Bang!

They call it "Bang!" - this award-winning card game from Italy. The first time we tried it, we called it "quits."

You know the rule we have at Game Tastings - the one about a game taking maybe 15 minutes to learn. Well, we gave it a half hour, that first time. Who'd think that a card game, in that small of a package, could be that complicated?

The second time we tried it we gave it 45 minutes - an exacerbatingly long time to learn a game. There are so many special cards, each with its special function, that we were especially frustrated. Before the next Tasting, Tammy took the time to find the best versions or the rules she could, and sent them out to all of us so that we could prepare. And, as you so well know, preparing for a Tasting is simply not done.

The third time, we devoted the last half of the Tasting to playing Bang! We were outside. And it was getting colder. But we were determined to play it through. And we did. Even though it got colder and still colder. And, yes, somebody shot the sheriff, and they didn't kill the deputy. And we finally actually played the game. And we had fun. I mean, we were beyond Tasting. We had established, beyond doubt, that the rules are just too complicated, and can take veritable hours to learn. Which is simply not your typically Major FUN-awardable scenario. And yet, fun was definitely being had.

Our conclusion to date: if you like role-playing games, you'll definitely get a Bang! out of this one.

Now Tammy's at work on creating visual aids because she's convinced she can make it easier for us to play next time. Even though, according to Tasting protocol, that next time might not be for a couple months. I'm having a sneaking suspicion. Protocol or not, we'll be playing it again this coming Sunday.

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Art, Fun and the Internet

It seems to me that the Internet is doing more for the art/play connection lately. In fact, I'm beginning to believe that, along with the broadening of bandwidth, the Internet has become an invitation for artists and art appreciaters to create new forms of gloriously graphic, interactive fun. Witness this work, called "An InterFace of my significant other."

Go to the homesite - Alterfin - and click on "org" - note the title "Art & Play"- mouse and click around a bit and you'll get a good sense of how this one artist, Yariv Alter Fin, pursues the art-play connection. For further evidence, see this collection of QuickTime clips. Alter Fin even extends the art-play exploration into poetry with "This is My Voice."

If you don't want to take this one instance as proof of the Internet's influence on the Art-Fun connection, click your way over to the Symmetry Lab and then play around on Jim Andrew's site. Try his visual singing synthesizer, his experiments in Langu(im)age, and the Major FUN Award-winning interactive poetry game of Arteroids (you now use the "X" key to shoot).

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Rube Goldberg Forever

If you've ever played the game of Mousetrap, you know why there's such a thing as The Official RUBE GOLDBERG Website, and why you'd be at least amused to click through the ten Rube Goldberg drawings in this site's Gallery.

Rube Goldberg has had a remarkable influence on play and education, and proven to be an invaluable resource for people who want to keep play and education together. Witness, for one example, Argonne National Laboratory's Rube Goldberg Machine Contest.

The commercial success of Sierra's Incredible Machines/Contraptions series is yet more evidence of the play value of Rube Goldberg's legacy. And, for those of us who have the bandwidth, the commercial viability of Goldberg's work can be seen, in all its entertaining glory, in this advertisement for Honda.

Eye Play

I don't know why we are so attracted by things that fool us. I'm guessing that it helps remind us about the fun-fool connection. It's fun to be fooled. At least in some circumstances. Like watching a magician or looking at optical illusions.

Optical illusions are literally a fascinating funonemon, combining play, art and science.

If you're fascinated by the art of illusion, take a look at Akiyoshi's illusion pages from psychologist/artist Akiyoshi Kitaoka, Department of Psychology, Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto, Japan. He has created some stunning, original fool-the-eye works, some of which are available for download.

If you're more interested in the science of illusion, take a look at MIT's professor Edward H. Adelson's interactive collection of illusions and demos. Want more? Then click your way over to the Seeing Exhibit from my favorite interactive science museum, San Francisco's Exploratorium.

Danball and Suburbanball

Belgian Danball, according to the official Belgian Danball Site, is "...a game played in the street with whatever you've got at hand, with a bunch of friends. You should have some pizza around, because it's fun and because it's tradition. When the pizza arrives, ask the name of the person who hands it over to you. That's important."

Danball is a kind of street hockey game, played by two teams of three players each, with a plastic, soccer-sized ball and sticks (they say that small, plastic oars make the best sticks). What makes it so noteworthy is that it is clearly and explicitly played for fun. It's informal. It's played at night. The rules, such as they are, are posted here.

Then there's Australian Suburbanball. Kind of amazing to discover how a game invented in Belgium made it's way to the opposite side of the world. On the other hand, a quick read through the rules is more than ample evidence of what happens when a light-hearted, fun-focused event gets taken seriously enough to be made into a "formal" sport. Not to denigrate the play value of the Australian version, but definitely to be instructed by the transformation of the spirit that gave birth to the game.

