Super Frog

Ever since Ken Feit taught me how to create what became for me the Frog of Enlightenupment, I have been fascinated by anything having to do with frog-making. Imagine, therefore, my delight at discovering instructions for creating an oragami Super Frog. Better yet, don't just imagine it, make one of your own.

Extreme Ironing

Extreme Ironing is, apparently, the name of the game.

I quote from a clearly informed source:
"Extreme Ironing is a sport which combines the danger and the spirit of an extreme sport with boring housework you have to do. By Extreme Ironing the sportsman gets a great fitness and he is always looking smart.

"Extreme Ironing calls on you to take your iron and your board to extreme places to iron your clothes there. That can happen on a mountain, in a forrest, in lakes, rivers, etc, on crowded public places or wherever you like. There is no limit.

"Extreme Ironing... is also dangerous. So you have to handle your iron very carefully and at the beginning it is a good advise to do Extreme Ironing at not too dangerous places. Just practice on not too steep slopes or in your backgarden. Do never ever Extreme Ironing on your own if you are not a professional. Otherwise you ask for danger. There are some protections for your arms and so on. Please use it."

"The object of extreme ironing, which was apparently invented in Britain, is 'to take ironing to the edge by demonstrating a spectacular or creative ironing style, whilst taking the creases out of your clothes'."

My favorite part - the slogan: "HAVE FUN, LOOK TIDY"

Link courtesy of Bruce Williamson

Wheelchair skateboarding

Wheelchair skateboarding is the very kind of sport activity that demonstrates the heart and soul of the "junkyard" approach to sports. Like all skateboarding, the world is a skatepark. Sure, it's always neat to find a dedicated skatepark with artfully constructed ramps and stuff. But the heart of skateboarding can be found on curbs and stair railings and in empty swimming pools.

Using a wheelchair instead of a skateboard, Tyler Deith manages to transform even the official skatepark into its junkly origins. Skateparks aren't designed for wheelchairs. Nobody ever thought that people in wheelchairs should even consider skateboarding. There's no term for the sport that Tyler has created, because, as yet, there are no such things as wheelchair skateparks. The closest I've seen to a label is "Extreme Wheelchair Sports." Me, I like it, a lot, that there are no official names for what Tyler is doing, because it makes it a little more obvious that Tyler is doing it for fun - making fun that much more accessible, that much more universal.

- Thanks for this find go to Grow-a-Brain -

Bruce Williamson on Vacant Lots

Bruce Williamson asks:

Hi Bernie,

Appreciated your recent post about playing it safe! Our culture doesn't do anything in balance, so I guess the next pendulum swing from this over-rigid, fearful, lawyer-dominated, control freak approach will be what? Articles extolling the little manhood-building benefits of small boys playing in traffic?!

Do you know anyone who has/is/might be exploring the role of the vacant lot in many of our childhoods? These have mostly disappeared, I think, in the way we knew but maybe not. I do know for sure, however, that in California all of those vacant lots are worth about $500,000 each! For all I know there's already a book out celebrating their anarchical wildness.

And then answers:

Followed the advice I hadn't taken yet and googled vacant lots. Most of what I found was about the toxins and dangers lurking in vacant lots, and I certainly do not discount the reality of any of these hazards ? especially in urban areas where vacant lots have become the dumping ground for everything from garbage to chemical waste to bodies, and which are often the hangouts of people waiting and wanting to do our children harm.

Perhaps what I'm really trying to rediscover is the feeling of the vacant lot. I think there's some of that intent in your junkyard sports approach to play. If we can no longer safely encourage vacant lot play, what do we have or what can we create that helps replicate its surprise, diversity, wonder and wildness?

I Love Thickets

Back Yards & Vacant Lots

Whatever Happened to Play?

This article reminds me of a mother at one of my workshops who told me the story of her five-year-old daughter. The daughter was in kindergarten and each day the teacher gave the children tiny bits of homework. Her mom told her that it was important to do her homework first and that after she was done they would play together. This arrangement went well for a couple of weeks. But then the daughter marched up to her mom and said, "You make up rules. I want to make up some rules." With a sparkle in her eye the mom replied, "What do you mean?" So the daughter told her. "I want to play first, 'cause when I play it gets me smart for my homework."

