"Sandlot Summer"

This image from the Streetplay photo library captures the spirit of Sandlot Baseball even better than pictures of kids in uniforms playing on a baseball diamond. What prompted me to share this photo was an email from a friend quoting this article in Sunday's New York Times Magazine (free registration is required if you want to view this article).

And so, I quote:
The baseball clinic last summer resembled, by design, the casual off-hours scrimmaging of Lee and his pals, combined with favorite drills and exercises from their own childhood sports clinics and Little League. Hooked into the pure fun of the game -- throwing and catching a ball, swinging a bat and loping across a green field yelling ''Mine, mine, mine'' -- they pulled the younger players in after them.

What the little kids did care about was not striking out. So no one ever struck out. The rule was, You swing until you hit something. You could fly out; you could get tagged out. But there is no humiliation in flying out or getting tagged out. At the end of one game, I heard a boy yelling all the way up the hill as he ran to meet his dad, ''I hit a home run!'' Had he? I thought. It didn't ring a bell. Then I realized, He had. He had swung at so many pitches I had lost interest and was reading my book, but he finally connected with the ball. I watched him join his dad and head for the car, with the trace of a swagger.

I Googled my way to this article, where, by chance, I found the following:
The contrast between today’s suffocated, cocooned pre-teens and children of that long gone day is enormous. Today’s kids are micromanaged by parents, by schools, by youth coaches, scout leaders, tutors. The children of that earlier time were allowed an unbelievable amount of personal freedom including freedom of association (choosing friends and making enemies), freedom to play without adult supervision, freedom to be alone, and freedom to entertain oneself turning any everyday object into a toy.

You know, no matter how many times I write and talk about those disappearing things like recess and unsupervised play, it's still hard for me to accept how much things have changed for kids. And even harder to believe that stories like these, about adults letting kids play their own way to their own personal truths, have become so poignant and so rare.

Subbuteo - Fantasy Flicking

I just can't stop thinking about Subbuteo. Subbuteo. Subbuteo. With these cool accurate miniature punching baglike players that you flick, that's correct, flick. Into the ball and/or into the opposing accurately-rendered, punching-baglike players. I mean, it's so cool. It kinda concentrates all your athleticism into your finger tip. And, boy, can you get good at it! And I don't mean just physically. But just like a real soccer player, you can get strategic, if you know what I mean, because, unlike the games it mirrors, we each get our own turn, unhindered. As if we were playing some sort of billiards. Billiards, you say? Indeed.

Do you have a Subbuteo set? Is there at least one Subbuteo-bound person on your Ch(anuka)/(ristmus) list? If not, it's not too late for a gift certificate from perhaps Subbuteo World.

The origins of Subbuteo? According to the Worthing Fivestar Table football league: "In the 1920s a Liverpudlian called William Keeling invented a game aimed at young boys called 'New Footy'. This consisted of flat, cut out cardboard figures which were mounted in hemispherical bases. The aim of the game was to use these players to flick a plastic ball into a goal. The game rolled along for many years, without any serious competitors - until shortly after World War 2.

"Subbuteo Table Soccer game was launched in 1947 by Peter Adolph to compete with New Footy - it was an instant success. In 1947 materials of all kinds were were in short supply and the original 'Assembly' set consisted of two cardboard teams, one celluloid ball and metal framed goals with paper netting. You will, no doubt, have realised that a playing pitch was not included. The instructions, however, advised the recipient of this early subbuteo game to '.....mark your pitch (chalk provided) on an ex-army blanket'..... and thousands did just that.

"But why Subbuteo? Hardly a name that was easy on the tongue, or relevant to football. Originally, the intention was to call the game 'The Hobby' but this could not get registered. However, the Latin for the bird of that name is Falco Subbuteo ..... hence 'Subbuteo'."

And hence, indeed, Subbuteo. Imagine going back to those days of paper netting and cardboard teams. Imagine your very own Subbuteo set - with milk bottle top bases. It is Junkyard Soccer at its finest. At your very fingertips.

The Rolled up Blueprint / Pantyhose / Sock / Water bottle Junkyard Golf Club

During the now infamous "Leaping Lizards Family Fun Fest," someone created the golf club depicted above. To date, it is the most elaborate and successful Junkyard Golf club ever manufactured. The near horizontal water bottle is close to perfectly positioned. It is strong enough to deliver a significant motivational force. And hitting a golf ball of any manufacture (paper or plastic) results in such a soul satisfying sound (something like "plock," I believe), that one almost doesn't care where one's ball goes. It is clearly a foreshadowing of golf-like clubs and miniature-golf-obstacle-like apparatus yet to be built. A guantlet, as it were, thrown in the conceptual face of future Junkyard Golf inventors and players. From its vantage point, the destiny of Junkyard Golf is vivid. "Fore," I say. "Fore, indeed!"

