Takraw

Takraw - think of it as a kind of volleyball where you can't use your hands. Think of a volleyball as "spherical of one woven layer having 12 holes, 20 intersections. ...made of synthetic fiber or natural rattan. If it is made of rattan, it ...consist(s) of 9-11 strains. The circumference ...not ...less than 0.42 m and not more than 0.44 m (0.43 m to 0.45 m for women). The weight before play...not ...less than 170 gm and not more than 180 gm (150 gm to 160 gm for women)." Think of a team as a 'Regu', each consisting of three players...One of the three players ...at the back and ...called a 'Server (Tekong)'....The other two players ...in front, one on the left and the other on the right. The player on the left ...called a "Left Inside" and the player on the right ...called a 'Right Inside'" And the net is lower and the court smaller. And in addition to the referee there are two umpires and 6 "linesmen." Otherwise, it's pretty much identical to volleyball.

Takraw is not a new game, in origin or spirit. According to the official site, "It is recorded in the cultures of South-East Asia nations as early as in the 11th century that the game was played extensively - Takraw in Thailand, Sipa in the Philippines, Sepakraga in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, Ching Loong in Myanmar, Rago in Indonesia & Kator in Laos. It is even said that in one of his many trips, the merchant Marco Polo brought back to Europe a game from China, which was kicking an implement into the air and counting the number of kicks, a style resembling today's sepaktakraw game."

Today, Takraw is an international sport, played in Puerto Rico, Singapore, Argentina, Brazil, India, Japan, Switzerland, and even here in the US. It is an important sport in that it affords players the opportunity to rise to rare moments of skill and grace. It is one of only a few sports involving eye-foot coordination: soccer, the hacky sack (officially referred to as a "footbag" and a moment or two of football. But all of these sports seem mere prelude to the refinement and spectacle of eye-foot accomplishment afforded to the Takraw player.

Speak, but do not play

Given the avowed mission of Major FUN, I took it upon myself to contemplate the strategic implications of launching a vast, or at least half-vast, keynote speaker initiative. Tactically speaking, the next logical step was a visit to Google for a brief reconnoiter, or something of that reality-checking ilk. Searching for Speakers Bureaus, I almost immediately clicked my way to the relatively local Nationwide Speakers Bureau. This was a fortuitous stumbling-upon, as the speakers bureaued within were clearly some of the best and mightiest.

Looking for an appropriate category, I pointed my way to Humor, wherein I found not only such luminaries as Dennis Miller, the Groundlings and Second City, but even a personal luminary of mine, friend, protege, Emperor of Playfair, Matt Weinstein.

A feature of the website is an online, Real One video for each speaker. I watched Matt's, and my conceptual jaw dropped in admiration and personal abashment. So polished, so professional was his video, so lively and engaging his performance, so motivating and audience-participatory, that I immediately concluded that it would take me years and thousands upon thousands of actual dollars to prepare anything remotely as enticing.

I wrote Matt to inform him of my awe. Which led to a phone conversation.Which led me to a revelation which continues to startle me to this moment.

It turns out that Matt's amazing video is not bringing him much work. It further turns out that he's producing a new one to replace it. So polished, so professional, so light-heartedly enlightening a video, and yet, so far, not much work. So I ask: Why? So he explains. You know those parts of his video that are my favorite? The parts where we see glimpses of the audience at play, engaged with each other, sharing laughter, surprise, delight? The parts that ring most loudly the bell of fun? Well, it turns out that it's those very parts that his potential clients see as threatening, over-the-top, too audience involving.

Matt explained that the kind of speakers that are succeeding in this difficult marketplace are the kind that are the most entertaining and informative - meaning, the least participative. People want speakers to be shows, entertainments, not facilitations. People want actors, not interactors.

As Major FUN, I must pick my battles with great care. Apparently, this one is already lost. I think the casualty rate is a lot higher than people are ready to admit.

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Game and Play Leader's Handbook: Facilitating Fun and Positive Interaction

If you look hard enough on Amazon.com, you'll find my review of Game and Play Leader's Handbook: Facilitating Fun and Positive Interaction by Bill Michaelis and John O'Connell. Today, for some as yet unexplained reason - oh, yes, I was talking with Bill on the phone the other day - I find myself once again marveling at the accomplishment contained within the covers of this unassuming publication.

Here's the review I wrote on Amazon (slightly edited, now that I have the chance):

Bill and John are personal friends of mine. I've known them since the 70s when John and Burton and I were co-leading the New Games Foundation. Bill has been teaching recreation at San Francisco State and stayed with it despite lack of funding and recognition for-just-about-ever. So anything I have to say about this book is probably suspect.

On the other hand, I REALLY like this book. In my 30 years of exploring newer games and deeper fun, I haven't found any book that could actually portray New Games leadership as comprehensively and compassionately.

It is, of course, about more than leading games. It is about leadership itself, and a startlingly revolutionary model for the kind of leadership that truly serves the people being led.


