Just need someone to play with?

It's great learning about new, fun games. Each is yet another invitation to play. But then, sooner or later, you run against the inevitable truth that no matter how good the game is, it's a lot more wonderful when you can find someone to play it with. That's why I find myself writing you today about Meetup and its virtual cornucopia of games groups.

There are groups devoted to playing Bunco and Boggle, Charades and Crosswords, Pinball and Pokemon. Thousands of groups, all around the country. And if you can't find the group you're looking for, you can make your own. For free. For fun.

Living in the LA area, I've been able to take advantage of a similar service, called the "LA People Connection." The success of my Major Fun Games Tastings is due largely to the active, fun-seeking audience of this rather remarkable, and constantly growing community, listing over 3,000 events since its founding in 1999. As it gets used more and more, it becomes a deepening resource for a remarkable variety of events, connecting you to a similarly remarkable variety of people. Again, it's free (though donations are sorely needed and deeply welcome and even earn you a gold star), and for fun. And soon, it'll be national!

(I just learned that the new, national version of LA People Connection is now online, and has officially become My People Connection. Go, then, my people, and connect!)


25 Puzzling Years

Gamepuzzles (a.k.a. Kadon Enterprises) is celebrating its 25th Anniversary. That's 25 years devoted to, as they say, "the joy of thinking." In the process, their website, and their collection of beautiful puzzles and puzzle games, has grown into a treasure chest of invitations to a livelier, more playful mind.

To get started playing, try the Coloring Book. I won't spoil it for you, except to say that it could very well be the easiest, and most satisfying, online coloring experience you've ever had. Next, try the "Puzzle Parlor" - it's a collection of Flash puzzles that are graphically engaging and vary in challenge from mild to egregious. If a lot of these puzzles remind you of M. C. Escher, consider yourself smugworthy. Much of the fun that is inherent in these puzzles comes from interacting with the Escher-like art of geometric transformations. It is getting to play with the playful sides of both art and mathematics.

But the real treasure is their collection of almost 150 lovingly crafted, moderately-priced puzzles and puzzle-games - so lovely and enticing that you will find the time you spend virtual window shopping downright inspirational. And if you're diligent or lucky, you may even discover some of the hidden puzzles and contests sprinkled enticingly throughout the site. And, as if you actually needed the incentive, you may win a prize for solving them!

A Playful Path to Art

Liz Mamorsky's "Functional and Dysfunctional Art" is a glorious testimony to the connections between junk, art, and fun. A brief tour of her online gallery makes the case for play as an aesthetic experience, over and over and over.

In her own commentary, she reveals precisely the kind of openness and spontaneity and inspired madness that is required for anyone who wants to play art:
"With sculpture, form determines function. A new object arrives and sparks an idea of what it will become, joined with materials that may have been lying around the studio for years. I love dismantling machines and finding the treasures within the interior landscape. I don't sketch, but instead lay out the objects on the floor, adding and deleting until the piece evolves. Often the outcome is markedly different from what I had roughly envisioned. Since my sculpture is entirely self-taught, I still have the thrill of new challenges in construction. I do not weld, as I work largely with wooden foundry patterns and circuit boards. Instead, I use a variety of screws, hinges and other joining devices. Glue is used only when absolutely necessary. I hate the stuff! I enjoy the mechanical challenge of building the piece and doing electrical wiring. I am present and grounded..."
Embracing the realization that, as she so openly states, "often the outcome is markedly different from what I had roughly envisioned," she captures the essence of the spirit that guides her along the Playful Path, towards delight, surprise, and the realization of her unique vision. Kinda makes you think that even you could be an artist.

Certificate of the Right to Play

This is a picture of Bruce Williamson, at 2 years of age, on his way to becoming author of The Certificate of the Right to Play. With this certificate, you, too, can become "A lifetime member in good standing of the Society of Childlike Grownups." It is a delightful thing, this significantly silly certificate, demonstrating a keen, honest, heartfelt understanding of what it should mean to be a grown-up.

