Minimally Invasive Education

The story starts like this:
"Sugata Mitra has a PhD in physics and heads research efforts at New Delhi's NIIT, a fast-growing software and education company with sales of more than $200 million... But Mitra's passion is computer-based education, specifically for India's poor. He believes that children, even terribly poor kids with little education, can quickly teach themselves the rudiments of computer literacy. The key, he contends, is for teachers and other adults to give them free rein, so their natural curiosity takes over and they teach themselves. He calls the concept "minimally invasive education."

To test his ideas, Mitra 13 months ago launched something he calls 'the hole in the wall experiment.' He took a PC connected to a high-speed data connection and embedded it in a concrete wall next to NIIT's headquarters in the south end of New Delhi. The wall separates the company's grounds from a garbage-strewn empty lot used by the poor as a public bathroom. Mitra simply left the computer on, connected to the Internet, and allowed any passerby to play with it. He monitored activity on the PC using a remote computer and a video camera mounted in a nearby tree.

What he discovered was that the most avid users of the machine were ghetto kids aged 6 to 12, most of whom have only the most rudimentary education and little knowledge of English. Yet within days, the kids had taught themselves to draw on the computer and to browse the Net. Some of the other things they learned, Mitra says, astonished him.
So we gather further evidence of the play-learning connection. Hopefully, conclusive enough evidence, at last, to help teachers brave the inevitable disapproval that comes from trying things like this, for real. Play and learning, as we so well know, are synergistic forces, and they meet evermore gracefully on today's Internet. We follow no particular texts, take no tests, get no report cards, and yet learn, by ourselves, from each other, simply by playing. Simply because it's fun.

This is hard to fit into a curriculum.

via Chris Saeger

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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The Fun of Tickling

This clip from a Brazilian TV show illustrates just about everything one needs to say about the fun of tickling and being tickled. It is no coincidence that the woman looks like she is being crucified, nor that someone looking very much like death is peering over her shoulder.

The people on the Brazilian game show are, fortunately, despite their vulnerability, well-prepared. They have an entire audience to remind them that this is all supposed to be fun. If they didn't, it would be much closer to what it looks like - sheer torture.

Of all the tastes of fun, tickling is perhaps the the most complex. It is delicious the way eating Fugu is delicious. Prepared correctly, it is sheer delicacy. Incorrectly prepared, it tastes something like death.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Another Deep Fun

One of these days, the bridge will be even wider - the one connecting this Deep Fun website to a book of games published by the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations - a book called Deep Fun.

In the mean time, what we have is a generous collection of games, many of which echo the spirit and purpose of this website, its articles, and its collections of Pointless Games. Generous, because there are 31 pages of games - each of which is written from the perspective of a youth leader devoted to developing community and social skills. Generous also because the entire booklet is available online, for free, in HTML as well as PDF formats.

Even before you look at all the wonderful games, take the time to read the first chapter - The Five Steps of Community Building. My favorite part, the last two points in very final section on "Accessibilities and Comfort Levels." I quote:

3. It is always ok to pass: Make it clear that any participant can pass at any time during the activities. If you are doing an intense activity, also make sure that chaplains or someone else is available to help someone process the experience.

4. Modify! Modify! Modify!: If someone cannot take part for whatever reason ask them how the activity might be modified so that they could take part.
Amen. Amen.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


A Taste of Nonsense

Nonsense has a funny taste.

If one were to ask the posthumous Edward Lear to elucidate further, one might easily be led to conclude that nonsense tastes very much like a Crumbobblious cutlet, the making of which being most tickletakingly manifest in the following Learish recipe.


Procure some strips of beef, and having cut them into the smallest possible slices, proceed to cut them still smaller, eight or perhaps nine times.

When the whole is thus minced, brush it up hastily with a new clothes-brush, and stir round rapidly and capriciously with a salt-spoon or a soup ladle.

Place the whole in a saucepan, and remove it to a sunny place, -- say the roof of the house if free from sparrows or other birds, -- and leave it there for about a week.

At the end of that time add a little lavender, some oil of almonds, and a few herring-bones; and cover the whole with 4 gallons of clarified crumbobblious sauce, when it will be ready for use.

Cut it into the shape of ordinary cutlets, and serve it up in a clean tablecloth or dinner-napkin.

Nonsense has an often somewhat harsh and salty aftertaste, less like sweet, more like sweat. Hence, it must be artfully prepared to be at all palatable. As Hesse wrote in one of his books: "My story is not a pleasant one, it is neither sweet nor harmonious, as invented stories are; it has the taste of nonsense and chaos, of madness and dreams, like the lives of all the men who stop deceiving themselves."

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Giant Tepee of Giant Cards

Giant House of Giant Cards, as a matter of fact, was in deed played at the Giant Card Event and Finals as the final project of the USC, School of Cinema - Television, Interactive Media Department's Fall, 2005 course called "Experiments in Interactivity I.

Giant Card-wise, there were two major Giant House of Cards-like mini-events. One was depicted here, of course. But the second, more classically tepee-like, somehow, until this moment, escaped our well-deserved collective attention.