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The Keyboard to the City Award

Today, I quote utterly and totally from Phil Shapiro's DDN (Digital Divide Network) Blog - why? Because it's fun. And funny. And clever. And worthy of us.

As part of a tradition, mayors often present visiting dignitaries with a "key to the city."

Mayors who are forward-thinking might consider a twist on this and offer an annual "Keyboard to the City" award, honoring an individual or organization that has used creative thinking (i.e. ingenuity) and hard work to expand access to technology in the city.

How much would the media enjoy covering an event where the mayor solemnly declares, "And I now present you with the keyboard to the city." He or she would then ask the recipient to kneel on one knee, and the keyboard would be tapped lightly over their shoulder. (USB keyboards only, please. If the keyboard is wireless, the tap on the shoulder should also be performed wirelessly.)

Mayors could use a little playfulness in their work day, too.

Playing Safe

I somehow Googled my way to this discussion, called "Safety at All Costs," in response to a blog article that contained this observation:
"Children learn to cope with the world through outdoor activities, writes a British educator. But adult fears are restricting children's ability to explore the world. And they're not any safer as a result."
and I was, well, delighted, positively, absolutely, actually. With organizations like The American Association for the Child's Right to Play struggling to keep schools from closing down their recess yards because of liability concerns, it is genuinely soul-restoring to find so many people recognizing and affirming that the need to play freely actually transcends the need to play safely.

Here's a sample - one of many fun, funny and often provocative contributions from readers. This one's from Arty:
"I lived by a lake when I was growing up. Playing on thin ice and swimming to the opposite side were just a couple of the water-based activities my parents gave up lecturing me about. I rode my bike without any brakes all one summer and had an unhealthy attraction for bridges, train tracks, powerlines and anything that could be weaponized. We always had a pack of smokes hidden in our tree-fort too (just in case we escaped accidental death). Now my daughter complains because I make her wear hockey pads when she plays video games.... if she only knew what she was putting me through."


The topic is BUBBLE GUM. We've got a minute. List the first five kinds of bubble gum that you can think of. You make yours. I'll make mine. And when you're finished, rank them from 1-5. No, I don't know how you should rank them, by your favorites, by what you think is the most popular. Wait. Let me correct that. List the five kinds of bubble gum that you think I'll be able to think of. And then rank them the way you think I'll rank them. OK? Here goes. I got: 1. Dubble Bubble, 5. Skittles, 2. Bubblicious, 3. Bazooka and 4. Bubble Yum. We get one point for each gum. And an extra point for each gum we ranked the same. OK. OK. So maybe Skittles really isn't bubble gum. All that's really important is that we both think it is.

You know, for a trivia-style game, this was kind of different. It's about Pop culture, for one. For another, it's fun. A lot more fun. One might almost say, to coin a phrase, Major FUN. It's called WaveLength. What makes it so much more fun than your average trivia game? Three things: one, you're not working alone, against everyone else. It's you and your partner. Two: everybody plays, all the time. There's quite literally, "never a dull moment." And three, it's not so much trivia as it what you might call "Family Feud meets the Match Game." How "right" your answer is depends completely on what the other guy has to say. It's a trivia game (over a thousand questions), but you're all playing together, you're actually trying to get more connected, trying to think like what you think the other guy's thinking. It's got all the ingredients of a good trivia game. It's all about facts and memory. But it's even more about connecting to the other guy; getting on, what you might call, the same "wavelength," so to speak.

Major FUN-wise, Wavelength is what the award is all about.