Robert Abbott, Games and Mazes

I first met Robert Abbott when I was reviewing games for Games Magazine. I was amazed then as I am now by his ability to invent games and puzzles that are innovative, and profoundly challenging. One of the first and best of his games is the card game "Eleusis." It's one of the few card games I know that are based on deductive reasoning. And it's great fun. As is his "equipment-based game" called "What's That On My Head" - another example of how he manages to balance playfulness with the perplexing.

Then there are his mazes. The maze in the illustration is called "Theseus and the Minotaur." You move the red dot. The black dot is the Minotaur, and it has a mind of its own, which, in order not to get virtually gored, you have to figure out. It's one of six, different, interactive mazes that you play online. Bob is a Mensa kind of guy, so don't expect any of his games or puzzles to be "no-brainers." But definitely expect them to be engaging, innovative, and profoundly challenging.

If it's not funny, laugh anyway

According to this recent study, "diabetics may be better able to process the sugar they consume during meals if they order a side of laughter with their food."

This is just one of a growing body of research that demonstrates that laughter, even when you don't particularly feel like laughing, is good for your health. Much of this research was sparked by Norman Cousins, author of Anatomy of an Illness, who documented how watching films of the Marx Brothers and Candid Camera paved the way for his return to health.

In the last decade, this "laughing for the health of it" has sparked the creation of a new kind of Yoga, developed by Dr. Madan Kataria. Represented in the US by Steve Wilson of The World Laughter Tour, there is now a worldwide movement of "Laughter Clubs" where people meet, and, without cracking a joke, laugh themselves to health.

The Flesh, the Flash and the Fun

Though I try to focus my search for fun to those we can have in the flesh, as opposed to via Flash, there's this one site filled with Flash games of such consistently gentle, playful, creative fun failure to bring it to your attention would constitute a disservice to the spirit of play. The site's name: "Orisinal."

Every game on the site is rendered in a soft, dreamlike colors accompanied by happy, almost affectionate musical compositions. Yes, there's shooting and killing, but all done with such playful effects that the fun clearly takes precedence over the fantasy.

There are currently 43 different games available, all for free, all for fun. They're each solid invitations to play. But don't miss out exploring the 21 "experiments" on the bottom of the page, each playing with yet more Flash magic.

While you're clicking around, visit the homepage of Orisinal's creator, artist Ferry Halim. You'll find more games, and be both amused and amazed by his relentless fascination, and clearly deep commitment to the fun of Flash.

Word Sense

Word Sense is a sweet little word game that will keep 2-6 players delicously challenged for ten minutes to an hour of intense but rather joyous competition - especially if everyone shares similar verbal competencies.

The handy plastic carrying case contains 31 letter tiles, two blank dice with stickers, a score pad and pencil. Five of the letter tiles are double letters. There are two versions of the game, one of which requires players to compete simultaneously. We liked this one so much more I'm not even going to tell you about the other version. Which means you won't need the dice.

One player is the Chooser. That player decides how many tiles get turned over (2-5) - the more tiles, the more difficult the challenge. Let's say the Chooser chooses 4 tiles. The other players then pick four tiles, placing them face down in front of them. At a signal from the Chooser, all turn their tiles over. Which might give you something like W D (ED) N (ED being a tile with two letters on it). The challenge - be the first player to shout out a word that uses all of those letters - in any order. A solution: how about UNWEDDED?

We were very pleasantly surprised to discover what a good challenge this little game gave us. There are several variations suggested by the manufacturers. Which is a clear invitation to invent your own.

All in all, most Major FUNly.

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The Kickbike

In answer to the question: what is a Kickbike, I am happy to tell you that you can read all about it online. Here's an owner's manual and here a technical description of the Millenium Racing. Oh, and here's Kickbike USA with videoclips making it vividly clear that Kickbiking is real exercise. Nowhere did I find how fast a Kickbike can go. But maybe that really isn't the point.

The Kicksled, the Kickbike, and you

Let us begin our journey into Kickbiking with a brief visit to the land of the Kicksled.

"The kicksled originates from Northern Scandinavia, most probably from Jämtland. It got its modern structure in the end of 19th century, evolving from a water or timber sled that could be pushed more easily by elongating the runners backwards. The glide and durability was improved by applying iron coating on the underside. A horizontal handlebar was attached to the vertical supports for pushing stability. Thus the Swedish-style race sled of late 19th century was a sturdy and swift wooden beauty."

As for the kickbike: "In summer 1992 the first prototype series of Kickbike sport scooter were delivered to the members of Ketkupolkka kicksled club test team. After thousands of miles and experience gathered from races Kickbike is the king of the kicking world. The design of a sport scooter bases on the same principles as kicksled design. The motion of kicking foot must be free from obstacles. In addition, the scooter has to be equipped with good brakes. Furthermore, the footboard must be raised just high enough so that it does not constantly hit a typically uneven kicking surface."

