It's a word game. It's a board game. It's the first word/board game I've found that makes the best of both. It's called, "BLURT!."

As a word game, it's simple enough. You read a definition. The first player to, um, Blurt! it out, so to speak, wins. This is fun, because the fact that you know what a word means often has little to do with the speed of your Blurt!

As a board game, it's a race, where you throw the die and move your pawn - a pawn that has the power to send others back. There's just enough chance to keep everyone guessing.

There's the "Showdown," or, as we called it, "Blurt-Off," when you land on somebody else and have to compete head to head for first correct Blurt! Failure sends you back - depending on the roll of the die.

And then there's the "Takeover." Land on a square that is the same color as your pawn and jump on anybody else, no matter how far down the track they are. Then comes the Blurt-Off, and the risk of being sent all the way back to the Takeover square.

The board game balances the challenge of the word game beautifully, creating an exciting social dynamic where everyone is involved and anyone can win, up until the very last play.

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Rolling Ball Sculptures, Automata, curiosities and Virtual Mechanisms

Some call it "Kugelbahn." I, on the other hand, call it my connection to just about everything I could imagine wanting to know about Rolling Ball Sculptures, Automata, curiosities and Virtual Mechanisms. In fact, I wouldn't even have thought I needed to know anything about Rolling Ball Sculptures, etc., until I moused my way to the Kugelbahn.

A climb along the Kugelbahn takes you past monumental achievements in the art of playfulness, and the playfulness of art.

Rolling Ball Sculptures - you know, the kind you've seen in the airport, like maybe at the International Terminal at LAX? Or like the kind kids make, exercising their skills in engineering, logic, the scientific method, maybe even in design, but above all something actually fun to play with. And watch. And be fascinated by. And marvel at. Like the famous "Nerf Herder" of artist Andrew Smith. And get a gumball from.

But Automata? Toys, grown-up is what they are. Like the Cabaret Mechanical Theater, until they become too beautiful to play with, like the Mechanical Poetry of Malcolm Brook.

And that's only the tip of it, iceberg-like-wise. And what about the curiosities and Virtual Mechanisms? The Kugelbahn is a delightful find, upon which you will find much, um, delight.

The Swiss System

Mind Sports Olympiad is a board and card game competition. A serious one. Where you pay money to compete in, for example, Abalone, Acquire, Age of Steam, Boku, Continuo, Diplomacy, Entropy, Go, Intelligence, Lines of Action, Lost Cities, Mastermind, Othello, Oware, Pacru, Puerto Rico, Rummikub, Scrabble, Settlers, Snatch, Trax, and Twixt. Did I mention Backgammon, Dominoes, Draughts, Lines of Action, Mastermind, Othello, Oware? Chess? Not to mention Bridge, Cribbage, Poker, Skat, Chinese Chess, Go, or, for that matter, Shogi. All of which is cool. But this is what really caught my eye, and heart:

"Almost all of the tournaments at the Mind Sports Olympiad are run on the Swiss system. This means that you do not get knocked out of a tournament if you lose a game - you continue to play against opponents who have approximately the same score as yourself and you continue to play every round no matter what your score may be. "

The Swiss System. What a wonderfully sane way to compete!


This "Canstruction" is the 2003 "Jurors' Favorite." Its title: "Canned Tuna: Give a man a fish feed him for a day; Give a man 1,238 cans of tuna, feed him for 1,238 days." It is made of: 1,238 cans, 415 bottles. There is no mention of the significance of the bottles.

But what is significant, and mightily so, is the existence of Canstruction itself - "A National Charity of the Design and Construction Industry created by the Society of Design Administration." Here's the concept: "Competing teams, lead by architects and engineers, showcase their talents by designing giant sculptures made entirely out of canned foods. At the close of the exhibitions all of the food used in the structures is donated to local food banks for distribution to pantries, shelters, soup kitchens, elderly and day care centers."

As you take a virtual tour through some of the can-structions exhibited in the past years, you get a good taste of the humor, playfulness, ingenuity, and sheer fun of this project.

Canstruction so perfectly blends play and art with social awareness that it is its own paradigm - one which I hope gets imitated and propagated and diversified and variegated until it gives birth to hundreds of related playful, creative, socially conscious, charitable events.

Handmade Sports Equipment

The esoteric collection of objects appearing in the accompanying image is actually an assortment of handmade sports equipment.

Can you find the baseball?

