River Crossing - The Perilous Plank Puzzle

I asked Beth, our resident puzzle-person, to take a first look at River Crossing. She spent two weeks with it, and came back with the following report:

1) It's fun to set up. For kids, that might be half the fun - it kinda reminded me of legos. :)

2) The upper levels challenged me enough to keep me going for quite a while - and I'm definitely quicker than most with these things, so I think it will keep most folks happily occupied for hours.

3) For each level, there's usually only one brain-bending move you have to twist your mind around to get the pieces to fall into place, so it's not *frustratingly* difficult.

4) It also passed the lounge test - easily playable while almost completely supine.


Upon personal inspection, I find myself seconding, and maybe even thirding her endorsement. The puzzle itself reminds me of one of those survival exercises such as those developed by Project Adventure. And the fantasy adds greatly to its appeal.

River Crossing is as well-packaged as it is conceived. The puzzle cards are packaged in their own storage box. The puzzle base and pieces fit snugly into the package. A carrying bag (waterproof, of course) helps make the whole thing satisfyingly portable. The game is built on a plastic pegboard grid. Puzzle cards (40 of them) fit on top of the grid. Plastic pegs are placed in the corresponding holes and 5 magnetic planks placed between the pegs according to the directions on the puzzle card. Put the magnetic man on the middle of the starting plank, and then lift and move the planks, one at a time, to adjacent pegs, to help him cross the river.

The online documentation is clear and very user-friendly. You can even try the puzzle online, where you'll also find ten bonus puzzles.

All of which should make it obvious why River Crossing is the first puzzle to receive the Major FUN Award.

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Of Science and Silliness

When playfulness meets science, the results you get vary from downright silly to startling findings about the nature of life, the universe, and all that is therein implied.

A brief visit to the Tricks page on "Crazy Aaron's Putty World" presents you with ample evidence of the benefits of the play/science dialogue - especially if what you're searching for lies on the "downright silly" end of the conceptual spectrum.

Crazy Aaron sells "Thinking Putty." Made of the same wondersome stuff that is still called by its original silly name, but sold in a post-patented tin containing a far more serious portion (about 7 times as much as you'd get in the egg of renown), Thinking Putty offers investigators the conceptual heft necessary for in-depth speculation.

See the startlingly cool results of writing on Glow-in-the-Dark Thinking Putty with a blacklight pen (coincidentally available from Crazy Aaron - serendipitously free with an order of 4 tins). Observe the questionable impact of shooting Thinking Putty out of a Putty Canon, or smashing it with a hammer, or just hanging it from the ceiling. Contemplate the significance of its magnetic properties. Behold the sartorial splendor of a Thinking Putty shirt. Restore once more your abiding faith in the revelatory powers of fun.

Sodaplay

Think of it as a virtual, animated tinker toy. Or, think of it as an opportunity to create life. Sodaplay provides a deep and fun world for exploration by the scientific and the playful.

As they explain: "looking at the fluid, lifelike way these creatures walk and roll and slink across the screen you might think that there must be some very complicated stuff going on behind the scenes. well fear not, it's actually very simple. It only looks complicated because lots of simple bits are working together. When simple bits work together you can get emergent behaviour. that means that the system as a whole can be more complex and sophisticated than the simple bits that it's made out of."

First, visit the Sodazoo. Scroll right and left to view the first 80 or so Sodacritters - creations of Sodaplayers from around the world. Click on any one. Watch it dance. Then play with the controls. Watch it change. Then go back to the Sodacritter collection. Repeat. Repeat repetitively. Then make your own.

For the documentation-needy, there's ample information on the Sodaconstructor page.

Sodaplay is the first virtual toy to earn the coveted Major FUN Award. It sets a standard that I truly hope will challenge imitators and innovators alike.

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Halfbakery

Playfulness and inventiveness are very closely related. Probably nowhere as closely as in Halfbakery, an online, collaboratively authored collection of ideas and inventions that are, well, half-baked.