It is always delicious to discover a new toy, especially one that invites us back into our bodies and the world.

Capture the Flag - With Stuff!

As I continue to explore the highways and byways of the roads to fun, I am find myself more and more often seeking out the less-travelled byways for that soul-restoring experience of fun being seriously had. Case in point, the game of Capture the Flag, with Stuff, as purportedly played by students (as depicted) at Carnegie-Mellon University.

After some assiduous attempts to decode the official rules of Capture the Flag, With Stuff, I learned that it's basically the traditional game of capture the flag, as so well-described by this page from U.S. Scouting Service Project, only with stuff. The stuff with which it is includes things like belts, potions, wands and glyphs which either give players special powers, or protect them against said same.

Wands, for example. "Wands are floppy two-foot lengths of foam rubber. Whapping the subject (anywhere) and shouting the keyword invokes the magic." As so well-illustrated by the Wand of Vengeance: "If the bearer whaps an enemy with this, in the whappee's home territory, the whappee is captured. The wielder gets safe passage with his prisoner back to his jail and must go there as directly as possible. When this item is used, the whapper must immediately drop it in the whappee's home territory. You may not move or pick up this item if it is in enemy territory; you may only do so in your own or neutral space."

The "stuff" added to Capture the Flag by this particular student body is clearly the very stuff of nonsense. It is a remarkable achievement of the maturing sense of play, and a lesson for all of us who fear for the future of fun.

Three for All

Here's yet another variation of Tribond - you know, the game where they tell you three words and you have to guess the word that connects them. The one we just gave a Major FUN Award. Well, Three for All is yet another TriBond-based game, and it's not just a repackaging, or an extension, it's a different, and surprisingly fun game using some really ingenious and innovative gamish technology.

You can think of it as TriBond meets Taboo (or Password or Catchphrase or Paired Up). Instead of someone simply reading you the three words, you have to guess the three words from the cleverly contrived clues as contrived cleverly by the clue-giver. This extra layer of guessing significantly adds to the challenge and excitement of basic TriBonding, because the temptation to guess the Bond, before the Tri is completed, is often dangerously irresistible. Dangerously, because if you're wrong, you can lose your marbles.

Which brings me to the gamish technology for which we fell so completely. There's this electronic timer - very cool, because it not only times the round (one minute), but also times the guess (you get three seconds). The timer sits on top of a hollow base. There's an eight-sided (octahedral) die which is placed inside the hollow timer base. Then, when you swish the base in a circle, the die swishes with it. Because of its octahedrousity, the die actually tumbles around, kinda magically. The number the die shows is the number of marbles you get to put in your cool triangular tray if you or your team guesses correctly.

And yes, you can play with two players, or two teams (even if you don't have an even number of people, even). And the rules are fun and funny (though a tad complex). And the whole thing, in Game Tasting lingo, is just plain delicious.

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Best of TriBond

Let me start this review with a question:

What do these three things have in common: The Ruby Slippers, A Computer Mouse, A Mutually Attracted Couple ?

Give up?

They click.

Get it? Then you get the game of TriBond. And the Best of TriBond, about which this review is, turns out to be a treasury of TriBondage. As the manufacturers so clearly explain: "We've collected the very best TriBond Threezer Riddles from 10 editions over the past 10 years! Plus we've written 500 all new Threezers, making this not only our best edition, but our biggest! Over 1,650 riddles with brand spankin' new categories: Picture Threezers and Loose Connection Threezers!"

TriBond puzzles are wonderfully challenging to solve. They tickle both hemispheres of the brain, and often result in helpless laughter. The board part of the game adds to the tension and player interaction as two or more players race around the board or try to send each other back. The rules are clearly and humourously written. But the puzzles themselves are good enough to play anywhere, with or without the board, even online.

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Rocky's Art on Segplay



Forgive the other-self-promotional implications of this message, but...

Segplay, the Major FUN Award-winning virtual paint-by-numbers people, have, without any begging or subtle prompting, just added a small gallery of some of my sacred wife's paintings.

And I am so darn delighted!

Whirlyball

What happens when you combine Lacrosse with basketball, polo and bumper-cars? Apparently, Whirlyball happens.

Available to corporations under the cherished, and endangered "team building" rubric, Whirlyball: "...involves normally sane adults driving bumper cars while using hand-held scoops to pass and propel whiffle balls at a backboard. Since WhirlyBall is a new sport, everyone will have the same skill (or lack thereof), making it all the more fun. It is played by two opposing teams of five players each. Each player rides an electrically powered machine, similar to a bumper car, called a WhirlyBug™. The object is to propel the whiffle ball into a 15 inch net in the center of a backboard situated on both ends of a 4,000 sq. ft. court."

A project of Lakefront Technologies, currently available in Chicago and Lombard, Illinois, and Cleveland, Ohio, Whirlyball represents the kind of entrepreneurial game invention genius that helps assure the future of fun. Whirl on, ye Lakefronters and all those you inspire. Whirl on.