4-Square Volleyball

We reinvented Four-Square Volley Ball at Friday's "Sports for Fun, for Free, for Everyone" workshop. We were in a large carpeted room, maybe about 70 of us. Chairs were placed against the walls so that there was plenty of room for us to play. I had my bag o' balls, including a baseball-ball-sized sacky-sack. In order to illustrate the concept of Junkyard Sports and all implied thereby, I asked the group to make up some kind of game we could all play together. Since most of them were involved with very active youth, and because it was almost lunch, they elected to play a game with a lot of movement. Because the room we were in could be subdivided into two rooms, the carpet design was in two sections - with a broad strip down the middle. Apparently, this seemed like a volleyball net to some people, so volleyball was the game of choice.

I explained that though this would probably work, it seemed to me that not enough players would be involved. The suggestion was that each team had to hit the ball at least five times. Or maybe three. Or anywhere between three and five. Since there were maybe 35 on a team, it seemed to me that there would still be a problem with participation. Someone suggested that we divide the court in half again, so that there were four sections, as in the game of four square. We used people's jackets (including my just-cleaned sports jacket) and laid them on the floor, perpendicular to the dividing strip. This gave us four teams of maybe 17 on a side. Since we didn't really want to keep score, someone else suggested that if a team misses, they'd lose a member. This raised a concern about people having to be "out" - a major no-no, Junkyard Sports-wise. So, we made it the rule that the last person to miss the ball would join the team that served it.

And it was good.

OK, other people have invented their own versions of 4 Square Volleyball. But, a) it was ours, and b) that "if you miss you join another team" rule was uniquely Junkyardly, manifesting a certain sensibility that the real and maybe only purpose of a good sport is to keep everyone in play.


Skee-Ball Revisited

Skee-Ball, in case you need to be reminded, is described most poignantly by Paul Lukas on his Inconspicuous Consumption website, as:
"...that coin-operated game where you roll a series of nine balls, one at a time, up a gently inclined lane that has a hump at the far end. The ball sort of launches off of the hump and then lands in one of several holes -- the farther away the hole is, the more points that hole is worth. It's a swell game, but the key moment for me is when I drop my coin in the slot, which releases the nine balls down a ramp -- the balls are all released at once and proceed down the ramp in unison, one after the other, so they all come to a near-simultaneous stop when the bottom ball reaches the base of the ramp, which produces a spectacularly satisfying Click! sound that resonates throughout the room. The appeal of the click (which is actually comprised of eight separate and distinct mini-clicks, which are separated by a nanosecond or so as each ball collides with the one in front of it) is hard to describe, but it's one of those exquisitely perfect noises that's exciting and comforting all at once."

Skee-Ball is manufactured by the Skee-Ball Company, and though it is their core product, it is one of many game machines they have invented. They produce a significant collection of Midway and Coin-op games. But Skee-Ball remains their most traditional, and for many, most beloved contribution to the world of pay-to-play. It is also something that could be easily made out of junk. For free. Granted, you probably won't be able to reproduce the proverbial "click," and the balls probably won't return automatically, let alone near-simultaneously, but with a few old golf balls, or maybe some Sacky-Sacks, a couple cardboard boxes and some old coffee cans, something most satisfyingly skee-ballish could be yours.

More Chickens, More Fun. B'Gawk! revisited

What I love about the Internet is the people it brings to me, and me to.

In reaction to the game of B'Gawk as described in Monday's story about The Ultimate Camp Resource

Roger Greenaway commented:
"Make this game even better by changing 'elimination' to a 'forfeit' e.g. infringers slide circled fingers up their foreheads to make chicken shades, then strut round the circle as a cool but miserable chicken. After completing the forfeit you are a full participant again."

And then Bruce Williamson wrote:
"This B'gawk game reminds me of an activity sort of like a "wave" in a circle that I used to do with groups. I think I called it "Synapse." Everyone joins hands. The leader starts a simple squeeze of either the hand on his/her right or left. When this is first done it's fun to see the hands jerking around the circle as the signal gets to each person. The leader then sends a squeeze in the opposite direction. Next the group experiments with sending the one-direction signal in such a silent, stealth manner that it is hard to see the impulse as it passes around. The ultimate challenge is when the leader squeezes both hands simultaneously and the impulse travels around in both directions at once reaching that poor soul opposite the leader who on a good day successfully passes it on in both directions at once.