Without the requirement of having actually to build, draw, trademark, patent, or even test out ideas, Halfbakery leaves its contributors and readers deliciously free to invent the sublimely ridiculous. Take, for example, the concept of Detachable Sock Stripes: "Detachable sock stripes turn plain white socks into exciting striped socks. Simply don your socks and fasten the stripes around your ankles." And, while your exploring this concept in its clearly deserved depth, take a look at Homing Socks that find each other, or the immensely clever and sorely needed Inside Out Socks. Along with socks, consider the merits of an Inflatable Tie: "To amuse yourself during interminable meetings you can discreetly inflate and deflate it, by messing with the pump controls... or deliberately overinflate it, until it explodes. You can also take it off, inflate the other compartment, that runs around the neck, and use it for beach baseball, or a fake riot control baton. Other uses: In a car crash, if you can inflate it in time; As a neck support splint afterwards, if you can't; As a life preserver, should your airliner ditch into water; As a neck support pillow, on long flights."

The Halfbakery is a community effort, supporting dialogue as wholeheartedly as it supports creativity and sheer silliness. It is a gift to all of us.

Ultimate

It may not be the ultimate game, but Ultimate, a.k.a. Ultimate Frisbee, is perhaps one of the most ambitious and successful efforts to redefine the sports experience.

The sport itself is a thing of grace and beauty, and an opportunity for intense team competition. It's a bit like playing soccer/basketball with a disc ("Frisbee" is a trademark, "disc" is the thing that looks like a Frisbee). There are teams and goals. You can't run with the disc (as in basketball), so you basically catch, pass, and position yourself to catch again until you can throw it to someone who is in the opposing team's goal area (as in kinda like soccer). It's played on college campuses, by men and women. There are world tournaments.

The ambitious part of Ultimate lies in what players refer to as the "Spirit of the Game" - an undisguised attempt to make players their own referees. Basically, the ideas is that if you commit a foul, you call it on yourself. Imagine what it takes for a serious player to have the strength of personality and purpose needed to do a thing like that - to stop herself and the game, in the blue heat of competition, and admit, publicly, that she broke a rule!

It takes sport back to the era in which it was considered a way to build character. And what a way! No wonder the sport is called "Ultimate."

Kubb

The game of Kubb is apparently played on the Swedish island of Gotland. And Swedish woodworker Jan Larsson is devoting much of his good energies to making the game available to the rest of the world.

The game is played on a playing ground 5 x 8 meters, the size can be less or More depending on the players skilfulness, the playing ground should be fairly smooth and flat, usually we play on grass but gravel, flat rock or snow will also do. The players are divided in two teams and take place behind their respectably baseline. The game is aimed at to knock down the other team´s kubbs with the throwing batons according to the rules. When all the kubbs are knocked down, the king should be knocked down, the team which does this has won.

English may not be the first language of this entrepreneuring woodworker, nor the Internet his medium of choice, but nevertheless, because of his efforts, and the Internet, we have a unique invitation to many afternoons of peaceful and challenging fun.

String Figures

What do the Navahos, Eskimos and Maoris, the Hawaiian and Easter Islanders, the Wai Wai and Wapishana have in common with most kids in Europe and America? Cats Cradle. Or something very much like it.

To start (or resume) your exploration of this worldwide phenomenon, take a look at the International String Figures Association's surprisingly extensive, annotated page of links. That's where I found this "WWW Collection of String Figures" with its Introduction to Easy String Figures" - which turns out to be not so easy, which further turns out to be a lot easier than the collection of "Fairly Easy String Figures" which, in turn, is still easier than your "Kind of Easy Sting Figures."

After going through some of these sources, you'll probably come to the conclusion that the study of string figures is reserved for children or folklorists. Let John Kean and Brian Cox show you how making string figures can be at least as much of an art as it is a game.

Raccoon Circles

A Raccoon Circle is a loop made out of tubular climbing webbing, which you can buy for $.30/foot from outfitters like this one. Of course, that only answers the question "how do you make a Raccoon Circle?" A much more fun question is "what do you do with it?" The answer can be found in one of several informative and inspring PDF files in this collection of resources by Dr. Jim Cain.

It turns out that these little loops of webbing can have great play and instructional value. In the tradition of "team challenges," as established by the powerful and often playful work of Project Adventure, Raccoon Circle activities engage mind, body and community.

Here's a brief sample - the game of "Knot Right Now"

"Instruct the entire group (up to 8 participants per Raccoon Circle) to grab hold of the straight (untied) webbing. Wherever they hold with their right hand must stay there, however the left hand can move, slide, or let go as necessary to make movement easy. The task is for the group to tie a single overhand knot in the Raccoon Circle."