It's true that New Games are still being taught in elementary school physical education classes, in the States, Canada, and Europe. And it's a testimony to their power and value that they've survived more than 30 years after their introduction. But, for the most part, they have become a small component of a curriculum that is overwhelmingly focused more on perfomance than on play. Yes, their value is recognized, but their message has become lost. There is an art to leading a New Game. An art that is ultimately empowering and freeing and joyful. An art that is wonderfully and concisely captured in Bill and John's book. An art that, but for this book, has largely been forgotten.

In many ways, the Game and Play Leader's Handbook is a companion volume to my Well-Played Game. Where my book describes a philosophy of life based on play, John and Bill's book describes how to implement it in classroom, gym and playground.

Kids, rules and work

I found this post by Steve Cunio on the UK Playworks discussion list and felt just about compelled to get permission to share it with you, without comment, in its, more or less, entirety, which I got and am doing, as follows:

Here we have the Yes people (kids) composing new events and taking advantage of new ever changing opportunities. They do not flinch at having to make up their own rules as

- rules don't have to be agreed at board meetings,
- rules are based on a hierarchy of good ideas, not people
- rules are flexible enough for fast change
- rules keep pace with the game, the game itself shows the need for rules
- no one wants too many rules, the simpler the better
- rules are flexible enough to allow anyone to join in or leave
- rules are loosely based on already established games
- rules from a variety of games form a recipe for a new game
- lessons learnt from previous play facilitate speedier rule making
- rules are good ideas that suit most
- rules that do not really suit most are disputed, altered or dropped
- rules have their own natural lifecycle
- rules grow from being explicit to implicit next time played
- rules are rationalised and generalised for new players
- making rules is childs play based on capabilities, resources and environment
- rules are not factoral rules at all but behavioural guidelines.

I was really looking to affirm my approach to systems development. (I also administer systems at (Lime Hospital Arts) An approach that is set not to add to existing complexity but to reduce that complexity towards simplicity, ironing out a root problem irons out all problems that may have arisen from that.

Adults generally have less flexible rulesets for play, now called work(!), that do not allow for tidal change based on new inputs. Neither can the rulesets be readily altered and as such are added to exponentially and with greater exasperation.

This is where adult play fails where childsplay suceeds.

We should seek to mirror childsplay more in the work environment with less stringent rules meaning far greater flexibility for change, reappraisal of situations in current environment and the ironing out of foreseeable problems.

Stack

Stack is a strategy game you play with dice. A lot of dice. 14 for each player.

First, you decide on what color you want. Then, you spill all the dice onto the table, and smoosh them around in noisy, and gleeful anticipation. Then you take turns stacking dice (hence the name of the game), one die at a time, on any die other than your own. A stack can be up to four dice high. The die that is on top of the stack determines who gets the points. The higher the number on the top die, the higher the value of the stack.That's about all you need to know in order to play the game. Except that you can, if so moved, roll a die instead of stacking it. The rest is strategy.

And a very absorbing strategy, in deed. A stack that is three-dice-high is what you might call "attractive." Especially if it's a stack of 5s or 6s. Insofar as the next player who has a matching die can claim that stack permanently - or at least until the 15-20 minute game is over and score is calculated. Did I mention that 1s are worth 10? Then there are the two-dice stacks, which will wind up scoring for the player with the top die, unless someone puts another die on top of them, which then makes them a three-dice stack, which, as mentioned above, become dangerously attractive. As the game progresses, and there are fewer and fewer dice to play, the strategy changes accordingly.

For such a simple concept (easy enough for a 6-year-old), the game becomes remarkably deep (more than deep enough for this 61-year-old). And, because you're all playing together, with this big pile of dice, there's something about the game that makes you feel more together, as friends and family.

Stack is distributed by Talicor. The set comes with four different colors. Which means that you can have up to four different players. (Talicor offers yet another set with four more different colors. So, if you're a family of eight, you can still play together.). If you have the wherewithal to buy the deluxe $30, one-inch-dice set, go for it. The big dice add heft and a certain deliciously preparatory noisesomeness. Oh, yeah, there's even a velvitish bag for storage and transport, which you will probably do, often.

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Hard Fun

Karlin Lillington's Wired article Who Says Science Can't Be Fun? describes a Media Lab event called "Hard Fun," explaining that the term came from "a small boy trying to explain the difficult pleasures of programming a Lego Mindstorms robot."

I think that the idea of "Hard Fun" may be key to understanding what the Media Lab is all about.

"It's not that play shouldn't be fun, but at its best, play is in fact a lot more. Play is really the wellspring of activity."

This is the message of Kenneth Haase, acting director of MIT's Media Lab Europe in Dublin.

In a way, it's a sad commentary on our culture that we have to justify fun in terms of anything other than itself. In another way, it's a powerful and well-grounded observation, especially coming from such a well-funded academic R&D center like the Media Lab, where it clearly and consistently pays to play...as long as something comes out of it.

Lillington goes on to quote MIT Media Lab founder and chairman Nicholas Negroponte: "As a lab, we've always looked at playing as one of the most proficient means of learning and acquiring knowledge."

