Recess Released

Recess for the SoulWell, it had to happen sooner or later. And it happened just a little sooner than I had thought. And that's a "good thing."

I've also posted a couple sample files, so you can give a listen and take a taste all at the same time. There's "How I discovered the Inner Playground in a dentist office" and "When Serious met Silly and vice versa." True to their identity as samples, neither is an entire track. So you can send them without fear of infringement to all the people you know who'd want to know you know. There's also an in depth review from Dr. Adam Blatner, a psychodramatist, and remarkably perceptive player. He calls Recess for the Soul " approach to mind-expansion through the imagery of childhood play," and by golly if he isn't right! And playground innovator Jay Beckwith has written a wise and perceptive review in which he notes that Recess for the Soul is "...a tool of incomparable effectiveness whether for personal growth or in process with others." I could go on and on, and so could you.


Google Moon

Google Moon - Lunar Landing SitesGoogle, who has brought us probably the most used search engine on the web, the very tool by which this weblog is published, and the surprisingly versatile Google Maps has recently "added some NASA imagery to the Google Maps interface to help you pay your own visit to our celestial neighbor." It's called "Google Moon - Lunar Landing Sites," and it was conceived "in honor of the first manned Moon landing, which took place on July 20, 1969."

But what makes it of special interest to us is not revealed until you examine the moon map in extreme close-up. I daren't say anything more, lest I spoil the thrill available to those who zoom to the max. Though I would be remiss were I not to mention that this effort is a first step towards a much larger initiative, called "Google Copernicus Hosting Environment and Experiment in Search Engineering" a.k.a. "G.C.H.E.E.S.E.," a "fully integrated research, development and technology facility at which Google will be conducting experiments in entropized information filtering, high-density high-delivery hosting (HiDeHiDeHo) and de-oxygenated cubicle dwelling."

All blessed be Google, and the playfulness therein manifest.


Happiness at Work

I had an opportunity to speak with Alexander Kjerulf about an organization called "The Happy at Work Project,
"a non-profit organization (that) works to:
  • Spread happiness at work. As much as possible to as many as possible
  • Identify and develop values and methods that promote happiness at work
  • Increase awareness of happiness at work"
and I have to tell you, hearing about it almost put me in shock. Alex is from Denmark. Apparently, there are many companies in Denmark who actually believe that happiness is something that should happen - at work! Enough for Alex to have developed a organization with three full-time principals and a host of related consultants. I think there may even be some companies in the States who might also believe that happiness is actually relevant to the workplace, but they are staying very quiet about it.

I'm hoping to learn much more about this and will report back to you when I do. Unfortunately, it's all in Danish. Fortunately, Alex speaks a perfect English. And I am quite certain that I will be hearing more from him, in deed.

His new book, Happy Hour is 9-5 is available in a variety of formats, and can even be read online.

Happiness at work. Who knew?

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Card Throwing - magic or martial art?

Is it magic? Is it a martial art? I couldn't tell either. Whatever it is, it's about throwing cards. To wit:
"Throwing cards has two lines of history which blur as we reach the 20th century. Not surprisingly for a martial art, these two lines are eastern, and western. The West had its beginnings in the mystique of illusion and magic. Card magicians and stage magicians both loved the flying card. It wasn't until about the late 1800s that it became popular. A stage magician by the name of Howard Thurston had finally mastered throwing cards from the stage, high up over the audience to the people in the cheapest seats. Just before him, and less known, was Alexander Herrmann who was the first to include it as a major performance in his act."
Martial art-wise, card-throwing author Tony Lee cautions:
"This is a tough martial art. But not a 'martial = war' art. It is a martial art as in the spirit martial arts are meant in the Far East - as enriching experiences in life. And so I will not teach you how to hurt someone with this. That's right. It is impossible to turn these into deadly weapons without something extra. That something you will not get from this."
But it is something you can get from photos and notes abstracted from Ricky Jay's out-of-print "Cards as Weapons," where we learn, for example, of a type of throw called "The Butterfly Swirl," that " the pain-tolerance tests conducted at Duke University many people described...with the word aculeus which is defined as the bite of an insect, hence the slogan 'Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.'"

Whatever way you decide to take it, card throwing, like most fun things, is as magical as it is potentially painful, leading you to realms of play that are unexpectedly rich, and sometimes downright dangerous.


Zhubál - 4-Square for Grownups?

In answer to the question: "What're the main differences between Zhubál and 4-square?" Andrew Carpenter, Zhubál Commissioner, replies:
"Well besides the fact that if you call if '4 Square' during a tournament you get penalized, Zhubál is much different. The only similarity is the Grid and a ball. During a research period, we found that 4-Square is based upon hitting a ball TO someone and hoping for a error. Zhubál is based on a philosophy similar to Tennis and Volleyball. Hit it where someone can't hit it back.

Zhubál is a game about adapting to your environment. Respect for the Rules and fair play are at the core of its essence. Those who have no respect for the rules have no respect for the game. There are only 2 ways to learn to play Zhubál.

