The Dead Bug Funeral Kit

As anybody who's ever played Cowboys and Indians can tell you, death and dying are very much part of the fun. Of course, it's the pretending that keeps the game fun.

The Dead Bug Funeral Kit gives us a way to play with things like death and dying that aren't totally pretend. Like the death of a pet bug.

Clearly, the idea of having a pet bug, let alone burying one, is one that would occur only to the young and the chosen few. It's a bit silly. And paying $25 (plus shipping) for a Dead Bug Funeral Kit is therefore even sillier.

The kit takes itself very seriously, presenting the minor mourner with a "compleat" set of attractively tasteful funereal accoutrements: Buggy Book of Eulogies with Ribbon Bookmark, Casket, Grave Marker, White Clay Flower, Burial Scroll, and Pouch of Grass Seed - all packaged in a somberly suitable metal box.

It's this very completeness and attention to detail that makes the Dead Bug Funeral Kit so much fun - fun enough to let us play, in a hauntingly real way, with things as serious as death and grieving.

moovl

moovl is a product of the people who make the Major FUN Award-winning Soda Constructor (reviewed in this issue of the FunDay Times). Which might explain why it's such a fascinating, inviting, and playworthy drawing toy.

The big fascination comes from getting to draw things that: a) move and b) interact. I'm not sure which, a or b, contributes more to the fun. Having them both together, and being able to change the drawings, and how they move, and how they are influenced by the mysterious physics of gravity and friction and stiffness - each and all contribute to moving moovl funwards.

In the words of the Soda people themselves: "Moovl imbues freehand-drawings with life-like simulated dynamics and programmable behaviours. This dynamic transformation places drawing in a highly motivating self-directed feedback process of cause and effect, experiment and discovery."

In other words: moovl is fun. Like I said, it's: "a fascinating, inviting, and playworthy drawing toy." Online. Advertisement free.

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Human Pacman

It's a project of the Mixed Reality Lab of the National University of Singapore. It's called "Human Pac Man." And, by golly, Human Pac Man it is: complete with back pack computers, VR gloves and goggles!

There's something even more than wonderful about this - this extraordinarily high-tech research dedicated to the pursuit of a living Pacman game. I quote: "Permeation of technology into everyday life is made easier when the human experience it creates is made associable with day-to-day encounters. Human Pacman, based on the popular arcade Pacman from the 1980s, is a novel and entertaining game which seeks to bring about such association through stimulating multiple human senses and perception. It is a real-world-physical, social, and wide area mobile entertainment system that is built upon the concepts of ubiquitous computing, tangible human-computer interaction, and wide-area entertainment networks. Human Pacman is pioneering a new form of gaming that anchors on physicality, mobility, social interaction, and ubiquitous computing."

Ah, so it's not just for fun. I see. Research. Exploring the outer fringes of Human/Computer Interface. Yeah. That's what it is. Not just fun. An investigation in how to create more.

Puzzles, Art, and Interactivity

Samorost is a fun example of what one might call "Interactive Puzzles." After an introductory animation (during which you can't do anything other than watch), you find yourself in a strange world. Clicking on different things make different other things happen. Eventually, you discover that if you click on the right things, the "hero" manages to escape that world into another. It's essentially a kind of puzzle. The only way to solve it is through trial, error, and careful observation.

In a way, this has been true of almost every videogame you can think of. From Space Invaders to Myst.

I've been writing about an emerging form of web-based Interactive Art, as represented by the work of people like poet Jim Andrews and the artist Stanza." Here, the art can only be experienced by interacting with it. Not just viewing it, but actually playing with it.

I found a paper written on this subject almost ten years ago, called "The History of the Interface in Interactive Art." Though technology has progressed far beyond that described in the paper, it presents some powerful insights about this art/play form, not only as it appears on the web, but also as it permeates our museums.

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Ten Days in Africa

Ten Days in Africa is an innovative game of strategy and luck for 2-4 players. Definitely strategic, with enough luck to keep the game surprisingly fun.

Like Hasbro's RackO, the object is to put ten randomly selected cards into some sort of sequence. You fill the wooden card holders with cards one at a time. Once a card is placed, it can't be moved - only exchanged with a card from the deck or one of three discard piles. Unlike RackO, the sequence is topological, rather than numerical. A win depicts a path, by foot, car, and/or plane, that leads from country to country to country, spanning all ten cards.

