Block of the Week: Sand
Going against the grain
I love Minecraft's deserts, especially at sunset. There's nothing more beautiful than watching the rays of the red sun cast their glow over the dunes, then realising you need to flee for shelter as a zillion skeletons spawn all around you. Deserts are also home to a collection of Minecraft's handiest resources - cactuses (cactii?), bone, and our block of the week - sand!
Sand was added to Minecraft in the very earliest days of the game's development, on 28 May 2009, alongside trees, clouds and metal ores. Originally it only appeared in weird one-block thick beaches, but later it was tweaked to generate more naturally alongside oceans and as islands and deserts.
Nowadays sand spawns naturally in four-block-deep layers in various parts of most biomes of the Overworld. You'll find it everywhere from forests, to plains, to tundra and swamps. In Mesa biomes, you'll find a variant of sand that's red and acts exactly like regular sand except that you can't use it to make concrete. Actually, that sounds like a bug. Maybe we should fix that.
As you've probably noticed if you've played Minecraft for more than a few minutes, sand is unlike most other blocks because it's affected by gravity. If you plop down a block of sand and mine the block out underneath it, then it'll fall into the gap. This, you'll no doubt agree, is kind of a pain when mining.
But it has useful side effects. If a block of sand falls on a player or a mob, it'll suffocate them until they dig their way out or die, making it pretty handy for a basic trap setup. Just hook up a pressure plate or tripwire to an array of pistons holding back columns of sand. Those pesky intruders won't know what hit them.
Falling sand can also be fired out of a TNT cannon, which is handy if you want to blanket a friend's base with sand after you fell victim to their entryway sand trap. Explode some TNT in water with a falling block of sand above it to fire that sand long distances in whatever direction you choose. There's a full guide to building a TNT cannon over on the Minecraft wiki.
Occasionally, you'll find sand that's been imbued with mystical power during world generation and is levitating in the air as a result. You'll recognise them because little dust particles are falling from the bottom. But be careful around these magical floating sand areas - if you place or break blocks near them, I can't be held responsible for what happens...