Some of the best fun happens where it shouldn't: vacant lots, stairwells, alleys, and, as we see in this video, subways. An anthropologist named Victor Turner explored a concept he called liminality. I quote:
Liminality is a state of being in between phases. In a rite of passage the individual in the liminal phase is neither a member of the group she previously belonged to nor is she a member of the group she will belong to upon the completion of the rite. The most obvious example is the teenager who is neither an adult nor a child. "Liminal entities are neither here nor there; they are betwixt and between the positions assigned and arrayed by law, custom, convention, and ceremonial" (Turner, 1969:95). Turner extended the liminal concept to modern societies in his study of liminoid phenomena in western society. He pointed out the similarities between the "leisure genres of art and entertainment in complex industrial societies and the rituals and myths of archaic, tribal and early agrarian cultures" (1977:43).
What we see in this video is liminal in every sense of Turner's definition. It is also inspirational, a documented instantiation of the transformational power of play.
We shared the best and worst, Bill Doran and I did. Love and anger. Deep spiritual insight and deeper emotional chaos. Those worst things, though, are dropping away from my memory, day by day. Leaving little hollows to be filled in by other, better, more valuable memories.
Like our ping pong game. There we were, up in the barn, playing with our brand new, thoroughly researched, ultimate ping pong table. Bill knew that I couldn't really play ping pong. And I knew that he could really, really play. And because we wanted to play together, we just more or less volleyed. After a while, Bill suggested that I just try to hold my paddle still enough so that he could get the ball to hit it. Apparently, that was more than challenge enough for him. After a while, we managed to get a volley going, Bill exercising the depth and fullness of his ping pongly skills. And after a longer while, we got a very, very long volley going. And during that volley, the ball seemed to take on it's own, almost internal light, as if it were the us, Bill and I, combined. And it was, for an instant, as if we were seeing God. Honest. When we left the barn, we were like two Buddhist monks having just achieved enlightenment. That one single experience led me to writing perhaps the most important book of my career, The Well-Played Game
Like the times Bill showed up, unannounced, to spirit us away to one place or another, one more adventure - the desert, the Grand Canyon. And the amazing sense of freedom he brought with him. Like we had all the time in the world together. "I'm loose" he would say. Because when we were together, there wasn't any place we really had to be. Like every place we were together was exactly where we were supposed to be. Which it was.
Bill was one of my best friends. And the people he brought into our lives became family, blood-connected, for life. I'm not going to miss him, really, because he's that deep a part of me. Whenever I find myself on some timeless adventure, following my impulse down the road, Bill is right there with me. I just wish he was around to take another turn at the wheel now and then.
Finger Jousting"...is a sport where two consenting players square off in an attempt to prod their opponent with their lancing (right) index finger before the opposing player can. The competitors must keep their right hands locked in an arm wrestling fashion and not use their legs or latent (left) arm in an offensive manner. The competitors are known as jousters, and the act of touching the other person’s body with the index finger is known as lancing. A player can lance anywhere except the lancing (right) arm."
Finger Jousting? Could it be just a jest, this jousting-with-the-finger concept? A jest? Surely, you joke. How could anything as challenging and artful and demanding of physical prowess and as contest-worthy to lead to the establishment of the World Finger Jousting Federation be taken as anything but or else? Verily, one could, having perused and pondered the patently Pseudo History of Finger Jousting, conclude that it is little more than a laughable lark, a prank, a juvenile josh. And yet, at heart, there is a clear smackage of something fun and physically sportlike and worthy of patently public approbation.
Veteran Dice Stacker Todd Strong was telling me about this hot Dice Stacking YouTube video, posted to follow up on this equally remarkable YouTubed News Story (German). So excited was my self-effacing friend that he almost failed to mention his most remarkable Two Columns in One Cup Dice Stacking YouTube video. Why, I asked, would he be so excited about a YouTube video that wasn't his own, given his own proficiency at said same art. Well, he explained, the success of that particular YouTube video has drawn a veritable flock of folk to his Dice Stacking Site, wherein he makes his Dice Stacking book, video, and paraphernalia available to the Dice Stacking masses. "Ah," I concluded, exclamatorilly, thus: the very fame garnered by one YouTube Dicestacker inures to your benefit. What a gloriously connected world it is when one's person fame leads to an equally deserving person's fortune.
Zoomquilt is a "collaborative art project," more than faintly reminiscent of the surrealist game Exquisite Corpse. One image zooms to reveal another which zooms, seamlessly, to reveal another, and on, and apparently on. Many of the images are a bit, shall we say, macabre - all of which contributes rather exquisitely to the corpse-connection.