Garden Games

A game of giant Snakes and Ladders, perhaps? Or would you prefer a pleasant hour of Giant Pick Up Sticks? Something more constructive? How about Giant Jenga?

Garden Games are clearly a British phenomenon. Most likely because so many United Kingdomers have large gardens. As one of the mini-gardened many, what intrigues me about these games, aside from the fact that they're too big for my garden, is that so many of them are simply table games with oversized egos. Giant chess, giant checkers, giant ludo (parcheesi)... There's even a giant version of Connect Four.

There's something fun about playing a game that's been giganticized. Something different when you find yourself inside a game, a mere pawn among pawns, subjected to the laddering and chuting your way to destiny. Something that opens up new possibilities for interacting with your family and friends. Any table game, from tic tac toe to cribbage, becomes something other when made large.

Years ago, 27 years ago, actually, when I had the opportunity to design an outdoor play event for one-quarter million people as part of Philadelphia's celebration of the Bicentennial, it was this very principle that I used to create an event that brought all those people into play. I had a larger scale to work with. The entire Benjamin Franklin Parkway. So, my giant pickup sticks were 15 feet long. But what an amazing experience they provided! As did my 4x8 foot playing cards and blockwide hopscotch game and 6-foot diameter volleyball. Changing scale changes games into community events. In parks and playgrounds, streets and parking lots, in English gardens, and even yours.

Shelfball

At last we have proof positive of the benevolent impact of the advertising community on office life. Behold, the game of Shelfball, as developed by ESPN as part of their "Without Sports" campaign. Now available online as an interactive game, Shelfball is a relatively mild Office Sport (compared to, for example, Desk Hurdles and this other Honda-advertiser-inspired sport of Office Rowing), in which players attempt to toss a ball (or any other readily available object), on to an empty book shelf.

The official ESPN version of Shelfball is scored like baseball. A ball must first bounce on the floor before hitting, and staying on a shelf. Two shelves are used. Depending on the number of bounces and the shelf occupied, players score a single, double, triple or homer. Scoring anything but a home run puts an imaginary man on base.

What's especially intriguing about Shelfball is that what started out as a clever advertisement actually became part of office culture. People are playing it, making up their own variations, holding official (what else?) inter-office world series tournaments. I look on it all as a sign of health. Thanks, ESPN, for keeping more of us in play.

Trangleball

It's called "Trangleball." Which is like "Triangle Ball" without the "i" - because, as the developer explains, "there's no I in TEAM."

Official Trangleball equipment includes a 14-inch high pyramid and 6 "Mini Trangleballs" each about the size of a softball. There are rules for Trangle Soccer, Trangle Baseball, Trangle Basketball, Trangle Stoopball, 1-on-1, 2-on-2, and the traditional 3-on-3 versions of Trangleball. Yes, I know, it sounds wacky. So many games from such a simple device - a pyramid in the middle of a circle. And yet, as so well-illustrated, Trangleball is a genuine invitation to active, creative, athletic play.

The inventor explains that the the real "sport" is the 3-on-3 version, which he calls a "3-dimensional handball" game. There are two teams, with a member of each team in a different sector. When a ball is served, by throwing against the Trangle, the opponent can catch the ball and rebound it onto the Trangle, or pass it to one of his teammates in another sector. You can read an article about it here.

Trangleball is the very stuff of fun - a small innovation that lends itself to the creation of apparently endless possibilities for active, physical engagement. It looks good enough to be a candidate for the development of a whole series of professional sports, and open and flexible enough to be played in backyard, street and playground. The site isn't very fancy. The pictures not really professional. But the spirit that is conveyed is Olympian.

Kudos to inventor Mark Miller for his courage and playfulness, and for extending to us all a new opportunity to engage body, mind and spirit. Questions? Wanna learn how to make your own? Email Mark.

3 Stones

Almost any game that is based on Tic Tac Toe is easy to learn. That's one of the things that makes 3 Stones so appealing. On the other hand, this is the very reason so many games are based on Tic Tac Toe - from the Japanese game of Go-Moku to Connect Four and Toss Across. Which makes it truly noteworthy to find a genuinely original game that has anything to do with getting three or four or five of something in a row. Which makes me especially delighted to present the coveted Major FUN Award to 3 Stones.

