Playing with Fractals

Fractal Recursions is one of those visually delicious sites where eye candy becomes the main course. It's also one more stunning example of the art-math-play connection.

There are 30 different galleries of fractal images. My favorites, however, can be found in the small, but sweet collection of animated images. When you think you've seen everything there is to see, fractal-wise, click you way to "Sprott's Fractal Gallery" - another remarkably rich collection of fractal play, art and science, accompanied, even, by fractal music.

There's free fractal-making software, like Fractint which I found on one of the many links available through The Spanky Fractal Database, and an entire webring of fractalicious sites called the "Infinite Fractal Loop."And even a fractal game called "Leap Fractal."

But what makes fractal technology so very much fun is that it is lets us play with even more faces of reality. It is the basis for much of the art of creating computer generated landscapes and, for further example, the key to the mathematically intriguing "Traveling Salesman Problem" where one can explore "the evolving field of the generation of instances of combinatorial optimization problems with known optimal solution."

Yes, and yes again, there's a lot to learn about fractals and the significant implications thereof. But don't let that distract you from the most profound of all fractal-related discoveries: fractals are fun.


You know the game of "four-in-a-box"? You know, the kids' game? Like this? Still almost a good enough challenge for one of your abstractly strategic ilk, eh?

Four-in-a-box is like four-in-a-row, which, of course, is almost exactly like three-in-a-row, which is what we know as Tic Tac Toe. So, it's got a firm foundation in the paper-and-pencil lore of our childhood. If it were five-in-a-row it'd be known as the ancient Japanese game of Go-Moku, and it would perhaps no longer be consideered a kids' game.

But it's not in a row. It's in a box.

Just to keep your reasoning skills in proper perspective, check out Quod, the only other four-in-a-box-game I've so far encountered. A kids' game it definitely isn't. At least, not this kid. Played on an "11-by-11 square grid board with the four corners missing," To add to the strategic depth (should your strategy need deepening) each player has "6 blocking pieces - quasars (white)" in addition to the "20 attacking pieces - quads (color)." Apparently, "Quasars are neutral pieces used to occupy places."

Even with the neutrality of some of the pieces (an interesting concept - one that we could try even with tic tac toe) Quod is often more of a perceptual challenge than strategic. It's really amazing how difficult it can be to perceive potential squareness. Especially when the squares can be in any orientation - not just horizontal or vertical. It's even more amazing to discover how far we have come from tic tac toe, in how few steps.

Flash Mobbing in Gronigen

Just when you think Flash Mobs are a local phenomenon, here's a mob flashing right in the heart of beautiful, downtown Gronigen.

This happy news by way of my friend and actual CoWorker Gerrit Visser.

And, for further mobular edification, see this bit of Rheingoldian retrospective on the Flash Fenomenon, as published in the New York Times.

Re-use, recycle, rejoice

Trash Sculpture - how about this as the culminating activity Community Pride Week: have everybody make sculptures out of the trash we collected Some idea, eh. Some kind of crazy California thing. Even though it's in Washington State. I mean, it takes a certain amount of guts to suggest something like this. Something this, well, playful. Apparently, somebody at the Mt. Adams Chamber of Congress was responsible for this. Somehow, some Champion of Fun was able to transform the work of cleaning up into a celebration of creativity and humor.

Then there's Recyclabots - the works of mixed-media artists Opie and Linda O'Brien. Clearly, these are also the work of Heroes of the Playful. They are also heroic in a way, in a fun way - making something out of junk, something funny-looking, something fun - and calling it "art." It takes a certain heroism, from fun champions whose vision is clear enough and sense of play strong enough that they can use what many of us have been tempted to call "trash" to create objects whose main aesthetic is fun, and yet can carry a message like: re-use, recycle, rejoice.

Playing with Food

"Playing with food is the main reason that dining in restaurants has become so popular." says author P. J. O'Rourke in his blatantly titled article: "Playing with Food." He explains: "The secret to successful sport with foodstuffs is correct attitude. Playing with food has to be fast, loud, and enthusiastic. You must make your high spirits contagious before anyone has time for second thoughts. Second thoughts always consist of calling the police."