It comes from a fellow named Bruce Williamson, whose remarkably mature understanding of the nature of childlike grownuphood is reflected with clarity and a certain hard-won innocence on his Society of Childlike Grownups chock-full-of-resources website. Devoted to teaching us how to become Childlike Grownups, the Kaleidoscope is a spare little website, and yet it presents a rare depth of playful wisdom which is evident just from the titles of its main pages:
Remember the Child you Are
Save the World
Let Your Music Play
Take Good Care of Yourself
Come out and Play
Make Stuff Up
See Things Differently
Wonder Around
Color Outside the Lines
Laugh for the Health of It
Restory Yourself
Pick Up Your Toys
Look on the Bright Side
Amazed that I hadn't encountered Bruce before, I called him up, only to discover that we had met at the Games Preserve more than 25 years ago. Though we haven't crossed paths again until now, Bruce is clearly a fellow traveler, and a gift to all of us who follow the Playful Path.

Which explains why you will now find a picture of Bruce's inner child on People section of the Major FUN Hall of Fame.


If I were a rich man

Having fun but not enough money? Here's a little well-researched validation:

"...According to research by psychologist Tim Kasser, Ph.D., individuals who say that goals for money, image, and popularity are relatively important to them also report less satisfaction in life, fewer experiences of pleasant emotions, and more depression and anxiety. Similar results have been demonstrated for a variety of age groups and people around the world.

"...research shows material wealth will not bring happiness and focusing on materialistic pursuits often diminishes personal well-being. Further, the emphasis that many governments place on increasing economic growth seems ill-advised, given the fact that such materialist pursuits exact enormous ecological costs at the same time that they do little to improve citizens' happiness."

Who wudda thot?

On becoming a Fun Consultant

Evelyn O writes: "I want to do what you do when I grow up (actually when I retire - (I am 53!) I have worked in the "stuffed shirt" business world for years, and have had this dream of bringing more fun to the workplace. I would like to be a "fun consultant" to businesses when I retire. How do I get started?"

The Fun One responds:

Dearest Evelyn,

I am delighted to learn that you want to undertake such an effort. Bringing more fun into the world is often difficult, and more often spiritually rewarding than materially.

My first recommendation - and this is the most difficult (what'd you expect?) is that you start right now, even in your underempowered position, to sneak fun into the office, however you can. Maybe some toys. Maybe some wacky lunches. There are some good books out there. Check out my friend Matt Weinstein's "Managing to Have Fun" for some insights.

My next recommendation - explore, in depth, everything that is fun for you. This might seem easier, but, in this world, in these times, focusing on fun is a significant challenge. Learn everything you can about what is fun for you, and when. Explore. Expand your repertoire.

Then, despite everything, find fun wherever you can. For me, it's usually in the informal connections between people - the "hi" and "how are you" kind of dialogue. Discover how you can keep yourself light, and you will begin to shed light on how you can do the same for others.

This is of course just a start.

Contact me when you're ready for your next set of instructions.

My guess is you won't have to.

The Games Directory

Most new games are based on, well, old games. It's a lot easier to start off with a game that everybody knows is going to be fun. So, for anyone interested in making games new again, a collection of the tried and true is something to be treasured, and The Games Directory is precisely that. With over 200 games in the collection, it is almost guaranteed that you'll find a game that is new to you. Which, really, is all you need to get started.

Why "new"? Because familiar games often come with familiar behaviors. Some, too familiar. Most, too competitive. Winning and losing take on too much meaning - especially when all you really want to do is have fun. But unfamiliar games make it possible for us to play in ways we'd like play - ways that are more fun, for everyone.

Which brings us back to Fun and Games.
Fun and Games.org is owned and developed by Kit Logan and run with the help and input from the youth and children at the church and youth clubs of Ewell United Reformed Church. Further information about the youth work at the church can be found on the church website or at FISH Club's own site.

Fun and Games.org aims to be a central resource for all those who work with youth and children with the main premise of helping children and youth to develop their potentials, through the promotion of learning, play, social interaction and development of skills.
OK. OK. Learning and skill development are always good things. But, for my intents and purposes, play's the thing. And Fun and Games.org is an invitation to play that you will treasure the more you use it. Change a rule or two, combine a couple games, and you wind up with a virtually endless resource for bringing a little more fun into the world.

An Appraisal of the Utility of a Chocolate Teapot

Here, at last, you will find the much sought-after Appraisal of the Utility of a Chocolate Teapot.