3 Stones is played on a lovely wooden board. And yes, there are black stones and white stones, and you have to be one or the other, and you in fact get one point every time you get three in a row. Included is this lovely fabric, draw-string pouch. And you start the game by putting all the stones into this loveliness. And then, on your turn, you draw a stone, and play it. I did mention that you put all the stones, the black and the white, into the pouch, didn't I? Which makes you wonder, doesn't it, what you would do if you drew a stone that wasn't your color? Why, you'd play it, of course. What else could you do?

Interesting. You don't know what color you'll get. And you have to play it, even if it's not your own. Already beyond Tic Tac Toe. Very beyond. Did I mention that there are some clear stones as well? And that they count for either player? I don't think I did. Neither did I mention that you have to put your stone in the same row or column that was last played.

Marc and Bob started playing 3 Stones at our last Tasting. Violating the very premise and significance of the "Tasting" concept, they didn't stop playing until they had filled the entire board. "No, no," I vainly explained, "we're only trying to get a feel for the game. We don't need to play it to it's very end. There are so many more to taste before we go." The ears upon which my words fell were deaf. The game, unique and completely absorbing. The award-worthiness, undeniable.

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A study in toy making

FlexStar is a student project developed by The School of Textiles and Materials Technology at Philadelphia University. It's about the search for the right fabric for a fabric-covered throwing-thing. And the manufacture, thereof. I quote: "The purpose of our project was to find an abrasion resistant fabric, which would be flexible at the same time. Due to the nature of the toy it needs to withstand multiple skidding on surfaces such as asphalt and concrete. We continued to do this by exploring different assembly methods as well as different fabric constructions."

For anyone who's ever considered manufacturing their own toys or games, this report is an invaluable introduction to world of toy economics. It captures the process of invention and experimentation, testing and development, and touches on key considerations related to mass market production and distribution. It shows how important it is, when making a toy, at least, to learn by playing. Which, in effect, was the purpose of the entire exercise. For the rest of us, it's an opportunity to contemplate the many potential woes and wonders of a knitted, five-arm throwing thing.

The Outrageous Outdoor Games Book

I met Bob Gregson in 1976. I was teaching at Trinity College in Hartford, CT, and he was in the process of putting together a program called "Thursday is a Work of Art." Sponsored by the City of Hartford, Bob and his crew turned sections of downtown Hartford into invitations to play. He had build a large arm chair - so large that an adult would have to do some serious climbing to get onto the seat - and put it in front of an insurance building. It was an invitation to play, an opportunity to be reminded of the child's perspective. Along the alley he'd assembled a row of folding chairs where his friends sat and, every now and then, applauded passers-by. Just because, as fellow human beings, they were applause-worthy. Some people tried to ignore it. Others bowed and waved and acted humble. Elsewhere, there was a joke booth, manned by joke-telling jokers. Anyone could stand in front of behind the booth. The impact was gentle and pervasive. Hartford had been turned into a city of delight.

Bob turned his incredible sense of art and play into two books: The Outrageous Outdoor Games Book and the Incredible Indoors Games Book. Both convey the spirit and sensitivity that humorously and artfully brings people into play.

Mazes online and not

The art and craft of maze-making has found a very good home online. A home that has nurtured some remarkable innovations in mazery.

A good sampling of online interactive mazes can be found on Clickmazes, wherewithin I found, for example, the somewhat maddening Hexaroll turning maze.

Then there's friend and game designer Robert Abbot's Logic Mazes site, with his semi-demonic Alice Mazes. And, from Scott Kim, another of my friend/game puzzle designer friends, this page he calls Shufflebrain, where I found his ingenious and painfully challenging Double Slide sliding-block puzzle.

Setting aside the many wonders of online mazes, the online world also takes us beyond, to your paper-and-pencil kind of mazes, such as those freely and relatively-freely provided by MegaMaze.com.

And then, as you probably already surmised, the virtual world can lead you to mazes that are three-dimensional, and very much in the real world, and very much works of art.

Yup, there's more to mazes than we could've guessed. Amazing how much fun getting lost can be.

For a broader perspective on this whole maze thing, and some links to further perspective-broadening, see if you can find your way to Jo Edkin's Maze Page.

World Database of Happiness

The World Database of Happiness is "an ongoing register of scientific research on subjective appreciation of life. It brings together findings that are scattered throughout many studies and provides a basis for synthetic studies."