Though I am not an advocate of disruptive play, I admire O'Rourke's contribution to the food play repertoire, and would like to take this opportunity to point you to my personally small collection (three) of more playful, and perhaps even more socially acceptable food games, and this dialogue about what can only be called "M&M Games.

Finally, taking a more scientific perspective on food play, we come across this virtual treasure of food fun from Carnegie Mellon University. The title on the page. "Rapid Design through Virtual and Physical Prototyping," may make you wonder about it's place in the food/fun chain. And yet, on closer introspection, how can one possibly deny the prototypically delicious relevance of, for example, the chemical reactions engendered by the making of Irving Prager's Chocolate Dump Cake?

Playing with Memory

Stare! is what you'd call a "memory game." Having an historically bad memory (I think), I've always eschewed memory games. I don't play them very often, either. Stare! offers a collection of richly detailed drawings on cards. On the back of each card are equally richly detailed questions about the drawing - which, of course, you can no longer see. Questions like: how many flowers, what colors were the shoes, what was the name on the book cover. We played it. And, from time to time, we actually answered correctly. So we played it some more. And, wonder of wonders, we got better.

Then there is that kids' game called "Concentration," where all you have to do is find two matching cards in an array of cards, you know, turning them over one at a time. It isn't at all like Stare, except that it's also a memory game, and also a game I don't play very much. I forget why. It is also a game you can get better at. It is also a game that you can play with almost any kinds of images - as long as they are in pairs. And, in this wonderful Concentration Collection from Ze Frank, it is also a collection of wonderfully animated images that are so delightful to discover that it almost makes the game worth playing - even if you do have to remember things.

O, before I forget, if you're really in to playing with memory, here's this page of "experiments and games to test your memory." Even though it looks like it's for kids, I'm sure there was a reason I thought you'd find it clickworthy, linkwise.

Ping Pong Noh

This video of "Matrix Ping Pong" is just plain fun. It's also a testimony to the power of the game, the imagination, the medium, and the very soul of theater. It's not really a game of ping pong. It's a fantasy - a game of ping pong as if it were played in the fantastic world of the Matrix movies where people can hang in mid air and slow time while they pursue what has become the new cinematic martial art of "Wire Fu." And it's done in the seven-century-old theater art of Japanese Noh!

This little video is a classic example of the Art of Fun - an art that can span time, medium and culture.

On the other hand, if you need a little actual interaction, try this sweet little Shockwavey Noh-body version of ping pong. Noh-body because it's just two paddles playing against each other. And you're one of them.

Be careful, as the Art of Fun requires, the game is a lot more life-like than you'd expect.


Catch 22

Catch 22 will remind you of Parcheesi, which, as everyone knows, is a derivative of the ancient Indian game Pachisi, which has only a little to do with why this game is so darn much fun. The Pachisi-likeness of it all has something to do with the fun - it makes the game feel familiar and that much easier to learn. But let me tell you right now, what we got here is as much like Pachisi as chess.

Yes, there's a bunch of plastic pawns, but you get only one. And there's a die - only one. And there's a board with a track on it - only the track is much more complex. And then there's this bunch of plastic blocks - 5 for each player. And a big bunch of little plastic poker chips. And that, equipment-wise, is basically it.

But the game itself is far more than a race. It's a vendetta.

See, you roll a die and hope that eventually you land on a space with some chips on it. So you can get those chips. Which is cool. And then, once you get enough of them, you try to find the closest open path to one of the finish squares. So you can win. Except if anyone lands on you, that person gets your chips. Which means as soon as you have enough chips, suddenly you're everybody's meat, if you know what I mean. Oh, yes, people can also put their little plastic cubes in your way. And just when you're getting close to the goal, and around all those blocks, there's the possibility that someone will switch places with you and send you somewhere you really don't want to be. And then someone else might pounce on you. And then you can join everyone else trying to steal that guy's gold.