The Sack Circle

Insofar as it is a ring made out of a plastic grocery sack, we're calling it the Sack Circle. Invented by field researcher Elyon, my son the doctor, DeKoven, the grocery store plastic Sack Ring brings a new source of games for junkyard sporting. Granted, ring-based sports are a bit, shall we say, obscure. Yet, for the Quoits fanatics amongst us, the Sack Circle is a veritable boon.

We anticipate that the Sack Circle will find equal if not more enthusiastic welcome by those who enjoy the occasional Ring Toss, at home or at county fairs or in the local, traditional, 18th century English pub. Not to mention Ultimate Scooter owners, hoping someday to experience a game of Ultimate Ring Toss.

Elyon and I, in exploring yet further implications of the entire Sack Circle phenomenon-to-be, fell into something like a chasm of joy upon discovering how easy it was to pass the Sack Circle from hand to hand, no matter who's hand we were passing to. It reminded me a bit of the Victorian child's holiday game of Hunt the Ring, don't you know. But what made us laugh so hard was imagining what it'd be like playing this in a crowd - you know, people milling around, shaking hands, passing the ring. The very stuff of another totally pointless game!

YellowArrow in Miami

I received a message from YellowArrow, about which I wrote previously. I was stirred to quote:
This is a shout out for YellowArrow archers everywhere to have your message heard and your images seen at Art Basel Miami Beach!

As the crème-de-la-crème of the art world descends on Miami Beach for the Art Basel festival, the YellowArrow will be greeting this global art elite at every corner as the public art project that sweeps the show. Projections will roam the city's streets showcasing all the arrows placed by people around the world, stickers will be placed smartly on every beckoning surface, big lightbox versions of the YellowArrow will be installed throughout the city. And we are going to do a video installation on a large public wall on Saturday, Dec. 4 in the Design District, highlighting arrows placed by people in Miami and around the world leading up to the Art Baselfestival.

We are reaching out to people throughout the world, inviting everyone to place arrows that can be seen in this video by everybody in Miami. All images and texts uploaded before Dec. 1 will be included in the show. The video will also be showcased on the web during the festival as well as become a DVD that can be shown locally wherever there is interest.


I tried the video. It made the whole event - the act and the art - wonderfully clear. I found it reassuring to learn that the YellowArrow project is still very much in play.

And, for the bloggers amongst us, he also writes:
We've just added a new element to the site that I'm hoping you will be interested in experimenting with -- we now have RSS feeds that allow you to subscribe to the most recent arrows placed in a certain city, by a certain person, or any combination of the two in a newsreader or to integrate into a website (eg, add a feed of your arrows to your blog, or add a feed of all the arrows in Boston to a site about public art in Boston).


Hmmm. How's he do that?

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The Waterball and the Lust for Junk

"The Waterball is easy to use, just blow it up , open up the zipper, the rider enters inside, close the zipper and re-inflate the "WATERBALL again to full capacity. And your off water walking !"

See, there's this other, not often discussed, and not necessarily environmentally-correct form of junk collection, called "buying."

You read about the Waterball, Danceball, Bimboball, and you can barely restrain yourself from envisioning a game of giant, floating, human controlled marbles, for example, in which each player is Waterball encased. Played in the ocean, maybe, in, of course, 15 minute intervals so players can unzip and breathe.

It's not your fault, you know. The lust for playworthy junk is a financially debilitating response common to all Junkmasters.

The only solution I can think of is to: 1) acknowledge the futility of resistance, 2) form a Junkmasters Cooperative, 3) collect dues, 4) go ahead and order that giant inflatable banana.

Information, Culture, Policy, Education, and FUN

Bryan Alexander is my friend. I met him on Howard Rheingold's virtual community Brainstorms. Well. as a matter of fact, I never met him. Not physically. But spiritually we are brothers in play and in the joy of thinking about play. It is one more example of the strength of community that can be built via cyberspace. All of which should cast some light on why today's Blog is about him and his Infocult weblog.