As a person, I've always looked at playing as one of the most proficient means of having fun. Not to belittle learning and acquiring knowledge. They, too, often prove to be proficient means of having fun.

OK, OK. Any validation of fun and play is of great value in a culture where fun and play require validation. And the fact is that the kind of fun being had in the Media Lab has resulted in incontrovertible evidence that fun of the hard kind can be a most profitable endeavor.

"As an example," Lillington notes, "Negroponte pointed to a chair with special body sensors designed by MIT students for a magic act in Las Vegas. That technology has now been worked into about 60 percent of baby seats for cars."

Lillington also cites composer Tod Machover, who has worked with the MIT Media Lab to develop a series of innovative Music Toys. "We've lost many of the aspects of what it means to put together the concepts of 'play' and 'music.'" This is a profound and poignant observation from someone who has in fact created some wonderfully tangible testimony to the play-music connection.

I seems to me that, as a culture, we are on the brink of losing our connection to play itself. From banning free play and playground access to chronic overscheduling, we are removing ourselves further and further from our source. Machover and Haase and Negroponte, with their validation of Hard Fun, are contributing a great deal more to our society than innovative technologies. Hard Fun might prove to be the only kind of fun that our culture can readily embrace.

Thanks to CoWorker Gerrit Visser for the link.

Bonsai Potato

Apparently, all that it takes to create a new art form is a little devotion, a sense of playfulness, humor, and a community with whom to share it. Case in point: the Bonsai Potato Gallery.

Bonsai Potato? You've got to be kidding! I mean, you have this ancient, Zen-like tradition of spending, what, years of a profoundly spiritual discipline that centers on torturing a tree into miniature perfection. And sprouting a potato takes maybe eight weeks.

Which of course is the whole point. In a way, the whole thing's a joke. And yet, in another way, what really makes it funny is that people take it seriously. That's the true Zen of Potato Bonsai-ing, this dialogue between Serious and Silly.

For example, here's a paragraph from a description of the Spring 2002 Growing Competition

"Amidst a vast array of delightful taters, and a serious (and lengthy) judging process, 8-year old Ian’s potato, "Ian & Lily" managed to claim First Place, narrowly beating the wonderfully decorated and poetic potato "Samurai Spud". Ian’s potato was reminiscent of the glory days of Ireland, when one grew Bonsai Potatoes for their visible appeal and composition, and not for their culinary indulgences (starving). Ian’s vision was in itself a prime example of the dramatic artistic destiny one can quickly attain with proper inner peace."

Tongue-in-cheek, perhaps. But also spud-in-spotlight. It's a competition, after all. With prizes, even, "including a $50 gift certificate to Emery’s Garden, a Bonsai Potato T-shirt, and a Mr. Potato Head Kit." You can even purchase your own "Bonsai Potato Kit - Zen Without the Wait."

Aside from the humor, and the devotion, there's community. And here we have yet one more testimony to the power of playfulness and the Internet. Google lists almost 1500 pages referring to the Bonsai Potato. The humor, graphics and depth of the Bonsai Potato website have caught the fancy of Bloggers everywhere.

For further explication, be sure to check out the semi-instructional excerpts from the book that's included in your Bonsai Potato Kit "The Art of the Bonsai Potato Kit" or consider purchasing the book all by itself from Amazon - once it's back in stock.

The BERNIE becomes Major FUN

The Astute Few might have noted that in yesterday's review of MyCard, that which was once called The BERNIE award was referred to as the Major FUN award. Lest you think this was all some egregious error on the part of my imaginary editorial staff, I herewith reassure you.

Not that there's any distinction to be made in the significance of one reward over another. A BERNIE is a BERNIE is a BERNIE. Only now, it's a Major FUN. Because Major FUN sounds, well, more "fun," as it were, so to speak. Which is the whole point, don't you know. It's cuter. It's message, clearer. And, since the erstwhile Bernie himself, aka "me," is so deeply committed to the virtual process of embracing his personal Major FUNness, as per orders from the Oaqui, it all seems, in retrospect, inevitable that one would become the other.

This award business is a strange one. For me, it's not a business at all, actually, but rather a duty, as commanded by the Oaqui and assorted fates. I neither accept nor request payment for the award. And, oddly enough, most of the other award-granting institutions do both. I do it mainly because there are people and games that deserve the kind of recognition I can give them. Apparently, my perspective on games is still highly personal and unique. My focus is on gentler kind of fun: a fun that takes precedence over who wins or loses; a fun that doesn't divide people according to who is more skilled or fortunate, but brings people together. Also, I know how to review games. I reviewed games 30 years ago at the Games Preserve and wrote reviews for Games Magazine. I conduct more or less regular Game Tastings where I and the fortunate few actually play every game under consideration.

To date, I've never written a negative review. I don't think it's worth my readers' time. And, my brand of fun is, sadly, still so unique that it would be unfair of me, don't you know, to critique a game like, for example, Monopoly, for being too competitive.