1: Read the Zhubál Instructional Compendium at


2: Negative Reinforcement: Zhubál is built for Adults.... 4 Square is for Kindergarten Kids."
Reading through the Instructional Compendium resolved all my issues about its 4-square-likeness (though knowing how kids play 4-square is very useful for the novice Zhubállist). For me, the most significant and welcome difference is the wholesale adoption of the idea of the "Spirit of the Game" as so well-voiced by the Ultimate Players' Association:
"2. Spirit of the Game

Zhubál relies upon a spirit of sportsmanship which places the responsibility for fair play on the players. Referees are not necessary due to the high integrity that the players exhibit in the use and recognition of the rules. Highly competitive play is required, but never at the expense of the bond of mutual respect between players, adherence to the agreed upon rules of the game, or the basic joy of play. Such actions as taunting of opposing players are allowed but never to the degree of harshness. All 'good' play needs to be respected and rewarded by all players and with a high degree of appreciation."
Yes, and again, yes. New games, like Zhubál, are constantly needed, because they are invitations to play. Sports may pay their players millions of dollars, but if that comes at the expense of fun, it's just not worth it. For anyone.

Knucklebones - from artifact to archetype

There's a significantly informed site devoted to Roman Board Games. The site includes a description of a game called "Tali," which was played with, yes, the knucklebones of sheep or goats.

Apparently, these bones are almost cubical, and have four different, easily distinguishable sides. Which makes them perfect as remarkably dice-like objects - objects of play whose origins are potentially prehistoric - objects of play that are still being played with in places like, well, Mongolia (see this image from the movie "The Story of the Weeping Camel.")

It also happens that my column, "Life of the Party," will soon be appearing in a new magazine, also called "Knucklebones."

Coincidence, you say? Yet one more demonstration, I respond, of how a good play thing, like a good work of art, can reach beyond time and design, origin and culture, ultimately to be transformed from artifact to archetype.

Deaf People's Inner Voice

In her article, "Deaf People's Inner Voice," Hannah Holmes answers the question: "Do profoundly deaf people who learn to talk have a voice in their head?"

It was my work with "Recess for the Soul" that made me so interested in this question. And Ms. Holmes' response made me very glad I asked. She responds: "Not just those who learn to talk -- any deaf person may find that annoying rattle of gibberish knocking around in her skull. The brain, it seems, is determined to natter to itself, whether it does it in English, Swahili or some private and non-transferable language." In other words - words a bit closer to mine - the soul of a deaf person is filled with voices that are equally in need of an extended recess.

It's a very short article, and left me (and I hope you) wondering about this particular wonder. When she asked this question to Peter Houser, a Ph.D. student in clinical psychology, she got the following response: "...the brain has a special capacity to develop phonological representations, even when it does not have auditory input. The representations might be dramatically different from what hearing individuals hear. Nevertheless, they function in the mind as 'sounds.' Deaf schizophrenics...have auditory hallucinations, and blind schizophrenics have visual ones."

eTeaching, eLearning, and Fun

In their feature story, the editors of eLearn magazine ask "What makes eLearning fun" - a wonderful, and sadly, rarely asked question.

The answers they found:

"Four dimensions emerged across the groups. The first could be characterized as rigidity vs. spontaneity. 'Fun' experiences were seen as the result of situations that were surprising, playful, and challenging. The second dimension concerned the communication mode. Unidirectional messages from 'teacher' to 'student' were perceived as undesirable. Interactivity was prized. The third dimension was related to the nature of the social experience provided. Working in isolation was felt to be 'not fun.' Working collaboratively was felt to be fun or engaging. The final dimension concerned the flexibility of the program. Fixed programs were seen as inferior to programs that contained user customizable features."

Yes, I know. This isn't new stuff at all. It's these very fundamental observations that have brought us here together in the first place. You're reading this weblog because you know that spontaneity is more fun than rigidity, interactivity more fun than lectures, learning together more fun than learning alone, flexibility more fun than rigidity. We know. And probably they know too. The real question is: why do we still have to ask?


A research center opens to kids

The RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology (CDB) in Japan recently held its third annual open house. In their release about the event they say: "Among the highlights of the event was a treasure hunt designed with kids in mind. Visitors to the CDB received maps of the exhibits located throughout the building. By going to each exhibit location, visitors were able to collect a set of original CDB game cards, each with a cartoon and description of an organism, cell, gene or research position involved in the study of developmental biology."

I contacted Douglas Sipp, manager of the center's Office for Science Communications and International Affairs and managed to get a deck of cards from him - he thoughtfully sent me the English version. The cards are numbered 1-10. On each card, there is one of three monkeys. The monkeys are of the "Hear no evil, See no evil, Speak no evil" kind. Players collect the cards and then play a game like the kids' card game War. The only difference is that the monkeys on the cards, in a rock-scissors-paper-like fashion, can double the value of one of the player's cards - adding a bit of novelty, complexity, and interest to the game.

