More Letters to Major Fun


Cynthia M writes:

"Dear Major FUN:

" What keeps resonating to me, when I start to feel anxious, be that at work or in other situations, is that if I can reframe the goal, the challenge becomes achievable, and I'm back in the flow! Easier to do in some situations than others, but I'll keep practicing."

Major FUN replies: Actually, there are two different strategies here: one is to reframe the goal, the other is to reframe your level of engagement. This includes everything from meditation to joking around.

Cynthia continues: "Now what do we do with this "America Attacked" thing? I keep thinking that, at the root of a way of thinking that would allow one to hijack a plane and use it to kill thousands, is plain old xenophobia, aka FEAR. Is that the polar opposite of fun, do you think? I am afraid that our reaction will only make the terrorists feel even more justified. And yet I don't have a better suggestion. This is not fun."

Major FUN continues: Fear, actually, is not the opposite of fun. It is, in many cases, the very stuff of fun. There are a lot of people who find fun by playing with fear. The difference is when they start playing with other people's fears. This is definitely not fun - a violation of the play community if ever there was one. When the play community is violated, the fun stops, the play stops. Attempts to restore the community generally take the form of directed anger and a concerted effort to punish, or at least expel the violators. When I was working on the Interplay curriculum, I established a "safe area" for kinds who were unable to play constructively. I tried to give them something else to play, or something just to focus on, or somebody to talk with while we continued with the rest of the group to restore each other to fun. Unfortunately, the lesson that we have finally learned as a country and as a world is that there is no safe area, that we are either all of us safe, or none of us. I'm not wise enough to suggest a solution, except to say that in times like this, play itself is a political act. (see "safe shmafe" )Your ability to engage others in a playful relationship, to bring yourself into play, to celebrate the intrinsic joy of life, strikes at the roots of terrorism. Play on, dear Cynthia. Play on.


Dear Major FUN,

While the overall message in "safe shmafe" is a nice one, it is also flawed, unfortunately. As a developmental psychologist, I can tell you that kids do indeed worry about safety. However, since their level of cognitive development is much different than that of an adult, they perceive "safety" and related issues in a much different way than adults. I do agree that the question is "how safe do you feel?" rather than "how safe are you?". And after seeing planes crash into buildings, it would not surprise me if many young children were worried that a plane might crash into their house, school, or the building where their parents work. Children's fears (and feelings of safety or lack of) can be very unrealistic, yet very real to them (think of the monsters in the closet), in spite of our reassurances. The statement that adults may not play because they feel unsafe is an interesting one. Namely, because I think it likely holds for children as well. I would speculate that when a child is playing, he/she feels safe, and play may stop if the child feels unsafe. Also, realize that "safety" for a young child revolves around the intense emotional attachment a child has with caregivers. When they feel it threatened (again, reality is inconsequential), they show definite signs of feeling unsafe. For example, I happen to help a young child last night at a school open house who had "lost" her mother. It was clear she was waiting in the right place and that the mother would be there soon, but she was very upset. Mother did arrive, and later I saw the girl happy as can be, turning cartwheels, feeling safe with her mother. Bottom line, kids and adults deal with feelings of safety, but what makes them and us feel unsafe is often very different. I do agree that play can be beneficial to us all, regardless of age. Children do indeed, have something to teach us.

- Don Paszek Dept. of Psychology Grand Valley State University Allendale, MI 49401


Dear Major FUN,

I work as an adult educator, in many capacities. On Sunday, I will be receiving my Masters in Adult Education. I have been asked to give a commencement address to the graduating class and guests. There are only 10 graduates, including myself. My speech will be about the lessons I've learned in the Adult Education program and how I have implemented them in my work. One of the biggest lessons I've learned, is to have fun! The reason for my e-mail: Can you suggest any ideas on a quick, energizing, fun, not too out there (my husband says I should respect the dignity of the day), way to validate and applaud the other graduates or to engage the audience? I am also respectful that some of the members of the audience might be elderly and movement might be difficult.


Dear graduating one:

Here's an idea. Be SURE you practice before you try it, so you're comfortable enough to play with it. Get a few friends to sit in a line.

Mutual Self Congratulations: have everyone hold hands with the people on either side of them. Then open their hands so that they are palm to palm. And then applaud by hitting each other's hands. It's kinda fun. A little silly. And it's easy to make some sweet points about applauding each other. For another variation, cross hands. For a third, switch from one to the other and back. You can even do this to the college song. For a finale, have everyone pat each other on the back.


Dear Major FUN

A friendly acquaintance wrote:


The summer I was in Toledo, we played Planets twice that I recall.

Ever played Planets? One person is the Sun. That person stands in the middle and twirls. Other people get to be various planets and spin in circles around the Sun at various distances. Except for Uranus. Uranus rolls in circles. If you have a truly lot of people, some of them get to be moons. Daring souls can be comets, running in and out of the spinners creating havoc.