I direct your attention to the two "cards" on top. You might note that these cards are basically naked sheets of cardboard, cut to card size. Interestingly enough, it doesn't seem to matter to the giant card tepee constructors, at all, in the least.

Which might make you think next time you decided to make a giant set of cards.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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The Eye Candy Machine

Speaking of the flavors of fun, one of the sweetest that has come to our virtual world is often conceptually packaged as "Eye Candy."

Of the various manifestations of the endlessly alluring varieties of eye candy, the kaleidoscope predates, and yet somehow anticipates the visual confections of the virtual world.

This is an image I made with the aid of a site called "make your own kaleidoscope." It was all I needed to be reminded of the dessert-like pleasures of visual delight.

Like kaleidoscopes a lot? Perhaps, as the Make Your Own Kaleidoscope people suggest, you should consider joining the Brewster Kaleidoscope Society, Sir David Brewster being the actual inventor of the optically delicious kaleidoscope. Should you desire to commune with some kaleidoscopic artists, the society has an impressive list (with email addresses) of said same. Amongst the impressive resources therein, you will find a detailed history of the kaleidoscope, and an overview of some of the different types of kaleidoscope.

Want to make a non-virtual kaleidoscope? Here's how.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Professional Fun

Professional fun tastes a little bit like candy-coated beef jerky. When you first bite into it, it's sweet. I mean, swwwwwweet! And crunchy. Gritty, even. And once you're at the jerky part, it's tough enough to chew on for a very long time. Enough to keep you, as advertised, occupied. Occupied, in fact, with a certain full, meaty, droolworthy flavor.

Getting paid to play. That's what it's all about, isn't it. And that's what they get - all those actors and musicians and athletes and surgeons - paid to play. Paid to have fun - well, a certain kind of fun. Professional fun. Responsible, focused, skilled, well-trained fun.

See also my article on Playing and Getting Paid, my FunCast on the aforementioned, and my collection of articles on the Fun/Work connections.

Every one of us who has experienced fun professionally, whether playfully or dangerously, knows exactly what professional fun tastes like: Candy coated beef jerky.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Serious and Silly Fun

There is a difference between serious fun and silly fun. They each have a different taste. Where Silly fun is sweet, Serious fun is sour. Where silly fun is chewy, serious is brittle.

But combine them, and you get something genuinely exquisite, like this story of how Serious and Silly tried to play hide and seek and wound up finding god:

Of all the players on my inner playground, Serious and Silly are the best known. They've played together for years. They understand each other intimately. They can play the most complicated games you can imagine. And, from time to time, they can really play beautifully together. There's one particular game that they can never play particularly well. Yet they play it almost all the time, and seem to really enjoy it. It's a variation of hide-and-seek and peek-a-boo and achieving enlightenment.

Typically, Silly suggests the game. Serious always wants to be Seeker. This, actually, is a good arrangement. Serious is an expert at keeping rules and being fair and defining what's off limits. Silly, on the other hand, is remarkably good at being the Hider.

Next they decide on Home Base. The inner playground is full of potential home bases and hiding places, from Toe to Tongue, Throat to Lung. Silly usually picks the Nose.

Silly will play Hider, and Serious, as we already predicted, will play Seeker. Serious focuses all attention on being the breather, the nostril, the sensor of the air. And then begins to count (backwards, by primes, from 97). Silly is supposed to be hiding by the time Serious reaches zero. Despite years of practice, Serious just can't ignore Silly for the whole count. So, as usual, Serious has to start over again several times before Silly is really ready to hide.

Finally, Serious completes the count. At last, the moment of truth. Serious, in a blink of the inner eye, reaches the unavoidable conclusion that Silly is definitely hiding. At this point, the game almost always breaks down. It's just too much for both of them. For Silly, hiding is fun, but only for a little while. And for Serious, just the thought of being all alone, leaving Home, without's almost too frightening. Even Serious doesn't want to have to be that serious.

Fortunately, both Serious and Silly have had a lifetime to play. All it takes to get Silly out of hiding is someone to say "Allee Allee Oxen Free." I don't know why they keep on playing Hide and Seek. Tag is a much better game for both of them. They'd never have to be apart. And, together, they could even find other players to play with.

I tried to ask them once, when I thought they were between games. And they started running after me, yelling "You're IT."


from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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The Real Big Bopper

Ever play Bop It, Bop It Extreme, or Bop It Extreme 2 even? Heard about Bop-It Download (available in the UK - see also this for more details)?

In that case, you can appreciate the potential playworthiness of a giant playground Bop It.

Called the system, the device purportedly provides "...a great new way to exercise without even realizing thatís what you're doing. You can select single player or multiplayer games, and there is also an option to play at 'base' level which eliminates the high switches. The activity switches have bright LED lights that flash, and switches produce sound so you know which one to go to."

According to the article in Popsci, the "system costs $45,000 installed... All the electronics are powered by a solar panel that comes with the installation. Software updates with new modes and different games are included with any installation. There are currently 30 installed in parks and schools across England."