At first, we found ourselves thinking more than we really had to, so playing time for the four of us was more than an hour. The rules are a paragon of brevity and elegance, but it took a while to gain a proper appreciation for the geopolitical innuendos of the African continent. And it took another while to understand the implications of the different modes of travel. Or the significance of the three, face-up discard piles and the strategic covering up or revealing of the cards thereupon.

It's a learning that is easily curved by playing. Just make the first game not count. Consider it an opportunity to play with a set of wonderfully thick little cards that fit everso handsomely into their wooden card holders; a chance to get a bit more familiar with the geopolitics of Africa; a learning experience. A learning-geography-like learning experience, as a matter of fact. As a matter of fact, the most fun I've ever had learning geography. Even though the map could have really been a map of anywhere. In fact, maybe precisely because the map could have been a map of everywhere. Which probably explains why you might also consider buying Ten Days in the USA, or, for that matter, Ten Days Almost Anywhere - the Paris Metro, perhaps? Downtown Kabul?

As we were finishing the first round of the game, one veteran Games Taster said: "let's remember this experience. It's a benchmark for the kind of excellence the Major FUN Award represents."

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The History of Eating Utensils

Sometimes, an historical perspective can reveal the sense of play inherent in even the most commonplace objects. Such is the case in a collection called "The History of Eating Utensils." Seeing how a simple object like a spoon has evolved over time, and from culture to culture, reveals the play between fun and function. Apparently, spoons have been made of shell and wood, gold, silver, and pewter), ivory, bone, horn, pottery, porcelain, and crystal. And the shape has varied as much as the material.

I found the collection of Portable Eating Utensils the most fun, because it expanded my understanding of what an eating utensil can be.

The collection, known as the "Riez Food Technology Collection," is housed at the Anthropology Department at the California Academy of Sciences.


"The Anthropology Department at the California Academy of Sciences houses the Rietz Food Technology Collection. Containing approximately 1,300 items, this collection was assembled by Carl Austin Rietz, an inventor and businessman in the food industry...The variety of forms displayed by many items in the Rietz Collection document the history and evolution of such common utensils as forks, knives, spoons, and chopsticks."

Paper Plate Origami

Paper Plate Origami - the whole notion sounds a little, well, silly. I guess because anything made out of paper plates has a certain silly ambiance to it. Paper plates, after all, are, well, not the stuff of art as we know it. At least, not until we discover the work and passion of mathematician Bradford Hansen-Smith, whose site, called "Wholemovement," is called Wholemovement because, as Hansen-Smith explains, "... is the comprehensive understanding of the word geometry. Geometry is defined as earth measure, the measure of things of the earth. Geo means earth. The earth is spherical. The sphere is the only form we know that is inherently Whole. Measure is about movement. Wholemovement is the movement of the whole to itself."

This is deep stuff. It is also beautiful. And, most importantly, it is a gateway to yet more fun. Though Hansen-Smith doesn't use the "F" word (fun), a casual click through his gallery reveals his deepest secret. Making all these amazing shapes out of paper plates is, despite the claims of geometric significance, great fun.

I especially enjoyed his introduction to his links section, in which he reveals both his fascination with and his enjoyment of all things geometrical:

"...And so it is with geometry; the movement of pushing and pulling, stretching, compressing , loud and soft, density and openness, folding into to and out of spatial arrangements and proportional relationships gives meaning that reveals value. In the movement from one model to another is where we find understanding. "

The Museum of Burnt Food

The Museum of Burnt Food is, as advertised, a museum of food that has been, well, burnt. I quote:

"The muse of the culinarily overzealous, food suffers silently throughout the most rigorous ministrations. This exhibit dramatically illustrates the extent to which food must suffer for our art. One look at the size of the toast AFTER it has undergone its MBF transformation shows just how much the toast itself has put into that most awesome metamorphosis. Let's hear it for the effort of the art itself, not just the artist!"

Also displayed in this most significantly burnt collection: quiche, an orange, a potato, pizza toast, soy hot dogs, a lemon, a tomato, apple cider residue in a frying pan, a bagel, a plastic tumbler (not food, but clearly food-related) and a shrimp-kebab.

Reading on, we learn that: "Deborah Henson-Conant is the curator of (and founder and primary contributor to) the Burnt Food Museum. The museum is housed in Arlington, Massachusetts, but is temporarily closed due to fire damage."

Yes, yes, it is another website to be filed under irreconcilablee Silliness," yet at the same time it documents what a gift playfulness is in that it can so successfully transform the somewhat tragic into the genuinely comic.

Business Card Cubes

In answer to the question "what can I do with old business cards," artist and blogger Ned Batchelder has arrived at a most constructive response: "make cubes out of them."

