Morra is a finger game of the Rock/Scissors/Paper ilk, but different enough, and deep enough, to make it well-worth exploring in depth. My in depth explorations have included playing it with three to 8 players, playing it as a kind of "Mother May I" where players stand opposite each other, at shouting distance, the winners taking as many steps towards the center as the number guessed (the object being to meet the other player more than half-way), and playing it with eyes closed.

Found in the online edition of the 1911 Encyclopedia (yes, an encylopedia publisned in 1911), we learn that:

MORA, or MORRA (Ital. delay), a game, universally popular in Italy, in which one player endeavours to guess instantly the number of fingers held up by the other. Ancient Egyptian sculptors represent a game of this kind, and it was played by the Romans, who called it micare digitis, or finger-flashing. It, is known to the Chinese and to certain tribes of the Pacific Islands. There are several methods of playing mora, but in the one most common in Italy the two players, placed face to face, throw out at the same instant one or more fingers of one hand, each crying out simultaneously a number guessed to be that of his adversary's exposed fingers. A correct guess counts one; if both guess correctly or wrongly there is no score. The game, which is generally five or nine points, is played for stakes, and with extraordinary swiftness.

I strongly recommend the "extraordinary swiftness" part.

Cooperative Games That Teach Solidarity

Here's an article by Dada Maheshvarananda, again providing both rationale and a good description of a few of those good old New Games. It's amazing to me to discover how New Games, after 25 years, keeps on being new. And all this time I thought we needed even newer ones.

Maheshvarananda writes:

The dominant message in the mass media, advertising and the educational system is individualistic and competitive: “First get an education, then get a job and make as much money as you can.” These institutions rarely convey a message of responsibility towards others in our human family. This materialistic attitude extends to sports, too, where the goal usually is “I win, you lose,” or perhaps, “I win, and it doesn't matter to me what happens to you.”

We need a new cooperative paradigm in our lives that promotes kindness, honesty, trust and teamwork. We need to overcome our fears—of failure, of looking bad, of getting hurt. And in the process, we need to lighten up, have fun, and realize that the best things in life are not for sale.

"Why play games when there's work to do?"

Adam Fletcher's article "Why play games when there's work to do?" offers us some far-too-often needed words of rationale, and a good collection of links, for those times when we try to bring a little innocent fun into our world. He writes:

When a group of people are preparing to participate in social change, there needs to be some breaking down of inhibitions before they become group participants. "There is no 'I' in T-E-A-M" and all that. Before a group can build effective solutions to the problems facing their communities, they need to trust each other and communicate.

Cooperative games also help set the tone of an action. Social change work is often hard-driven and energy-consuming. Many groups find that cooperative games offer a brisk, friendly way to couple passionate task-oriented goals with driven, group-minded teambuilding. In other words, fun and games help propel social change.

Another purpose of games is to get people to think together, as a team, so that everyone in the group has input and shares ideas. When we have input we have ownership, and when more people have ownership there is more success.

The website is devoted to what's called the Freechild Projects - "Resources for Social Change By and With Young People"

Check out the many links, and scroll down to the bottom of the article for more playworthy inspiration.

Edible Fun for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is one of those food-centered, family-centered holidays. As such, it's a great opportunity to give each other the gift of fun. For a collection of silly games of the eating ilk, take a gander (or other edible bird) at this collection from Charles Rempel of the very bizarre Van Gogh-Goghs.

For similarly silly, but perhaps gentler edible fun, here's my collection of a few eating games that might prove inspiring, or at least playful enough to bring people together in some genuinely delicious ways.

Boundless Playgrounds

I strongly believe that the healthiest play environment is one that invites everyone into play. Everyone. Regardless of age, ability, or any other distinction society might impose on us. The mission of Shane's Inspiration is to support the development of essentially needed, universally accessible “Boundless Playgrounds,” providing children with disabilities an opportunity to play side-by-side with their able-bodied peers and siblings.

I quote, at further length, from their history page: Catherine Curry-Williams and Scott Williams founded Shane’s Inspiration in April 1998 in memory of their son Shane, who passed away two weeks after birth. Had Shane lived he would have spent his life in a wheelchair. When the Williams’ discovered that he would have had no public park in which to play, they made it their mission to build Shane’s Inspiration: A Boundless Playground, where children with disabilities can play side by side with their able-bodied peers at the highest level of their ability. The goal is to enhance the emotional, physical and social development of all children, while providing an environment where compassion and acceptance can flourish. With the belief that playing in a playground is the birthright of every child, the Williams’ and co-founder, Tiffany Harris, rallied friends, family and community to help raise money to build the first Boundless Playground in the state of California.

I firmly believe that we won't really have access to "real" playgrounds, until we learn to make all of our playgrounds "boundless." Shane's Inspiration creates conceptual and equipment-specific play environment designs after identifying project priorities with stakeholders in each community. The organization also coordinates with local landscape architects, engineers and other professionals who provide local project services for a fee or on a pro-bono basis. My most heartfelt wish is that organizations like Shane's Inspiration inspire a r/evolution in the design of all playspaces.

Which gives me a welcome opportunity to once again mention David Werner's remarkable online guide to building playgrounds for the rest of us. Nothing About Us Without Us is a resource that is also profoundly inspiring, demonstrating how such playgrounds can be built anywhere, and how building them builds a more complete community.


I've been fascinated by Mancala ever since I first encountered it in R.C. Bell's book Board and Table Games from Many Civilizations. It's simply so unlike any board game I had ever played. Mancala, which, according to the ELLIOT AVEDON MUSEUM AND ARCHIVE OF GAMES, is a name for its own class of "Count and Capture Games" is played today primarily in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and the Caribbean area. It's origins are rooted in ancient Egypt, and according to Murray can be traced to the Empire Age (about the 15th to 11th centuries BC). The game spread from Egypt to many parts of Africa and then to the Middle East. As Muslim culture spread in the early AD centuries, it carried the game with it to India, Ceylon, Malaya, Indonesia, and the Philippines. It was carried from many Black African cultures during the period of the slave trade to the Caribbean area. Until recent times, the game was unknown in the non-Islamic parts of Europe and The Americas.