Tiddleywinks Strobed

Courtesy of the North American Tiddleywinks Association we have this glimpse of what really went on in MIT's Strobe Alley back in 13 December 1979 - a high speed captured game of tiddleywinks. Experimenter Richard Tucker explains:

"The primary aim of this project was to see what actually occurs in both successful and unsuccessful shots in the game of Tournament Tiddlywinks.  I tried to relate the various factors involved in making a shot with the results shown in photographs. The tiddlywinks shots I photographed were basic shots-- potting and squopping; also the commonly used Bristol and boondock ; and specialized shots such as the gromp and Good shot ."

Unfortunately, the above photo is the only one that is currently available to us, but the descriptions are, well, illuminating. Here, for example, a squopping moment:

"Squopping is storking a wink with a squidger, aiming to have the wink land on top of another.  Nearly all players squop with the squidger angled down (80° to 50° angle) toward the target.

"[@@@] Photo 3 (120 fps, f/11, .75 sec duration; printed at f/11, 10 sec) 1.5x enlargement.  Attempt to squop a wink an inch away.  Notice that the wink does not turn over, or bounce upon landing, although it achieves a 45° angle in the middle of the shot.  Shot lasts 1/8 sec.  A sharp squidger was used. "

There's something wonderfully funny, and deeply fascinating about his account of the study of the properties of tiddleywinks. It explains a lot about childhood and the remarkable depth within which we play.

For a more in-depth exploration of Tiddlespeak, see Rick Tucker's Lexicon of Tiddlewinks

New Age Kurling

They call it "New Age Kurling." It's an iceless and broomless version of the sport of Curling, which is similar to Shuffleboard, which is a descendent of a 16th century called "Shoveboard," "Shove Ha'Penny" and, of course, "Sjoebak." All of which is to say that there's something about sliding things into things that is inherently fun.

Back to New Age Kurling. What we have here is a game that can be played by people of different ages and abilities, together. There's no question about inherent play value of New Age Kurling. (In fact, should you find yourself with any remaining questions about the the fun of New Age - or even old age - Kurling, you can even Curl virtually). The point is, any game that makes it possible for people who normally don't play together to compete fully and equally is a game worth our collective appreciation.

Many thanks to correspondent Drew Buddie, who told me about Kurling in response to my article on the questionably named game of "Hurling." Drew also informs me that there's an even more violent, Scottish version of Hurling called "Shinty," which, as he says, "is played by really hard men." All of which makes New Age Kurling an even more welcome addition to our games repertoire.

Beyond Nonsense - Portmanteau words

In my story about "nonsense," I chose to illustrate the power of said same by referring to Lewis Carrol's "Jabberwocky." Dennis Wilson wrote to tell me that I was doing a disservice both to Lewis Carrol and to our global understanding of nonsense, because, as Mr. Wilson so aptly points out, "the words in Jabberwocky are portmaneaus, two words smushed together to form a new word whose meaning is that of the two words."

A portmanteau, according to alt.english.usage, is a "term for "blend word" comes from "portmanteau", "a leather travelling case that opens into two hinged compartments" (from the French for "carry cloak"), by way of Humpty Dumpty in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass." (Should you wish to purchase a literal, as opposed to literary, portmanteau of your very own, one is available from Bison Saddlery).

Clearly, the exploration and development of portmanteaux is a pleasurable pastime, at least bordering on nonsense, as more than amply illustrated by my own ventures into creating new words for fun.

Carrol (Dodgson) himself wasn't that clear about the portmanteauishness of his words. He writes: "I am afraid I can't explain 'vorpal blade' for you--nor yet 'tulgey wood', but I did make an explanation once for 'uffish thought'! It seemed to suggest a state of mind when the voice is gruffish, the manner roughish, and the temper huffish. Then again, as to 'burble', if you take the three verbs 'bleat, murmer, and warble, then select the bits I have underlined, it certainly makes 'burble', though I am afraid I can't distinctly remember having made it in that way."

The last word in our exploration of portmanteaury surely belongs to Prof. Steve Mann, inventor of the game of Pret a Portmanteau in which "people are each given a short phrase to carry or wear that 'suggests' the new word." He explains: "For example, a dozen or so people could each be wearing a different phrase that's been born by the same "mother of invention". These "portasibblings" may then get to know each other, and those wearing the same word may in fact find each other. We could even throw in a Scamera Hunt (Scavideo Hunt) where you try to track down the word and photograph it and the person wearing it, or we could have a staff photographer who tries to group the wordwearers."

Proving conclusively the ineluctable connection between portmanteau and nonsense.

Jabberwocky - the art of nonsense

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.'

Familiar? It's the first stanza of Lewis Carroll's poem "Jabberwocky." It's also one of the best examples of the power of nonsense to touch the heart of the imagination. Want more examples? How about this Latin version?