MyCard

It's a small step for gameplayingkind, but a giant step for a game company. No, make that a giant step for gameplayingkind as well.

Major FUN-Award-winning Out of the Box Publishing, makers of the Major FUN-Award-winning card game Apples to Apples, has launched a product/service allowing players to extend their Apples-to-Apples game system by creating their own, customized cards. Now, we're not talking about offering some blank cards that people can write on, but rather an online service that allows you to create cards that look and feel almost exactly like the "official," manufacturer-approved cards.

This is close to unprecedented in field of commercial gaming. Bordering on capitalistic blasphemy. Giving players the tools to alter and personalize a game is almost like telling people that they know enough to make a game better, all by themselves, without the vasty expertise of professional game designers. Close to unprecedented, because the game already includes a few blank cards that players can write on or make up on the fly. Bordering, because in order to take full advantage of the opportunity, you will need to spend another $6.00 to get the five sheets of eight-per-page, pre-printed, micro-perforated, laser- or inkjet-printer-compatible cards.

This Customizable Cards concept is not just precedent-setting, more importantly, it's fun. It's fun to think up cards that include family members and friends, neighbors and coworkers, local politicians and personal nemeses. It's even more fun when you see the expression on people's faces when they first discover themselves literally part of the game. Naturally, you can include anyone and anything you can imagine: grandma's spaghetti, dad's first car, the neighbor's noisy dog. If you're playing for more than fun - say, you're a therapist or educator - you can create cards that evoke or provoke, test or exercise. And, if you're so minded, preparing for a game with like-minded so-and-sos, you can include the unmentionable.

The online tool works well, is easy to understand, and provides access to extensive libraries of cards that other users, and the manufacturers themselves, have created. If you haven't bought Apples to Apples yet, the MyCard concept alone should prove incentive enough.

As Major Fun, I find Out-of-the-Box's Customizable Cards to be a significant victory for us all.

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Invoking The Playful Spirit In Training

I was Googling for "Playful Spirit" and serendipped my way to an article by Leslie Brunker, called "Invoking the Playful Spirit in Training."

Apparently, Ms. Brunker teaches training and presentation skills to coaches and trainers. I, also, have been very interested in this aspect of the business world, where the sense of theater is very much alive. Sadly, despite all the theatrics of training room, the sense of playfulness remains a radical concept. Which is what drew me so much to this article.

Ms. Brunker writes: "As adults we have come to think of learning as hard, serious, laborious, and often painful. From that framework it’s a real stretch to accept that people not only can learn from play, but actually tend to learn better through play."

The observation that people learn better through play is pivotal. Though she doesn't have any research to substantiate this claim, she does back it up with her own first-hand observations as a swimming teacher: "...my approach to teaching people how to swim was that I first got people safe in the environment. When people were so distracted by fear how could I teach them survival skills? What I did was to override their distraction with another distraction. Play!"

She, like I, also encountered people who were looking for fun and games and good jokes so that they could spice up their training. She comments: "...fun and play are not what we make happen, but more what we allow to happen. We allow it through invoking the playful spirit, both in ourselves and in our participants." A profound distinction that: not what we make happen, but what we allow to happen.

So, you ask, how do we do "allow" the playful spirit into training? "To invoke the playful spirit in training we must remember to first pay attention to the safety of the learners in this environment. At the same time we must notice the common bond we all have in being human. Then challenge ourselves, moment to moment, to accept the absurdities of our perspectives and play with the magic that comes from taking ourselves a little more lightly."

Dr. Fun Re-Ups

A little over 6 years ago, I received my first conscription notice from the Oaqui. In response to a growing national movement towards the development of a toy gun control policy, the Oaqui appointed me to a Chaplaincy position responsible for Domestic Operations Control. In discharging that role, I founded and led what became known as the National Toy Rifle Association, or the NTRA, which enabled me to return to civilian life and resume my practice as Doctor FUN.

Last week, I received my second call to duty. The Oaqui, alarmed by the apparently global disregard for the need to play, has/ve asked once again me to take up arms, and, if needed, both hands and fingers. According to the Oaqui, things are getting way too serious. Kids and parents, bosses and bossed, governments and governed, are finding themselves less and less able to do funny things in public. Our collective right to silliness is being submerged by a growing swell of bleak, caliginous, depressing, dingy, dire, dismal, dispiriting, doleful, drab, dreary, funereal, gloomy, grave, grim, joyless, lugubrious, melancholy, mournful, murky, and otherwise sepulchral sobriety. We crack a joke and are greeted only by the rasping sound of the Axes of Evil getting grimly ground. Threats of war, and other manifestations of a weakening sense of humor, are leading inexorably to the birth of an earth-wide mirth dearth.

Therefore, I, Doctor FUN, your Guru of Glee, once again gladly don the crenelated kilts of Major FUN, Defender of the Playful. And Major FUN I shall remain until the world itself is safe for play, or otherwise instructed.