You control the speed and direction (back and forth) of the zoom with a slider that appears when you mouse towards the left of the screen.
Since I published my article on some of the new puzzles from ThinkFun, I've heard from two more, very different, very dedicated and innovative sources for yet more puzzles. Though the focus of this weblog is on games as social experiences, puzzles, even though designed to be solitary exercises, can easily become the source of a great deal of focused, collaborative, social play. And it is in that light that I share with you yet two more resources.
First to contact me was Bogusia Gierus, inventor of Hexatrix, an elegant and challenging arithmetic puzzle in which players try to connect all the numbers and signs to create a mathematically correct statement. It's what you might call an "elegant" puzzle - simple to understand, challenging, and almost infinitely variable (click this to see the solution for the puzzle in the illustration) - unless you don't like playing with numbers.
And today, I heard from Alex Colket, about his website Play with your mind. I quote: "PlayWithYourMind.com is about mind games, brain puzzles and IQ tests. Between the various word games, logic puzzles, typing tests, memory challenges, multi-tasks, and a mind sport, PlayWithYourMind.com boasts nearly 100 original games - among the largest such collections on the internet. Challenging abilities as diverse as memory, focus, logic, spatial sense, perception, verbal skill and numerical prowess, the brain games here provide plenty of opportunities to play with your mind."
My suggestion, find a friend and try any of these puzzles together. Play with you shared mind.
With their collection of Pips: Original Card and Dice Games, Samuel and Jacob H. Stoddard have gifted us with, among many other delights, a collection of, as advertised, original playing card, dice and domino games. Original, well-documented, and apparently most worthy of some significant segment of your playtime.
No, no, there's nothing to buy, unless you don't have a deck of cards or a couple dice or a set of dominoes. I know that's going to make you feel that these games are not, like, "real" games. And, if these guys wanted to make them into genuine, commercial, K-mart-worthy games, well, they'd probably make some significant money. But they most apparently have a very different goal. They want to make some significant fun.
Which becomes even more apparent if you look at the stuff on the rest of their site (called "Rinkworks"). I, following a suggestion from the noble Presurfer, wound up in a subsection of a subsection called "Fun with Words," where I learned about... Wait, let me give you some examples. Can you guess what the following words have in common?
BOLT, FAST, GRADE, HANDICAP
No, silly, it's not that they're all written in upper case. It's that they're all "Contronyms" - words that are also their own opposites. Like BOLT, as in bolt the door, or bolt away; or FAST, as in moving fast or something made unmoving.
Mark well this site, for is much fun to be had therein and by.
Before we talk about Pete's Pike and some of the other delightfully new puzzle/games from ThinkFun, answer me this? Have you ever tried River Crossing? If not, stop reading now, click on the ThinkFun, answer me this? Have you ever tried River Crossing link, and try it right now, on-actual-line. How about Rush Hour? Tipover? Go ahead. Click away. You can play all three. It is to sing the puzzle electric.
Of course, you'd be missing the feel of the puzzle/games themselves, the well-made, cleverly designed, intelligently portable, box-throw-out-able packaging of it all. But you'd get a good sense of what these puzzle/games are all about - how they involve moving pieces on a board, pieces with different properties, boards with different layouts. And how each layout is really a new puzzle. And how the puzzles range in difficulty. And, most importantly, from a major fun perspective, how they invite kibitzing.
The different levels of challenge allow you to challenge yourself as much or as little as you want to. Go ahead, start with the the first card. Be a beginner. Enjoy your competence. Feeling feisty. Skip a card or two. Try something intermediate. Because you can challenge yourself as much or as little as you want, the puzzle/games are especially fun - you never feel yourself overwhelmed or bored (unless you want to be).
Then there's the kibitz-attraction - because the puzzles are visually attractive, and because what you're trying to do is generally easy to explain (see, I'm trying to get this goat (Pete) to the top of the mountain (OK, the middle of the board), and I can move Pete up or down or across from where he is until he's right next to one of his Goats. And I can move the Goats the same way.) So, if you're feeling social, and you want that wonderfully collaborative experience of thinking together with somebody, well, then, you've got a game fun enough to play at a party. And if you're not feeling so social, you can just sit on the sofa, all by yourself, and still have significant fun.
So the very design of these ThinkFun puzzles is the very kind of design that lends itself to MajorFUN-ness. And when you have a bunch of these puzzles together (in addition to Pete's Pike, we had HotSpot, Cover Your Tracks and Treasure Quest - all new, each fun), you can amaze yourself and friends at how darn clever these puzzle/games really are, how each, similar in all the good ways, is so different, in similarly good ways.
