"FUN: a gleam in the eye, reflected in the faces of others."

"FUN: a gleam in the eye, reflected in the faces of others."

- Craig Conley

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

Boing, Swoosh, Boff

"The game," wrote Jon Jenkins, many years ago, commenting on my Verbal Ping Pong article,
"...is quite similar to one Maureen uses. Her game has three sounds boing, swoosh and boff. Each sound sends the imaginary ball a different direction left, right and straight across sort of like Hearts. We could have:
  • backhands be bong
  • straight forehands ping
  • forehand slices be slish
  • backhand slices blish
  • Smashes would be pong
  • Top spin twong said quickly
  • back spin bwong said slowly like bwoooonnnng
  • right hand spin rwong with medium speed like rwoonng
  • left hand spin lwong with speed like rwong but it would be of course lwoonng.
Extra spin would be gained by lengthening the first letter of the spin so extra top spin would be ttwong perhaps with a bit of a stutter like t-t-wong.

The return would have to be made on the last letter of the sound (hard with a sh sound).

The referee would make the missing sounds. Too early in the word would land the ball in the net and the referee would say dunk. over the end would be biff (in honor of Calvin).

Major FUN comments editorially: in a non-refereed version, both players make the missing sounds simultaneously.

Recently, I received an invitation to join in celebrating Jon's "completed life." Our mutual friend, Gerrit Visser, wrote this about Jon. Jon's wonderfully playful contribution says a great deal about his legacy.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Solitaire, computers and motorcycles

The other day I was sitting at the dinner table with a deck of cards. Not sure what led up to this. I had a long solitaire-playing period many years ago when I lived at the farm, playing solitaire for at least an hour a night, just sitting, drinking tea, shuffling, laying the foundation, dealing cards three at a time - you know, solitaire.

Not that I had given up the game. I'd played it a lot since the farm. But not with cards.

Playing solitaire on the computer has a lot going for it. It's the most popular of all computer games. It's so wonderfully orderly - the cards always so well-stacked, the piles so even, the dealing so automated. There are hundreds of variations, each so easy to learn. There are pleasing sound effects, sometimes spectacular "reward displays" when you win a game. There are games that come with in-depth statistics, tracking how many times you've played what, and how often you've won.

But playing with an actual deck of cards, the wonderful sound and feel of shuffling, the ritual of laying the cards out to start the game, and, for me, above all, the opportunity to cheat, in so many instructively soul-searching ways. Aside from the sensory engagement, there's a freedom you get when you're playing with real cards that is completely unlike the experience of playing on the computer.

Playing solitaire on a computer is like driving a car on a freeway. You get your speed, ease, comfort, predictability. Playing with real cards, however, is like driving a motorcycle on a back road. You get your freedom.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

Labels: , ,

Q-tip wars

You need: duct tape, sunglasses, straws, Q-tips, and two different-color markers.

One kid is 'IT'...you wrap them in duct tape, sticky side out. From shoulders to knees. (Give 'IT' sunglasses for protection.)

Two teams stand about 5 paces from 'IT.'

Each team is given straws with color coded Q-tips (red and blue?) (If you color them in the package with a marker you can get all the tips at once.)

You blow the whistle (or clap your hands or scream or something) and everyone starts shooting their Q-tips through their Q-tip-straw blowguns at 'IT,' the target.

When they are finished...count how many of each team stuck to the target.

(To add difficulty...'IT' can move and wiggle)

(It is a huge waste of Q-tips, but a great amount of fun.)

contributed by Sally Franz

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


The game of GHOST

You know how to play GHOST? The word game?

Let's say it's you, me and Tom over there. Tom starts. He says: C

So now it's my turn. I have to think of some word that starts with C. And add a letter. So I say A

Now it's your turn. You better not say T, or, come to think of it, N or R or P or M or B or D... 'cause then you'll have spelled a word. Which you don't want to do. Because then, depending on how you play, you'll be one-third of a ghost. Or something else you don't want to be.

So you say L. Clever. Very clever. There's at least one word that I can think of that starts CAL.

So now it's up to Tom. Tom says I.

My turn.

I. Hmmm. CALI. Oh, I see, like in CALIfornia. Except everybody knows you can't use proper nouns. Hmmm again. Why, I think I just might challenge old Tom there. So I say: "I challenge you, old Tom there." And he says CALIPERS. Calipers. Darn. I shoulda thought. So, OK. I'm one-third of a ghost. Couldn't happen to a nicer Funsmith.