I always thought of it as a kind of seed-sowing game. I imagined its origins developed on some fallow field, the pits scooped out of the earth. But whatever its origins, its strategic complexities and variations have fascinated people around the world, and its power as an exercise in logic and, well, counting, has brought it to elementary school math classes around the world. Basically, you each have the same number of stones (seeds, marbles) that you've placed in your pits. A turn consists of lifting all the stones in one of your pits and sowing them, one at a time, into adjacent pits. Everything depends on where your last stone ends up. In some games, if it ends in a pit that has stones in it, you pick up all those stones and continue sewing until you end in an empty pit. In others, if you end in a pit that has exactly three or four, you win all those stones. In yet others, you take the stones from the opposite pit.

Hans Bodlaender has developed a page of links to versions that you can play online. It's a great way to learn about a game that much of the world plays, and yet is remarkably, and enticingly foreign for the rest of us.

See also Wikipedia


World Adult Kickball Association (WAKA)

Yes, Virginia, there is a World Adult Kickball Association.

One of the things people love most about kickball is the way it takes them back to the time of their youth. It's hard to talk about kickball without recanting the story of that sunny day, long past, on a playground far, far away where you stood fast in the face of the big kid. Far out in left field you stood, waiting for that big red ball, falling from the sky like a meteor. At the last minute you winced and your eyes closed. A moment later it was over, ball caught, victory declared. Are long lost memories of fifth grade filling your head too? Sure you certainly can't re-live your youth, but who says the fun has to stop once you grow up? Work is underway to bring adult kickball to all corners of the globe.

Science, Religion, Cooperation, and Social Morality

I am always pleased, and inspired, when I come across an article by Mark Bekoff. Earlier, I found myself quoting his wonderful article "Animal play: Lessons in cooperation, fairness, spirit, and soul" Today, from Science, Religion, Cooperation, and Social Morality:

In my own research on social play behavior in animals, I’ve been concerned with the notion of behaving fairly. I’ve observed that, during play, while individuals are having fun in a relatively safe environment, they learn the ground rules for acceptable behavior and social etiquette—how hard they can bite, how roughly they can interact—and how to resolve conflicts. There is a premium on playing fairly and trusting others to do so as well. Codes of social conduct regulate what is permissible, and the existence of these codes speaks to the evolution of social morality and fairness. Individuals might even generalize codes of conduct learned in play to other situations such as sharing food, grooming, or providing care.

During play it is difficult to cheat: Individuals can simply refuse to play with cheaters and choose to play with others. Play doesn’t happen if individuals choose not to engage in the activity. The sort of cooperation and egalitarianism implied by such choices are thought to be preconditions for the evolution of social morality in humans.

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Hnefatafl (Tablut, to you)

Like kids' games, most abstract board games are a kind of symbolic theater, where real-life drama can get pondered upon, over and over again. In some games, the imagery is more vivid. Hnefatafl is not only fun to say and inject into casual conversation, it is also a fascinating game that mirrors an often too fascinating reality.

The game of Tablut was discovered by Carl von Linné at Kvikkjokk, Sweden, in 1732. It is almost certainly the Old Norse board-game known as "Hnefatafl", mentioned in the Icelandic sagas. The word hnefatafl is a compound of hnefi (meaning fist) and tafl (ultimately from tabula and meaning board)....The game concerns the fate of a Viking king (here seen in the centre) who is attacked in his stronghold. Assisted by his men he tries to reach the safety of one of the corner squares. The task of the attackers is to seize the king before he succeeds.

This site not only describes the history and rules of the game, but also features a ready-to-play Java version.

Gavitt's Stock Exchange

Did you know that the stock trading game PIT was originally called Gavitt's Stock Exchange invented in Topeka, Kansas in 1903? Did you know that the original game was at least as fun as PIT and even simpler to play? Well, neither did I. But apparently someone did. Someone in halfway around the world. In Australia, no less, who saw in the game such high play value that he decided to reproduce it as faithfully as possible - well, more faithfully than possible, given that the cards are laminated thoroughly enough to take the kind of punishment that is the inevitable destiny of such a highly interactive, exciting, fast-action game.

This is the game where you try to trade cards (stocks) with other players - either one or two cards at a time - in the effort to corner the market and get all eight cards of one stock. Everybody trades simultaneously, and with enough people it really feels like your playing in the pit of a stock exchange. Though Gavitt's Stock Exchange can be played by two to six players, it's definitely a case of the more the merrier. We tried it with two, and it was kind of fun. And then with three, and it was more the kind of fun you'd call fun. But with with six it borders on pants-wetting fun. Especially if you more or less tacitly allow cheating.

There's something about playing with turn-of-the-century-looking cards that makes the game as charming to look at as it is fun to play. Fun enough to get a Major FUN Award. The rules are a little difficult to read because of the authentically small print. They are quaint, but unnecessarily complicated. Read enough to get started, and then get started. After a while, you can read more of the rules, for fun and authenticity.


A Seminarian Reflects

I received this from Janet, one of the participants in the Restoring Fun seminar I gave at Esalen a couple weeks ago. I was touched, strengthened in my resolve to continue this work, and found myself compelled to wave it in your virtual face.

Fun has definitely been restored! It has been a little over a week since I have returned from Esalen and I have found that fun, just as we suspected in class, is contagious, infectious and unlike a virus a spontaneous utterance of the joyful heart. When I finally returned to work last Tues, my boss said that I looked radiant, like a school girl were his words. On Wed he said that it was good to have me back, where upon I assured him that even though I would be showing up to work on time and doing my job, my head and my heart were still at Esalen. On Thursday he said that my laughter and fun were infectious and that everyone around me was happy. On Friday when I left work he said whatever Esalen was, I could have time off to go there as often as I wanted, because he was so happy to have the old Janet with her smiles and laughter back. (In all honesty my life for the last year had been very tough and I cried more than I laughed.) I assured him that Esalen was here pointing to my heart, but that I would take him up on the offer and assured him that the Janet he remembered was back to stay.

Play, the eleventh commandment?

Found this article on the Pendle Hill (Quaker Study Center) site. Here's a taste:

Despite our country's Puritan work ethic and culture (and that of early Friends, I might add), I'm certain that God did not create us to work—or at least not just to a dreary, dull kind of work existence. No. God created us to play! The Garden of Eden story in Genesis is one of many that show us how we let our minds, our free will, lead us (literally) down the garden path when we forget to focus on the One from whom we came and to whom we will return.