Take Hot Spot. Very, very similar to Pete's Pike, you might say, except with "Bots." Only, Bots can jump over each other. In fact, a Bot can jump over two Bots, if it feels so compelled. Not diagonally, of course. Very different. You have to think a different way. Not like your Pike's Pete thinking, oh no. Not at all.
And then there's Treasure Quest and Cover your Tracks. Not quite as self-storing, perhaps, but with a significantly adequate drawstring storage bag, for those who seek portability and boxlessness. But very different from Hot Spot or Pete's Pike. Cover Your Tracks, with its four, large, asymmetrical pieces that fit on the board in only certain ways, and its slide-under puzzle cards, very, very different from Treasure Quest, with its sliding gate and four kinds of square tokens (you gotta love the Gold Masks that you push/side along the board), and your statuesque, token-pushing Hero - and yet, in a way, remarkably similar to all the other ThinkFun puzzle/games. Similarly well-made, similarly ingenious, similarly fun, differently puzzling.
They call it "Feather Bowling." And, contrary to the conclusion to which you've probably already leaped, there is no bowling of feathers. Rather, there's bowling of something looking remarkably like wooden cheese rounds. Considering that the game comes to us from Belgium, the cheese-round-likeness of the balls is all but self-explanatory.
The feather? That's the thing stuck into the ground near the end of the alley. The goal? To roll your wooden cheese round so that it stops as close as possible to the feather, in a bocce- or horseshoe-like manner.
The alley. Ah, the alley. Not flat, as you might assume from previous bowling experiences. But concave. Curved, don't you know, so that it becomes quite possible to roll your wooden cheese rounds up and down and around in a most remarkably strategic manner.
Balanko is such a straightforward invitation to fun that you almost don't need to read the rules. There's a ball on a string. There's another ball that rides a curved track. There are pits of various score values - the center and widest pit being, naturally, both the easiest to get the ball into and of the lowest value. There are sliding scorekeepers to keep track of your achievements.
One player releases the rolling ball. The other player releases the swinging ball, hoping that the swinging ball will hit the rolling ball into a high scoring pit. The only other thing you might want to know, suggested-rule-wise, is that the ball-roller, sitting on the opposite side of the game, can try to catch the ball-swinger's, uh, ball. Which is actually a good idea, given that if she doesn't catch the swinging ball, and the rolling ball is still rolling, her opponent can try to catch it and again take yet another swing.
If nothing else happens, sooner or later the swinging ball is going to hit the rolling ball anyway. On the other hand, it could make the rolling ball go into either the ball-swinger's or the ball-roller's pit. So, if one player doesn't catch it, the other player might consider it strategically sound to grab for the swinging ball as soon as it's in range.
Setting it up is a bit less straightforward, but the instructions are clear, the steps few, and it is easy enough to do (once you rid yourself of certain expectations about how it "should" go together) that you won't mind having to take it apart and put it back together. Though you'll probably want to keep it assembled and ready to play with for-practically-ever.
We've given Balanko the coveted "Major Fun Family Game Award" because it is the kind of game that will be as much fun for kids as it will be for adults and probably even more fun for kids and adults together. For similar reasons, it's also getting a Party Games award, even though only two people can play it at a time. And, if that's not enough to interest you, you should know that it is being seriously considered a Keeper.
What's the name of that movie? The one with a Native American, or maybe a Hawaiian. By a river, I think, or a lake or a stream of some sort? Oh, you know what I mean. Yeah, that's it, Blue Crush. Wait, there's another movie, also with a river or lake or stream, and there was a wheelchair, I think, or was it a crutch, no, a cane. Wait, could that be Cane River?
Is part or all of this conversation at all familiar? Have you now or ever engaged someone in a similar movie-related dialogue? Well, then, Cineplexity is, without doubt, the very game you should be playing at this very moment, verily.
We were actually amazed at how fun this game turned out to be. Sure, it reminded us of the oft-touted, trend-setting, MajorFUN-award-winning, Out of the Box Publishing easy-to-learn party game Apples to Apples. As well it might, considering that it is published by the aforementioned themselves. But, you see, it looks so Apples-to-Apples-like with its many cards and simple rules and calling out for 4 to 10 players and stuff, that you'd assume it's pretty much another of those many Apples to Apples variants, only about movies. But you'd be wrong. It's a different game. Completely. Sure, there's a judge (cleverly called the "director"). And the Director doesn't actually play, because s/he has to do the, um, judging. But that's it, Apples-to-Apples-similarity-wise.