Bryan and I share a minority perspective about games. We think of them not only as entertainments but also as an expression of culture and as a vehicle for learning. I am especially fascinated by games of the flesh, as it were, and what is conveyed thereby. How, for example, old a game like tag is, and how variations get developed and disseminated, and what kinds of relationships those variations describe, and what people learn by enacting those relationships. I call this the "Dramaturgy" of games. Bryan is fascinated by virtual playthings. Puzzle-adventures like "Treasure Box" and "Quest for the Rest" - interactive works of art and play that reflect the reality of fantasy, expressing, for all the fun of it, the unique vision of the artists. Bryan's website and work constantly reflects how the newest and funnest of technologies can be put to the service of students. As I hope to impact physical education and recreation - bringing it back to play - Bryan hopes to affect college education. And though our success may have not yet been actually noticed, we are managing to increase the possibility for things to be more fun, in many slight, but profound ways.

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Stringball

The following is an idea from the folks at the Halfbakery, "a communal database of original, fictitious inventions, edited by its users. It was created by people who like to speculate, both as a form of satire and as a form of creative expression." So, this should give you some idea about what to expect - creativity combined with unfettered wackiness and irreverence.

Someone called "ldischler" came up with this half-baked idea: "Stringball resembles soccer, except the ball is one meter in diameter, and is very heavy, being solid string. One end is tied to a peg, and as the game progresses, the stringball unwinds. As it slowly shrinks, the game goes faster and faster until no more ball."

And here are the first three contributions from a virtual plethora of playful personae:

Perhaps there could be an additional player for each team whose job it is to 'peg down' the string. One player per side; the new peg can only be added between the ball itself and the last peg to be placed. Obviously, either "pegger" would be vulnerable to body-checking when not in the act of pegging the string. Suddenly, this game begins to sound like Quidditch.
Trout, Nov 08 2004


Count me in, I wanna play too.....do we have to kick the ball, or could we have a hockey-style stick with a razor blade on it? When the string is cut, you are penalized, the string is restaked at that point and play begins anew. I think shin guards might be a good idea too.....
normzone, Nov 08 2004

"...and certain lengths of the string could be elastic for added boingy."
"If the string breaks while in play the team having had possession at the time of the break loses points or" an eye....
Cubical_View, Nov 09 2004

Enough said. Add large balls of string, yarn, and rubber bands to your Junkmasters' toolkit. And then read the entire halfbaked sports collection.

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Homemade percussion

Homemade percussion tells you, for example, how to make musical instruments from, for example, a colander, and other miscellaneous household bowls, or perhaps water jugs. Seriously. Instruments, made out of those water-fountain-size water bottles, that you can make music with. Really. Real music. As evidenced by Water Ritual 6" (see this for more.)

It's only after you've had all the fun of inventing a junkyard sport that you're ready for the fun of playing it. Really ready. Because it's your game, don't you know. And I think it's the same thing with homemade instruments. You make them. And what you play on them is somehow in some way uniquely and entirely yours. So you want to make them better. Same thing with a junkyard sport. The more fun it proves to be, the more time and care people take in creating it again. After a while, it all tends to get very, well, exotic. Like the Ceramic/fishskin Hibachi drum, for example, and the group Boomwhacker.

Homemade percussion is but a section of the Rhythmweb. Stu explains: "From the Mid-East to Australia, and from South Africa to Europe to New Orleans to Brazil to Papua, New Guinea, musicians are connecting. Truly, rhythm is a universal language, love of music a universal love...Our mission is to further the use of rhythm, music, and percussion & related arts as a healing tool." The result: a resonantly rich resource.


Thanks for the find J-Walk

Play Money

Julian Dibbell's "primary source of income is the sale of imaginary goods." He is also a deep thinker and widely-read cyberculture pundit.

In this article from his weblog, he shares some thoughtworthy insights about the evolution of the play-money connection:

"I began my involvement with Ultima Online as a player, and I took up this enterprise wondering if it might not lead me to an El Dorado I have looked for all my adult life: a place where work is play.

"It didn't, of course. Not exactly. It took work to make Play Money, and the work was hard, and more to the point, the work did not fit any definition of play handed down to us by tradition. It was not simply a diversion from the path of life; it was the path itself, for a time, and just as fraught with existential care as that path ever is.

"The funny thing is, though, that more and more nowadays this curious confusion of entertainment and existence is the definition of play. The games we choose for our amusement are becoming so complex, so involving, that the line between gameplay and career, between gameworld and society, begins to blur. In the course of this project, I met many players of UO who were just as much laborers in the UO economy, even if they wouldn't have said so themselves. I also encountered ethical dilemmas, questions of economic justice even, that would never have troubled me as they did if the economy in question were merely a game.