Look again at the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Sounds like they were handed life on a silver platter, and got into trouble because they had too little to do and too much time on their hands. We've all heard the warning about idle minds, right? Maybe their "banishment" from the Garden of Eden to the world of work wasn't punishment at all. Maybe God was just trying to keep them (and us) occupied and out of worse trouble! But does that mean that we can't play a little while we work? Having made it this far doing it the hard way, I say "hooray" for play, whenever and wherever we can find it—especially at or in work since we spend so much time and energy there.

Do Children Need Recess? - The Website

Recess has become a political issue. Apparently, school systems all across our beloved educational landscape are beginning to eliminate recess. Mostly out of fear. Fear that kids will get hurt (and parents sue). Fear that kids will be deprived of sorely needed instruction time. And parents who remember how important recess can be find themselves, and their kids, at a loss. A big loss.

Do Children Need Recess? offers recess advocates (and play advocates and your basic child advocates) a much-needed resource. It is a compendium of links to solid, researched, expert opinions about the importance of recess, including position statements from education and health associations, articles on the connections between recess and social development, physical activity, academic achievement, playground safety. Even a petition form that parents can use to try to restore school board sanity.

Did you know, for example, that according to Jarrett, Maxwell,Dickerson, Hoge, Davies and Yetley, that:

A subsequent analyses of variance indicated that the 43 children, who were used as their own controls, differed on recess and nonrecess days, becoming more on task and less fidgety when they had recess. Sixty percent of the children, including all 5 of those with attention deficit disorder, and a balance of boys and girls benefited considerably. They worked more or fidgeted less (or both) on recess days.

It's a sad truth that we need to prove what we know so intuitively. It's a boon to us all that there are those who are providing it for us.

A to Z gets a Major FUN award

There's nothing funny about A to Z, and yet, this game made us laugh, almost non-stop, for an entire hour. Each player or team gets an alphabet board. Dice are rolled. A category is selected from a card. And then that player or team has fifteen or thirty seconds (depending on the dice) to name items that fit the category. As soon as an item is named, its first letter gets covered on the alphabet board. Name as many items as possible within the time limit, each starting with a different letter, and then name more, in a different category, when it gets to be your turn again. The object is to be the first player or team to complete the alphabet. Transparent discs are used to mark which letters have been used.

There were eight of us, so we played it in teams. It turned out to be so much fun to play with a teammate that I'd recommend, even if there are exactly four players, that you play it in two teams. Some of the categories are excruciatingly difficult. Like, names of foreign newspapers, or famous military leaders. Others are delightfully easy, especially for us average American folk - like snack foods or fast food restaurants. So, you might think that success depends on the luck of the category drawn. And you'd continue thinking it until someone throws the dice and the hand symbol appears. Then, when naming items, instead of trying to find things that begin with one of the ever-dwindling assortment of available letters (like Q and Z), you select someone else's board, and remove their discs. Since the letters already covered tend to be those that are easiest to use, things have a way of evening out with depressing rapidity.

The mechanical timer ticks and flips noisily when the time limit is reached. It's a little difficult to see the fifteen second mark (there are only two time limits - either the full 30 seconds or the painfully brief fifteen), affording the opportunity for the only negative criticism I could find for this remarkably absorbing, unique, challenging, easy to understand, and genuinely fun word game.


SET gets a Major FUN award

Today's Major FUN Award goes to a SET, a card game of perception and logic for one or more players, age six and up.

SET is such a fun challenge, so absorbing, so elegantly designed that it got the Major Fun award even though it's not really a party game (though, conceivably, there's no upper limit to the number of players), or a particularly new game (it was invented about twenty-five years ago) or the kind of game that makes you laugh.

Each card has from one to three symbols of one of three different shapes, of one of three different colors, either outlined, shaded or solid. This outlined, shaded or solid bit makes for yet another complication, so the SET makers, if I may so designate them (actually, it's SET Enterprises) have thoughtfully packaged the cards in two separate decks. The smaller deck contains just the solid ("filled") symbols, and is, consequently, much easier to play with.

The game begins by laying out twelve cards, face -up. Simultaneously, players compete to find three cards that comprise a SET. A SET is: "three cards in which each of the card's features, looked at one-by-one, are the same on each card, or, are different on each card." My wife understood this immediately. After playing several rounds, I discovered myself understanding it (I could find SETs) but still not being able to verbalize exactly what a SET is. Apparently, it's one of those left-right brain things. Which is key to why this game is so compelling. And why it works so well with even school-age kids. And why it's won so many awards. Including the coveted Major Fun award.

Also, because the design is so elegant, it invites variations, several of which, including a cooperative version (always my favorite) are described on the SET site.

SET Enterprises also offers a daily puzzle. It's a great way to get a sense of the game, and a genuinely absorbing challenge in and of itself.

SET is a great family game, a great game for school kids, an equally great game for adults, to play by yourself or at a party, or in a restaurant... Challenging. Elegant. Most truly Major FUN Award-worthy.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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The Serious Business of Fun

In her article "The Serious Business of Fun," Nancy Lee Hutchin makes a case for engineering fun into business process design. She writes:

There are two serious issues related to BPR and fun. The first deals with how fun can be injected into the project itself in order to create team building, optimistic kickoff and synergy. The second looks at how the organization undergoing redesign can be engineered to encourage fun and benefit from the positive results that follow.
For both items, the key word is permission. One can't mandate fun, but setting up the atmosphere in which it can happen is usually all that is needed. Bob Filipczak, in Training (4/95), points out that most employees "don't need to be taught what humor is or what fun is or how to have some of it." The most important thing is for executives to set examples.

Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream, for instance, has a Grand Poobah of the Joy Gang, while CEO Steve Siegel (of an accounting firm doing standard traditional business) is known to be deadly with a water balloon. Strangely enough, two items that are most correlated with a "fun" environment happen to be ice cream and a relaxed clothes policy, like the one just instituted by IBM CEO Leo Gerstner.