Join me, if you will, as I dance the Dance o'Glee. Share glee with me as I manifest fun there on freeway and overpass, in shopping mall and megaplex, in playground and gymnasium, family room and kitchen. And there on the beaches, especially during low tide. Stand firm with me in my fight for fun, and for you, my fellow manifesters, until we all and each find ourselves having more fun than you can point a gun at.

Tangles

When I first wrote about the uses of Tangles in a brainstorming meeting, I called them "don't worry beads" because I found them to be so wonderfully fingerable. Twisting them endlessly, they occupy the hands and free the mind. When I discovered that Tangles are like Pop-it beads, and can be separated and rejoined into endless patterns and variations, I realized that I had in deed found a toy worthy of individual and collaborative contemplation.

All this is by way of introduction to what I recently discovered to be a world of Tangle Toys, like the snakish Tangle pen illustrated above, whose sections pop off to become pens of 4 different colors. The pen sections can only be combined with each other, but the arms are of standard Tangle-width, and can be used to extend the implications of your classic Tangle, and vice versa.

For those who prefer elegance to pop-it-ability, there's the Museum Size Tangle Chrome - all metal, smooth-turning, manifesting pure executive-worthiness, as well as the smaller, original size chrome Tangle for the junior, or more manifestly frugal executive.

More than a toy, Tangle, at least according to its promoters, is a path to peace. Kids tangle. Business people Tangle. Art lovers Tangle. Even the Dalai Lama Tangles!

The inventor, Richard Zawitz, has developed Tangles into an innovative, and remarkably creative industry, reflecting his equally remarkable, and industrious playfulness. Here's more about him, his invention, and his art.

As a work of art, a toy for all ages, a meditative plaything, and incontrovertible evidence of the power of play, Tangle gets the Major FUN Award.

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Gobblet

Gobblet is a four-in-a-row game. What makes it unique is the use of Russian-nesting-doll-like pieces. Each player has a collection of three sets of cylinders. Each set consists of four nesting cylinders, all but the smallest being hollow to accommodate (or Gobble) the smaller.

Players take turns putting their pieces anywhere on the 4x4 board. A piece, once placed, can be moved anywhere on the board, even (and here's where the unique aspect of this game comes in) over another (narrower) piece.

It's strictly a two-player game, though when Jim and I played, we both looked to Matt for constructive kibbitzing. Our big discovery when playing Gobblet was how easy it is to be stupid.

The idea of gobbling up another piece is new enough to be hard to remember, and the strategic implications are far more profound than you would think. It's also hard to remember that when determining four-in-a-row, size doesn't matter. The widest cylinders are impervious to being gobbled, and hence of the most strategic value, and also hence, they tend to get moved around a lot. However, when you move a cylinder, you may very well uncover a piece you've previously gobbled, inadvertently giving your opponent a four-in-a-row victory.

At $30, Gobblet is not a cheap game. But neither is it cheaply made. The whole thing is constructed of birch, and self-contained in a wooden box. You play on the reverse side of the lid. If you put the lid back on the box to play, you can, when needed, make a very satisfyingly loud bang as you expressively place your pieces on the board.

Though the rules are simple and well-written, we found it took a while for us to understand them - probably because of preconceptions. There's a rule about when you can use "external stacks" that requires a bit more explication than one might think - if thinking is what one is doing at the time. The manufacturers suggest that the game can be played by kids as young as 7. We play-testing adults found Gobblet to be a most significantly mature experience.

Gobblet is the first two-player strategy game to be granted a Major FUN Award. It broke ground for us, demonstrating that there are game companies capable of producing quality, innovative games of lasting play value. We salute you, Blue Orange, and look forward to reviewing your next games.

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Quoits

Yesterday's story on the Therapeutic Value of Play included a photograph of kids and Quoits. Which leads me today to asking the eternal question.

Here's what I learned from a site called "The Quoit Pits:"

Quoits are similar to Horseshoes only in that they are both pitched from behind one pin placed in the ground, and toward a second pin some distance away. The major differences:

- Quoit pins are set very low, inside wooden boxes buried in the ground and filled with moist clay, rather than in the dirt or sand usually used with Horseshoes.
- Distance to the pin is almost halved: 21 feet for quoits in comparison to 40 feet for horseshoes.
- Quoits are doughnut-shaped rings made of brass, bronze, or steel, compared to an open, U-shaped horseshoe.
- To "ring" a quoit around the pin, you have to toss it onto the pin rather than sliding into it as you would a horseshoe.
- Since the surface you are throwing at is soft and tacky like putty, the quoits generally stick where they land. There is very little sliding, rolling, or bouncing, as is common when pitching Horseshoes.


Subtle, but clearly significant differences, don't you think? Demanding less strength, but more accuracy.

This article on "Quoits - History and Useful Information" cites Peter Brown, President of the National Quoits Association: "...the Greeks passed on Quoits, a weapon of war, to the Romans who also brought the game to Britain and that the origins may go back even further to the Minoan empire c.2000B.C. where the boy king of Knossos apparently used the discus/quoit to cull escaping slaves. Horseshoe pitching in this case came about as a poor-man's version of Quoits using left-over horseshoes instead of the real thing." Quoits, therefore, being the game of kinds, whilst horseshoes, which we, in our peasant-like ways, consider to be the "real" game, a mere poor man's version.