It turns out that with six business cards, five minutes, and some significant dexterity, you can actually make something satisfactorily cube-like. You can also attach two cubes together, to which you can attach yet more cubes. And, should you manage to collect 66,048 business cards (you might need to make this a staff project), you can make a Depth 3 Menger's Sponge. Batchelder explains: "The depth 0 sponge is a single business card cube. When made from standard American business cards, it measures 2" x 2" x 2". The depth 1 sponge measures 6" x 6" x 6", the depth 2 sponge measures 18" x 18" x 18", and the depth 3 sponge measures 54" x 54" x 54", or 4.5 feet or 1.37 meters on a side... By the way, a level 4 sponge would require almost a million cards and weigh over a ton. I do not believe it could support its own weight. So level 3 is the biggest sponge we can hope to build."

Bless you, Ned Batchelder. Your playfulness and passion for the non-essential makes the world a better place.

Cat Dancing

The World of Dancing Cats is actually quite serious about the whole dancing-with-cats thing.

In An Exhibition of Cat Dance Photographs, one of the exhibitors, Judith Pettimond-Smith, writes:

"Toytee likes to balance on my arm or shoulder when we dance together and instead of me leading, I try to let her movements dictate the action. After we have danced about for a while she'll turn to me in such a way that I know she's sharing the experience with me. It is a really wonderful moment. It is the unity of Toytee's purpose with mine, the blending of her pleasure with my pleasure that creates a vital emotional bond between us and allows us to work together. And her interest becomes more outward directed, concentrated and trusting. It is her trust that is so special."

I know. I know. It's hard to take this seriously. Which may, perhaps, be part of the charm of this whole Cat Dancing thing. On the other hand, it's undeniable evidence that those who are playful enough can transcend even the boundaries of species, and find genuine delight. Perhaps, for the good of our fun-loving souls, we should all consider enrolling in a Feline Dance Class.

Virtual Word Games

Fowl Words is, as advertised, a word game. The Fowl part? Letter-laying chickens.

It's one of those "how many words can you make from these letters" games. Each chicken is a letter. Above the chickens is an egg crate. Every time you click on a chicken, it clucks. When you complete a word and press "Enter," the word goes into its position in the crate.

Even at the beginning level, you've got a big crate to fill. But it's the chickens (and the timer) that keep you going. They're so darn ridiculous.

Compared to other word games, like my recently reviewed Word Find game Letter Lasso and much-praised, Boggle-like Bookworm, Fowl Words is far less innovative. It doesn't add a new play principle. But the sheer silliness of those clucking chickens, along with the ease and functionality of the interface, is really all it takes to make it into a valuable addition to our collection of virtual word games.

One final observation: unlike many interactive computer games, virtual word games invite participation from observers as well as mousers. This makes them a wonderful resource for group play. Even though only one person is actually doing the clicking, everyone can join in the clucking.

Pleyeeng Veet Lungooege-a

What Muppet watcher hasn't fallen in love with the Swedish Chef? And who can explain why? The Swedish Chef is barely comprehensible. In stead of making food, he makes a mess.

This site doesn't attempt to explain the inexplicable. Rather, it brings us some wonderful pictures, film clips, movies, and, best of all, the ENCHEFENIZER - an English to Chefish translator - which I used to produce the following piece of conclusive wisdom:

"Zee foon ooff zee Svedeesh Cheff cumes frum zee fect thet ve-a elmust understund heem, und thet ve-a cun elmust ectooelly fulloo hees receepes. Burdereeng oon nunsense-a, ve-a redeescufer zee juys ooff mekeeng sense-a.
Bork Bork Bork!"

One last Borkish thing about this site - it's from the Netherlands. Which comes about as close to Sweden as it does to making sense.

Fun with your DVDs

Ever since the early days of Atari, there's been a tradition known as "Easter Eggs" - almost completely hidden surprises, requiring some unanticipated combination of clicks and presses, known only to the programmers and the select few. The very first Easter Egg was created by Warren Robinett for the Atari game Adventure. In protest against Atari's policy of not including author's names in their games, Warren included a hidden message (with complimentary graphic glories) deep in the game.

Though game companies have become much more reasonable about crediting those who deserve credit, the Easter Egg tradition has continued. In fact, it has branched out to include not only videogames, but also to the PC, the Palm and even the DVD.

The Easter Egg Archive lists over 6500 Easter Eggs to be found in software, movies, TV, books and even art (e.g. - did you know that in every Dali painting there's a portrait of the artist?). DVD Easter Eggslists more than 1400 Eggs.