The research and scientificality of the whole thing may be overwhelming at first, but even a cursory reading, and relatively random browsing, will lead you to ask some revealing questions about the scientific community - like why such an essential study remains so obscure. On the other hand, the fact that such an inquiry and community of scholars exists, and is making itself accessible by Internet to anyone, is in itself reassuring.

Start with the introductory text (when you access this link you'll be asked for a password - hit "cancel" and you'll still get there). The paper is nicely hyperlinked. Click around. It'll either make you think about happiness in new and revealing depth, or it will make you happy to discover that even if you never study happiness, you can still experience it.

Sled Hockey

Sled Hockey is an "adapted" version of Hockey, designed for people who can't skate. Well, that's not exactly true. It's designed for people who also can't walk. I, for example, can do the latter with great ease. But ice skating, well, that's a whole nother thing.

This Sled Hockey game (a.k.a. "Sledge" Hockey) looks like genuine fun. Though there's an excellent official United States Sled Hockey Association website, complete with official rules and regulations, I found this description a much easier read.

Yeah, for sure, it's a wonderful thing that there are sports that are designed specifically for the differently-abled. And it's one of those glee-causing movements in sports that I condone from the virtual rooftops. On the other hand, as someone who really doesn't skate (let's not say "can't"), Sled Hockey is an exciting alternative. I could play Sled Hockey, especially if I were maybe 30 years younger. And maybe even now.

Which makes me wonder if there's yet another promise that all these adapted sports have for the rest of us. A promise for new sports that we, the physically inept and athletically underachieved, might also be able to play. With each other, with athletes, with every one.

Petanque

There's Bocce and Boules, which, as you so well know, are all variations of Bowls. But did you also know that there's Petanque, which is pretty much the same as Boules, which is only more or less the same as Bocce because you don't really need a special court. And that, my friend, is what makes the game so attractive to us free and playful spirits.

Petanque is a modern version of a game with a very long history. According to the British Petanque Society: "Two balls and a jack were unearthed in the sarcophagus of an Egyptian Prince of the 52nd Century B.C. Thus there is archaeological evidence that a form of pétanque was played over seventy centuries ago."

The basic rules are relatively easy to follow. You throw a little ball (traditionally, wooden), and then you throw bigger balls (steel), trying to land as close as possible to the little one. Should your bigger ball happen to knock one of your opponent's bigger balls away from the little ball, this is also good.

It's one of those games that can be played by anyone who can throw, almost anywhere. Because it has such a long history and so many variations, it's a rich opportunity for you to make up your own. Who's to say you can't play it with, say, marbles, or snowballs even?

The Game of Pig - fun at the higher levels

Embedded correspondent Todd Neller, Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Gettysburg College, wrote to tell me of his work with the dice game of Pig.

Todd explains: "The game of Pig is a very simple jeopardy dice game in which two players race to each 100 points. Each turn, a player repeatedly rolls a die until either a 1 is rolled or the player holds and scores the sum of the rolls (i.e. the turn total)."

It turns out that this game (currently available as a piggish dice game called "Pass the Pigs", a.k.a. "Pigmania," and probably the forerunner for Sid Sackson's wonderful Can't Stop game), subjects itself elegantly to all sorts of mathematical analysis - which are lovingly portrayed and animated in the full graphic glories of Assistant Professor Clif Presser's "Sow-lution" page. The site is rounded off with a side order of informative links.

To spice things up, the site includes more than an ample serving of piggish puns. Which sets a tasty tone for playfulness while serving up some remarkably heady insights into the study of probability and game theory. All of which is further evidence that there are people, even in the crepuscular confines of academia, who are serving up their wisdom with a side order of fun.

Hinky Pinky

The Whitehouse. Hinkity Pinkity.

Oddly enough, that was a clue. And if you know the game, it would all make sense, even if you didn't know the answer.

The game is Hinky Pinky, or, as often, and somewhat unfortunately known as, "Stinky Pinky."

The solution is always in the form of two rhyming words. The clue, apart from the purposefully glib, but undeniably accurate definition, includes a syllable count. Thus, we are assured that we are looking for a pair of rhyming words, each of which has four syllables. Were we looking for a pair of rhyming words, each of which had one syllable, then the clue would end with "Hink Pink." As in: "a large, furry, forest-dwelling, tree-climbing mammal with four edges - Hink Pink." The answer to which would obviously be "Square Bear."