Regardless of the history, or even the distinctions between Quoits and Horseshoes, the fact that it is still played today is testimony to how powerful a good game can be - outlasting time and culture, race and language, nation and nationality.

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Therapeutic value of play

I was reading this remarkable (well, it made me remark) piece of research by Dr. Jennifer Kendall in support of her video Play for Life. Towards the end, I found this sentence:

The fundamental, baseline aspect of play therapy is that children enjoy it.

...and it struck me that this author actually understands that mystical healing affect that comes about from play. The therapy part of play is, in my only somewhat humble opinion, regardless of what is "revealed" about the player, the play itself. The more freely the adult or child plays, the more healing.

The article goes on to talk about games in what struck me as a most therapeutic and surprisingly intelligent light:

The use of games in play therapy, typically utilized in a group setting, are a key aspect of social development. Reid (1993) notes the dual nature of games that is observable in both children and adults, in which enjoyment and a sense of seriousness exist side by side. This duality offers unique possibilities for psychotherapeutic intervention.

Compared to free play, games require more emotional control, intellect, and social skills, as well as often paralleling "real life." Many theorists including Piaget (1962) have suggested that repeated exposure to games plays a central role in the socialization of children, fostering skills such as rule following, fairness, turn taking, gracious winning and losing, and cooperative and competitive behavior (Reid, 1993). Serok and Blum (1983) describe games as mini-life situations in which the basic elements of socialization (rule conformity, acceptance of the norms of the group, and control of aggression) are integral components of the process of play.


Yes, and again yes! And every game models a different (all right, in some cases maybe only slightly different) social/individual, enjoyment/seriousness balance. It was this insight that led me to publishing my "Games Preserve Reports" 32 years ago, and that keeps me writing, lo these many years.

There's something about games that continues to escape even the most scholarly of theorist and analyst. It has to something to do with fun....

And about the photo... It's a picture of kids with a bunch of Quoits, a game which, in and of itself, is quoit discussion-worthy. I found it on Fun Attic, makers of the extremely playworthy, and most Schmerltz-like Flingsock.

Fabrication is a party game that will reveal just how cunning and deceptive your best friends can be.

You draw a card, which gives you five different lines, one of which you attempt to include, undetected, in your cleverly improvised story. As a team, you take turns during your sixty-second story time, passing "the buck" back and forth between you. Only one of you has to say the line. The other team tries to guess both what the line was, and who said it.

When we tried it during last Sunday's Game Tasting, my team went first. Jim, Marty and I were brilliant, totally confounding Ivory and the Other Jim. Then it was their turn. The Other Jim started, turning the Buck around in his hand, saying "I think it's upside down." And then went on to continue with the story. My team heard nothing else. So convinced were we that we had detected Jim's devious "Fabrication" with his cute little upside down ploy that none of us felt the need to listen to the rest of the story. When it came time for the revelation, we all, independently, without prior consultation or psychovisual signaling, in smugness aforethought, nailed the Other Jim and his O so subtle "upside down" message. And we were all wrong!

It's wonderful fun to be sneaky, especially when everyone knows that you're supposed to be sneaky. Trying to look nonplussed when you say the line, trying to fool others, like sweet, open, believing me, into thinking they have caught you. I mean, it's not like you're lying or anything. Our party game girl Ivory absolutely loved this one!

You might be reminded of the game called Whose Line, as played on the TV game show Whose Line is it Anyway?, but you'd be wrong. Fabrication is much more subtle, and far more fun.

Each Fabrication card has five lines, one of which is a "Zinger" - worth more points, and more difficult to include without detection. In addition to the Fabrication Cards is a deck of Story Starter Help cards. As advertised, these are very useful in starting a story, when story-starting help is what you need. We didn't use them, but were oddly comforted by knowing they were available to us. A sixty-second timer keeps the game fast and fun for both the Fabricators and those who are getting Fabricated upon.

Fabrication can be played by individuals (two players) or teams. Teams don't have to be even. Play with strangers. Play with people you think could not possibly deceive you. Shine delight on some of their darker virtues.

Tchoukball - Healing Competition

Tchoukball is the invention of Dr. Hermann Brandt, who created the game to illustrate the concepts he developed in his award-winning paper called 'A Scientific Criticism of Team Games.' It is, reportedly, played in France, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Italy, Israel, Malta, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, Australia, Canada, U.S.A., Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. Tchoukball.
Apparently, the idea is to keep the ball from hitting the ground. The bouncy thing (officially called a "rebound surface") is placed on either end of the field. Once the ball is bounced off the bouncy thing, the other team has to catch it.