Well, maybe not. But there's a surprisingly battable Paper ball, made of: "crushed paper bound with masking tape." And the soccer-worthy Sock ball - being a "sock, stuffed with other sock or paper and tied off." And of course, the footballish Foam ball, made of: "block or pieces of foam rubber, stuffed inside pantyhose." Not to mention the volleyball-transforming Garbage bag ball. Actually, "a garbage bag filled with balloons or crumpled newspaper."

And then there's the handmade hangar-and-pantyhose tennis-racquet-like thing, and the paper hoops for something quite Quoits-like, and the variety of wonderfully flingable sock-and-ball tether balls...

It's a truly inspiring collection - inspiring us to make our own stuff, and play our own sports with our own rules, just for the fun of it.

Because that's what sports are really for. The fun of it. Aren't they?


If you find yourself having to convince people about the multitude of connections between play and learning, you'd do well to refer them to NASAGA, or the North American Simulation and Games Association, "a growing network of professionals working on the design, implementation, and evaluation of games and simulations to improve learning results in all types of organizations."

And, if you find yourself planning to be in Montreal, Oct. 15-18, you might even consider "Joining the Circus" - the 2003 Annual NASAGA conference. The thing about NASAGA conferences is that they are actually invitations to learn and play, and learn through play, and learn to play more. There are sessions where you can get a genuine taste of some of the most delicious simulations around. A sample smattering of some of the topics: Aha! - Games for Creating Creativity, The (Almost) All Purpose Toy Metaphor Game, Who's Team is it Anyway? High Performance Teams the Improv Way, The Kite: Fast, Fun I.D.!, Checkmate in Zero Steps!, Demystifying Myst: 3D Games & Learning, Life is not rehearsed: Play to learn!

The Museum of Non-Primate Art

It has always amazed me how, when playing with animals, there's often such a powerful sense of equality. I mean, I'm superior to my cats, no? So how come when we play together it feels like they're making up the rules?

Thinking of cats as playmates is but a short pounce from thinking of them as artists. The museum of Non-Primate Art takes a bold leap into human-animal play, ascribing to birds, cats and soon elephants, termites, and dogs an aesthetic sensibility that goes beyond mere art appreciation. We contemplate, for example, the subtleties of "splay anatomy" - the designs made by bird droppings. The Anatomy of a Splay identifies five major Splay-forms: the Schplerter, the Schplutz, the Sklop, the Splerd and the Splood. Oddly, there's no mention of the Splat.

If all of this makes you wonder whether you should take this site seriously or as some kind of joke, then you can consider your visit to the Museum of Non-Primate Art a complete success.

Anthony's Kite Gallery

Anthony Thyssen's Kite Gallery is a testimony to the power of fun. In pursuit of the pointless joys of flying things on strings, we see art, science, creativity and a profound sense of devoted playfulness.

Anthony's Kite Gallery is actually a subsection of Anthony's Kite Workshop, where you'll find plans like this amazingly comprehensive, and mathematically intriguing page on Tetrahedral Variations, and instructions on how to build kite Bubble Generators, and the remarkably pragmatic " El-Cheapo Diamond Kite Plan."

Let yourself drift through these links and you'll find yourself afloat on winds of art and reason, design and technique, technology and meteorology, science, mathematics, and physics - all for the sheer fun of it.

Wikki Stix

Wikki Stix
are, first of all, not just for kids.

The reason I find myself needing to emphasize this point about the true nature of Wikki Stix is that a set of Wikki Stix bears a startlingly close resemblance to a set of colored pipe cleaners. Which is what makes Wikki Stix so easily mistaken for a children's toy.

So moved have I been by the significantly mature play value of the Stix Wikki, that I have published a carefully wrought treatise on Stix-use as a training tool for executive and creative teams.

Yes, it is true, one could say that they are merely bits of colored yarn dipped in some kind of special wax that allows them to be so easily bent and stuck to each other on a piece of paper, and the wall, and mirror, and bathroom tile. But one must also acknowledge that the wax is really quite special, as are the people who manufacture, package and distribute Wikki Stix, and maintain a website-full of creative Wikki wisdom, adapted, of course, for the visually impaired.


Playing Art

Taprats is a site devoted to interactive, Islamic Star Patterns.

Islamic Star Patterns? As the author explains: "Over a thousand years ago, artisans in the Islamic world began to develop a system for constructing intricate geometric art based on radially symmetric starlike figures."

What we have here is an opportunity to play with this art - in a way its originators had never conceived of. By launching a rather sober-looking Java applet, we can shrink and stretch and widen and combine or way to works of wonder - interlacing, intricate patterns of knots and not and what not. It's solid evidence of one of the computer's major contributions to the art of fun, bringing us new, and endlessly fascinating tools for playing art.


