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Standing in a rock garden in Animal Crossing: New Horizons Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo via Polygon

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Animal Crossing’s most brutal challenge? Building a rock garden

The trials of creating your very own rock garden

Russ Frushtick is the director of special projects, and he has been covering the world of video games and technology for over 15 years. He co-founded Polygon in 2012.

There’s no “winning” Animal Crossing. Sure, you can pay off your entire mortgage or reach five-star town status, but there are an endless number of goals you can set for yourself that are a bit more … freeform. For example, I built a dinosaur park to rival Spielberg’s best efforts, and made a bizarre moon landing set with dolls, a gnome and, yes, a second moon. But there is one task that I’ve been dreading: creating a rock garden.

Some nitty gritty background: Every island in Animal Crossing: New Horizons has six rocks that spawn in random locations around the map. Hitting these rocks with a shovel nets you some iron, stones, clay, and maybe some cold, hard cash. Fully breaking a rock (by eating a piece of fruit before hitting it with a shovel) will cause the rock to respawn in a different random spot on the next day.

But what if you wanted all six of the rocks to be in a nice, tidy corner of the map? Maybe in a thematically-appropriate rock garden? How long would it take for luck to grant you the perfect placement of all six rocks, exactly where you want them?

If done perfectly, just six days (unless you’re time traveling). But I was far from perfect.

The quest begins

A rock in Animal Crossing: New Horizons Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo via Polygon

There is actually a way to ensure that rocks will spawn exactly where you want them to, but it’s a big pain in the ass.

Rocks can only spawn in locations that meet certain requirements. Picture a 3x3 grid. In the center square of that grid is your potential rock spawn location. If any of the eight surrounding squares are blocked by something, the rock will not spawn.

What sort of things can block a rock from spawning? Furniture, trees, cliff sides, and fences will all block rocks. As a general rule, if you can’t walk through it, it’ll block a rock from spawning.

If you make it so that there are only six eligible spots on your island for your rocks to spawn, that’s where they’ll show up. Easy, right?

Most of my island was already furnished and forested thanks to earlier efforts, so about half of the island was unable to spawn any rocks to begin with. But what about the other half?

Sure, I could drop furniture and plant trees all over the place, but that would take a while and make my island impossible to traverse. Instead, I turned to patterns.

Enter the chicken

Standing on a chicken pattern in Animal Crossing: New Horizons Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo

Another way to block a rock from spawning is to drop down a pattern or stone walkway — rocks won’t appear on top of either of these. But unlike furniture or trees, rocks can appear directly next to a pattern or walkway (so long as there’s an open, eligible space there). That means you have to be especially thorough when coating your island.

I turned to the blue chicken from Stardew Valley that I directly copied into New Horizons. I went around dropping the chicken pattern everywhere I thought a rock may be able to spawn. Just to be careful, I slathered it all over cliff sides and ineligible spots. It took two solid episodes of ABC Family’s Greek to get the job done.

But did I miss any spots? I’d have to wait until the morning to find out.


A rock garden in progress in Animal Crossing: New Horizons Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo via Polygon

The next morning I realized that rocks can spawn in open squares that are surrounded by flowers. This pushed my timeline back a day, and I had more patterns to drop.

After another day of waiting, I finally got one rock to fall where I wanted it to. And another.

And then I realized I had another problem.

My long term plan was to make a rock garden, and rock gardens, generally speaking, are covered in sand. But that’s fine, right? I can just use the terraforming tool to surround the rocks with sand. Ah, but what about the tiny rim of grass surrounding the already-placed rocks? That’s not very rock garden, is it?

This meant pushing my timeline back another two days, because those rocks that had already been placed would need to be destroyed and the eligible spots would need to be covered in sand before the rocks spawned there. If I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it right.

The final rock

Standing in a rock garden in Animal Crossing: New Horizons Image: Nintendo EPD/Nintendo via Polygon

After a week and a half of careful pattern placement, all of the rocks had spawned in, save for one.

For whatever reason, the last rock just would not spawn for multiple days. The space around it was clear, and there was nothing visually blocking it. So what could be the problem?

I turned to resident Animal Crossing expert Julia Lee, who suggested that maybe the game thought the rock was being visually blocked by something? Two spaces below the final rock’s ideal location I had placed a nice gong, along with some fencing and a bamboo bench. So I ditched all of that and salted the earth with paving stones to ensure that nothing could possibly block this last rock from spawning.

And poof, as of yesterday morning, my rock garden was done.

The toilet gate

In case it wasn’t clear, making this rock garden was a massive pain in the ass and I never, ever want to do it again. So I’ve created a protective barrier: the toilet gate.

See, once I remove all the patterns across my island, accidentally breaking one of these new rocks would force me to start this process all over again. Maybe one day I’ll wake up groggy, chow down on an apple, and accidentally break a rock, ruining nearly two weeks worth of work.

Hence the toilet gate.

As you may or may not know, there’s pooping in Animal Crossing: New Horizons. If you eat fruit and then sit on one of the toilets in the game, you’ll automatically poop out the fruit, thus removing your ability to break rocks. There’s no choice in the matter. You have to poop.

By blocking the one entry point in the garden with a toilet, I have ensured this rock garden will survive for future generations. It doesn’t prevent a malicious best friend from entering the garden and then eating fruit before going to town, but at least it’ll stop most accidental rock breakages.

So there you have it, my rock journey. Now, every day, rather than sprinting all over my island to hit rocks and hope for gold nuggets, I can head to my chill garden and knock them all out in a minute or two. I’ve even designed it so that I don’t need to dig any holes to ensure I get all eight rock strikes in. It is tremendously satisfying.

Just don’t tell anyone I did this. I don’t want to come off as a weirdo.