There's a lot more strategy than chance. Way more strategy than you need to keep the game interesting. And just enough chance to keep the game fun. The sudden shifts in fortune make winning unpredictable, and can keep the game going for an hour or more, even though you spent maybe ten minutes figuring out how to play it.

Catch 22 is an ingenious race and chase game, most Major FUN Award-worthy.



It happened almost as soon as we opened the box. Everybody brightened up, almost as if we knew that Malarky would prove to be just the kind of game we were looking for - easy to learn, fun, competitive, but just competitive enough to keep your attention. An intellectual game, but not so intellectual that you'd actually have to know anything. In other words, just the kind of game you'd want to bring to a party - or make a party out of.

My first exposure to anything Malarky-like was the parlor game called "Fictionary" - your basic bluffing game where the object is to be the one everyone thinks knows the "real" answer, even though you really made it up. Malarky isn't about word definitions, but rather about everyday life "factoids" like why laundry detergent boxes come in such odd weights.

But the real genius of the game is in the execution. You get this big deck of obscure but everyday factoid cards, as you'd expect. One player selects and reads the question, and everyone else has to think up an answer - again, as you'd expect. The problem that these games usually have is how to get from this point to the voting without enduring painful minutes of writing and deciphering. Normally, everyone writes something down. And then they pass their slips to the questioner, who also has to write the answer down. And then she has to read all the answers, one at a time, without fumbling or giving anything away. The designers of Malarky have come up with what they call "Concealing Folders." This simple device (a cardboard frame with a front and back cover) makes possible truly stunning acts of subterfuge and dissemblance. The reader puts the card in one of the folders, closes the folders, mixes them up, and then distributes the closed folders. Everyone takes turns, opening the folder and appearing to read the "real" answer. Of course, only one player actually has the question card.

This simple device, the cleverness of the questions, and the introduction of voting chips combine to create a game that takes an old parlor game to a new level - making Patch Product's Malarky a game that could only be called "Major FUN Award-worthy."


"Flash Mob" Plays Duck-Duck-Goose

This from the San Francisco Chronicle - "Anarchy rules! Flash mobs -- big, spontaneous crowds that celebrate organized chaos -- are fast growing around the world. Their mission: to have fun. Their message: There isn't one."

200 people form an instant game of Duck-Duck-Goose in San Francisco Dolores Park. Why? Because they wanted to.

All organized via weblog, email and word of mouth.

Their instructions:

-- At precisely 2:07 p.m., form giant standing circles, holding hands, on the main lawn.
-- Sit on the ground.
-- At precisely 2:09 p.m., something will happen. You will instantly know how to play along. Play until 2:17 p.m.

I've known about Flash Mobbing for a while, but this is the first report of people actually playing a game. Duck-Duck-Goose was a very important game for me personally - bringing me my first and biggest lesson about the "theater of games." So you can understand why this story caught my attention.

All of which is to point out that this Flash Mob fad is a legitimate new play form, worthy of the silliest of us. In case you haven't followed the evolution of this new Internet-spawned game-like event, click on over to a site called "Cheese Bikini?" (yup, that's what it's called, all right) and this more eponymously named site: "Flash Mob Info."

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Puzzle Games

No matter how clever the graphics or playful the imagery, a good, interactive puzzle is an intellectual challenge, requiring observation, experimentation and deductive reasoning. I just thought I'd say that in case you needed to justify the fun you'll be having solving the puzzles on the "Joker-Games website.

There are only a few puzzle games on this site, but they're good ones - unique, surprising, and not as easy as you might be led to believe (like any good puzzle). The two 3-D puzzles are my favorites - I guess because they're so, well, dimensional.

In the Maze of Rah (the game in the illustration), you use your cursor arrows to move a mummy ("Rah") from tile to tile. When the mummy steps off a tile, that tile flips over most deliciously. There's a path on the opposite side, which, of course (or is it "of curse"), goes the wrong direction. There are 100 different levels (though you'll need to pay $2.95 for a 30-day password to get beyond level 31). When you find yourself trapped (which, believe me, you will), you can just reselect that level again, or try any other of the available levels. Each level offers another virtual gizmo (a transporter, a flip-the-whole-board-over-and-walk-upside-down portal, rectangular tiles, impenetrable mini-pyramids...