So you start the next round. And on and on we go, letter by letter. Until someone actually spells an actual word. Which can happen. Or someone challenges the player before them. And then another round starts. And so on. Until someone is a whole ghost (having lost three times). And then that person gets to start the next round.

Some people play five rounds instead of three, so instead of being one-third of a ghost, you become a G or a GH or a GHO. You could play as many rounds as you want before anyone has to lose. But it's a good idea to decide how many before you start the game.

Then there are the variations. You need variations, see, because after a while, especially if you're playing with the same people over and over - on a car trip, for example, or right after dinner or something - you start being able to predict what people are going to say. Like, for example, if you start with G and the next player starts with H you can pretty much predict that the word's going to either be GHOST or GHASTLY. So if you just count ahead, you'll know who's going to lose way before the round is over.

So there's SUPERGHOST - at least, that's what we called it. And in SUPERGHOST you can put letters before or after the letters that you already have. You can't change the order of the letters. So if you have, say, LAUG, and it seems pretty clear to you that you're going to have to spell LAUGH, you can say, SLAUG. The only thing you can't do is put a letter in between any of the letters you already have. Unless, of course, you're playing SUPERDUPERGHOST.

And then you could play themes, like THINGS YOU FIND IN A GROCERY STORE or LIVING THINGS. Or you can play that you have to say TWO letters at a time. Or you can say that only proper nouns are allowed. And by that time, you should have arrived at grandmother's house.

- for Chris, Heather, Rachel, and Will - who asked

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Ready, set, play

"When we're doing our lessons, the teacher doesn't say, 'Ready, set, work,'
"They say, 'Ready, set, play,' and I always took that word seriously."

Bobby McFerren on NPR

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith



I've been calling myself a "Funsmith" for a while now. And I've been calling what I do "Deep Fun" for a very long while.

Oddly enough, this thing's become so intuitive that it's still a bit of a struggle to make it clear to people who don't know me. So I've been working on it. Playing with it.

My most recent attempt begins like this:
Say you want to make something more fun - a game, a toy, your job, your company, your relationship with your spouse or kids, your life...

So you call or email or Skype your local Funsmith, and you say: "I want to make something more fun." And you arrange to meet, by phone, by email, over Skype, at a coffee shop, or at a local park for a walk'n talk. For, say, a couple hours. For some agreed-upon, agreeable sum.

You know this Funsmith is a fun guy - warm, welcoming, caring, insightful, and most of all, playful, very playful. An expert player, in fact - someone who knows many different ways to play, many different kinds of games and many ways to play them, who knows how to have fun, how to create fun, how to share fun, how to be fun. A professional player. Someone so playful and so knowledgeable that you'd pay to play with that person - for a lot of reasons. Because it's fun to be with that person. Because you like yourself even more when you're with that person. Because, during the time you or your child or your parents spend together with this person, you can, without any sense of guilt or obligation, expect that that person will focus all that playful expertise entirely on them. On having fun with them. On helping them find ways to make things more fun.

Let's say you are the one who goes to that person, every week, for a couple of hours, every other week, or month or whenever you feel like going. Even if all you did was play together, it'd be worth it. Because it'd be fun - real, meaningful, personal, deep fun. And because this professional player always makes the rules negotiable, adjustable, the only goal being to find a way to play so that you can all enjoy the game, all be challenged, together - it'd be a lesson in how you, too, could make things fun again, even if they were only games.?
Here's the whole thing.

I'd appreciate any comments, suggestions, random associations, and especially appreciate the opportunity to be yours.


Let your kid play with your iPad. It'll be fun.

Tod Lappin shared a brief video of his 2-1/2 year-old daughter playing with an iPad with Laughing Squid readers. And now, I'm sharing it with you.

That's his daughter, of course, the same one who gets to play with his iPhone.

At the end of the clip you can hear her say "I did it! I did it!" Which, of course, is what this is all about, this iPad - an invitation to delight, a gateway to accomplishment.

No, I don't think anyone's recommending that you buy one for your precocious preschooler. But I do think that the clip gives us a very clear insight into what makes the iPad such a noteworthy technology. It's what Apple has been about since its inception. The accessibility of it all.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

Labels: , ,

Will Scrabble be more fun in England now that proper nouns are allowed?