Making Work Fun

Here's a brief, but wise outline on strategies connecting work with fun. Here's one of the five points:

3. Even the most dull, hideous and lifeless tasks can be injected with levity:

Do it with someone else.
Do it with someone new.
Let someone else do it who would enjoy doing it.
(I know people who love to edit. I let 'em!)
Do it while walking in fresh air.
Do it in a fresh environment.
Do it in the shower.
(Not recommended for tasks requiring electrical devices! Highly recommended for creative problem solving and innovative ideas!)
Fake it.

TeachCircus,com is a project of professional circus performer Jason Catanzariti - the goal, to teach "Circus Arts" to kids. And not just because they're fun (though that's good enough reason for me).

Circus Arts are a valuable part of many Physical Education and Recreation programs. Because these skills are so novel, challenging, and fun, students of all ages are highly motivated to practice and achieve. Circus Arts are equally good as individual, partner, and group activities. Many students who do not enjoy traditional sports and games often excel at Circus Arts.

Circus skills require concentration, patience, timing, tracking skills, gross motor coordination, and fine motor coordination.

Equipment can be made, or purchased at reasonable costs. Most Circus Arts equipment is fairly durable, and easily stored.

This came to me via John McDermott. It came to him via a newsletter published by Tom Antion

Games for the Office

You ask me how I measure the success of my work? With notes like this from one of the participants in the November session at the Esalen Institute.

Bernie-- wanted to update you on the games i invented for the office on
sat-- we played the winge game-- 2 lovely ladies from london came in on fri
to complain about some things and they told me they wanted to "share a
winge"-- so i invited everyone to share a winge and then we would all sigh
appropriately --they loved it-- then we all put our names on a list for
lunch and so i invited everyone to make fantasy names and then when people
came in they could guess who was who-- another success--


Yet another outlet for playful genius

Remember how excited I was about my discsovery of Discover Games? I just couldn't stop raving about such a BERNIE-deserving initiative that represents some of the best of the independent game designers and manufacturers. Well, imagine my delight, if you possibly can, at my discovery of this UK-based organization that provides:

...the vital link between developers and manufacturers of new toy and game ideas. Simply select the products of interest and use the feedback form, and a representative will contact you. We are opening our doors and inviting you to view our wide range of toys and games from around the world that are available to you!

Our portfolio of toys and games available on this site offers manufacturers and publishers a chance to licence our toys and games products as they come in, most having never been seen before offering unbelievable market possibilities. We already have the finest key personnel from companies waiting for our monthly update, looking out for a particular product range that suits their requirements.

Play Work Place

Creating an environment that is condusive to play, for all ages, is a daunting task and highly rewarding achievement. Playgrounds are basically for kids only. What we need are playgrounds that are for all of us, where we can be together, however we can be. This proposal by Michael Jantzen is exemplary of how such environments can be built. He explains:

This is a conceptual proposal for an environment that can be placed indoors, or outdoors. It was designed to provide a place in which adults or children can sit, work, eat, sleep, or play. The design allows for easy alteration of the space by adding or subtracting components. Also the space can be altered by moving the curved panels (which are hinged to the main frame) up and down, or in and out. Within the structure some of the panels provide places to sit, others provide places to lay, and some are configured to function as table surfaces. Some of the panels provide shelter, and some are just there to climb around on.

Fun for Fitness

Here's a new article from the Academy of PLAY. This one's about Fun and Fitness. Further testimony to the healing power of fun.

If you are a normal person like me, who wants to be healthier, but doesn't--for some strange reason--like fatigue and pain, thank your favorite deity that it doesn't need to BE like that!

How do healthy kids manage to have so much energy and stay so fit? They certainly don't have much patience for painful, repetitive activities. And it's no more natural for them to be locked in a chair for hours than it ought to be for us grownups.

They get out and PLAY! Active, fun, let's go exploring, what happens if I do this, that looks like something I can climb, type PLAY! They get up in the morning looking forward to it, they find all sorts of inventive ways to do it, and they do it every single chance they get!

Meet Dr. Play

Nationally known as "Dr. Play," HOWARD PAPUSH uses his unique communication and facilitation skills to teach organizations how to build a binding sense of group harmony and community. He also helps people get more in touch with their creative souls and provides individuals with tools to aid them in managing their stress levels.

Dr. Play helps the corporate world lighten up with his half-day "recess" programs. In the LA Times article "Stop, Smell the Crayons," you can get a good glimpse of his approach. For an even better glimpse, see his video.

National Association of Toy and Leisure Libraries

Remember Dr. Toy? She received the coveted BERNIE for, among other things, her pioneering efforts to create a toy library. Well, it is with joy and envy that I refer you to the National Association of Toy and Leisure Libraries. Joy because there is such an organization. Envy because it is in the UK.

Sockball Wacking

Googled my way to this mention of a sockball experience:

> Seem to remember girls putting tennis balls in old long white socks,
> standing against walls and just wacking it left and right - lifting legs
> and arms in a kind of knife throwing way in order to dodge
> the sockball they were continuously bouncing off the wall. Or was that just
> *my* primary school?

Clearly, the sockball, as we perceive it in its expanded definition, is a source for games as yet unimagined.

Corkball continued

Responsive correspondent John McDermott writes:

In today's blog you mention "Jackson" corkball. The link refers to it being invented in 1937. In St Louis there was a corkball league in at least 1936! You can still get real corkballs and bats, from here for example:

I played as a kid in St. Louis. I learned it from my dad who also played as a kid in the '30s.

Sockball of Death

Googling for Sockball, I clicked my way to this illustration, subtitled "sockball of death." Apparently, this was one of the games played at a church-sponsored "mini-olympics."

No details about actual gameplay were included. Suggestions and speculations are most welcome. I'm thinking maybe you have to hit other players with your sockball. Probably if you get hit, you're frozen or out. I'm also thinking that this is not a game for the stiff-necked many. My informant cautioned me that this can take a lot longer than you'd think.

Turns out that the object of the game is to try to tangle your Sockball of Death with someone else's so as, with appropriate head snap, to remove your opponent's Sockball clear off his head.

Needless to say, this game could prove to be one giant step forward for used pantyhose.

Jacksonville Corkball

Ever play Jackson Corkball?