The puzzles are each designed with care and intelligence. The "pay-to-play" model is fair and reasonable, and one of the best methods I've yet seen for funding an Internet site. Though Rah is my favorite, by far, the other puzzles are different enough to be well worth exploring. All in all, I say "Rah" for the Maze of Rah, and for this whole site.

Letters, play and art

Letterscapes is one of the more recent creations by computer graphic artist and scientist Peter Cho, graduate of MIT's Aesthetics + Computational Group. To appreciate his art, you have to play with it. Which, as far as I'm concerned, is the whole point. Click on the link (or the image) and you'll be transported into a spinning galaxy of letters. Click on a letter, and you find yourself clicking, pointing, dragging, trying to figure out just what you can make that letter do. Each letter is kind of a puzzle. You don't know what it will do until you interact with it. And then, as the letter dances and transforms before your eyes, you begin to discover the art of it.

There's an online portfolio of Cho's art for you to play in. One of my favorites is called "Type me, type me not." There's a link to a brief explanation of how it works, but it kind of spoils the fun of discovery.

Another play/artist who works in this genre is Major FUN Award-winning Jim Andrews. His Arteroids takes the play-art connection in a different direction, to produce an Asteroids-like game with words and letters accompanied by some definitely funny sounds.

This is a new, computer-unique art form. It is creating a new aesthetic that incorporates the viewer like no other art form before it. Whatever you call it, it's fun. And thereby a gift to us all.



If you know how to play rummy -any kind of rummy, actually - it'll take you maybe five minutes to learn how to play Target. And then you can spend the next hour or lifetime playing a unique and uniquely challenging card game.

The challenge comes from the special Target cards. These 28 cards each describe a different criterion for winning: three-in-sequence, three-in-sequence-and-of-the-same-suit, three-in-sequence-including-a-2, four-in-sequence-of-each-suit, two pair, four cards totaling 23... At the beginning of the game, five Target cards are drawn. Be the first to meld according to that particular criterion, take that Target card and earn those points. Add a new Target card. Remember that the old Target card no longer applies, so all those red 7s need to be seriously reconsidered. And don't forget the "combination meld" potential - you might have not only "three cards in sequence including a five" but also, a the very same time and with the very same meld, three red cards.

Since the Targets are continually changing during the game, the challenge of unlearning Targets is equal if not greater than the challenge of remembering the new ones. Consequently, you can take the game very seriously. It absorbs just about every part of your so-called rational mind. On the other hand, it's a card game, and there's a lot of luck, and really anyone can win, even the eight-year-old. Probably especially the eight-year-old.

It's rare to find a card game that is so much like other games, and yet so innovative. When it comes to family card games, Target is right on. For 2-4 people, 8 and older.

Hotel Whimsy

Next time you and Rover visit Chicago, you might consider bunking down together at the Hotel Monaco. And if Rover can't make it, and you just need some quiet, petlike companionship, you can always ask the concierge to borrow a goldfish for the night.

I found out about this wonderfully unorthodox, fun-focused establishment in an article titled "Have Fun at Work to Create Spirited Service Experience" by Ron Zemke of Performance Research Associates. He writes:

"In addition to the standard complement of food and drink options, the in-room mini-bars have a compliment of nifty little 'just because' items: wax lips, yo-yos, candy necklaces, hand buzzers, silly putty, and Etch-a-Sketch boards...Turn-down service is a surprise as well. One night there may be a Tootsie Roll on the pillow, the next a pack of Pixie Stix, and, if you're lucky, the occasional Illinois State lottery ticket."

Apparently, the sense of fun, and the commitment to making things moreso, is pervasive. "On Friday nights the fun is cranked up a notch -- usually following a theme of some sort. In December, Fridays were dubbed`Vintage Friday' and featured a huge toy chest of antique and retro toys of the '50s and '60s amassed by the every-ready concierge and rolled out for have-at-it guest entertainment."