"THE CHOCOLATE teapot remains popular as a general comparative standard for the failure of an object to perform in accordance with its intended function, rivaled only by its close relative (in terms of composition, if not morphology), the chocolate fireguard. However, whilst numerous items are colloquially labeled as being ?as useful as a chocolate teapot', there does not appear to be any objective standard for the usefulness, or indeed uselessness, of a chocolate teapot itself. In the absence of any British, European or ANSI Standard, Def Stan or MIL-STD for this important but poorly-specified reference item, it was decided to conduct an independent assessment of exactly how much use one of them was. As well as filling an significant gap in the standards literature, it was felt that this study would add to the body of work published in the Annals of Improbable Research on the scientific evaluation of common metaphors (Sandford, 1995; Paskevich and Shea, 1995; Dubik and Wood, 1995; collected in Abrahams, 1998)."

Yes, it is all a bit tongue-in-cheek, dangerously approaching foot-in-mouth. But it is also a reflection of the lengths people can go to in joyous pursuit of the patently absurd - yet another source of redemption for those of us on the Playful Path.

In case you wondered, "Plokta is a highly dubious, 4-times Hugo-award-nominated fanzine edited by Alison Scott, Steve Davies and Dr. Plokta, aka Mike Scott. The Plokta cabal includes Steven Cain, Giulia De Cesare, Sue Mason, Marianne Cain, Jonathan Cain and George the cat"

Thanks for this absurd find go to the Presurfer

Whimsical Arts

"Whimsical Arts has been seeking out Folk Art throughout the cities and remote villages of Mexico since February of 1997. All of the art that you see on these pages has been hand selected by me, Patricia Healey. Whimsical Arts is a cottage industry located in Sisters, Oregon, supporting other cottage industries throughout Mexico."

Whimsy. What a wonderful addition to our lexicon of playfulness! Combine it with the concept of Folk Art, and you have a deep and rich vein of playfulness that you can mine for a life time. Because Folk Art is art that is not really accepted by the establishment as "real art." It's an informal art, that people make for the fun of it. As such, it's a much more reliable guide to the playful arts, and to the spirit of playfulness that only a few "real" artists have successfully been able to manifest.

Add to that, the concept of "cottage industry" - informal, fueled more by love than the love of money - and you have a remarkably powerful and instructive synergy. Patricia Healey, I wish you unparalleled success.

Thanks for the find, Sugar 'n Spicy.

Popcorn - junk food for body and soul

The other night, my wife, Rocky, found a poem she had written many years ago, after our friend Ken Feit had died in a traffic accident. Ken, who called himself an "itinerant Fool," graced our lives with his many wonderful stories, and his incredibly gentle being. We attended one of his performances in which he used a spoon, a candle, and a kernel of popcorn to demonstrate the art of joyful surprise. It was one of the simplest, most elegant experiences of absolute wonder I have ever witnessed. He just sat there, holding the spoon over the candle, watching the kernel. And somehow, we all were utterly absorbed, waiting, with him, for the magic to happen. And when it did, his face exploded into such sheer delight that we were all transformed into the children we've always been.

OK, I realize this may be a kind of heavy-handed introduction to a story about the world's best junk food. But, well, popcorn is kind of like that. Here's some popcornly kernels of wisdom: "Carelessly, we think of it as 'junk food,' however, popcorn is a thorough-going vegetable which supplies your body with more iron than eggs, peanuts, spinach or roast beef. It contains more phosphorous and fiber than potato chips, ice cream cones or pretzels!"

And this: "Few foods are as old as corn. As far back as 80,000 years, fossil corn pollen was discovered 200 feet below Mexico City, and scholars believe the first use for corn was popped corn. Besides eating it, they used the white "beads" to adorn their bodies. Native Americans held ears of corn over a fire until kernels popped, then they ate it off the cob. Later, they removed kernels, threw them into the fire, then scramble for them as they popped free. This led to heating kernels and sand in clay pots and separating the two. Shallow clay vessels, as broad as eight-feet, have been found in Mexico and South America from as far back as 500 A.D. People from the Pre-Incan society used similar pots as early as 300 A.D. Popping corn has tremendous keeping qualities. Archaeologists tell of a donkey which came upon some thousand-year-old kernels and ate at them. Also, scientists discovered corn this old will still pop."

All of which explains why popcorn is the official recommended Junkyard Sports junk food.

If you want to know more about Ken Feit, Joseph F. Martin has collected some of his stories in his book Foolish Wisdom.

The American Association for the Child's Right to Play

The American Association for the Child's Right to Play is a necessary response to an unnecessary evil - the well-meaning, misinformed pundits who are trying to do away with childish things like recess and free play. You'll find their section on recess both inspirational and depressing. Inspirational, because you can read of people who have managed to bring recess back to children. Depressing, because there is a need for such people.