According to Greg Larson:

...The name of the game is correct. The ball is a cork, the quart vacuum variety, coated with several layers of adhesive tape.

One local sporting goods store sells corksticks (they aren't called bats), but most of them are old broomsticks, shovel or mop handles cut down to the allowed 36 inches.

Each team is comprised of two players - a pitcher and a catcher. The original version of corkball, invented by Chuck Rogers in 1937, consisted of baserunning and nine players per team. It quickly evolved, however, to its present simple structure.

The pitcher stands 27 feet from home plate and delivers the cork in an underhanded fashion by flipping it off the first knuckles of his middle two fingers. Experienced corkball pitchers make the cork react much like a major league knuckleball.

Good corkball pitchers can throw the cork into the strike zone at 60 miles per hour, which is high school speed when translated into baseball terminology.

Ten Reasons why People Stop Playing

Here, from Dragon (actual legal name of the principal of the below-extolled Academy of Play), are ten reasons why people don't play even though we could if we were grown up enough.

Estray Bonajour

In response to overwhelming silence, I have taken great pains to record the true manner of Estray Bonajour, a singing/chanting game of dubious origin as conveyed to me by the Oaqui.

The Academy of PLAY

The Los Angeles Academy of Play offers one-on-one, private coaching for those of us wise enough to realize that we live in a world that has run short of playgrounds.

The Academy of PLAY was established to provide grownups like us with tools, techniques, moral support, activities and opportunities to remember how to play, and new friends to "Come out and play" with.

Courses provided by the Academy of PLAY take the form of one-on-one private playshops.

First we will find out why you aren't playing, or aren't playing enough. Let's get around whatever is in your way or holding you back from having all the fun you need and deserve to have. You will know in your heart exactly why "It's Okay to Play!"

Then we'll relearn all that stuff that all us kids are born knowing, whether or not we get to live it. We'll look around for opportunities to do the things that are fun for YOU right in your own neighborhood. You will learn new ways of looking at the same ol' situations, so you never have to stop playing again.

Party Games

Looking for the rules to party games made during the last 30 years? Wondering what the original edition of Kerplunk looked like? Aardwolf Games offers:

A public database of FREE information about over 2000 games

Things you can find here include: Replacement rules, contents lists, pictures, reviews and links to other sites with even more details

Information has been provided by many Contributors and is FREE for noncommercial use by anyone involved with games on the Web. We know there are many errors and LOTS more details are needed. If you see inaccurate or missing details that you can provide, please click on the links which are provided in many places on the site and send them to us. If you register as an Official Contributor, whatever personal information you wish to be displayed publicly can provide valuable exposure to our visitors- including links to sites you maintain (if they relate to games!)

Domino Games

Clearly, there aren't as many domino games as there should be. Here's 68 of them to get you started.


In answer to a most understandable and oft-repeated request during the Esalen retreat, I have added yet more pointless games to the site. Including, for the first time, the famous game of Lemonade as described by Bernie him- and myself, in both full- and overblown manner.

Other games of dubious significance added today:

The extremely silly, yet poignant Dum Dum Da Da
The oddly profound vertical push-up game Human Spring.
The theater-like game of Machines

And several more games of dubious significance.

Play on!

Catch Phrase Redux

We tried a few commercial games at Esalen, just to see if we could take the spirit of spontaneity and inclusion to the world of boxed fun. We failed miserably with Bunco and Cranium. Bunco proved too competitive. Cranium too complex. But, when we tried the Major FUN Award-award winning Catch Phrase, we were able to arrive at a variation that truly expressed our fun community.

We didn't play for points. We sat in a circle and played in pairs. That is, whoever had the device worked with a partner. This came about because one person had bad eyesight and needed a helper. It also made it more fun, because the clue givers could help each other while keeping each other from getting too worried about actually succeeding. While the clue givers were madly giving clues, everybody else guessed and guessed until someone came up with the right word, and the Catch Phrase device was passed to the next pair. Then, when the timer went off, as it inevitably did, the pair had to perform something as a forfeit. We had people dance and tell jokes and create statues and manifest extreme silliness.

It turned out to be a perfect way to play it. Pointlessly fun. A genuine manifestation of a fun community devoted to keeping everyone in play. I tried it with four people and hope to try it with 40. My guess is that it will work as well.


Back from Esalen - People Pile

It was an amazing week of truly deep truly fun play. We met as strangers. We left as playmates.

One of the many games we invented together - People Pile. Basically, someone yells "People Pile" and we all pile on top of each other. Doesn't sound like much of a game. But it was a perfect reflection of the innocent intimacy we were able to create for each other. Silly. Pointless. Playfully loving. Accepting and supporting and caring for each other without reservation.

The weather was perfect. Moonlit nights making magic with the ocean and each other's bodies as we lazed in the healing baths. The last few days, we stopped class for a sunset ritual that we made up as we went along with the infinite dance of light.

Forgive the poetic excess. It was deep fun. Loving fun. Sheer delight.

Off to Esalen

Here's where I'll be for the next week:

Don't cry for me, Argentina


You may have noticed that today's items are clearly silly. You may wonder what such silliness has to do with Deep FUN. Or, you may not. Because you may have read my many articles on the role of Silly in bringing fun into life. Like this article on The Importance of Being Silly, or perhaps this story about what happens when Silly Plays Grownup or maybe this other story about how Serious and Silly Get Scared. Or, maybe you went to the Fun and Self collection and read each and every article. In which case, I apologize for this apology.

Center for the Prevention of Shopping Cart Abuse

And then I was wondering about the play value of shopping carts, only to find myself at the very Center for the Prevention of Shopping Cart Abuse. Here I found truly horrific examples of unkind acts towards the Shopping Carts of the world. For example, this report:

Incident Report #329IOU8826

This Shopping Cart was found abandoned in a hot tub in San Jose, California.

DETAIL: Metal Shopping Carts and hot bubbling water do not mix. To a supermarket a corroded Shopping Cart can be thrown in the same pile as no-armed bag boys. Abuses like this tend to be the work of drunken hooligans or scorned lovers. There were no alcohol bottles or soccer balls recovered at the scene, so the focus of our investigation is shifting toward the scorned lover theory. A notable piece of evidence was the family's pet rabbit found with the cart in the hot, bubbling water.