The Rolling Ball Web

The Rolling Ball Web is a portal to just about all things marble-ous. There are links to rolling ball sculptures and rolling ball clocks and toys and games with rolling balls, and rolling ball-influenced scientific apparatus, museums, movies, computers, perpetual motion and gumball machines.

"If you haven't seen a rolling ball sculpture," writes David M. MacMillan, the site's author, "then it's both very simple and very difficult to describe one to you. On the simple side: A typical rolling ball sculpture is one where many balls (marbles, billiard balls, ball bearings, spherical things) are raised to some height from which the individual balls follow one or more paths back down, encountering ingenious mechanisms on the way. On the complicated side: no written description is going to explain why it is that most people of any age just stop and watch these sculptures for a long time."

Rolling Ball sculptures are dances of art and technology and wonder and play. Rolling Ball Clocks are Rolling ball sculptures that tell time. And rolling ball toys and games are invitations to join the dance.

The site hasn't been updated in 4 years, so some web-spelunking will be required to get past the dead links. I can almost promise you that making your way to the world of rolling balls will be well-worth the climb, for it's where fun and art and science and technology all play so beautifully together.


"800 pixels wide. 600 pixels high. 64 pictures. One subject." It's the 800x600 project. It's a collection of more than 50 images, each composed of 64 pictures. It's playful. It's beautiful. It's fun.

And it's somehow an art form, of it's very own. The images that you look at are each larger than the sum of their images. They are each a conceptual collage, puzzles for the eye and imagination, creating a single vision that enlarges each piece.

And it's a community of artists, at least 50 of them.

I know that art and play are very closely related - so closely, that it makes you wonder why we pay so much more attention to their differences. But this is one of those few times it's so clearly visible.

A new art form.

Just for the fun of it.

Global Hopscotch

Apparently, the kids in your neighborhood aren't the only ones who are playing hopscotch. Here, in Romanian, English, Spanish, French, German and Catalan, the author explains:

"Hopscotch began in ancient world during the early Roman Empire. Roman soldiers for military training used the original hopscotch exercises. Then they exported the game to children throughout Europe. Roman children drew their own hopscotches imitating the soldiers by adding a scoring system. It is unknown the way hopscotch spread in the rest of the world. A lot of versions exist on all continents. The game is called 'Marelles' in France, 'Templehupfen' in Germany, 'Hinkelbann' in the Netherlands and 'Rayuela' in Argentina."

Hopscotch is only one of the games that unite the children of our world. Children's Folkgames, the result of a six-month collaboration between educators and kids everywhere, provides reassuring evidence of the unity of the world's children, listing games from Bulgaria, Chile, China, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Paraguay, Mexico, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, Uganda and the USA. It is a remarkable resource, and powerful reminder.

Interactive Whimsy

It's called "Vectorpark." That's all the information you're going to get about what it is or who made it or why. As you click and drag your way through the various animated environments, it slowly dawns on you what this site is really all about: whimsy. Sheer, meaningless, delightful, interactive whimsy.

Say, for example, you find yourself, for some reason known only to you, clicking on the image above - the one of the snowman, bowling ball and bucket with a spigot. You find yourself looking at a watery somewhere, above which is suspended a hangar slowly rotating in the virtual wind. A bowling ball falls into the water. On top of the bowling ball, a question mark. Or is it a hook? Drag the question-mark-hook to one end of the hangar, and your question is answered. It's a hook. You now have a bowling ball hanging on a hangar. And then another hangar falls.

After much hanging and unhanging, you find yourself constructing an intricate, Calder-like mobile, composed of a melange of bizarre objects - a birdhouse and submarine, snowman and bowling ball. The reward for getting everything to balance - yet something else to hang. Like the bucket, for example. The one with the spigot. A spigot that can empty the bucket to make it lighter.

This is only a taste of a virtual smorgasbord of wonderfully silly invitations to pure, meaningless, delicious fun. One more exhibit to hang in the Museum of Modern Play.

The Racial Profiling Game

Sometimes, an invitation to play is also an invitation to learn. A game called "Sorting People." offered as an online componnent of PBS's three-part series "Race: The Power of an Illusion," offers its players just such an experience.

Your task is to sort the images of 20 different people into one of five "racial" groups. After you try it, it becomes clear why I put quotees around "racial." You can't play this little human solitaire game without reflecting on your own images, and stereotypes. It's a purposefully difficult challenge - one that even you would find worth trying.