There's a lot to be learned from a visit to the Monaco Chicago hotel, not the least of which is how a little fun, and a borrowed goldfish, can turn a hotel room into a home.

Virtual Bubblewrap

Aside from the light-weight, cushiony practicality of bubblewrap, there is one use that has captured the imagination of myriads, and of one particular web entrepreneur who put together the Virtual Bubblewrap website. That use? Bubblewrap popping. (I highly recommend trying the "Manic Mode.")

To further fire your real-world bubblewrap-popping imagination, scroll to the bottom of the Methods page for reader's recommendations. One of my favorites comes from Mike of Louisville: "If you want to FREAK people out, get a square of bubble wrap that can be rolled up and concealed in your hand. (The BIG bubbles work best) Pretend to pop your neck while crushing the bubbles. It works GREAT! Also works for backs, knees, etc., but the neck gets the biggest reactions. "

Here, courtesy of the site's developer, are a few of the most often employed bubblewrap popping strategies:

*Single-pop #1 - using thumb and index finger to squeeze individual bubbles.
*Single-pop #2 - using thumb and index finger and a "rolling" motion to squeeze the bubble to the side.
*Single-pop #3 - using any finger or object to smash a bubble against a surface such as a table.
*Multi-pop #1 - using less precision and popping many bubbles at once with fingers.
*Multi-pop #2 - crushing handfuls of bubbles in the fist.
*Multi-pop #3 - rolling and then "wringing" a sheet of Bubble Wrap.
*Multi-pop #4 - smashing (with fist or other object) many bubbles against a surface.
*Foot-Method - walking on, trampling, or stomping on the bubbles.
*Creative - any novel means of popping the bubbles, such as rolling in somersaults over them.

Operation Slaps

I found this image on a site for The Organisation of the Swiss Abroad's Youth Service. It's a picture of college-age kids playing a school-age game. On one hand, so to speak, they are clearly having fun. On the other, they are about to hit each other.

Psychologist Frank Froman finds the game redolent with diagnostic utility. In his article "Hit Me" (scroll towards the end of the page), Dr. Froman lists some of his observations. Here are a few:

* Kids who are depressed always lose. Most donít even want to play. When they get slapped, they don't respond much. They lose interest after 2-3 slaps, and don't even want to get even. They walk away looking downward.
* Kids who are aggressive/conduct-disordered love to play and play, and hit to inflict as much pain as possible. They often grunt or scream as they smack you. The look of satisfaction on their faces is palpable. After each kill, they smack harder and harder.
* Social phobics donít like the game and wonít play.
* Hysterics scream in pain when they've even been slightly hit. They always shout a perfect "OW!" quite loudly when they've even been lightly tapped.

What's weird about games like these is how much fun they are. Even though you get slapped or wind up hurting someone you might actually love. There's a certain silliness about them all, and a certain sense of safety. After all, it's only a slap on the hands.

And for those of you who want virtually immediate, and pain-free handslapping gratification, there's Operation Slaps to remind you of what you're missing, and why.


You know how we're always telling kids not to play with their food? Well, in case you forgot how much fun, and functional, a little constructive foodplay can be, take a look at the Octodog.

OK, so may be it's not as practical as, say, a melon-baller, but making an octopus out of a hot dog is so wonderfully silly that it can transform a simple meal into a celebration.

It's clearly a genuine kitchen tool. It's as functional as it is fun. The manufacturers correctly observe that "the hotdog is among the top ten items found in many lists concerning choking occurrences in young children. Pediatricians recommend slicing a hotdog linearly. The method of slicing a hotdog linearly can reduce the chances of choking during consumption. A sliced hotdog is a safer way to serve hotdogs to children." And, it's easier, and safer, than trying to do the same with a knife.

The fun-food connection is, of course, deeply etched into our cultural consciousness. Fast food chains are notorious for their endless efforts to make eating more fun. Special kids' meals packed in special kids' meal boxes containing special kids' toys. But the Octodog makes the food itself more inviting - an invitation that's as welcoming to adults as it is to kids.