"I love the utter hilariousness of B'gawk, but what I really HATE about it is the elimination rule, even being out for just one round. To me it runs counter to the New Games approach that so wonderfully and magically transformed many of the hatefully competitive games we were subjected to and humiliated by when we were children. With children I don't think it is fun to be individually eliminated, to be singled out and feel you are not good enough, especially if for various reasons (I think of my own lack of sports coordination when I was little) a child always seems to find himself/herself in the losing group. What price is paid when a child is always thinking inside "I'm not good enough or I'm too stupid or I'm (fill in the blank) to stay in this game."

"By changing just that one rule, B'gawk can easily be turned into an utterly fun test of a group trying AS A GROUP for its next personal best, where the group cheers on the ones who don't always get it RIGHT. Just amend the rule to say that "everyone stays in and that . . . the goal of the game is to look ridiculous and go as fast as possible . . . and see how quickly the GROUP can successfully B'gawk TOGETHER."

"I mean, I know a game like this shows up in a camp handbook for all the best reasons, but this bit about eliminating people deserves to die, at least until a group has played together for a good long while, and even then I am not so sure, not even with highly self-aware adults. I think fun disappears when players get individually eliminated. It doesn't mean those kinds of rules aren't enjoyable in certain circumstances. But I strongly believe they are mostly joy killers. The only thing that could make the existing B'gawk rule about elimination even worse would be for the game leader to blow a classic coach's whistle really loudly, point at the person who just messed up and yell that they are OUT.

"Looking at my own nefarious career leading many different kinds of groups in various playful activities, ropes course challenges, New Games, etc., and from examining my own childhood history, I think the amount of shaming and bad feelings that have been generated by competitive games in people's lives is really amazing. I think one of the reasons that New Games took off so quickly in the 70's was because our generation was sick and tired of the old rules. Today? I would imagine that the video game generation as it "matures" (is that an oxymoron?) will probably want more competition than ever, the bloodier, more violent and ruthless the better."

I shared these comments with the Resource, and, within say a coupla hours, got an email telling me a new, revised version had been published, as follows:
B'gawk! (The chicken game!!)

Stand in a circle. Make two circles (one with each hand) with the index finger and the thumb. Hold a circle over each eye. The person starting drops one hand (a quick bounce, as if the hand was tied to elastic) and says "B'gawk!!" The direction is decided by which hand is used; if the first person drops his right hand, the person to his right must then continue the action. If he drops his left hand, the person to his left continues.

If BOTH hands are dropped, the action continues in the same direction, but the person directly opposite is skipped over. The first person cannot use a double B'gawk, because direction has not yet been established.

If someone messes up (ie: B'gawks when they shouldn't, or hesitates too long), they must run around the circle flapping arms and making chicken noises until they return to their original spot, and rejoin the play. Note: the group continues to play while the chicken run around the circle - this adds to the chance of being distracted, making mistakes, and becoming a chicken. More chickens, more fun!

The goal of the game is to look ridiculous and go as fast as possible.

It is this kind of responsiveness, this ease of and openness to change, that makes the Internet such a deep and inviting playground. "More chickens, more fun!"

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Frontgammon (the other side of Backgammon)

Ray Williamson sends us some of his unique variations of Backgammon:

Triangular backgammon.

When you have three people who want to play backgammon, there's no reason to have one of them wait for the others' game to end. (And since the game is played with dice, winning is more about creating a good game than about killing your opponent.)

A plays white, B plays black, C plays white, A plays black, B plays white, C plays black, etc.

The board is moved clockwise and rotated clockwise to present each player in turn with his new position. Everyone participates in creating an interesting game.

(see the first principle in Seven Ways to Make Almost Anything More Fun)

Virtual Backgammon is inspired by the quantum weirdness of virtual particles, which can pop in and out of existence.

Step one: Agree that the next game will be "virtual."

Set up the board in the customary way.

