I've found several piles of Redstone in Minecraft, but I can't seem to find a coherent explanation as to what it does or how to use it.
Does anyone know what it's used for, and how to use it correctly and strategically?
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Redstone Dust has a number of uses:
Redstone, as it is officially named, is primarily used for the construction of various electrical circuits and mechanisms in Minecraft. By producing Redstone Torches and Wires, you can create a variety of mechanical traps and automatic mechanisms to further improve your mines.
It can also be used to produce gadgets such as the Compass, which is extremely useful.
Redstone pretty much opens up an enormous world of possibilities in Minecraft. Once you discover those possibilities the game becomes incredibly more complex than it was before you played with redstone.
If you look up "Minecraft 16-bit ALU" and watch the video you find, you will see what I mean.
I've spent the last week or so learning about logic gates, and I use minecraft to test my builds. So far I've got a really compact 8-bit ripple carry adder built, but getting it all wired up and connected to other components has been difficult.
You can do all kinds of things with redstone. You can make clocks, traps, automated doors, ignite tnt from a safe distance, use redstone and pressure plates to announce the location of a subject in a maze... the list goes on and on and on. Redstone by itself is amazing, but combined with everything else in the game it exponentially increases your opportunities for creativity.