Can you see where this game is not particularly good for people with lots of dignity? And yet it's fun. I've had people ask me who wins, which makes me smite my forehead. A more sensible question is "how does it end?" And the answer is "heat death." When people go spiraling off into the reaches of the night and get lost somewhere and fall on the ground and stop spinning, it's over. (learned from Marissa K. Lingen)


I recently got email from a guy who collects stuff about Zoom/Schwartz. Only the version that he and his friends have been playing for nigh on 20 years is a drinking game. It's developed all sorts of complex rituals and stuff, but the basic idea is that if you mess up in various predefined ways, you drink... Interesting -- I'm always intrigued when games that I'm familiar with as non-drinking games show up with alcoholic components...



Dear jed,

Planets is great! Thanks to you and your friends and all your mutual satellites.

Re: Zoom/Schwartz, I find myself farced to admit that it ish in fac a drinking game.

Actually, all fun, of course, aside, yes, a drinking game, as so many of the great pointless activities man has given to man, is what Zoom/Schwartz, aka, Zap/Zorch/Boing/Perfigliano, is. For more what you might have thought weren't drinking games, see my piece on Numbers.




Thanks for the pointer to Numbers. That makes me think of yet another game that you may well be already familiar with. I tend to call it "Prince of Wales" for lack of a better name. Here's a writeup of it I did a few years back:

Everyone sits next to each other in a line. The players are numbered, in order, from #1 at one end of the line up to however many players there are. One player (#1, maybe?) stands facing the line and speaks as follows: "The Prince of Wales has lost his crown and doesn't know where to find it. Number..." After an optional momentary pause to increase tension, what follows is to be done at top speed: the standing person says a number, repeats it, and adds "to the foot!" The person whose number it is must respond *before the stander has finished speaking*, with "Who, sir, me, sir?" A ritual exchange follows (as quickly as possible), at which point the chosen number becomes the new caller and picks another number. Sound complicated? Here's an example:

  • #1: The Prince of Wales has lost his crown and doesn't know where to find it. Number... *three*

  • #3: Who, sir, me, sir?

  • #1. Yes, sir, you, sir.

  • #3: No, not I, sir!

  • #1: Well, then, who, sir?

  • #3: Number... *eight*

  • #8: Who, sir, me, sir?

  • #3: Yes, sir, you, sir.

  • #8: No, not I, sir!

  • #3: Well, then, who, sir?

  • #8: Number... five!

  • #5: huh? Oh, was that me?

Now, the really tricky bit is that as soon as someone misses, that person moves to the end of the line, and everyone between the misser's old position and the end of the line gets re-numbered. In the example above, if there were 9 players total, #5 becomes #9, and the former 6 through 9 become the new 5 through 8. Thus, you can't complacently learn your number and prepare for it, 'cause it can change at any time (though the closer you are to the end of the line the more likely it is to change). I'm not exactly sure how the standing-person bit works, but I think it's just #1.

I suppose it could be played in a circle with nobody standing just as easily. (Or maybe the stander is one step below the last number in the line, and the person who misses becomes the new stander for the next round. That sounds vaguely right to me, but I'm not sure.) I'm a little hazy on details 'cause I only played this once, during a cast party in about tenth grade... But it obviously made a big impression on me. It's a very tense and fast-paced game, and takes some getting used to.



For a more complete and even sillier description, see Wales Tales

And then, of course, there's "Big Booty."

He or she who was once known a the Prince is now known as the Big Booty.

The game begins with the following chant:

Ah, Big Booty, Big Booty, Big Booty
Big Booty.

The Big Booty then says something like "Big Booty, number five." The five-numbered person then responds "five-seven" - or something of similarly numbered ilk, or even "five-Big Booty."

The game is played the same way as the Prince of Wales and Numbers, often to a knee-slapping, hand clapping rhythm.



Dear Major FUN,

"We have a special situation though, our son is a paraplegic and cannot sit on the floor very well because he can't balance but he's great in his chair.We need games that are not too physical when our family gets together. We're definitely interested in those games for the aging since we're in that category." -- Lynne and Mark

Major FUN replies:

The more I know about what kinds of games he already enjoys, the better I can respond.

In the mean time, start with any of the following:



"We have been speaking to you of serious, sometimes tragic things. We have been dealing with alcohol in its worst aspect. But we aren't a glum lot. If newcomers could see no joy or fun in our existence, they wouldn't want it. We absolutely insist on enjoying life.... So we think cheerfulness and laughter make for usefulness. Outsiders are sometimes shocked when we burst into merriment over a seemingly tragic experience out of the past. But why shouldn't we laugh? We have recovered and have been given the power to help others. Everybody knows that those in bad health, and those who seldom play, do not laugh much. So let each family play together or separately, as much as their circumstances warrant. We are sure that God wants us to be happy, joyous, and free."

Alcoholics Anonymous - p 132-133

submitted by Dr. Drew Leder