'Hora aderat briligi. Nunc et Slythia Tova
Plurima gyrabant gymbolitare vabo;
Et Borogovorum mimzebant undique formae,
Momiferique omnes exgrabure Rathi.'

which is one of 58 different translations. And then there are parodies of this parody - rapidly scaling the heights of nonsense. Like Viruwormy by Ed Combs:

"'Twas eunicks and the asky chars
Did grepp and skanneff at the nik:
All mimdy were the hyperstars,
And the rad ravs outsmick."

Nonsense is our first language, yet few of us find the permission to reveal our nonsensical hearts to the adult world. Luckily, we have the Jabberwockers of the world to remind us. Play on!

Hurling - the game

The answer to the question: "What is Europe's oldest fieldgame?" - Hurling. Reportedly brought to Ireland by the Celts around two millenia ago, Hurling is played in teams who are armed with a "stick, or 'hurley' (called cam·n in Irish) (which) is curved outwards at the end, to provide the striking surface. The ball or 'sliothar' is similar in size to a hockey ball but has raised ridges."

Here, courtesy of this site, are the "rules in brief."

1. A player can run a maximum of four steps with the sliotar (ball) in his/her hand.
2. A player may take as many steps as he/she wishes while carrying the sliotar on the boss of the hurley.
3. A player may take the sliotar into his/her hand up to two times while travelling in possesion.
4. The sliotar may not be thrown; the correct hand-pass technique must be used.
5. The sliotar may not be picked directly from the ground; the roll-lift or the jab-lift must be used.
6. A player who is in possesion may not score with his/her hand.
7. If the sliotar is in flight, a player may score by striking the ball with his/her hand.
8. Three defenders may stand on the goal-line when a penalty is being taken.
9. A free-puc is awarded when a defender strikes the ball over his/her own endline.
10. Three points are equal to one goal.


Hurling, like football, hockey, or soccer, offers an opportunity for grace, and athleticism, team work and perhaps a wee bit of violence. It presents a dramatic spectacle strong enough, and true enough to have lasted thousands of years. Holding, as it were, yet another mirror within which we can glimpse a reflection of the human nature.

The Great Ball Drop Experiment

The connection between kids who play with toys like that ball-and-cup game which is, for some reason, actually called "Bilboquet" and people who eventually become physicists is probably a lot more obvious than most academics want to admit. "The Great Ball Drop Experiment" makes that connection exceptionally vivid.

As explained by physics students Shinichiro Sakaki and Lavell Blanchard: "The purpose of this project is to see if the 'Ball and Cup' trick outlined in our textbook (Physics; 3rd Edition; by Wilson & Buffa; Prentice Hall) truly works and if the angle of the top board and the weight of the top board will cause a change in the results of the trick, and to see if the ideas of Galileo hold true in this experiment." However, as we all know, the actual purpose was to see how much fun they could have in the name of learning, and vice versa. Reading their report is ample evidence of their ability to have both - a lot of fun, and some truly in depth learning about the workings of the physical world.

The history of physics is replete with stories like this - evidence of the functions of fun in stimulating and nurturing scientific advance. In case, after reading their scientific-like conclusions, you wonder if it really was as much fun as it looks like, double-click on the last image on their page of clips.

Socks

I first became alert to the signidicance of sock power when I discovered the apparently limiteless play value of the sock ball and the eponymous Schmerltz. My discovery of the Sock Monkey phenomenon has further fired my respect for the play value of socks.

According to this site "sock monkeys and humans have existed in a symbiotic relationship with one another. This relationship began with the monkey's favorite food, lint, which was produced in vast quantities in the prehistoric dryers of humans." And here, should you be so inclined, are directions for making your own.

For further evidence of the sheer reach of sock power, see this in depth collection of sockish musings. Be sure not to overlook this page of links wherein even sockier truths await.

Cityscape

Cityscape is a unique and elegant strategy game for 2-4 players that is simple enough to learn, quick enough to play, and attractive enough to engage the rapt attention of anyone old enough to appreciate a good game.

Using different size wooden blocks (yes, the game is made of wood, warm, smooth, delicious wood), players take turns building up a skyline. Each player is trying to build her own kind of skyline, one that has the highest building here, and perhaps two buildings of the same height there, and a view of all four buildings over there. The difficulty (and challenge) is that the other players are also trying to build their own kind of skyline, each from his own perspective.

There is just enough luck and deductive reasoning to keep the game interesting, regardless of strategic skill. And just enough depth to keep the strategist deeply fascinated. I know of no other game like it. And like it I do. Enough to give it a major Major FUN Award.