Even though you know you're going to lose.

Because some of the people in the pictures are just too hard to classify. Which is, of course the whole point.

Sorting People is a "Pointy" Game. Good enough to play for fun. Embarassingly good.

Motor Cycles and Paper Craft

Question: What motor-cycle manufacturer's website features a large collection of Paper Craft?

Why, Yamaha, of course? Yamaha? Why Yamaha?

Darned if I know.

There it is, as advertised, a "full line up" of detailed instructions, printoutable designs ready for cutting, folding and tucking. Full.

Yes, you can download the full 17 pages of pieces required to make a realistically paper model of the Yamaha SR400. But you can also get all the pieces and plans needed to sculpt a Little Spotted Kiwi.

Trying to understand why Yamaha has such a resource on its website is perhaps not as useful as it is to appreciate the fact that it's there, somehow, a testimony to play itself that, as the Yamaha slogan says, "touches your heart."

Underrating play

At the beach, we are all children. As we gambol in the shallow surf and toss in the deeper waves, we feel the freedom of helplessness and the satisfaction of improvising defenses. Unburdened by consciousness or self-consciousness, we are caught in the moment. Suffused with pleasure, we exult in the sheer lightness of being.

Yet, as welcome and wonderful as those feelings are, play's value among adults is too often vastly underrated. We would all agree that play lifts stress from us. It refreshes us and recharges us. It restores our optimism. It changes our perspective, stimulating creativity. It renews our ability to accomplish the work of the world. By anyone's reckoning, those are remarkably worthy achievements.

But there is also new evidence that play does much more. It may in fact be the highest expression of our humanity, both imitating and advancing the evolutionary process. Play appears to allow our brains to exercise their very flexibility, to maintain and even perhaps renew the neural connections that embody our human potential to adapt, to meet any possible set of environmental conditions.

Just a thought...

From Hara Estroff Marano, in Psychology Today, 7/99

Barrel Tennis

Here's another not-so half-baked idea from the zany folk at the Half-Bakery. This one's called "Barrel Tennis."

The idea: "Instead of on a table, one would play the ball in a cylinder with the same diameter as a ping-pong table’s width and with its center at about shoulder height. It would have a raised edge (net) that circled the inside circumference. The same rules would apply as far as a controlled serve and one bounce on the opponent’s side, but otherwise balls could be hit upwards, against the side, diagonally, etc."

You have to admit - there's something especially tasty about the idea of playing ping pong, or, for that matter, tennis, through a barrel. It really does add a new dimension to the sport. And I bet, depending on the construction of the barrel, the idea would sound as good as it plays as the ball ricochets against the barrel walls.

Half-baked, definitely, but deliciously so.


Blurring the Lines Twixt Man and Beast

Consider yourself personally invited to a virtual showing of something very much artlike, but kind of fun at the same time, and some times down-right scary. It's being held at an online gallery called "HumanDescent".

As you leaf through the many pages of this exhibit, you find yourself forced to admit that someone is definitely having fun here, playing with Photo Shop, you might say, but in a way that results in the creation of cat-headed chickens, if you know what I mean.

"HumanDescent" is an exhibit of playfulness in virtual action: one man's fun, in page after page of silly, but photographically real impossibilities, like snapshots from particularly vivid dreams. Sometimes too vivid.

Button, Button

Next time someone asks you how it is possible for even the most utlilitarian of objects can become objects of reverence and play, click them on over to the Buttonarium, one of the most extensive of the virtual world's understandably very few On-Line Button Museums.

But not the only. Apparently, the Buttonarium is but the virtual tip of the conceptual button iceberg. A rather lovely and loving addition to your collection of online button sites is Collectible China Buttons. China buttons? And lovely buttons they are. Then there's the collection at the Land of Odds - equally not to be missed. The pewter, the glass, the sterling silver, the shell and rhinestone. So many, many buttons.

KIN-BALL - a new sport for 3 teams and one BIG ball.

It's four-feet in diameter, but it weighs just a little more than 2 pounds. We used what we called an "earthball" as a center piece of our New Games Tournaments. It was six-feet in diameter and weighed more than 30 pounds. We liked to play volleyball with it, because just getting it over the net was a major accomplishment, requiring the cooperation of everyone in the team. With such a light and large ball as the KIN-BALL Sport Ball, whole new sports are made possible.