"What this says about the culture we are building, and about the strange promise of the technologies that increasingly shape that culture, I'm not quite certain. But you can rest assured that if the book Play Money ever gets written, these will be its central questions."

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Hopscotch. The Game.

Hopscotch. The game. You remember. But how far back? On this fascinating, historically accurate, folklorishly relevant webpage, Dagonell the Juggler informs us that "Hopscotch began in ancient Britain during the early Roman Empire. The original hopscotch courts were over 100 feet long and used for military training exercises. Roman foot-soldiers ran the course in full armor and field packs to improve their footwork, much the same way modern football players run through rows of truck tires today." Hopscotch? That girls' game?

John Cech tells us that at one time hopscotch "ultimately reflected the journey of the human soul from the world into heaven -- heaven (or as it is sometimes called, Sky Blue) literally being that final resting place that you get to at the end of all the hopping. Interestingly enough, it's that place where you get to turn around before coming back down to earth again."

Studying the different designs for hopscotch courts is almost as fascinating as trying to determine its origins. For yet more, in addition to those depicted on Dagonell's site. See Hopscotch from Around the World.

And for Hopscotch being for girls, Alex Johnson in his excellent Village Games notes that even in the early 20th Century boys and girls both played hopscotch. So it never was really a girls' game. And it still isn't. So there.

Junk - premium quality, and beautiful, too

What's in the "Junkyard" of Junkyard Sports?

Here are two things that aren't junk: garbage and trash. Though you can find good junk in both.

Junk is all that stuff you have around you that you haven't used in the last three years but you keep around anyway, just in case.

And all the junk stored in garages and attics, in warehouses and even junkyards - these are all junk.

Sports junk. Toy junk. Fun junk. Car junk. Useful junk. Silly junk. Junk you should be throwing away already. But you don't, because it's good junk. Quality junk. In fact, premium quality junk.

I found this on a kids' site called "Build it Yourself. And I liked the idea of "Premium Quality Junk" so much that I had to share it with you. Because it comes so close to defining just the kind of junk one would hope to find in the junkyard of Junkyard Sports. Of course, this junkyard is for projects - you know, things to make. And it's for kids. And it's an educational program, full of lessons and activities and things to think about so that "students (can) use technology to resolve or better understand important social issues in a playful way." And they're for-profit, which, considering the kinds of money one finds in the world of education, admirable, at least; and they have an after-school robot-building program that looks like the very exact thing I'd want my grand kids to experience, and they seem to have some connection to MIT.

Junk can be beautiful, too. See the appropriately described and correspondingly educational "Beautiful Junk."

Of toys and junk

Making toys from junk is a genuinely joy-prone activity, and though it may not classify as a sport or even a game, it is a junkly activity of the highest order - recycling fun if ever there was such a thing. The Mechanical Toys Page describes 15 different toys, each of which is crafted out of found materials (though some may be a little challenging to find), and each of which results in an action toy exhibiting some minor marvel of movement. Like, for example, the Water Rocket, which proves maybe not so easy to build, but the payoff is dramatic and crowd-pleasing.

For those of us seeking more immediate mechanical toy-induced spectacle, there's the match rocket. To build it, all you need is two wooden matches and some aluminum foil. Granted, you don't want young kids actually playing with matches. But what a rite of passage, so to speak.

The site hasn't been updated in a while (maybe 5 years), and the author's email as well as many of the links don't work. But it provides some excellent descriptions of junk-built joys, and is as powerful an invitation to play as it was when it was first launched.

Searching for similar, I came across this significantly similar page of Folk Toys as well as this significantly dissimilar page of images of simple, mechanical, art-like, toys. Though there's no instructions, the images are clear enough to inspire reinvention.

"...and I am a spreader of gum"

This work of art is composed entirely of gum. Yes, chewing gum. GumArtist Jamie Marraccini explains: "...I've created 23 works totaling more than 30,000 pieces of gum. I've now come to the realization that the gum justifies the art. The fun is in the chewing and the art is an expression of the fun. Just remember, gum is not chewed for health or sustenance. People chew gum for pleasure. It is in that spirit that GumArt exists, and I am a spreader of gum."

And here, Mr. Marraccini explicates further: "Gumology is the science of gum chewability, spreadability, and bubblibility. I've been studying gumology for as long as I can remember. In fact, at the age of 10 I wrote my first scientific paper on gum titled, 'The Making of a Great Gum.' The world has yet to embrace the ideas of yeast in gum or talking-gum which were detailed in that article; however, it was this curiosity and quest to find the limits of gum that lead to the creation of GumArt."