PROFILE: We are looking for an angry female in her 40's, jaded disposition, takes the smother approach to relationships and probably not a member of PETA.

Is there no end of the abuse that Shopping Carts are heir to? Is it time perhaps for the Shopping Carts to learn from the Traffic Cones of the word?

Alien Cone Invaders From The Planet Ring Road

And then there's the credibly absurd. In the same Google that brought me to the Traffic Cone Preservation Society (see below), was this site dedicated to the proposition that, amongst the traffic cones of the world, there are cones who could very well be "a sinister race of extraterrestrial aliens on a mission, to bring the planet Earth to a standstill." Or, at least the UK. See this for further explication of the Alien Cone plans for world domination.

The Traffic Cone Preservation Society

I've been working on a book proposal about what I'm currently calling "Community Games" - games that are made up by a community of people to be played by a community. By community, I mean people of mixed age and ability, like me. So, I was thinking about stuff that would make the making-up of games especially fun and easy, and one of the stuff was traffic cones - you know, for goals and obstacles and stuff. So I Googled on TRAFFIC CONES and found myself at the Traffic Cone Preservation Society. And, "self," said I to myself, "you have once again stumbled across a truly blogworthy resource for those of us who have so often wondered about things of such silly ilk."

See, for example, the Field Guide and learn, for further example, about the Whiffle Cone:

Whiffle Cone Conus whifflis

height: .5'
range: Well-kept fields in warmer climes, especially Florida

The diminutive size of the Conus Whifflis. has afforded it the affectionate nickname, "Chihuahua Cone." This cone has developed special slits called "whiffle ways" to keep its delicate frame from being knocked over in high winds. There are few wild Whiffle Cones left today, as they are popular pets, and easily domesticated.

So much to learn. So little reason to learn it.


DDR is an arcade game you play with your feet. It's become amazingly popular. The reassuring thing about all this success is that the game has nothing to do with killing anything. It's all about dancing!

Here's a link, courtesy of Milk and Cookies, to some videos of competition-winning DDRers.

SId Sackson

I just learned from the BoardgameGeek that one of my favorite game designers, Sid Sackson, has passed away. He was an amazingly open, gentle, unassuming man. A pleasure to have met and worked with. A loss for us all.

Here's a link to some of the games Sid has left us.


Subbuteo, aka Table Soccer, aka Flicking Football, is a remarkable blend of table game, miniatures, and physical skill game. The pieces are on weighted bases which are perfect size for a well-aimed finger flick. Pieces can be purchased in almost any uniform, and are highly collectible.

The game is played on a miniaturized playing field which can be as detailed as the pieces. Like the pieces, the playing fields are also collectible and faithfully designed to the colors and dimensions of actual soccer fields. There are many sources on the web about this rather amazing little game. Here's a good one to start with.

If you haven't played Subbuteo, this all seems arcane and, well, perhaps even odd - more of a collector's passion than an actual game. But the game turns out to be remarkably fun, as strategically complex as checkers and satisfyingly skillworthy as marbles.

A Disease of the heart

In her article Power in the Comic Zone, DeepFUNster (that's what I call people who participate in the DeepFUN online discussion) Stephanie Allen notes:

A study out of University of Maryland indicates that laughter reduces the risk of coronary heart disease. A press release about the study from the University said: “People with heart disease were less likely to recognize humor or use it to get out of uncomfortable situations. They generally laughed less, even in positive situations and they displayed more anger and hostility.”

“We know that exercising, not smoking and eating foods low in saturated fat will reduce the risk of heart disease. Perhaps regular, hearty laughter should be added to the list,” said Dr. Miller, one of the researchers.

Dr. Miller talked about daily laughter going hand in hand with other heart-healthy activities, such as stair climbing instead of using the elevator. “We could perhaps read something humorous or watch a funny video and try to find ways to take ourselves less seriously.”

Dr. Miller added: “The recommendation for a healthy heart may one day be — exercise, eat right and laugh a few times a day.”

I guess that's why they call it "heart disease."

Playing with the Empire State Building, and other virtual art experiences

I received these notes on virtual art play from Major FUN Award-winning Jim Andrews.

Have been playing with Mark Napier's "King Kong"

The building is sort of like a building but also sort of like a person. If you play with it for a while, that emerges.

There's something about the physics that gives the building an impression of size in some circumstances, such as when it sways. As though it were quite large. At other times, the physics seems more like the human body. And it is a lot of fun to play with. The responsive quality is extrordinarily strong. Lots of character. You can feel the material. And you can fling that thing around from side to side like crazy. Or you can be more delicate with it and see just how much it can stand before it tips. Or give it a helping hand up if it starts to tip. It's at this point that it behaves like a human body quite dramatically, as though it were a body whose arms were tied. And you can try to scrunch it down, at which point its internal 'strength' becomes apparent (as opposed to its flexibility).

...The name of the piece, "King Kong" is funny. Because we are King Kong. The title is only indicated by an alt tag and in the URL. Very minimally indicated. Like the pieces themselves are of a minimal aesthetic.

Here we have some very successful 3D art. What other successful 3D art pieces can you think of on the Web that involve 'living entities'? Frédéric Durieu's giraffes are very popular...My favorite piece by Durieu is called "Oeil Complex."

What we see in these pieces is that it isn't so much the verisimilitude or detail of the 3D that makes it interesting as the responsive physics of the body, the creature, the entity, the living thing within the space. And, of course, at least as importantly, the richness of the concept and situation.

I found more amazing pieces on Durieu's site. And if you're into playing with computer art, investigate the tiny boxes that appear on the bottom of the pop-up window. They're each a treasure.



If you like boardgames and don't know about the world's largest game show in Essen, Germany, you apparently should. Here's a report from an attendee. He writes:

"A much better impression of the state of the fair - lots of tables that are almost constantly occupied. The big companies (this is the Amigo booth) all had similar set ups in which you could request a game and have it taught to you by one of their legions of instructors (notice all those red shirts?) It was a little more difficult getting English instruction but, in general, this was not a problem."

BoardgameGeek News

Added a new resource to the Blogroll: BoardgameGeek News. Covering an eclectic range of board games, this weblog should prove a valuable resource to anyone who takes boardgames seriously, or not.