Oddly enough, Cityscape is published by Out of the Box. The same Out of the Box that publishes the FunDay Times within which appears, on a daily basis, the writings of Bernie DeKoven, aka "Major Fun," aka me. "Mightn't this," one might be tempted to wonder, "impugn the impartiality of this review?" It is with great relief and unimpeachable objectivity that I herewith reassure one and all that the Major knows a good game when he plays one, regardless of who manifests the perspicacity required to publish what. And, in further fact, if Out-of-the-Box hadn't already been publishing so many Major FUN Award-worthy games, it is unlikely that he would have ever agreed to be associated with the aforementioned in this or any manner.

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Did you ever wonder what it would be like to pop a water balloon in space?

Did you ever wonder what it would be like to pop a water balloon in space? Well, did you?

If you did, then you understand the fun/science connection. Because that very kind of daydreamish, aimless, just-for-the-fun-of-it wondering is the very stuff of the scientific mind. Witness this very abovementioned site: Did you ever wonder what it would be like to pop a water balloon in space? The explanation:

The tests were conducted in part to develop the ability to rapidly deploy large liquid drops by rupturing an enclosing membrane. As can be seen from the experiment footage, the initial rupture process is nearly ideal, but the finite size of the balloon material eventually ejects a spray from the drop surface. Then, when the balloon material leaves the drop entirely, it causes a large deformation of the drop (blob) which oscillates throughout the remainder of the test. Calculations suggest that such oscillations will continue for hours before the drop eventually becomes spherical. Highspeed photographs of punctured Water Balloons in a Lab were also taken.

But don't let those scientific-sounding observations fool you. The truth is - they did it all for fun.

See the pictures. Watch the movies. Play on.

Paired Up

Paired Up is a party game, like Taboo, Password, Catchphrase, etc., where you try to get your partner to guess, well, you guessed it, pairs of words, like "salt and pepper," "rock and roll," "song and dance." A good premise for a party game. It gets people talking to each other. It's a challenge. It's for a small, party-like group of 3-6 people and your larger party-like groups can play in teams.

But what, you might ask, makes it so unique that it would merit the esteemed Major FUN Award? It's not just the way the words are paired up. It's the way the players are.

Included in the game are two, two-sided, write-on-wipe-off cards (for 3, 4, 5 or 6 players). The cards help determine who gives a clue to whom. There are 24 rounds, and in each round another combination of players is selected. For example, in the first round, the first player might be giving the clue to the second player. The next round, the third player to the fourth. The next round, the second to the third. Etc., etc., until every player has given or received a clue to or from every player, at least once. Though it sounds complicated, it's actually quite elegant. And it solves a problem that has haunted many a game designer, because it gives every player an opportunity to play with every other player.

There's a 45-second sand timer (I know, we don't really love sand timers). And a very pretty little die that determines how much a round is worth, and you'll swear is loaded until you realize that there are two 2's and two 3's. And a score pad. And 4 pencils, even. But the real treasure is how much fun the game is, and how well that pairing-up system works.

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Streetplay

There's a lot of reminiscing going on about how kids used to play back in the days when kids were kids. It's a good kind of reminiscing, a sweet nostalgia for the inventiveness and irrepressible, undeniable spirit of play. Unfortunately, we almost always follow those moments of wistful wonder with the conclusion that kids nowadays just don't do those kind of things.

Streetplay is a faith-restoring site - restoring our faith both in our memories of childhood, and in childhood itself. Streetplay's collections of photographs documenting actual kids in actual play, here, and around the world, yesterday, and today, provides us with incontrovertible evidence of the preeminence of the playful spirit.

Then again, there's the nostalgia part. Surely you didn't forget those long summer afternoons playing Stickball? And who could forget Halfball? Or, for that matter, Skully? Reading about those games, seeing the photos and film clips, even if you never played them, is a journey into the past, present, and future of fun. It not only documents what we used to do, it reminds us that we can still do those things, that we have a heritage to pass on to our children and children's children. And our children, and children's children have a heritage to pass on back to us.

This is a remarkable site. Rich in depth and detail, preserving and nurturing a wealth of rock solid invitations to play. It is free. You can help support the site by purchasing cool stuff from their store. There are no advertisements. A genuine gift to us all.

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The Chess Variants Pages

Apparently, the answer to the question "how many ways are there to play chess" is similar to that of "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin." At least, that's the impression you get when visiting The Chess Variants Pages.

There are Three Dimensional Chess Variants like that chessish game played on Star Trek, and Hexagonal Chess Variants, and chess that's played on round boards, and chess that more than two can play, and, well, an entire heavenly host of variants, some of which one could classify by theme, others by the unequalness of their armies. One of my favorites is Fairy Chess, an exploration of the apparently endless varieties of new chess pieces that can be created by combining the moves and powers of others - like the Princess, Archbishop, Cardinal and Paladin that combine the powers of knight and bishop.

Even if you don't play chess, a brief visit to these pages can open you to a world of player-empowerment. If people can do this with chess, surely you can do the same with checkers, or bridge, or Scrabble, or even Tic Tac Toe. Taking this "variants" approach, any game you know becomes a treasury of game possibilities, and the more games you know, the wealthier you become.