WHEN someone rolls doubles, IF they choose, they may instead use the entire toss to bring a pair of 25 cent pieces into play. These are entered on either home board, on the position number of the double, IF that point is available. Henceforth they may be moved alone or in combination with the other "real" pieces, singly or in pairs, in either direction (or both directions) by either player. They may also be "hit" and are then removed from play.

Weird? Oh, yes. Why do this? Well, let's say you're getting creamed and the game is no longer interesting. Or it's close, and you're feeling impish. Entering a pair of virtuals injects an element of temporary chaos and new possibility that can enliven the game.

Example: Black is getting creamed. White has only four pips left, on the 2,4, and 6 points. Black rolls a double 5 and chooses to enter a pair of virtuals on White's 5 point. White doesn't want them within shooting range, and can't knock them off, so he spends his next roll pushing them away. Black moves one of them back closer. White covers instead of removing. Black removes his own pieces. Finally white exposes a piece four points away from a virtual. Black rolls 5-1: He moves back one and forward five, hitting white. The game is now even. But it wasn't cheating because we agreed it would be a virtual game, and it was fun getting here!

Having played this many times I can tell you that 3/4 of "virtual" games never even use the quarters. But when they do, look out!

Ray's idea of "virtual" was guided by this definition. He explains:

"It was this concept that seeded the vision of "Virtual Backgammon." In an extremely short time ;~) my friend Alex Havasy and I put it into practice on the board.
- They aren't there in the first place
- They are created together in pairs
- They can be separated
- They can interact with real particles (the white or black pips)
- They often annihilate rapidly.

The Ultimate Camp Resource

For those who skip along the Playful Path, any compilation of pointless games and activities is a resource to be treasured. By "pointless," I mean any game that is played for fun, and only for fun, where keeping score really doesn't add anything to anything. much like this game I found in The Ultimate Camp Resource
B'gawk! (The chicken game!!)

Stand in a circle. Make two circles (one with each hand) with the index finger and the thumb. Hold a circle over each eye. The person starting drops one hand (a quick bounce, as if the hand was tied to elastic) and says "B'gawk!!" The direction is decided by which hand is used;

If the first person drops his right hand, the person to his right must then continue the action. If he drops his left hand, the person to his left continues.
If BOTH hands are dropped, the action continues in the same direction, but the person directly opposite is skipped over. The first person cannot use a double B'gawk, because direction has not yet been established.

If someone messes up (ie: B'gawks when they shouldn't, or hesitates too long), they are out for that round. The last two standing are the winners. The goal of the game is to look ridiculous and go as fast as possible.

The Ultimate Camp Resource is, of course, a very purposeful collection, of value to anyone who works with groups of people of any age. And their camp games collection is only one aspect of the impressive collections of camp leader resources ultimately gathered herein. There are art projects and skits, songs and stories, icebreakers and team builders. My point: don't be fooled by the apparent pointlessness of the games and the "camp"iness of this collection. The usefulness of these resources extends far beyond the campground, from family room and restuarant table to classroom and conference center.


Knock Out is the second game from the Muggins people to get a Major Fun award. Again, it's made for durability and ease of use - a wooden board, marbles, plastic trays for holding the marbles - and elegantly conceived. And yes, like Muggins, the first "educational game" to receive a Major Fun award, it's value, at least for adults, lies in the learning opportunities the game provides. And, even more importantly, it's fun.

Numbers, from 1-18, are spaced clockwise around the board. A hole above and below each number can be filled in by marbles. Throwing three dice, the object is to use the break up the combined number to capture as many of the numbers as possible. A number can only be captured when both holes are occupied by the same color marble. As you play the game, you get a vivid lesson in probability. The lower numbers are always the first to go - and the most hotly contested. It's a remarkable opportunity to be explore the machinery and mystery of math.

Variations allow for more sophisticated play. There's a "Place Value" level in which the dice can be arranged so the first die represents tens, the second units and the third can be added or subtracted from the total, which is then broken down to its components. For example, a 6, 5 and 3 are rolled. The 6 and 5 become 65. The 3 can be added or subtracted to make 62 or 68. 68 can then be broken down to a 1, 2, 4, 8, 9, 12, 15 and 17.