There's a subtle art to creating the right clue, one that usually escapes first time players. That's why sites like my friend Jed Hartman's page and this online version are so welcome. The game is perfect to play in the interstices of our lives - car trips, waiting in line, or at a restaurant table.

As to the Hinkity Pinkity Whitehouse - why, the president's residence, of course.

Signs of Fun in Elementary Education

I managed to Google my way to this collection of innovative and amusing Penny Games. I was heartened by the originality and playfulness of these little games, and pleased to think that somewhere in this world kids are still making up games.

Then I learned that this activity was school sponsored. The Grade Five kids in Mr. Smith's class at Frontenac School were answering the question: BESIDES BUYING, WHAT CAN YOU DO WITH 100 PENNIES? Which turned out to be one of several projects in response to the question "What is in 100?"

I think my faith in kids and education and teachers and schools and the Internet has been, with the discovery of this one site, very close to restored. As a former fifth-grade teacher who almost lost his job for unauthorized fun, finding that there are other people out there, 40 years later, who are still trying to bring fun to learning, and succeeding, is almost too much joy for this old heart. Discovering that the class had the skills and sponsorship to put their work online just about did it for me, faith-restoration-wise. I'm thinking maybe it's time to pay more attention to what's going on in our classrooms. Even in our Canadian classrooms. Something promising's afoot. Yes, Virginia, they are having fun in school.

...and Juggling for all

I am oddly attracted to anything that gives me another reason to contemplate the many marvels of juggling without actually having to juggle. And I must admit that J-Sim, the Flash-Based Juggling Simulator gave me that very opportunity, and gave it generously. It's keyboard controlled, so there's no element of dexterity involved. It's all a question of timing. And, of course, your choice of any of the minor infinity of variations. It taught the my non-juggling aspect to look in the air, not my hands. Editors of the Internet Juggling Database point out: "There are a number of juggling simulators available on the internet, however there are relatively few juggling arcade games. J-Sim is one of a kind, with excellent graphics and addictive in its simplicity..." And here, by the way, is that very list of other juggling simulators , courtesy of no less than the Database itself. Which also houses a most entertaining and instructive video database.

I am delighted to find the online presence of such a vast collection of juggling knowledge. And yet, for all their vasty resources, I failed to find one mention of dice stacking. I find that inexplicable.

Stix

If you like Matchstick Puzzles, you'll probably be amazed at how much fun you and your matchstick-puzzle-loving friends can have with Stix. We were. So much so that Stix was the only game to get an unqualified recommendation for Major FUN worthiness.

The game isn't very impressive: a box containing a deck of cards, a sand-timer and five sticks. But the gameplay makes up for any lack of fanciness in the execution.

Each player gets five cards. There were eight of us, and, since the game is for 2-4 players, we played in pairs. Each card shows an array of five matches in a different pattern. One more card from the deck is turned over. The five sticks are then positioned according to the design revealed on that card. Players then take turns, looking for cards in their hand that show a pattern which can be created by repositioning one and only one matchstick. Amazingly, given five cards, it is rare to find a pattern you can't create. If you can't find a pattern you can create, you have to pick another card.

The object is to be the first player to get rid of all five cards - an object that gets progressively more challenging as there are fewer and fewer cards in your hand from which to choose.

There are instructions for two variations and a solitaire version of the game. As we progressed, we began wishing the timer was for 30 seconds, and not a full minute. We also wished the sticks were heavier (they are light, and easy to misalign). But we loved the game in all its versions.

You can buy Stix here.

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Physics Olympics

I've been thinking lately about the fun-learning connection, hoping, a lot, that things are getting better, that somehow there are more things fun in school and university than have been dreamt of in my philosophy. And I came across this event called "Physics Olympics" (the link is to Yale University), a competition (sadly) conducted in high schools and Universities apparently around the world - at least as far as Liverpool. In fact, there was an international meet in Bali last year, with 89 countries participating! Bali, even.

The thing is, people are having fun. They're getting to play, with stuff (junky looking stuff at that) and each other. And they're exercising just about every bit of understanding they have about both. To get a better feel for the kinds of challenges they are playing with, take a look at the description of events from the Yale Physics Olympics.