Searching for "sock balls" - I found my way to this Adaptive Physical Education site from the Anchorage, Alaska school district. It's a bit sketchy, but the following list of "balls" is a good indication of how the spirit of fun can lead to an inventiveness that transcends physical and commercial limitations.


have a wide selection
yarn balls do not bounce or roll away easily, they can be caught by a strand of yarn
whiffle balls(different sizes and colors) are lightweight
use nerf balls
multi-colored balls for students with visual impairments
beach balls are large and soft to catch balloons for slower action and easier targets
bell balls for goal ball (students with visual impairments)
balls from panty hose, foams, tape: they are lightweight and will not easily roll away
paper balls made of crushed paper bound with masking tape
sock ball made of a sock stuffed with other socks or paper and tied off
garbage bag ball made of a garbage bag filled with balloons or crumpled newspaper


If you've ever played Pictionary, you know how strangely cryptic, and yet amazingly effective drawings can become. As you get more familiar with the game and with each other, you reach a point where you can communicate remarkably abstract concepts with just a few lines.

Squint, from the consistently innovative and well-made games of Out of the Box Publishing is today's Major FUN Award-award winner.

Instead of drawing, you use any combination of Shape Cards to construct your clue.

Since it's so Pictionaryish, it's really easy to understand how to play. Until, that is, you actually try. And then it seems impossible. Until you keep trying. And, oddly enough, it is quite possible. Challenging, you bet. But surprisingly possible. As the game goes on, and people become more familiar with the shapes and what you can do with them (you can even "animate" them by sliding sections back and forth), it gets more and more intriguing. It definitely requires ingenuity, creativity and good imagination. Which makes the experience all that much more compelling.

There are three different words or phrases to try to guess on each of the 168 Squint cards (well, six if you count both sides). The role of a die determines which of the three you must use. (We decided not to use the die, and leave the choice up to the clue-giver. The challenge is deep enough at first, and, even though the three different choices are assigned different levels of difficulty - and point value - what may be difficult for one person to communicate can prove easier for the next.) The scoring is exceptionally compassionate. Both the guesser and guessee get points for a correct response.

Rounds are timed, so gameplay is fast and tense. The longer you play, the more adept you become at giving and interpreting clues. Eventually, you astonish each other with your collective brilliance.

We learned to use a ruler to indicate the bottom of the construct. We also seriously contemplated looking for a white surface upon which to arrange the cards. But, as the manufacturers so eponymously explain, squinting really helps.

Squint is a unique, brilliantly challenging guessing game that makes people feel good about their individual and collective genius. For 3-6 players, ages 12 and up.

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Free shipping from the Game Preserve stores

Most of the games I review can be found a the Game Preserve stores. They carry an amazingly comprehensive collection of games. The games they carry are always in stock. Dealing with them is the closest on-line equivalent I've found to dealing with a neighborhood toy store - where the proprieters are informed, caring, reliable and enthusiastic. And to add to the enthusiasm, they are offering free shipping to all who add the Bernie Sent Me item to their shopping cart.

Man Bites Dog

Man Bites Dog wins the Major FUN Award for its humor, its playability, its invitation to creativity, its quickness, and, most of all, it's fun.

It's a card game the object of which is to create high-scoring headlines. Each card contains a word or a phrase and a score value. Headlines can have such bizarre grammatical structures that players can, with a modicum of creativity, compose a headline out of almost any cluster of words. The key word here is "almost." Sometimes it's impossible. Sometimes you have to stretch your concept of linguistic clarity beyond the breaking point. Take, for example, the following hand: CONVICT, SUSPECT, UROLOGIST, BLONDE, DUMPS. Luckily, DUMPS is one of those words that can be a noun or a verb. Otherwise, you'd be lost (you can replace up to three cards). So, how about BLONDE UROLOGIST DUMPS CONVICT? That'd work. So would BLONDE UROLOGIST DUMPS SUSPECT. Well, more or less. But you'd get another 5 points if you could use CONVICT. You can't have a SUSPECT CONVICT, though. How about CONVICT UROLOGIST DUMPS BLONDE SUSPECT?

Well, you get the point. But to actually get the points, everyone else must agree that your headline actually makes sense. This keeps the game from getting too competitive, because ultimately everyone is working together to keep the game going.

The game play is fast - a hand takes maybe five minutes to play. Since the average hand scores from 50-150 points, and the game is over as soon as someone reaches 500, the whole game rarely takes more than a fun, comfortable 20 minutes. It feels a little poker-like (you get five cards and can exchange up to three), which invites the creation of a minor infinity of non-gambling poker-like variations.

Man Bites Dog is recommended for 2 to 6 players, ages 8 and up. And a very good recommendation it is.

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Notes on a pajama party for older adults

"The reaction of the older adult participants to the retirement community pajama party idea was mixed. Some of the participants were excited, while others were quite clear that they had no intention of going because they thought the idea was insulting - childish and silly. I’m mixed about it, myself. I certainly believe in the power of silly, but I agree that older adults should be able to preserve their own personal sense of dignity. Isn’t it best to have it, as with the pajama party, so that those who want
to take part can do so, while those who do not can decline? Or is it the case that the naysayers shouldn’t have to be around silliness? How do we approach “silly” with older adults? How do we give them permission to be silly? How does a retirement community activities director choose appropriate activities? If the older adults had a higher opinion of the activities director, would they attend the party? Does the fact that this particular retirement community attracts more affluent residents play a role? Is there a better word to use with older adults than “silly”? The word has a negative tone (can you believe the Microsoft WORD synonyms for “silly” are: stupid, ridiculous, impractical, mad, childish, inane, asinine, and juvenile?!). Have there been times when I have resented something because I thought it was “silly”? Was it that the something was too silly, or were there other factors at play? Hmmm…"

Tom Weidenbach

Son-in-law Tom asks some hard questions.

My take on it is that a pajama party may be in fact too silly for some. It's a bit regressive. First of all, for guys, it's something only girls did - so the whole notion is puzzling and could be, for some, even insulting. Next, for girls, it is something they did when they were tweens - an awkward, tension-filled age. Something that they've celebrated growing out of for many, many years.