As you read the following, from their summary on how the game is played, take special note of the sentence I italicized:

"The team that has possession of the ball has a three-pass limit before being forced to shoot the ball at the rebound surface on either end of the court. Members of the other team must place themselves according to where they expect the ball to land, so that they can catch it before it touches the floor. Meantime, members of the other team look to position themselves to recover the ball after it rebounds from the rebound surface, before the ball can touch the floor. During the course of the game, the players of each team are not allowed to interfere with players of the other team: they may not intercept passes, interfere with the movements of the person carrying the ball or his teammates, or stop a defender from positioning himself to catch the ball after the rebound."

According to Dr. Brant, as quoted by the American Tchoukball Corporation, "Tchoukball avoids the tense competitiveness which afflicts many of our national team games at present. The game allows each player to express himself within his own physical and intellectual capabilities, and players of different capabilities can play together without a weaker (or even handicapped) player being played out of, or left out of, the game.

"The dimension of the playing area can be adapted to obtain different physiological effects, and also to ensure the effective organisation of teaching. In cases where space is limited, the game makes a high density use of the space available.

"Also the ball should not touch the ground, therefore the game can be played on virtually any reasonably smooth surface; from the gymnasium or sport hall floor to the beach, including grass, tarmac or beaten earth surfaces."

Again, incontrovertible evidence that the search for newer, healthier competition, is very much alive and tchouking.

Fluxx 3.0

There's only one Fluxx. It's a card game that starts out with only two rules, and ends with maybe eighty-four. Rules. Because each card is a rule. And there are, well, 84 of them.

The game is the most fun when you're playing with people who don't take their games seriously. For many of us, there are times when the game borders on sheer incomprehensibility. And then crosses over. And we, with it. Into something very much like sheer, helpless, hilarity.

Now, I'm not saying that the people who developed this game don't take it seriously. In fact, there's now a Fluxx 3.0 with even newer rules and goals and things destined to make the game even more fun, if not necessarily more comprehensible.

I think part of the fun of Fluxx is that it almost really works. I mean, it really works, in a way. Despite all the changing rules, it's an actually interesting game, and people do win. It's clear that there's a high art here - creating cards that change the game, make it interesting, and maintain a proper balance so the game doesn't get too easy to win or impossible - is no mean feat. Witness this page full of new Fluxx card ideas.

But it never really achieves what your average game aesthetician might call "clarity" or "elegance." Like I said, it's not like a game you can take seriously. Rather, it's like those impossible drinking games that require those who need the most help to get further incapacitated. The whole point really is not to succeed. Winning isn't where you'll find the fun of Fluxx. Playing is.

I quote from "How to Irritate a Fluxx Player" by "Jazzfish"

"Generally you'll be playing Fluxx just for the heck of it, because you're in the laundromat or eating lunch or road-tripping or whatever and there's nothing else really to do. So you'll probably have several friends with you who've all played before and have all reached a decent level of "skill" (read: know most if not all of the cards by heart). In this case, playing to be obnoxious is at least as much fun as winning."

Fluxx is unique in the world of commercial games. My hope is that it continues proving its success, long enough to spawn many imitators. It's a fun, silly, different kind of card game. A mood piece, perfect for those people and times when the best kind of fun to share is the funny kind.

Playing for the health of it

I found the following on a page of "core beliefs" from an organization calling itself "Playing for Keeps."

Parents and caregivers perform a critical role in play.

Parents and caregivers are children's first playmates, and they play a key role in creating fun, constructive playtime experiences for their children throughout childhood. The more parents and caregivers understand the links between play and healthy development, the more they will be equipped to make informed decisions about play.


I was delighted to discover that someone had actually made this statement, and to find it part of such an enlightened set of beliefs. But I found myself having to add my own emphasis on that part about understanding "the links between play and healthy development" I wanted to add an emphasis that somehow made parents and caregivers of children aware of the links between play and healthy development in their own personal, parenting and non-parenting, caregiving and not, lives. That it's important to their grown-up health that they spend quality grown-up time playing with their children and playing with other grown-ups and with those grown-upper, and all alone, with their own, personal, grown-up selves. Playing healthfully, with our without kids is healthy for everyone involved.

I like their purpose. I like their concept of "Constructive Play." They put on what appears to be a power conference for people who take children's play seriously. Here's the list of topics:

The knowledge base about play
The latest practice innovations
Tools for play and learning: toys, children's publications, and children's entertainment
How to communicate the benefits of play to parents and administrators
Making play accessible to all kids, including those with disability and those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged
Outdoor play and responding to movements to eliminate recess in schools
Research Round-up: Viewpoints on play with violent themes
Technology in toys: the pros and cons
Making play emotionally safe: the latest on anti-bullying efforts
Overscheduling

Pick-up Sticks and the Spirit

Musing, for various reasons, on the game of pickup sticks, I discover that it is ancient in origin, attributed both to the Chinese and to Native Americans. And that it is also known as "jackstraws" and, depending on your spelling preference, "spilikins," spellikins," or "spillikins." In this illustration we see a set of hand-carved Spilikins, "made by the great-grandfather of a Hollis resident. He lived in Portsmouth and carved about 100 jackstraws, pegging them all together with friction fit. Included are shovels, axes, other farm tools including an orchard ladder and some tools which may have been associated with fishing, e.g. canoe paddles and other paddle. Each type of tool has several varieties within it."