The Olin Olympics

It is considered "the most noble and challenging athletic competition at Gustavus Adolphus College -- The Olin Olympics. Rising out of the international hotbed of athletics, the Olin Hall of Science." Witness the game of Volley Pop Case (as illustrated iconographically above):

The game is very similar to volleyball, except that it is played while sitting down, in a confined space and an empty 12-pack beverage case is used in place of a ball. It is strongly recommended that chairs equipped with wheels are used, to make it easier to manuever. The Olympic version of VolleyPopCase is played with two persons to a side, and the dimensions of the court are 4.68 m long by 3.67 m wide; the same dimensions as the Physics office that the game was originally played in. The court is completely walled, similar to a raquetball court, and the walls serve as the out-of-bounds lines. The height of the ceiling should be 2.73 m. A length of tape stretched across the width of the court at a height of 1.48 m serves as the net.

While you're in the general area, don't miss Olin Skiing, where players sit on office chairs and poll their way to Olinesque victory.

In fact, check out all of the games. They're deliciously silly, clearly playable, and faith-restoring evidence of the survival of playfulness, even in the inner-sancta of academe.

Recess Advocates

\We all have mixed feelings about recess. Some of our best memories. Some we're still trying to forget. And despite the worst of those memories, if someone had told us that they were going to take recess away, we'd have been outraged. Which is maybe what we have to start being. Because that's what they're doing, all across the United States, and even in the UK. They're taking recess away. Legislating it right out of existence. And doing it with such thoroughness that the only way some of us are going to see recess again is if we get people to legislate it back in - like they did, recently, with Georgia House Bill 103.

According to one article, "as many as four out of ten schools nationwide, and 80 percent of the schools in Chicago, have decided there's no time for recess. Instead of romping in playgrounds, kids are being channeled into more classes in an effort to make their test scores rise on an ever-higher curve."

The good news is that there are people who are standing up to all this silliness. They call themselves "Recess Advocates." Sponsored by the American Association for the Child's Right to Play, the IPA-USA helps articulate the The Case for Elementary School Recess, provides a great list of links to other articles, and strategies for promoting recess in your own community.

Now, if only someone would do this for all us recess-deprived adults....

The Elliot Avedon Museum and Archive of Games

Many of the best of the "New Games" have their roots in the old. The more accurate the research that I can uncover about the way old games were played, the more valuable they become to me in envisioning the future of play.

One resource that proved invaluable to me, 35 years ago when I was developing a curriculum in games for the School District of Philadelphia was The Study of Games by Elliot Avedon and Brian Sutton-Smith. The same author, Elliot Avedon, has been building his Museum and Archive of Games since 1971. And now it is available to the rest of us, online.

You can look up games by name or by country of origin. There are also "Virtual Exhibits." One my favorites: this "Breughel Index" that finally identifies each of the games depicted in Breughel's famous painting of "Children's Games." Another, this wonderful collection of playing cards.

The study of games is richly rewarding, whether you are a game designer or player, a student of human nature, or just someone who wants to bring more fun to the world. The free, online Elliot Avedon Museum and Archive of Games is an increasingly valuable gift to all of us.

Redondo

When I first learned it, I was told it was called "Redondo." One player starts the game by drawing someting on the top part of a piece of paper, then folding the paper so that only the very bottom of the drawing shows, and passing it to the next player, who continues the drawing, folds it so that only the very bottom of the continuation shows, and then passes it to the next player. The result: deep whimsy.

Yes, I know, it's hard to believe that a game with a name like "Redondo" could trace its roots to something called "Exquisite Corpse." And it's even harder to believe that Exquisite Corpse could prove to be worthy of our pristinely playful purport. Fear not. Despite its macabre name, Exquisite Corpse is an invitation to silliness and creativity of the highest order - a game you've probably already played in several many versions.

There's even a text-only version of this game, which, according to this source, is an old parlor game that evolved into one of the "Surrealist techniques exploiting the mystique of accident." There's a website that is designed so that you can not only taste the literary wonders of such collective silliness, but add your personal own.

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Play for All

I have always been fascinated, and moved, by play environments that allow people of all ages and abilities to play together. Creating such an environment is a profound challenge with an even more profound pay-off. Playing together, our differences melt away. Our "specialness" becomes shared, so that we are all special, in a special place, doing special things, having an especially special amount of fun together, with each other.

There's a book, called "Nothing About Us Without Us." The complete text is available online, for free. Written by David Werner, it a truly practical, intelligently written, do-it-yourself guide for building adaptive playgrounds. It's subtitle: "Developing Innovative Technologies For, By and With Disabled Persons." It's the "For, By and With" part that captures the spirit, and true innovation of this powerful resource.