Easter Eggs are an important funomenon, not only because they give artists a way to lay claim to their property, or because they provide an extra level of interest for the people who own their products, but also because they catalyze community. Next best thing to discovering a new Easter Egg is being able to tell everyone about it.

Celebriducks

What would happen, one wonders, if Shakespeare were to come back as a rubber ducky. Well, thanks to Celebriducks, one need wonder no more.

In all one's earnest search for fun, it's often with both deep relief and wide merriment that one rediscovers the fun-raising power of the ridiculous. Here, we have a truly exemplary example: the rubber ducky bust. Sculpt anyone's image onto the body of a rubber ducky, and create what could only be seen as a true object du wacky - something clearly not intended to be taken seriously.

The Shakespeare ducky is only one of many truly inspired ducky busts. There are many sports duckies, there are entertainment duckies including all three Stooges, a Santa Claus ducky, a Mona Lisa Ducky. Other ducky selections include Osbournes, KISS, James Brown, college mascots, NBA, MLB and NHL stars, et cetera and so forth and ongoingly, to over 100 selections.

Their order pages are worth visiting. Most are chock full of relevant, but useless information (I don't know if you've ever tried to fill a infochock, but, believe me it's a lot of info), reflecting the developers' art of taking the ridiculous seriously. Laugh you may. But rest assured, these are quality duckies. They float and they stay upright!

"Most rubber ducks have a hole in the bottom which allows water in so the ducks never float correctly not to mention they are not sanitary. We seal up the bottom of every Celebriduck and actually put in an internal squeaker - itís costly, but it makes for a much better product. Many rubber ducks on the market do not float correctly and lean or float on their sides. You can drop a Celebriduck off a bridge and it will pop upright." (see their newsletter for more about the upright floatingness of these most ducky duckies.

HoverDisc

HoverDisc is a 3-foot wide, inflatable (with air, or, better yet, helium!) Frisbee-like thing.

I quote: "The amazing HoverDisc flies like nothing else! Flip it, throw it, spin it -- the HoverDisc floats, hovers and defies gravity. Toss it, roll it, bounce it off a wall -- invent your own tricks and games! The HoverDisc inflates to an enormous 3 feet in diameter! Just fill it with air or helium and you're ready to go!"

I owe this discovery entirely to a fellow named Dan 'Stork' Roddick, the first, full-time proponent of Wham-O's International Frisbee Association (click this link to view page one of the first issue of the IFA newsletter) and Executive Director of the World Flying Disc Federation. When Dan, a remarkably playful and scholarly professor of social science, made his entrance into my home, he came in HoverDisc first. For the next ten minutes, nothing more needed to be said. We tapped it, floated it, bounced it to and fro, from wall to wall, room to room. The delight was sheer.

When we finally spoke to each other, the first words out of my mouth were "let's take this to the beach." But the wise and informed Dan helped me understand that the HoverDisc is actually an indoor toy. Or perhaps a sheltered, backyard toy. But not a toy to trust to the blustery whims of ocean breezes.

It might take some time to discover all the things you can make a HoverDisc do: bounce off walls, skim the ceiling, roll, spin. But it's time well-wasted. These are the kinds of toys that joy is made of - big, safe, floaty things that are sturdy enough to be thrown hard against a wall, ever so easy to catch, and dreamlike in their movement - offering child and adult alike an invitation to delight.

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Hollywood is Calling

Imagine getting a call from Kato" Kaelin himself. Just to wish you happy birthday. No, it's not a recording. It's really Kato himself. And, well, yes, Kato's calling you because someone paid him to. After all, he is a celebrity. Nevertheless, it's Kato. And for the entire three minutes of the call, he's live and real and talking to, of all people, you!

Click on over to "Hollywood is Calling." For $19.95, you'll get a choice of "B-List" celebrities, and occasions. Each celebrity has an occasion-worthy script (birthday, Christmas, "just to say hi"), but they also improvise as needed. After all, they are still human. And they do know how to keep their end up, so to speak, in a human conversation. Or, for a mere $29.95, you can write your own script. (I'm sure the extra cost goes to pay for rehearsal time.)

I love this idea. It's so silly. And yet, it's really a wonderful gift for almost anyone you can think of. Because, in this very Hollywood-driven culture of ours (ask me who my Governor-elect is), an actual, personal, live contact, even with someone who is only somewhat famous, and is paid to talk with you, is somewhat close to a religious experience.

A couple suggestions: 1) select a star your gift-recipient will know, 2) warn her to expect the call. Tom, my son-in-law, got a call from the Incredible Hulk himself. He spent two-and-a-half of his three minutes trying to decide whether it was a joke or hang up or drool in star-struck ecstasy.