In Apples to Apples everything is relative, the actual degree of relativity determined by the judge. In Cineplexity, you have to come up with a "real" answer - a verifiable, actual movie including, beyond doubt, the actual scene or props, or belonging to the specified genre, whose characters have the certifiable characteristics depicted by two, or perhaps three, of 504 the randomly drawn Cineplexity cards. And, amazingly, there seems always to be at least one movie that usually at least one person knows that matches precisely.
Oh, the intensity. And oh, oh, the brain-wracking. And, ah hah hah, the laughter.
Cineplexity. Surprisingly different. Not so surprisingly fun.
FreezeTagBasketball (invented by Phil Anker & David Fisher)
"You see, FreezeTagBasketball (invented by Phil Anker & Dave Fisher) combines basketball and freeze tag. Each team has an 'IT.' The IT can tag people on the opposing team to freeze them, or tag people on ITs own team to unfreeze them. Everybody becomes unfrozen when a point is made. The ITs can make points and everything else everyone else does. The rest of the game is played just like basketball."
"But," you ask, "won't people just stay away from the ITs? Why not give the ITs the ball and let them make points?"
"Certainly," the designers respond, "ITs have an offensive advantage, but don't let that fool you. ITs can freeze each other, and once frozen cannot unfreeze themselves. So if an IT is given the ball, other players might stay away, but the opposing IT would go for the freeze. If your team's IT is frozen, you can see how you would have an obvious disadvantage. The opposing IT could freeze your entire team, and unfreeze all of the opposing players. Bad news for you."
FreezeTagBasketball is what I, Bernie DeKoven, author of Junkyard Sports (as soon to be seen in Family Fun Magazine), registrar of the registered trademark Junkyard Sports®, host of Junkyard Sports, the Blog, call a Junkyard Sport - even though it doesn't (but certainly could) involve the using of junk. What it does involve is the putting together of a sport and a game in such an ingenious way as to create a new sport. A new, fun sport. A new, fun sport good enough to be played very, very hard; and new enough to be really fun, and stay really fun, for anyone who really wants to play.
My Junkmasterly blessings on you, Phil Anker and David Fisher. Play on!
"We can find new ways to have fun. We can make it our goal to have nothing else but fun. Only fun. Just fun. We can abandon even the agreement to find a game we can all play together. The trust we have established with each other is so profound that we need no longer to aim at anything.
"And so we continue, pursuing this convention of having fun together, until any attempt to decide ahead of time what game we're going to play or not, even an attempt to decide what rules we are going to have fun by, becomes too much of a hassle - unnecessary, in fact contrary to our purpose, in fact impossible."
Here, here, and also here are three parts of a clear, succinct, and even illustrated guide to eleven different checker games. Yes, that's right, eleven. Probably more if you think about combining rules. About which is something I would definitely urge you to think.
Let me tell you why this is so important to me. Years ago - o, maybe 30 - I held a checkers class in a prison in Pennsylvania. It was going to be a class about a lot of different games, but the residents (ok, inmates) weren't allowed to have cards or dice and checker sets were readily available and/or easily made. So, anyway, I decided to teach them different ways to play checkers. This was a major shock for many of them - that there was in fact more than one way to play checkers. And a major opportunity for me to start a dialogue with them on starting dialogues with each other - around rules, around thinking about the game itself, and not just winning. Because if you start out to play checkers, and the next question is "what kind of checkers do you want to play," then, all of a sudden, the relationship between the players becomes more important than the game itself. I mean, the game is still important, believe me you, but making the decision, figuring out what you both want to play, is an act of connection, of communication, of community. Playing with rules, selecting the rules you want to play by, and then keeping those rules, these are the kinds of thing free people do, the kind of thing that people who are part of society, who help to build society, do.
And they really wanted to learn every game I could teach them, every variation. And it was fun.
Jenova Chen's Master's thesis was called "Flow in Games." One result of Jenova's explorations of Dr. Csikszentmihalyi's concept of Flow was a remarkably gentle, sweetly meditative, eat-everything-in-the-universe game called flOw - which is now, can you believe it, available for the Playstation.
There is something worthy of celebration here - the development of an innovative game, based in no small part on a similarly innovative way of thinking about fun, embraced in some significant part by the commercial world, all in the pursuit of a Master's degree.
Rejoice in your accomplishment, Jenova Chen, as we rejoice in it, your fellow followers of the Playful Path.