Ice Golfing

Ice Golf? In Greenland? With glaciers and icebergs?

Apparently, yes.

In fact, according to the World Ice Golf Championship website, Ice Golf has been played, more or less, for centuries. "A painting by the Dutch painter Aert van der Neer (1603-1677)," explain the competition's promoters, "shows players with a club in their hands attempting to get a ball into a hole in the ice covering a frozen canal in Holland. At that time the game was called 'kolven'." It took centuries, however, and the entrepreneurial spirit of "Arne Neimann, a local resident and hotel proprietor on a small island called Uummannaq, off Greenland's North West coast" for the game to go "global."

What impresses me most about this rather extreme version of golf is that it is, in many ways, truer to the spirit of golf than the official sport has ever been. Golf has always been a game that connects us to the environment - even the highly manicured and artificial environment of a golf resort. But to build a course in the relative wilderness of the near arctic is not only a natural extension of golf, but also a celebration of our connection to nature itself. "The real architect of the course every year is the ocean," explains the site's author, "which interacts with the weather and the formation of icebergs in January and February to create an external framework for the course. The course itself is laid out in March on the fjord ice, close to the town a week prior to the actual championship. Its shape is determined largely by the positions of icebergs in the fjord."


Molecular Expressions

This is a photomicrograph of Ben and Jerry's Apple Pie Ice Cream. You can find it on a site called"Molecular Expressions."

Once again, the worlds of science and art come together in play - to reveal astonishing beauty and some downright silliness. Beginning with the silliness, naturally, take a look at the collection called "The Silicon Zoo." Here, the microscope is turned towards the computer. Apparently, there is a horde of "silicon creatures and other doodling scribbled onto integrated circuits by engineers when they were designing computer chip masks." In some ways, this is equivalent to Medieval architects hiding their signatures in the eaves of their buildings. In other ways, it's even more inspiring. Invisible, anonymous artistry, too tiny for anyone to appreciate without the aid of a microscope, giant advertisements of the persistence of playfulness.

There are purportedly thousands of images in the Gallery. There's even a Movie Gallery where you'll find "time-lapse digital image sequences that explore the effect of rotating polarization, sample rotation, and crystallization as it actually appears under the microscope." And it's all so lovely! So informative! So fun!

The Association for the Study of Play

It's called "The Association for the Study of Play." It's a "multidisciplinary organization" because the study of play impinges on "anthropology, education, psychology, sociology, recreation and leisure studies, history, folklore, dance, communication, the arts, kinesiology, philosophy, cultural studies, and musicology."

To get a better understanding of what these people are about, take a glance at the presentations and presenters from February's conference. Here are a few exemplary titles:

"A Serio-Ludic Rhetoric of Electronic Discourse," "Embodied Ethnography: Seeing, Feeling and Knowledge among Bodybuilders," "Children's Museums: Learning Through Play or Edutainment?" "Next Time, we are Going to Clean up Transcultural Participation in Aboriginal Sports at the Arctic Winter Games."

The diversity of interests, combined with the rigors of academic discipline, have led to the creation of a unique organization - one that, despite its history and heavily-credentialed officers, has been struggling, ever since its inception, to gain recognition and support. There's something about play that makes it almost impossible to take seriously. And yet, the stalwart members of this organization (of which I am a lifetime member) find a way to gather together every year to share their serious learnings and even more serious playfulness along with mass quantities of wine and cheese.

If you can't make it to next year's conference, TASP has produced a significant passel of publications reflecting both the spirit and the brilliance of its contributors. The most recent edition of TASP's "Play and Culture Studies" focuses on "Play and Educational Theory and Practice."


Print Games

Print Games - "click - print - play." That just about sums it up. You click and download an artistically designed .PDF file complete with pieces, board and instructions), you print (it definitely helps if you have a good color printer), and you play. Well, you also have to cut, and in some cases even fold. But it's a small price to pay to wind up with a new, fun board game. Speaking of small prices to pay, only a few of the games are actually free. For the rest, you do in deed need to pay a small price, maybe a few Euros.