"The purpose of IPA/USA is to protect, preserve, and promote play as a fundamental right for all humans. Plays makes possible maximum development of self and society by facilitating creativity, individuality and, social, physical and intellectual growth. Play encompasses experiences that provide enjoyment and emotional fulfillment that will ultimately lead to productive and contributing members of society. Specific interests include environments for play emphasizing universal access, leisure time facilities, programs that develop the whole child, play leadership training, toys and play materials."

While you're at it, check out their description of "How to Plan, Organize, and Implement a Playday." Once you begin to acknowledge the politics of play, you are better able to appreciate how powerful and necessary such events become.

More Parlor Games

In the late 19th century, people were known to gather in each other's houses, and play games. Not necessasrily drinking games, mind you. Or even, as it were, gambling games. But rather games of decorous titillation, so to speak. These games continue to serve as a major source of inspiration for my "Pointless Games collection." A website called "Victoria's Past" offers yet another excellent taste of wit and wisdom of this quaint social delicacy.

Here is a morsel to whet your endlessly playworthy appetite:
Proverbs is a game of a more intellectual character. In this, one person volunteers, or is chosen by the company, to leave the room, and in his or her absence a proverb is fixed upon by the remaining party. The person outside is then called in, and the first person whom he addresses with any remark or inquiry, is bound to reply to him with an answer in which the first word of the proverb is introduced. The second person to whom he goes must reply in such a way as to bring in the second word; and so on, until the proverb has been repeated. He is then informed that he need not proceed further, and is left to guess the proverb chosen. If he fails in three attempts, he must again retire, and his ingenuity is tried by the selection and repetition of another proverb. Any one making an answer in which the right word in turn is not introduced, pays the penalty of a forfeit, and the company are, therefore, on the watch to see that each person addressed duly performs the part. The great art of the game is in so wrapping up the word in the course of the reply as to make it difficult to the guesser to discover the proverb which was chosen. Some proverbs are far, more easy of detection than others, from the forcible or peculiar words comprised in them, or the difficulty which the answerers find in concealing the words which fall to them in rotation. "Still waters run deep" may be taken as an example of the class difficult of concealment, for "waters" and " deep" are awkward words to introduce, and will easily connect themselves in the mind of the guesser, who is on the watch for his clue. "Where there's a will there's a way" is more capable of disguise, but "will" and "way" will reveal themselves to a person quick of apprehension. None of the proverbs chosen should consist of very many words, or the guessing may become tedious. When the proverb is detected, the guesser is entitled to claim that some one else shall take his place, and may, if he pleases, select for that purpose the person whose insufficient disguise of the allotted word gave him his first clue. Or he may name any one else in the company for the purpose. If the guesser tries his skill two or three times without success, he may claim relief from his office, and some one else may be appointed. In this, as in all other games, it must be remembered that when weariness on any side commences, amusement is at an end; and where there are symptoms of a game reaching that point, it should be relinquished for another.

Three-Sided Football?

Innocently browsing through one of my favorite Wikipedia articles on "Invented Sport. I came across a game called, in similar-seeming innocence, "Three Sided Football"

I, myself, having previously contemplated the various ramifications of 3-sided sports, was therefore stimulated to click onwards, whereupon I learned that "Three-sided football is a situationist game meant to disrupt one's everyday idea of football. A variant of two-sided football, it was devised by the Danish situationist Asger Jorn. Played on a hexagonal pitch, the game can be adapted for similarity to soccer as well as other versions of football. It has been promoted in England, Scotland, Italy, Serbia and Austria by the Luther Blissett Three-sided Football League. The first known game played was organized by the London Psychogeographical Association at the Glasgow Anarchist Summer School in 1993."

Lured inexorably onward, I found myself on this significantly unexpurgated page (not for kids or those seeking clarity) whereupon I learned that:

"Unlike two-sided football, no team keeps a record of the number of goals they score. However they do keep a tally of the goals they concede, and the winner is determined as the team which concedes least goals. The game deconstructs the mythic bi-polar strcuture of conventional football, where an us-and-them struggle mediated by the referee mimics the way the media and the state pose themselves as "neutral" elements in the class struggle."

Reading on, I found myself so far beyond the reach of tongue in cheek, that I eventually had no recourse but to share this playful perplexity with you.