And, a whole new sport has in deed been developed. Created by Mario Demers in Canada, the KIN-BALL sport is one of the only sports I know of that requires three teams. As described on the official Kin-Ball sport website, "the official sport is played by three teams of four players. One team launches the ball, challenging the other team to get under the ball and gain control by balancing it between them." There are four players on each team, who play simultaneously. "The players of the defensive teams form a square around the ball. This same square constantly follows all the movements of the ball. Each player is responsible for a corner of the square and is situated about 10-12 feet from the ball. The four players have to maintain the team's square formation."

As the ball is served, everybody in the team must be in contact with the giant ball. This way, the whole team is involved. The serving team announces which team is to try to catch the ball - like a gentler version of the kids' game "Spud." If that team succeeds, they then have to return the serve before the 5 second time limit. If the receiving team misses or faults, both of the other two teams are awarded a point.

Though currently played in Canada, Japan, Brazil, Argentina and much of Europe, the sport's developers are making a concerted effort to spread the KIN-BALL gospel to the US, offering a free KIN-BALL sport ball to qualified schools.


Fireworks. Amazing how much fun it is, how mothlike we are when it comes to getting as close as possible to the sight and smell and bang of it all.

For those of us who can't wait for the civic celebrations, the Internet has some wonderfully virtual pyrotechnics to play with. There's these "Phantom Fireworks" where you can more or less choreograph your own multi-million-dollar extravaganza in major cities around the country and the world, accompanied by the 1812 Overture, five different firework effects, and a spectacular finale.

If you're as interested in the science as the art of fireworks, be sure to visit the Nova Online Fireworks site where you can play "Name that Shell as you try to learn the different kinds of fireworks.

And, courtesy of the Smithsonian photographers, here are some invlauble tips on how to "shoot" (photographically speaking), your local fireworks display.


Roadside America

Planning a trip to somewhere Stateside? Wonder what offbeat splendors might be right around the veritable corner? Visit, "Your Online Guide to Offbeat Tourist attractions," and wonder no more. Or wonder even more at the plethora of wonderful wonders awaiting the wandering wayfarer.

The giant chia pet depicted above, for example, happens to be just around my actual corner.

Start your search with the Electric Map of the lower 48, D.C. and Canada. Watch the collection of video clips "culled from the Roadside America vault (including) interviews with the Immortals of Tourism, treasured 16mm home movies, and scary moments captured on hi-8mm videotape." Then there are the in-depth field reviews, written by the editors themselves, where you can find more than you thought you'd want to know about places you never thought existed. If, for some reason, you find yourself in Texas, you will be everso delighted and informed to learn about Austin's Cathedral of Junk and San Antonio's Barney Smith's Toilet Seats housing over 600 painted and engraved you-guessed-its, and the amazing Stonehenge II in a town called "Hunt."

All of which will not only give you something extremely silly to do on your trip from here to there and back, but also provide you with yet more concrete evidence that the spirit of fun is very much alive and well in this great, wacky country of ours.

Not for kids only

Now that it is clearly summer, the need for increasing our repertoire of fun things to do is evermore apparent.

This is Lee Rush's photo of a game called "Knots." It was one of the most often-played games in the New Games repertoire. It's the game where everyone stands in a circle, then holds hands with people across the circle so that each hand is holding someone else's hand. This makes a knot. The next step is to, without letting go, see if it's possible to unknot. It is great and often profound fun as players try to help each other figure out where to cross over and which way to twist and whether the goal of ultimate untanglement is actually achievable.

Oddliy enough, it's among the 250 so-called "Kids Games" in this rather delicious collection of agelessly silly things to do. Similar in spirit to my at least half-vast collection of what I have come to call "Pointless" games, it becomes an even more valued resource when we discover it's not just for kids.

It's called a "Trikke"

It's called a "Trikke, and it looks like a three-wheeled scooter. Only you don't scoot it. And it's a lot safer. Both feet stay on the Trikke (near the back two wheels), and you propel it by rocking from side to side.

It's definitely not what you'd call an "effortless" means of transportation. But effortlessness is not what the Trikke's all about. It's about exercise and fun - and anything that's able to put those two experiences together is worth serious consideration.

It's best on flat, dry surfaces. Since you have to move the vehicle right and left in order to move forward, it takes more sidewalk room than a bike or scooter. But it's one of those things you can get better and better at - until you get good or wacky enough to consider Extreme Trikking, as demonstrated in their collection of videos.

Three different Trikkes are available - one for kids and people who want to do skatepark things, one for the more mature, looking for exercise and transportation, and a third people who don't want to make up their minds.