This just in: Mattel of the Isles (British, that is) endorses the legality of proper nouns of the generally capitalized kind. Ultimately, it is believed, that UK Scrabble players will find that words spelled backwards (e.g. sdrawkcab) will soon be acceptable. And, if you can imagine this, bachelor words, completely unconnected to anything else already on the board, will some day find their home in England's parlors.

Of course, that's Mattel's doing. And Mattel only owns the rights to Scrabble in England. Here in the States, it is sold by Hasbro, who, it is believed, will never endorse such basic violations of the essential game.

It's almost 15 years since I worked at Mattel. During much of my tenure I advocated, nay, begged Mattel to consider such bizarre reframings of the Scrabble rules. They resisted me. I resisted them. And then I quit.

I am feeling belatedly justified. Perhaps, in their newly acquired wisdom, Mattel will go so far as to endorse variants of the wackier kind - such as these - varying further the very reasons for playing Scrabble.

Let us play.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


Animals at Play: rules of the game

Setting aside the fact that Marc Bekoff is a Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, Fellow of the Animal Behavior Society, Guggenheim Fellow, recipient of the Exemplar Award from the Animal Behavior Society for major long-term contributions to the field of animal behavior, ambassador for Jane Goodall's Roots & Shoots program, member of the Ethics Committee of the Jane Goodall Institute, cofounder, with Jane Goodal, of Ethologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals: Citizens for Responsible Animal Behavior Studies, let's contemplate his even more significant contribution - his children's book, Animals at Play: rules of the game.

For me, the beginning of his book is the most revelatory part. This is where he not only makes his assertion that animals do, in fact, play; but, furthermore, that play is actually good for them. "Their play is for exercise, gaining strength," writes Bekoff, "and developing muscles for when they grow older, so they can travel long distances and run fast. They are the prey and must run away to avoid being a meal. Or they are the predators, trying to catch their meals. Playing is also a time for learning. Learning how to fight, hunt and mate - social skills they need when they become adults. In their games, young animals learn the rules of the group - and how to communicate or 'talk' with each other. They learn to cooperate and play fair. Life in the wild is tough. It's even tougher when you're alone, so play helps to create bonds and a sense of community." And then he goes on to make an observation which effectively bridges the empathy gap between child and animal: "And," he writes, "...playing is fun!"

That's exactly why kids play, why we all play. Not because it's good for us. But because it's fun. And that's also why we play together - adults, children, animals - because we have more fun together, with each other. And therein lies the profundity and importance of the wisdom contained in this lovely little book.

"Animals," notes Bekoff, "even follow rules!" He exemplifies:
1. Everyone has to want to play.
2. Everyone has to cooperate - they work together - to keep the game from becoming fighting.
3. Everyone needs to communicate and pay attention to each other's movements, sounds, and smells.
As for rule number 2, he observes: "Animals also become very excited when they play. Sometimes they don't realize how strong they are compared to their friends. A nip turns into a painful bite. Shoving becomes ramming, knocking a smaller friend over onto his back. What do they do? They apologize, of course, just like you!"

He takes this observation even further: "If you have little sisters, brothers, or cousins, you know how to play with them. In a race, you don't run too fast. When playing catch, you don't throw too hard. During a board game, you help your younger sister take her turn....When grown up red-necked wallabies - cousins of kangaroos - box with younger wallabies, they punch gently or just slightly touch. They don't push hard or move too quickly. The older wallabies make playtime last longer by not frightening or hurting the little ones."

So much wisdom. So many lessons. So clearly, compassionately written. So accessible. Such a loving gift for our children, for our species.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

Labels: ,

"The secret to great work is great play"

"Bringing a spirit of play to work," writes Garr Reynolds in his post The secret to great work is great play,"...improves learning and stimulates creative thinking. But often it's good to play for no other reason than to have great fun and feel good and recharged... We can find inspiration in play itself, and we are inspired by those teachers and managers who understand that play is too important not to bring to work."

"A spirit of play," he continues, "engages us and brings us into the content and into the moment. Children remind us that we need more play in the classroom, in the lecture hall, and especially in the typical conference presentation. But first we adults must give up the notion that play is not serious. We must abandon the notion that work (or study) and play are opposites. Work and play are inexorably linked, at least the kind of creative work in which we are engaged today and hope to prepare our children for. As Bill Buxton likes to say, 'These things are far too important to take seriously. We need to be able to play.'"

Read on and on. This is an useful and inspiring post - useful to all of us who care about the quality of work and play in our lives - followed by equally useful and inspring comments.