From my ever-apparent bias, the patience, craftsmanship, love and art that produced this set are all further testimony to the power of fun. I can imagine this great grandfather carving away into his days, finding in the unnecessarily difficult challenge of a carving set that is "pegged together with friction fit" a way to manifest his spirit

Though we are all probably much more familiar with the painted, pointy-stick variety of pick-up sticks, and though the game of Spellikins, etc., can be played with either, I find myself drawn to the beauty and invitation to complexity of the version shown in these illustrations. I like how the shape affects how easily each stick can be picked, and how that in turn creates the possibilities of scoring differently for each stick, or each set of sticks.

Here's an excellent page describing the origins and history of this remarkably widespread game, from which we learn that the game, in its carved or stick form, has apparent historical links to the practice of divination, such as the throwing of yarrow sticks, no less.

Which makes me muse on the global, timeless connections between fun and spirit.

And leads me to bask in wonderment once again as I rediscover how one becomes a path to the other.

Teenage Crowds, and the games therefor

I found this collection of Crowd Games for teen-agers creative, fun, stimulating, and, well, instructive.

What I like about these games is that they really seem like, well, fun, for fun. For example:

Cell Phone Pizza Challenge:

Find two local pizza places that deliver. During the beginning of the evening, divide the crowd in two and bring up a representative from each side. Hand each representative a cell phone and phone # of two competing pizza places. Have them each order a large pizza, tell the delivery person the situation, and that there's a $20 tip for the one that arrives first. Clearly announce to the crowd which pizza place is coming for each team.

As you are continuing your program, one side of the room will erupt into applause when a pizza driver comes in representing their side of the room. Interview the deliverer and give him the $20 tip in front of the crowd. (You can then have up front games lined up where winners get a piece of pizza.)


You can tell that this'd be fun to play. Engaging. Exciting. On the other hand, you can't help wonder about the other side of the room and how that particular crowd will receive the hapless deliverer of the second pizza.

Here's another example:

S[a]ran Wrap Body Pass:

Get 4 staff members from the crowd (as many staff as you have sections of the crowd- divided by isles) Have each staff member stand in front of a given section of crowd that can cheer for their staff member. Have each staff member grab about 3 or 4 kids to “wrap them.” Hand each group 3 or 4 rolls of Saran Wrap, tell them to mummy them and yell “Go!” (I tell the staff to put their hands in the air so they have them free for later!)

When they are wrapped up- ask the crowd what the best way to judge who is wrapped the best- then announce that you have an idea. “Pick them up and pass them to the back of the crowd and back up front again. First section to do that wins!”


Which makes you smile at the thought of the funny saran-wrapped mummy. And, at the same time, makes you wonder about what it feels like when people are racing to pass your pretty much helplessly wrapped body, and how careful or supportive or sensitive to your needs they are actually trying to be.

I'm sure there are kinder, gentler games, just as engaging and delightful, but also, more universally, shall we say, "compassionate?"- the very kind of kind games to which I've devoted perhaps thirty-two years to propagating. On the other hand, taking a more anthropological view, I'm also sure that these "teenage crowd" games represent the living presence of fun for their makers and players. Considering that these particular games come from a site called The Source for Youth Ministry, we take it as further evidence that teenagers can be a tough crowd.

Playing Cards of Extended Wardrobe - New Suits for the Deck

I decided to usher in the New Year (today being 01/02/03) with the eternal question: "Why just four suits?

Why not, for example, five? All right, there is vast traditional support for the four-suit paradigm, one suit for each season, don't you know. But a five-suited deck, at least according to its manufacturers, has all kinds of uncharted benefits, namely: "This extra suit brings 13 new cards to the traditional deck of 52 cards, bringing the total to 65 cards. Stardeck players can play eight players in one hand, rather than seven. One can deal longer without shuffling. Additionally, one can get better hands, such as the rainbow hands and the five of a kind."

"How does the introduction of a fifth suit affect poker odds?" rhetorically inquires mathematician Ivars Peterson. "With a five-suited deck of 65 cards, the total number of possible five-card hands is 8,259,888. You can now draw five of a kind, a combination that's even rarer than a straight flush. Indeed, there are precisely 13 ways to obtain five of a kind, whereas there are 50 ways to get a straight flush.

"Moreover, you can have other combinations that consist of one card of each suit. Such a combination is sometimes termed a rainbow. A rainbow straight, for instance, consists of five consecutive cards, each one a different suit. Its value is between that of a straight flush and four of a kind. A rainbow itself (any five cards, each one a different suit) would fall between three of a kind and two pair. It's also possible to introduce rainbow variants of four of a kind, three of a kind, two pair, and two of a kind."

Which makes one ask: "what about the mathematical and even play properties unleashed by a six-suited deck?" And, both lo and behold, Empire Cards manufactures the very aforementioned with which one, should one be so inclined, could play the long-sought-after but previously unobtainable six-player Hearts.