His online GumArt Gallery chronicles a decade in the evolution of his art from, 1989 to 1999.

For more gummy reflections, see this.

Thanks for this chewy find go to in4mador

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Toys for teams

Given the way this election is going and the time at which this is written, it looks like a lot of team building is going to be needed. Another hope-building trend for the playful team builder? Take a look at this online catalog from one of my favorite team building resources.

Personally, I was most excited by the Co-operBand. As I said, my reasons are personal. It just so happens that I invented something very much like it. In the 70s, even. Only I called it the "Group Loop." The only thing that kept me from going further with it was fun. Because one of the most fun things we found to do with it was to play something very much like group suicide. Four people inside the Group Loop stretch the loop significantly. Two opposite people then exchange sides. Rather rapidly. Empowered, so to speak, by the elasticity of it all. Getting actually kinda shot across the circle. And when they hit the band, their weight and inertia pretty much made the other pair of people also shoot across the circle. And you got this wonderful oscillation, which eventually became overpowering in its giggly implications, especially as more and more near misses occur as people shot across and pass each other. Until, almost unavoidably, someone smashed into someone else or fell down. Matt eventually changed the name of the thing from Group Loop to "Danger Band."

But we still loved it. And the Co-OperBand goes several much safer steps further with a bunch of really fun exercises, all of which challenge physical and social skills.

Then there's Team Tracks, a pair of what you might call "group skis" very similar (only much more nicely manufactured) to things we used to gleeful effect at the New Games Tournaments.

As with New Games, what makes these Team Toys really "new" is that they are fun. And as long as fun and teamwork are two separate concepts, these toys will remain new, and just as vital to the health of teamwork as fun can be.

The Group Grump

Someone who was writing an article on "self-motivation" called me the other day. In my waxing and waning about fun as the great self-motivator, I found myself saying:

"You know how, despite how light-hearted or self-fulfilled you're feeling, when you meet someone who just happens for that moment to be grumpy, you start getting grumpy too? Well, that's what happens in almost every workplace or schoolhouse or hallway or gathering place in the world. You get this Group Grump going, everybody infecting everybody else until the whole place is filled with pointless and general grumpiness."

Group Grump.

You have to admit, this is a familiar phenomenon. And it's fun to say it: "group grump." And it could actually, just by the sheer power of its silly-soundingness, defuse the very grump it names.

And for those of us who will be visiting our local polling places today, to vote for whatever ambiguously qualified candidate or proposition, may we find an opportunity to dispel the debilitating powers of Group Grump, however justified it might appear to be.

Play on, defenders of the playful!

gameLab, Arcadia, Blix and Loop

Combine games research with the development of innovative digital games and people games, and you get gameLab. gameLab was co-founded by Eric Zimmerman and Peter Lee. Eric, whose articles appear in Brenda Laurel's Design Research, writes in his Play as Research: The Iterative Process: "In iterative design, there is a blending of designer and user, of creator and player. It is a process of design through the reinvention of play. Through iterative design, designers create systems and play with them. They become participants, but do so in order to critique their creations, to bend them, break them, and re-fashion them into something new. And in these procedures of investigation and experimentation, a special form of research takes place. The process of iteration, of design through play, is a way of discovering the answers to questions you didn’t even know were there."

Before you read Eric's fascinating, informed, and insightful description of the iterative design process (which I still believe, despite all the filmic complexity of multimediation, is the best and really only way to design a game), try a game of Loop. It will not only help you understand better what he's talking about, it will also help you understand why you want to read what he has to say.

Or, maybe start with a simpler game concept like Arcadia. Have you ever tried playing two arcade games at once? Just to keep from getting bored? And discovered how such a simple idea, like playing two at once, makes both games suddenly worth playing again? Almost as if you'd created a whole new game simply by combining a couple? Well, Arcadia combines four different arcade games, and paces each so that it's actually almost possible to play them all simultaneously, without losing your mind. Go ahead. Give it a try. I'd start out with the easiest version if I were you.

Then there's Blix, which reminds me a little of the first game I designed for the TRS-80, can you believe, and the Commodore Pet, and later the 64 and even the Atari VCS. It was called "Ricochet." Which is maybe why I'm not as objective about the elegant wonders of Blix as I can be the others. Which is also why gameLab has been inducted into the Major FUN Hall of Fame. Let me know if it's as fun as I think it is, will you?

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