Above all, it's fun enough to want to play again and again, especially for elementary school children. Major Fun. For kids.


Square Games

Cinda writes:
"Just wondering if you have ever considered square dancing as play or fun?

"As I read the information on your website, it brought to mind my favorite activity square dancing. I have done this for over 30 years and believe that the combination of the mental and physical activity are the best thing for my health physical and mental.

"My husband is a square dance caller and it is his job to choreograph everyone. The moves are standardized but they can be put in lots of different combinations. He usually is working in his head about three calls ahead of the dancers. As a dancer, we try to do what he calls in the order that he calls it. It is sort of a team sport since all 8 people in a square are doing what he calls and need to be in the proper position to make it work. The reward is getting back "to your corner." And if the square breaks down, we usually just laugh and reform and start again. It is a great stress reliever."

Major Fun replies: No

That is, not until now. I guess, until you prompted me to some further research, Square Dancing always seemed to me to be, well, square. I thought of it as a fairly rigid activity, where only the people who knew all the steps could really play. I thought of it as resistant to change and innovation and spontaneity. Happily, I am dead wrong.

Take, for example, Clark Baker's description of Square Games. These are games for people who already know all the right moves, as it were. He explains: "Assume that you know how to square dance. Not only that, but that you are good at it. Perhaps you have already learned some Advanced and Challenge dancing. Perhaps you are even a little bored at the current dance, weekend, festival, or convention. Or perhaps you just want a slight change to make things interesting. What you need is a square game -- something you or your square can do while the caller is calling to the rest of the folks."

I found his "ground rules for this type of dancer-led fooling around" both eminently practical, and somehow soberingly poignant:
  • Obtain your squares' cooperation

  • Do it in the back of the hall

  • Don't bother others

  • Don't disrupt the calling

  • Don't come across as being better than everyone else

  • Don't seem like you are having way more fun than everyone else

For the rest of us non-squares, dancing-wise, I found this Square Dancing 101 conceptually quite helpful. To get some insight into the games callers play, see the generously explicated David's Dance Caller's Home Page.


Paper Soccer

I am always on the lookout for new paper-and-pencil games because they are by nature junkly - you can play them virtually for free, and the rules are usually informal and open for change. Recently, I discovered Paper Soccer, as described in the always more amazing Wikipedia is played as follows:
"The game starts on an empty field of 8x10 boxes with goals of two boxes wide as shown in the picture. In the beginning, a virtual ball is placed in the center of the field, on the crossing of the paper lines. Players move the ball in turns and aim to place it in the opponents goal.

"In one turn, the ball may be moved into one of the eight paper line crossings around it (horizontally, vertically, or diagonally) and a segment from the original position to the new one is drawn to mark the move. The ball may not move neither on the game field border nor on the segments marking the past moves but it bounces from them, i.e. a player who moves the ball into a position where there is already an end of a segment or a game field border he or she gets another turn.

"The first player to place the ball in the opponents goal wins the game. The game may also end when a player does not have a valid move (he or she loses automatically)."
In fact, should you so desire, you can play it right now, on-line, via Kurnik, a free, and most visit-worthy site that hosts a small plethora (I counted 30) of similarly on-line, multiplayer games.

Junkyard Sports on Niteline

I just got a call from someone on ABC's news program Niteline.

Looks like Junkyard Sports is going to get it's 1.5 seconds of fame tonight. Apparently it was selected more or less randomly to be mentioned among several many "other" blogs that support the observation that not all blogs are political.

This, and $3.00, will get you a double latte.

Games: Well-Played, Finite and Infinite

If you look for The Well-Played Game on, scroll down a bit to the "Better Together" section, you'll discover that, through some unusual alignment of serendipity and intelligence, is offering a special package that includes my book with Carse's amazing Finite and Infinite Games as a package. Yes, you too can buy both for only $22.24. I am deeply honored by this coincidence, and, should there be anyone in particular to thank for it, I hereby publicly express my gratitude. Honored, because Carse's book is, in many ways, a complement to and extension of what I hoped people would find in The Well-Played Game. Thankful, because if I have to get packaged, I can't imagine a better package to be part of.