OK. So maybe it is not so realistic to expect to see such marvels coming soon to your local playground. Maybe things like this will eventually become part of tomorrow's amusement parks or retirement villages or enlightened rehabilitation centers. The point is that technology is leading us to new ways to play, to engaging mind, body, and the other in healthy and healing pursuits. And this is something to celebrate, even now.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Sheer Fun

Sheer fun tastes like cotton candy - so light you're almost not sure you're tasting anything, so sweet, and sweeter still towards the end.

Sheer fun. Sheer joy. Sheer glee. Sweet. And then sweeter.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Say Anything

North Star Games is one of those rare companies that places a high premium on quality over quantity. Although the company was founded in 2003, they have only published 3 games. Each of them has been Major FUN, and each production seems to be getting better than the previous one.

Say Anything, their latest creation, is a light-hearted party game that will get you and your friends talking and laughing in no time. Everything about the game reflects years of play testing, and finer and finer tuning. The rules are wonderfully easy to understand - clearly written and presented, every question answered. Everything fits in the box just so. The write-on, wipe-off boards (8 answer boards and a scoreboard) write on easily (golf-pencil-sized wipe-off-able markers included) and wipe off even more easily. The 400 Question Cards are pleasantly thick yet amply bendy. The little, graphic-and-color-coordinated Player Chips are non-bendy enough to be satisfyingly chip-like. And the state of the art SELECT-O-MATIC can barely comment enough about the functionality, portability, and virtually cordless battery-freedom!

Of course, it's the fun that counts - even more than all the well-thought-out-edness of the packaging and game components. Let's start with a Say Anything card. There are 5 questions to choose from which means youíll always be able to ask something that suits the people youíve invited to your gathering. The question all have something to do with your right to, well, say, as it were, anything. Some of the questions solicit your pop culture opinions, some are about personal experiences, some are slightly serious, and a handful are seriously ridicules (designed just to make you laugh). If for example, we picked the question "What TV channel would be the hardest to live without?" Really, you could write anything on your Answer Board. I mean, you like what you like. Write anything. Say anything. What's to argue about?

So you write what you write (it can be non-sequitur if you want), and toss your Answer Board face-up on the table. She or He Who Holds the SELECT-O-MATIC 5000 (SoHWHtS-O-M5000) will read all the answers, and pick a favorite response. Any favorite response - for any reason. Because SoHWHtS-O-M5000 can, of course Select Anything.

Now everybody else tries to guess what answer was picked. It turns out that the SoHWHtS-O-M5000 gets a point for everyone who votes for His or Her chosen Answer Board (up to a maximum of 3 points). They guess by using their well-designed, chip-like, color-coordinated Player Chips. They each have two. Which means they can put both chips down on the same Answer Board, or select two Answer Boards to carry their personal Player Chip-ness. Ah, an opportunity to demonstrate something to everyone in attendance - two chips to manifest your personal certainty, or your clever covering of the bases, so to speak.

Finally SoHWHtS-O-M5000 reveals the chosen board, and players gain points accordingly, which the Holder of the Write-On Wipe-Off-able Score Board dutifully records. And in the mean time, much laughter tends to erupt. Much laughter. Because of the unexpected answers people come up with, the unpredictable perspicacity of their votes, the verifiable silliness of the task, and, for some, because of the score they get.

Say Anything is the very kind of game the Major Fun Award was designed for. It takes a few minutes to learn, a good half hour or so to play, and can be played with your basic 3-8 people. Maybe 16 if you play in teams. Probably 24, tops.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


The Fluxus Olympiad

Last May, the 24-26, to be exact, sports artist Tom Russotti, inventor of Whiffle Hurling, at the Tate, as in museum. Allow me to quote from the description:
"Football on stilts, the flipper race, invisible hurdling... just some of the sports that took place at Tate's very own Flux Olympiad, part of a three-day festival of art and performance at Tate Modern. The Olympiad was first conceived by founding Fluxus artist George Maciunas in the 1960s, though never realised until now. The aim of the Fluxus group was to instill artistic values into every part of life, and they went about it with a good dose of Dadaistic humour. TateShots asked artist, sportsman and Fluxus expert Tom Russotti to commentate on the day's activities and tell us about the history of the event"
Tom is already proving to be a potent force in the playful arts. This clip will help you understand why.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Tape Cassette Skeleton - symbolic fun

Brian Dettmer made a skeleton out of cassette tape cassettes. If you want to know how, all you have to do is look at the pictures. If you want to know why, well, there you go.

The kind of fun embodied by Brian Dettmer's Tape Cassette Skeleton has a very strong, but complex taste. The skeleton thing gives it that musty, dank, fear-like flavor. The tape cassettes add a minty, breath-freshening, born-again aftertaste. The re-use of tape cassettes to build a skeleton gives new life to the cassettes, while using them to create an image of death brings a hint of humor to the whole thing.

A significantly symbolic fun that proves to be, all in all, quite savor-worthy.

via in4mador.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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