Erich Friedman Likes to Play

Erich Friedman is an Associate Professor of Mathematics and ex-Chair of the Math and Computer Science Department at Stetson University. Erich likes to play.

For example, take his page called: "What's Special About this Number." Though you may not be that amused to learn that "0 is the additive identity" whilst "1 is the multiplicative identity;" though you may be somewhat puzzled to learn that "6 is the smallest perfect number" and "12 is the smallest abundant number;" by the time you find out that "5986 and its prime factors contain every digit from 1-9 exactly once," you'll definitely get it. We're talking delight here. Delight in numbers, yes, but delight, nevertheless. The kind of delight that comes from a deep sense of fun and wonder, from passion and commitment and total involvement.

Erich's sense of fun is further demonstrated in his lighter-hearted, but still delight-worthy collection of puzzles - Dot Puzzles, Battleship Puzzles, Path Puzzles, Number Puzzles - puzzles that invite you to share Erich's delight in abstract reasoning.

This is the kind of play that is truly educational. You learn, but that's not the point. The point is play. Curiosity. Mystery. Wonder. Sheer fun.

Curious Joys

Because of the intrepid research of Rob Cockerham and staff, authors of the "How Much is Inside website, we can now, with smug assurance, tell each other that a 2-pound bag of popping corn will yield 7/34 gallons of popcorn.

Yes, yes, of course, you say, but do they know how long a pair of "D" cell batteries will last? Well, as a matter of fact, they do. As do they know how many cups of coffee you can get from a pound of coffee beans. Or, for that matter, how much of an Oreo cookie is cream and how much cookie?

What is everywhere evident in this site is how much fun Rob and his cohorts are having - merely for the sake of indulging their own curiosity. And, of course, thinking about how it will help us indulge ours.

Each investigation is carefully illustrated, documenting the humor as well as thoroughness of their scientific explorations. Each is an invitation to the reader to do the same. Indulging our collective curiosity is its own play form - one that can bring a family or community together for an evening of informative, scientific, and yet truly meaningless fun.

Butterfly Alphabet

The Butterfly Alphabet is composed of letter shapes found on butterfly wings. Created by nature photographer Kjell B. Sandved, the story goes something like this:

"This most extraordinary discovery began in the attic of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. Kjell ('Shell') was balancing high on a ladder, surrounded by drawers and boxes full of exotic butterflies. When he opened an aromatic old Havana cigar box, there it was woven into the tapestry of a wing: a silvery, gleaming letter 'F.'

"'I looked under the microscope at this miniature design,' Kjell recalls, 'and marveled at the scales in soft pastel and sparkling silver. Not even a calligrapher could have improved on its beauty. It reminded me of how the ancient scribes lovingly embellished letters in bibles and illuminated manuscripts with human and animal forms.'"

24 years later he had gathered enough photographs to complete the butterfly alphabet.

Here, from Smithsonian Secretery Emeritus, Robert McC. Adams, is a pivotal insight about Kjell's work: "There's one trait that characterizes our Smithsonian that can't be photographed or printed in a brochure, or placed in a display case. It's that wondrous human characteristic we call enthusiasm. People whose enthusiasm is wonderfully contagious, Smithsonian people like naturalist photographer Kjell Sandved."

And that very wonderful characteristic that Adams calls enthusiasm can only spring from a heart devoted to that which we call "fun."

The ORIGINAL Illustrated Catalog Of ACME Products

Now online, for your amusement and enlightenment, it's The ORIGINAL Illustrated Catalog Of ACME Products". You know, the same ACME people who supply the Road Runner with all his wonderful, semi-functional gadgets.

"ACME is a worldwide leader of many manufactured goods. From its humble beginnings providing corks and flypaper to bug collectors ("Buddy's Bug Hunt/1935") to its heyday in the American Southwest supplying a certain coyote, from Ultimatum Dispatchers to Batman outfits, ACME has set the standard for excellence. For the first time ever, information and pictures of all ACME products, specialty divisions, and services featured in Warner Bros. cartoons (made by the original studio from 1935 to 1964) are gathered here, in one convenient catalog."

There's something poignantly fun and semi heroic about these gadgets. They are genuine embodiments of the play-creativity connection, revealing something fundamental about ourselves and our search for technology-based salvation. They are ingenious. Filled with promise. And yet, in our heart of hearts, the thing that really makes them fun is the suspicion that Wiley Coyote actually knows that they really won't work.