Speaking of serendipity, my friend and con-spirit-or Dr. Timothy Wilkens sent me this wonderful synopsis of Carse's theory, written by yet another highly link-worthy sensitive, "Ming the Mechanic:"

"There are at least two kinds of games: finite and infinite.

"A finite game is a game that has fixed rules and boundaries, that is played for the purpose of winning and thereby ending the game.

"An infinite game has no fixed rules or boundaries. In an infinite game you play with the boundaries and the purpose is to continue the game.

"Finite players are serious; infinite games are playful.

"Finite players try to control the game, predict everything that will happen, and set the outcome in advance. They are serious and determined about getting that outcome. They try to fix the future based on the past.

"Infinite players enjoy being surprised. Continuously running into something one didn't know will ensure that the game will go on. The meaning of the past changes depending on what happens in the future.

"All games are inherently voluntary. There might be consequences of not playing, but there is always a choice required. Driving in the right side of the road, shaking people's hands, and paying taxes are games one has a choice about playing. There are certain rules and boundaries that appear to be externally defined, and you choose to follow them or not. If you stop following them you aren't playing the game any longer.

"There is no rule that says you have to follow the rules.

"All finite games have rules. If you follow the rules you are playing the game. If you don't follow the rules you aren't playing. If you move the pieces in different ways in chess, you are no longer playing chess.

"Infinite players play with rules and boundaries. They include them as part of their playing. They aren't taking them serious, and they can never be trapped by them, because they use rules and boundaries to play with.

"In a theatrical play the actor knows that she really isn't Ophelia. The audience knows that she really isn't Ophelia. But if she does a good job, Ophelia can express herself through the actor. The playing is most enjoyable when it is both clear that it is chosen play, that it is the actor doing it voluntarily, and at the same time it is so convincing, following the rules well enough that it seems real.

"You can play finite games within an infinite game. You can not play infinite games within a finite game.

"You can do what you do seriously, because you must do it, because you must survive to the end, and you are afraid of dying and other consequences. Or, you can do everything you do playfully, always knowing you have a choice, having no need to survive the way you are, allowing every element of the play to transform you, taking pleasure in every surprise you meet. Those are the differences between finite and infinite players."

But you can, you see, transform your finite games. You can change them, infinitely. And once you discover how easily you can do this, you can play well your every game, I say, and play forever.


You can think of it as a billiards game for flat marbles, or maybe something remarkably similar to Carroms or perhaps even the ever-popular Crokinole, but you'd only be kidding yourself. Skully is very much a game in its own right, a street game, played mostly in Brooklyn, very much lovingly documented by my colleagues and friends and co-appreciaters of all things junkish at Streetplay. They explain:
"Skully (a.k.a. skelly, skilsies, skelsies) was one of the most popular street games in the New York City area, and it is still played today, though not as widespread. It is typically played on the street using bottlecaps on a board drawn with chalk. Anywhere from 2 to 6 (or more) players can play. Each neighborhood has its own variations on the rules, but the basic theme is to use your fingers to shoot your piece (a bottlecap, poker chip, or other small item) through the course drawn on the street, then "kill" all the other players, leaving you the winner."
What makes Skully so different from any of the games that it is like, is that it is in spirit and practice a junkyard sport. All the "official" bits are hand made, out of junk like bottle caps and wax and streets and sidewalks and other flat things.

See also Sidney Kurtz's wonderful descriptions and drawings of Philadelphia street games in The way we played.