These are bona fide board games. The instructions are generally easy to read. The pieces and board usually beautifully illustrated. But what makes this site of special interest is the whole idea that games can be invented, marketed, and even sold - without ever actually being manufactured. It's an invitation to game designers who are fed up with the difficulties of getting their work into the hands of the players they've designed them for. It's an invitation to game players who are equally fed up with the expense and difficulty of acquiring new board games.

Some games are only a few pages long. Some as many as 10. There aren't that many, but there's a good variety. With a little more visibility, Print Games could establish an exciting precedent for both publishers and players, providing inventors with far greater access to a wide and esoteric public, and players with an opportunity to find exactly the kind of game they're looking for - right on their own printers.


In answer to that never-asked-often-enough question "what happens when you weld 33.5 Slinkies together and hang the whole thing from elastic cords, here's Sliiiiiiiiiiiinky!

Artist/scientist/player Robin Whittle explains: "I created Sliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinky primarily to explore waves in the 0.5 to 5 Hz region - to be made by hand in three dimensions and to watch them travel along. However, before I built it, I also hatched a plan to mount nine piezo pickups along the spring, one for each pair of frame supports, and to have an amplifier and speaker at each leg. Then, impulse sounds and wind-generated vibrations would be audible in 9 glorious channels of sound."

You can listen to the Sliiiiiiiiiiiinky.

You can watch the Sliiiiiiiiiiiinky in motion.

You can marvel at the ingenuity of the design and observe the sheer delght it brings.

And yet, unless you understand fun, you'll never understand why.


"A FingerPark is a place where kids can bring their toys and imagination."

FingerParks are large, painted concrete toy tables. Large and nearly indestructible, they invite sharing and communication. There's a Water Finger Park for bath tub toys and a FingerPark for toy cars and even a Finger Park for finger skateboarders.

In most playgrounds, kids are invited, but not their toys. I'm sure there are good, adult reasons for this: concerns about loss and damage, and maybe worries about theft and envy and things to fight over, and maybe because no playground facility in its right mind wants to have to deal with toy storage and issues of equitable distribution. On the other hand, toys are so much a part of a child's life that excluding toys from public play spaces is, in a very real way, excluding part of the child.

Toys are wonderfully reliable vehicles for imagination and socialization. And as long as kids have toys, FingerParks, where they can play together with each other and each other's toys, give them a much-needed place where they can grow and develop their community.


Board Game Studies

Board Game Studies is " an academic journal for historical and systematic research on board games. Its object is to provide a forum for board games research from all academic disciplines in order to further our understanding of the development and distribution of board games within an interdisciplinary academic context. "

Board games? Studies? An academic journal?

Well, as a matter of fact, yes. For example, here, from Issue 3, a summary of Alex Kraaijeveld's article, Origin of chess - a phylogenetic perspective: "Board games are similar to biological species in that they can evolve and give rise to new forms. A field of biology, called phylogeny, has developed a body of evolutionary techniques to reconstruct the evolution of groups of animal or plant species. As these phylogenetic techniques have proved valuable tools in biology, an attempt is made to apply them to board games research, or more specific, to the question of the origin of chess. The validity of a phylogenetic reconstruction critically depends on getting the ancestral character states right. The evolution of a group of chess variants is reconstructed using 3 hypothetical ancestors: 2-sided Chaturanga, the 4-sided dice form Chaturaji and a form of proto-Xiangqi. Comparison of the evolutionary trees resulting from each of the three analyses with historical knowledge suggests that the ancestor of chess was more similar to Chaturanga than to Xiangqi." More similar to Chaturanga than to Xiangqi? Who knew?

Just about as academic as you can get, and yet it's about games! Academicians who have embraced the study of games are understandably among the few. And yet, games are as an important part of culture as religion. Even if you don't share their passion for research, you have to celebrate their largely unacknowledged contributions to the understanding of the human spirit.