As he so clearly states in his introduction: "In this approach, the disabled person (and/or family members) often takes the lead, working as a partner and equal with service providers, technicians, or local crafts-persons. With this sort of partnership approach, results tend to be more enabling than when assistive equipment is unilaterally prescribed or designed."

Even if you know no disabled people, and rarely visit a playground, you will find this book moving and inspiring evidence of the sheer healing power of fun.

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Pocket Full of Therapy

Take a silly toy like this "Bubbaloon Frog" - in the hand of a child, it's a silly fun toy that could make him almost croak with joy. In the eyes of a therapist, it's also an exercise device that whill help the child develop "hand and finger strength and stability."

This is the approach taken by a company called "Pocket Full of Therapy." They offer an extensive online catalogue filled with wonderful toys - toys that are first and foremost invitations to play. At the same time, the toys help players exercise abilities like:
  • Motor Planning

  • Bilateral Motor Coordination

  • Upper Extremity Stability

  • Pinch/Grasp/Manipultion

  • Oral Motor


  • The balance between play and healing is often difficult to maintain, especially for worried parents and professionals who need to appear professional. Pocket Full of Therapy maintains that balance beautifully, and, as a result, they perform a powerful and much-needed service for all of us. Even those of us who just want to play.

    While you're at their website, don't miss this valuable collection of user-submitted, toy-based therapeutic activities in the Monthly Idea Exchange.

    Bilboquet

    Ah, yes, who can forget those many hours of idle agony spent playing with one's own Bilboquet?

    According to Elliot Avedon, curator of the Elliot Avedon Museum and Archive of Games "The French word Bilboquet is related to the French word bille - translated as either a 'little stick' or a child's 'glass marble.' In any event, those that study the origins of language report that the word Bilboquet appears in the French language as early as 1534 AD."

    In fact, if you take another look at my story about The Great Ball Drop Experiment, you'll see that it's really what one could only call yet another Bilboquet.

    Elliot Avedon's online archive has illustrations of Bilboquet games from France, Italy, Finland, Japan, Peru, Columbia, Mexico, and several Native American tribes. Curator Avedon explains:

    "In general there are two major modes. One mode is with a ball (or ball-like object) that is attached to a handle (or peg/pin) tethered to the ball. A stylized cup-like object is also attached to the handle. Variations exist with respect to the shape of the cup - multiple cups, etc., and the shape of the handle. The second mode uses tethered rings that are to be caught on a peg/pin, and these variations are reflected in the shape of the pin or the number of tethered rings. A general variation is the length of the tether in either mode, or the weight of the object that is to be caught. "

    Once again demonstrating how a good game gets around - even if no one knows its real name.

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    SegPlay - "the art of pieceful imaging"

    The art/fun connection is one that is rarely drawn, so to speak - except perhaps in the kindergarten.

    SegPlay makes that connection, beautifully.

    Taking advantage of "segmentation technology," SegPlay is able to transform almost any work of art - painting or photograph into a paint-by-numbers challenge. The challenge is to beat the clock. Fortunately, even when the clock runs out (which it did, every time I tried - even when I tried the so-called "simple" works), you can keep on going, color by color, number by number, until the work is complete.

    At first, I really didn't think that painting by numbers online would be even vaguely approximate fun. But the technology is so clean, the tools so intelligently designed, that I could focus on the magic of watching the image emerge. When a color is exhausted, it disappears from the pallet. You can magnify the image so that you can focus on any part of the work (and see the numbers much more clearly). When you're finally done, you can replay the whole process. Seeing a work of art compose itself, color by color, is a visual delight, as instructive as it is fun.

    The site is totally free, completely supported by donations and the enthusiasm of its users. There are currently 150 categories and over 1000 patterns to play with. A crowning touch: you can submit your own photos or digitized art for virtual, paint-by-numberly immortalization.

    Rock Paper Scissors and Beyond

    You are probably wondering why anyone would go to the trouble to organize a World Rock Paper Scissors Society.

    You would probably be equally amazed to discover that "The Scissors Paper Stone Club was founded in London, England in 1842 immediately following the issuance of the1842 law declaring 'any decision reached by the use of the process known as Paper Scissors Stone between two gentleman acting in good faith shall constitute a binding contract. Agreements reached in this manner are subject to all relevant contract and tort law.'”

    You might be close to stupefied by your eventual discovery of the strategies and significances of Advanced RPS

    And yet, should you read carefully enough, and explore deeply enough, you might be find yourself able to win against this online version.

    One of the most successful of the games we introduced through the New Games Foundation was a combination of RPS (the approved designation for the abovementioned) with tag. It is still around, called, for some odd reason, Rock, Paper, Scissors Tag.

    And, should you wonder further about the RPS relevance of the illustration at the beginning of this piece where people are doing something that is clearly neither Rock, nor Scissors, nor even Paper - prepare to be amused and amazed by the RPS-like wonders of a game devised by this very author - "Panther, Person, Porcupine."