The Arctic Wolf at play

In response to my story about dogs and their attunement to the "The Playful Presence," a reader sent me the following quote from David Mech's The Arctic Wolf: Ten Years with the Pack:

"I never ceased to wonder about the amount and intensity of the pup's play. One day when about seven weeks old, the pups moved to an old snowfield about one hundred feet across in a depression on a hillside about a quarter mile up a valley from the den. For about forty-five minutes the pups scrambled back and forth across the snowfield, chasing one another, tackling, sliding, rolling, skidding and carrying on to a degree I have never seen nor heard of before for any species. Sometimes they would pair up and wrestle like three tag teams on a snowy mat, and now and then Scruffy, who was really only a adult-sized pup himself, would rush in and attack the whole batch."

Which, in turn, makes me wonder how much of our connection to dogs is seated in our abilities to play so well and deeply with each other.

See again Fred Donaldson's work with "Original Play."

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Floor Games

In 1912, H.G. Wells wrote a little book called "Floor Games." It's about his experiences playing with his two sons. Though it's style is mannered (as you would expect from a book written almost a hundred years ago), it reflects a profound understanding of how to play with children - profound enough to be the inspiration for many of the basic concepts of Play Therapy. At first glance, because of the liberal use of toy soldiers, it seems like he and his sons are playing war games. The fact is, they're just playing - building cities and islands, ships and trains, weaving fantasies into new levels of intimacy between father and son.

What struck me as especially relevant to our focus on junkyard sports was how Wells describes the integration of found objects into their amazingly complex structures:
"That temple has a flat roof, diversified by domes made of half Easter eggs and cardboard cones. These are surmounted by decorative work of a flamboyant character in plasticine, designed by G. P. W. An oriental population crowds the courtyard and pours out upon the roadway. Note the grotesque plasticine monsters who guard the portals, also by G. P. W., who had a free hand with the architecture of this remarkable specimen of eastern religiosity. They are nothing, you may be sure, to the gigantic idols inside, out of the reach of the sacrilegious camera. To the right is a tropical thatched hut. The thatched roof is really that nice ribbed paper that comes round bottles --- a priceless boon to these games. All that comes into the house is saved for us. The owner of the hut lounges outside the door. He is a dismounted cavalry-corps man, and he owns one cow. His fence, I may note, belonged to a little wooden farm we bought in Switzerland."

The kind of junkly play Wells describes could easily be applied to the creation of miniature Astrodomes and Wimbledons and the evolution of yet another deeply playworthy arena for junkyard sports.

Wells' book is also available online.

Kate's Fun Factor Five

K8 writes:

dear bernie,

i stumbled across your site and love it, instictively. i hope to visit often. thanks for existing.

i write to share with you my life's rule. i call it Kate's fun factor five. things have to rate a 3 or higher or i won't touch it.

yes, i realize that there isn't much motivation to do the taxes or clean the house when they rate under a three. well, those things should rate rather low without a fun game attached or a reward embedded. so, for housework, i make it into a game. to see if i can get a list of crucial things done before i have an appointment makes things a little more fun, or to add my favorite cd with a bit of volume to feel like a rebel. as for taxes, i might embed certain rewards.......for beginning, i get to order out dinner. for completing various phases, i get to spend time reading a favorite book or extra time working out. how do i get the dusting done?? add a glass of wine! suddenly my mundane chores become everyday enlightenment and merriment.

thanks for your time and again for your work.

Bernie (a.k.a. Major Fun) comments:

Yeah, this "making a game out of it" idea - it's something we need to talk about, a lot. It's probably the first step towards making things more fun, or at least more endurable.

There's a next step I'd like to invite us to meditate on for a while. I think it's deeper, or steeper, or something, because it's not as inviting. But I think it might take us to an even happier place. And that's the step we take to discover the fun that is already there, in the things we don't really want to do. Take dusting, for example. Or washing dishes, even. There's something almost fun about it. I admit, you have to do a lot of looking. But it's there. OK, maybe you have to, so to speak, lower the proverbial fun threshold, but at the heart of it is a kind of peace, a quiet, a time away. And during that time away, there's the reward of things getting done, of watching the dust go away, of seeing the light return, the shine, the sparkle of rightness. And when it's over, and you come back to whatever awaits, it's almost as if you've been someplace else, some deep, quiet, bright place, all your very own. A place where you were having something very much like fun.