Each card is beautifully illustrated, and each includes some story about an aspect of museum life. But it made me wonder - how did all that interesting information affect the actual play value. Doug replied: "many kids (mine included) play the game without reading. We're hoping that by owning them, them kids will occasionally pick them up and learn the names, read a few of the stories and get at least a familiarity with some developmental biology. The real goal is to get kids feeling like there's something interesting or cool in science, not so much to teach them a specific set of facts, so we haven't done any kind of long term survey of who reads the cards or quizzed players afterwards on their knowledge. I did get a letter from Junichi Masuda (one of the creators of the Pokemon game and a director at Game Freak) saying that he liked the card designs, the level of the information content and the game concept."

I'm sure we could do better, if we so desired. On the other hand, the fact that something like this was done at all is worthy of our collective appreciation. OK, so there are better games out there - games that could involve kids even more deeply in actual learning. But here's a very simple game concept that got the kids excited about visiting every part of a scientific research center, if only to collect another card. And that's something. That, in deed, is something.


Grocery Store Wars

This is a portrait of Obi Wan Canoli, from the video Grocery Store Wars | Join the Organic Rebellion, that happened to cross the virtual desktop of my son the research scientist.

It's a silly bit of animated fluffery. A parody, not so much of Star Wars, but of supermarketing. "These are dark times, young Cuke," says Obi Wan Canoli, in which we are in danger of losing touch with "the ways of the Farm." But, thanks to "the Organic Rebellion," there is still hope.

Sponsored by the Organic Trade Association, this little video is very pointed in its humor. "If you think about it," says Katherine DiMatto, OTA's executive director, "a battle is currently being waged over food in America, and the direction agriculture will take in the future. We're asking in a light-hearted way for people to think about the choices they make at the grocery store."

Created by Free Range Graphics, the producers of The Meatrix, it demonstrates edutainment at its best - tickling us with a painfully pointed stick. It is to laugh. It is to think.

Humour and Play-Fullness: Essential integrative processes in governance, religion and transdisciplinarity

The lengthy, and intricately-linked draft of an article "Humour and Play-Fullness: Essential integrative processes in governance, religion and transdisciplinarity" begins with the following observation: "The following exploration follows from a concern that modern civilization is boring itself to death trying to manage change -- and compensating for its inadequacies with respect to the challenge by indulgence in distractions and substance abuse. There is a need for radical reframing -- of a playful nature. Essentially the argument is that 'no play equals no engagement' -- at least of any sustainable form."

That should give you a good taste of the significance and sobriety to ensue. But don't let that dissuade you. Scattered throughout the density of this article are gems of theological, philosophical and political insight. In the section on "seriousness and humorlessness," for another example, you will find this wonderful quote from a section of copyright law, no less: "If the point of law is to tame the state of nature, the point of copyright law, surely, is to make it fun to live there. Copyright law is not just about money -- it is about creating the things that make life worth living. One of those things is parody, a known antidote to modern life. But now US copyright owners seem intent on creating a vast new humour-free zone in America, by pursuing parodists through the courts. Each of the last two presidential elections spawned a big anti-parody lawsuit, but the phenomenon is not just limited to political jokesters: the sense of humour failure on the part of copyright owners has hit literary parodists as well."

On and on, through implication after implication, including, oddly enough, a section on "Potential of humour in communication with extraterrestrials, aliens and terrorists," a startling, but illuminating concatenation in and of itself.

Well, before I talk myself silly, I must admit that I found the article more useful as a stimulus to thought than as a "good read." And, in many ways, I think that is Anthony Judge's purpose - to make us think. What the article made me think about most was the connection between humor and playfulness, because for me, it helped unbundle the concept of humor from that of comedy, comics and comedians, and bring it back to something far more central to those of us who follow the Playful Path - humor and playfulness (or, as Judge has it, "play-fullness") as aspects of the same intelligence or sensibility. Judge diagrams this out for us in his "Integrative framework of humour-playfulness." See especially his notion of "mutually enhancing humour."

Thanks for this find go to Dr. Timothy Wilken.


Beach Tennis

Beach Tennis? But, of course. Kinda like beach volleyball, because it's played on beach volleyball court. Even more like badminton, except you play it with tennis racquets and ball. Apparently, Beach Tennis started in Latin America and vicinity. Like on the lovely but, currently unfortunate island of questioned-repute, Aruba.

If you're over 16 (apparently, something untoward happens when you reach level 5 that makes it inappropriate for the younger set), you can even play it online (uses arrow keys and space bar).

One visit to the Beach Tennis websites, especially the highly polished Beach Tennis USA site, makes you realize how seriously some people are taking this patently junkyardly sport - serious enough to do what is necessary to earn a write-up in USA Today.

Which leaves us with this question: what makes a junkyard-like sport get transformed into a "serious" one? Clearly, Beach Tennis was born out of a spirit of playfulness - the same kind of rule transforming playfulness that gave birth to Baggyball. What makes Beach Tennis a "real" sport, and Baggyball remain Junkyard?

My guess: it's all about how much it gets played. Which is all about how much fun it is for how many people. Until, finally, it gets to be all about money. And that's about all.

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