The sad thing about the competitive part is that: 1) it's not really necessary, and 2) for every prize-winning individual or team that goes home deeply stoked about their technical prowess, there are at least ten times that many people who go home discouraged. Not the best educational model. But, at least, for a certain time and for certain people, it's people and learning and fun at their best.

Paper Football

Of course you know how to play Paper Football. It's one of those things that gets handed down from kid generation to kid generation (a kid generation spanning about three years).

Paper Football is a true kids' folk game. Like halfball and stickball, it belongs to a very unofficial time in life when games get made up, out of almost anything, with just about anyone who wants to play.

It's not so easy to find a good description of the game. I found a sweet and simple explanation here, and a well-illustrated set, if somewhat childish set of instructions in a PDF booklet that manages to present a playful homage to the game.

It is, fortunately, easier to find virtual versions of Paper Football. It does beg the question a bit, the whole idea of virtual paper football. And yet, the talented few managed to produce a significantly evocative experience with their humorous and eponymous Official Paper Football League Field Goal Challenge.

(revised 3/28/05

Why does work need play?

Lego's "Serious Play" people ask a serious question about the relevance of play to work. Here's their even more serious answer:

  • Play helps release thoughts that are locked in the head and the heart.

  • You see things differently. Ideas come to life with more concrete detail than ideas expressed through just talking.

  • Discussion during play happens on a more level playing field.

  • The group at play thrives only when everybody participates, so frustrations are reduced, team coherence and direction is more solid.

  • Play lets you experiment, explore and take risks with ideas without fearing consequences that might happen in "real life."

  • You generate a wider and more imaginative range of possibilities during play than you would during a traditional business meeting.

  • People at play are more present, more engaged, more passionate and better performers.


  • I'd like to propose that these observations about the relevance of play to work be taken beyond the wonders of Lego and the rarified atmosphere of the creative team. I'd like to see us take play at work so seriously that we accept it as essential to the health of the workplace. In fact, I'd like to see these observations about the power of play be taken everywhere: to the workers, clients, vendors, and especially to family and community, school and club, hospital and retirement center. Seriously.

    International Society for Humor Studies

    The ISHS "has membership all around the world. Most of these members are university professors, in such disciplines as Psychology, Medicine, Linguistics, Literature, Education, Philosophy, Fine Arts, Religion, Politics, and Sociology. All of our members are interested in how humor varies from country to country, or according to Vocation, Age, Region, (In)formality, Ethnicity, or Sex (VARIES)."

    Get it? VARIES. Vocation, Age, Region, (In)formality, Ethnicity, or Sex. Cool. I think the (In)'s there so they can include both formality and informality in one i-starting word. Other wise it'd be VARIFES.

    People who can take humor seriously enough to study it are generally a rather fun lot. There's a belief in fun that permeates their work. Meet, for stumbled-upon example, Paul Lewis, "chair of the English department at Boston College, ...author of Comic Effects: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Humor in Literature (S.U.N.Y. Press) and of articles on American literature and culture before the Civil War, gothic fiction, humor, and composition pedagogy," as found on their Researching Humor and Laughter page of "links to current research projects, as well as the home pages and e-mail addresses of colleagues and institutions involved in research on humor and laughter."

    ISHI. A veritable treasure of funtropic people and ideas.

    How to Throw a Game Show Party

    Here's my current political projection: a lot more people are going to feel a lot safer at home, and a lot of them are going to want most of their entire, extended family with them. Consequently, games that whole families can play, and games the kids can go off somewhere and play, will become increasingly valuable family assets.

    As Major FUN, Defender of the Playful, I have no choice but to reprioritize. I have been forced to launch "Operation Family Sanity."

    Luckily, there is much good news.

    Here, for example, is a publication that should be considered for every family's mental survival kit: Mike Suchcicki's How to Throw a Game Show Party. Mr. Suhcicki is the virtual proprieter of Pfunn.com. (Click on that website with caution. It connects you to a weblog and the tip of a virtual iceberg of humor resources and fun commentaries.)

    It turns out that just about every TV Game Show you can think of can be a game almost the whole family can play. OK, maybe not Jeopardy, with the 3-year old, and Uncle Fred, but how about Family Feud or Hollywood Squares or maybe even Pyramid?

    Go here for detailed instructions.

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