Anything regressive - playing with dolls, playing in a sandbox, playing house, fingerpainting, waterpistoling - can be great fun, but only when it's spontaneously chosen by people who are in close community. "Permission to get silly" - I think it's something older adults can only give each other. To have it mandated by an activities director, or by anyone outside the community, can be too easily interpreted as off- and down-putting. On the other hand, when a group of older adults is on an overnight excursion (note, even calling it a "camping trip? might be inappropriate), say, and it's night time, and somebody (preferrably one of the older adults) suggests "let's have a slumber party" - it can be great fun, energizing, inclusive, evocative. Permission to get silly can come from a caregiver who is himself being silly, but most often comes from the group itself, being in a special place, safe enough to be naughty in.

And I agree. "Silly" is a hard word. Even "fun" is hard, implication-filled. Words like "enjoyment" "exploration" "happiness" "joy" seem to be a lot easier for people to take seriously enough to get silly with.

Just to set the record straight on the etymology of "silly" we have from "[Middle English seli, silli, blessed, innocent, hapless, from Old English gesælig, blessed.]" In my opinion, when people have reached a stage where they can be silly together, they do, in deed bless each other, they do, in fact, become blessed.

Catch Phrase

What do you get when Charades meets Hot Potato? What do you make it electronic so that the whole thing weighs maybe eleven ounces and contains 10,000 words and phrases, voice-synthesized scorekeeper, and increasingly nerve-wracking countdown timer? And two teams of two or more people each sitting around a circle so that every other person belongs on the same team? And three AAA batteries?

You get Hasbro's Major FUN Awardwinning party game called "Catch Phrase."

Catch Phrase is easy to learn. The game itself is readily understood because it is in fact a combination of hot potato and password. You try to get your team to guess the word or phrase on the LCD display (it's not very high contrast, so good lighting helps). In the mean time, a timer is sounding. As soon as anybody on your team guesses correctly, you hand it off to the next player, who is on the other team. Meanwhile, the timer, the other player, and the other team are all getting more frantic. As soon as they guess it, they hand it off, etc., etc., et not much more cetera, because the timer isn't very long, and when it goes off, if you happen to be the one that's holding it, the other team gets the point.

You have to press a button to tell the computer that the other team won (a good opportunity to manifest sportspersonlike behavior whilst massaging more salt into your conceptual wound). The voice chip proclaims the added point and the total score, rubbing in both victory and defeat. The next round begins with the selection of a new category, or not. And so it goes, until one team reaches 7 points.

This game is most definitely fun. Way more fun than you think you could get out of an electronic gadget. The hot potato part adds tension and makes scoring feel very easy and natural. Because you don't get points for guessing correctly (you just pass the pod to next player), the focus remains on the complete round of play rather than on a single correct guess. This makes the whole game even more fun. Because your team is working together to guess (yes, this is one of those more-the-merrier games that could easily accommodate twenty or even more players), there's a wonderful sense of teamwork that transcends individual performance, again making the game even more fun. Being able to select a new category at the beginning of each round provides a good break, adds a bit of information, a sense of control, and is totally optional. And there are so many words and phrases, and it's all so elegantly designed that you don't need to come up with variations to keep it fun, but, if you want to, there's nothing stopping you. Younger kids might have difficulty with some of the vocabulary, but if you're playing with a mixed age group, you don't need to get so serious about the competition that you can't find a way to make the game fun for everyone.


The Emotional Lives of Animals

Here's a moment of web-synergy:

I was Googling for a ball with a bell in it, thinking that this would lead to yet another good novel-ball-inspired game or two or a hundred. You can play with your eyes closed if you have a ball that makes noise. The term "Bell Ball" led me to this site for pets. Which reminded me about Fred Donaldson's work in Original Play - Fred is one of the few people I know who has made the connection between animal play and human play and humans and animals playing together. So I started thinking about the connections between intergenerational and interspecies play. All of which then led me to an article, and then this quite delicious book "The Emotional Lives of Animals" by Mark Bekoff. In the article he says:

I think of play as being characterized by what I call the "Five S's of Play," its Spirit, Symmetry, Synchrony, Sacredness, and Soulfulness. The Spirit of play is laid bare for all to see as animals prodigally run about, wrestle, and knock one another over. The Symmetry and Synchrony of play is reflected in the harmony of the mutual agreements to trust one another - individuals share intentions to cooperate with one another to prevent play from spilling over into fighting. This trust is Sacred. Finally, there's a deepness to animal play in that the players are so immersed in play that they are the play. Play is thus a Soulful activity, perhaps the essence of individual's being at the moment as they play from deep in their hearts.

There's also a feeling of incredible freedom and creativity in the flow of play. So it's important also to keep in mind the six F's of play it Flexibility, Freedom, Friendship, Frolic, Fun, and Flow. As they run about, jump on one another, somersault, and bite one another animals create mind-boggling scenarios. Behavior patterns that are observed in mating are intermixed in flexible kaleidoscopic sequences with actions that are used during fighting, looking for prey, and avoiding being eaten.

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Boredom Busters

Widening my search, I came across this parenting site with a reasonable collection of reasonless fun. Here's an example that caught my open-ended eye:

Turn an ordinary board game into a silly adventure in play.
Have your children gather pieces to a variety of games.
Using original rules of their own, they create, a unique game. Beware of subjecting yourself to these new rules…..
You could soon be "Colonel Mustard", landing on Boardwalk, paying the fee with your old maid card, while your opponent hollers out "BINGO!"...Unless, it's Tuesday, and the moon is full. Some children may need help getting this game off the ground...
Once they "get it" they'll have a ball !

Intergenerational Games - Playing with the Grandkids

I spent a good hour - well, not so good - looking for a collection of games that were clearly intended for intergenerational play. I guess I was looking too hard, or had too many criteria. I wanted games that were easy, unthreatening, open-ended, non-commercial, requiring little or no equipment, that were on sites that flood your browser with pages of advertising.

So, what I wound up doing was posting a new page of my own collection. I called it "Playing with the Grandkids." Seemed appropriate. You'll find eight game ideas, all open-ended, intergenrational-worthy, and bordering comfortably on silliness. Though they are holiday-appropriate, there's no reason to wait.