Hot Bread and Butter

In Philadelphia, they call this game Hot Bread and Butter.

Children's games are social fantasies. They are shared dreams in which certain themes are being toyed with - investigated and manipulated for the sake of some future reintegration into a world view. They are reconstructions of relationships - simulations - which are guided by individual players, instituted by the groups in which they are played or abstracted by the traditions of generations of children.

In "Hot Bread and Butter" you gain power through risk and luck - not through direct confrontation - but only once the power has already been abdicated. As a child grows towards adulthood, he is approaching the time in which adult power is left to him - if he can take it. It is the opportunity that he must seize, not the person that he must confront. The power of the adult cannot be taken from an adult, it must be discovered within the person of the child.

Most children who play "Hot Bread and Butter" are between the ages of nine and fourteen. When I tried to play it with younger children, the equilibrium was lost. Many children didn't leave the base. Those who found the belt either hit too hard or spent the round trying to keep the belt for themselves. I had to teach the game I had to control. I had a lousy time, and so did most of the children. "Hide and Seek" however, which is related in structure to "Hot Bread and Butter." was a total success.

In other words, when children chose to play a particular game - when they establish a contract for what they are going to play with - they do so because the game is related to other experiences, because it provides them with a platform upon which they can create and explore a model which helps them define their relationship to other experiences, experiences which they are beginning to perceive as themes in their daily lives. They call this pursuit "Fun."

The cartoon that illustrates this little story is by Donald Jefferes. It's one of several he made for the Streetplay website, in an online slideshow called Extreme Streetplay. Take a look. It might remind you what some kinds of fun are for.

Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

Labels: ,

No Post - April Fools

April First is our traditional day of religious observance here in the Funsmithy.

Hence, there will no post.

According, by the way, to the Oaqui, it is by no accident that April Fools Day coincides with the beginning of the most solemn of all the celebrations of the Oaqui, Rosh Ha-Oaqui, the Oaqui New Year, the beginning of the High Oaquidays.

While you and your readers devote an entire day to getting fooled, being foolish, and fooling around, we/I Oaqui devote our/myselves to inner reflection, the making of binding promises, and the playing of Conceptual Oaqui Ball. April Fools is to us/me so delightfully Shadow Oaqui. If there weren't an April Fools Day, the laws of irony would demand that such a day be invented, just so it could coincide with the one day on which the true Oaqui simply do/es not fool around.

On Rosh Ha-Oaqui, the Oaqui devotes him/her/themself/ves totally to the pursuit of the truth as found in Conceptual Oaqui Ball. Be that as it may (or, in this case, April), we/I am/are not fooling. Here it is. Right here in your virtual desktop, the actual game itself, Conceptual Oaqui Ball, as played by the Oaqui on Rosh Ha-O-aqui day, revealed.

After you have sufficiently focused and centered and stuff, you try to conceptualize a playable, plausible, but not necessarily actual game, that effectively and playworthily combines two or more actual, but not necessarily playful sports. I/We for example take the first turn, and consequently open with a mere third level synthesis:

VolleyFootBasketball. I/We posit the existence of a football field. At the 50 yard line, a volleyball net, strung to goal-post height. Where there were goal posts at either end of the field, baskets. Where there was a football, a basketball. There are (two, three) teams and baskets, (one, two) ball(s). When the whistle blows, team (A and/or B and/or C or not C) begin(s) to dribble the ball towards the net at the 50-yard line, until ready to kick the ball over the net towards the opposing team (')(s) basket. If the kicking team manages to get the ball into the opposing team(')(s) basket, that team, naturally, (loses, gains) (1, 2, 7) point(s).

The player with the ball is the only player that can legally be tackled, though illegal tackling is allowed once the ball-bouncer crosses the 50-yardline. The ball can not of course be dribbled, passed or carried under the net. If a team scores twice in a row, players must rotate positions so that there are new quarterbacks, etc. Every time there is a new scoring team, teams rotate quarterbacks, the quarterback from team A now becoming the quarterback for team B, etc. There are four quarters. At the end of the fourth quarter, the team with at least one more point (wins, changes the rules). And if you, Mr. major, and your entirely virtual network also want to play, it is up to you to (continue, take the next turn) in Virtual Oaqui Ball. I/We have had ours/mine. No fooling.

And, by the Oaay, happy April, if you know what we/I mean, Fools Day.

Your friend and mine/ours,

The Oaqui

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith