiting canvas.
All you need to get started creating art in Excel is the program itself and a little creativity, but don’t expect to match Horiuchi’s efforts straight away. The artist discovered his talent when he entered an AutoShape art competition in 2006, and reportedly blew any and all competition out of the water. Who knows what he could do with a program like Photoshop?
A Sudoku Solver and Generator
If you’re a puzzle fan who can’t get enough Sudoku problems, now you’ll be able to create an endless stream of them in Excel. This handy tool from Bruce McPherson is just a humble .xlsm file, but thanks to the program’s VBA capabilities, it’s able to both create Sudoku puzzles and solve existing ones that you might be stuck on.
McPherson offers an explanation of how he put the tool together on his website, and if you’re looking to dig deeper into Excel — in particular using VBA — then it’s well worth reading. Sudoku fans will love this project for its functionality, but anyone can learn from the techniques that have been used to create it.
A Traditional Slide Puzzle
You can even use Excel to relive the fun (perhaps mixed with frustration) of a slide puzzle. Using a combination of macros, the cells of this spreadsheet are turned into tiles of the puzzle that you can then click in an effort to return the image to its proper arrangement.
Its creators at XLCalibre offer up the Excel file itself so that you can test it for yourself — or, if you’re feeling daring, you can pick it apart and attempt to make your own changes. Depending on your familiarity with the inner workings of Excel, this could mean anything from changing the image that the puzzle is based on, or extrapolating its use of mouse-based input into a game of your own.
A Working Flight Simulator
While some longtime Microsoft Office users will remember the oddball flight simulator tucked away as an easter egg in Excel 1997, this project from Excel Unusual uses the program itself to build a functional simulation. It might not be quite as complex as Microsoft’s own attempt at a flight sim, but it’s still a very impressive use of the software.
There’s no simulation of forces acting upon your ‘craft’ and only the most basic of visuals included — you’re simply given the joystick and left to experiment with moving around your neon-tinged environment. To be clear, this isn’t a ‘game’ as such, more of an exploration of just how far the limits of Excel can be pushed. However, there’s no reason that it couldn’t be transformed into a game with a few tweaks and developments to its sturdy foundations.
A Planetary Model
This project, also constructed by Excel Unusual, is a great example of Excel’s modelling capacity. In much the same way as you would use the program to create a productivity dashboard, you can also use it to set up a system of interconnected variables that a user can then manipulate and experiment with.
Here, it’s implemented as a model of the planets — but the same foundations could be used for any number of projects. You could use it to build a model that charts how far a vehicle could travel at a given speed in a given time, or a working example of a mathematical equation. This sort of project is a great interactive activity for children, and can work just as well at home as it does in the classroom.
Old-School Computer Animations
The trend today is to make user interfaces as clean and minimalist as possible — but that wasn’t always the case. If you’re looking to relive the glory days of gaudy interface design, you can do so with some of the animations it’s possible to cook up in Excel.
There’s not much function to these animations, but they’ll be a pleasant blast from the past for anyone that was using computers way back when. Making them for yourself is a little bit more complicated than simply watching them; you’ll need to use Excel VBA to program the behaviors of the sprites involved, and you may well find that learning the language isn’t quite worth it just to recreate Space Invaders.
A Tetris Clone
Perhaps the most addictive game of all time can be played directly from inside Excel — it might be time to abandon any hopes of productivity. There are countless different versions of Tetris available online that have been made in Excel, but the one created by Hamish and Andy is a particularly straightforward and well-designed example.
Admittedly, it’s lacking the color variation that the original had, but that could very well be a personal project for you to take on for yourself. Beyond that, there’s plenty to be learned from the way this version of Tetris has been assembled; how to keep a running ‘high score’ total, how to randomize which block is set to fall next, how to implement a range of different player inputs.
A simple puzzle game like this is a great way of getting to grips with just what can be done in Excel — or simply getting a few minutes of Tetris in while you’re meant to be working on spreadsheets.
If you want to create something more productive instead, how about making Excel send emails using VBA?