The last two posts exemplified cooperative games of the endless variety – games that can just go on and on and on and also on until everyone is clearly ready to play something else. In this post, we begin our contemplation of cooperative games of yet another variety – games that have a goal. Specifically, this time, a game called “knots” or “human knots” or “tangle” or, for that matter “untangle.”

You need a bunch of people – a bunch being perhaps as few as say five and as many as perhaps twenty. You gather together in a configuration mildly approximating a circle, standing somewhat shoulder to shoulder, facing, obviously, in, towards each other.

Everyone extends one hand towards the center of the circle, and selects a hand to hold on to. Clasp hands. Shake hands if need be. But do, by all means, hold on. If you find yourself having accidentally clasped an immediately adjacent hand, de-clasp and find another, non-adjacent hand. Having accomplished this with sufficient aplomb, everyone then does with the other hand precisely like that which everyone did previously, except, as I implied, with the other hand – extending the aforementioned hand towards the center, seeking another hand to clasp, but this time making sure that the hand being clasped belongs to a person with whom you are not already clasping hands. Thus, each person finds him or herself holding on to two different, non-adjacent people, arms tangled in a clearly knot-like hand-tangle, having thus achieved the beginning point. The end-point is to reach a state of mutual disentanglement similar to that of the starting point, without, of course, letting go of either of the hands to which your hands are temporarily affixed.

It is wise, before the deknotting becomes too devoted, to explain that people should maintain a loose, but continuous contact with the other hands – loose enough so that they don’t twist each other’s hands off (an enthusiasm dampener if ever there was one) in pursuit of collective knotlessness.

There comes a time, in fact, there can come several times of apparent unsolvability. 1) Sometimes, it is only apparently unsolvable, and, with a little deeper analysis and collective effort, extrication is at hand. 2) Sometimes a solution appears, but in unexpected form: you find yourselves in two intersecting or totally separate circles. 3) Sometimes it is solved, but certain participants refuse to accept the solution because some are facing in and others out. 4) Sometimes it is actually unsolvable. Should any of conditions 2-4 manifest, it behooves one to introduce the concept of minimal cheating. In this event, all attempts to deknot are suspended, and the group, collectively, examines the entire knot in search for the one handclasp which, if temporarily declasped and then reclapsed elsewhere, would most likely result in group unknotting.

On the other hand, sometimes it’s best to give up and try again.

One more thing: should you find yourself with a group larger than 9 but less than 21, you can create a double knot. Ask players, before knotting, to find a partner. Partners now put one hand around each other’s waist. This gives each pair two hands free – a left, and remarkably, a right hand – exactly enough for them to play as if they were one person, and pursue the game precisely as abovedescribed.

And yes, should further complexity prove desirable, Knots can, at least purportedly, be played with eyes closed.

So, even though the game has a fixed endpoint, at least in theory, it isn’t that fixed. The challenge can be increased or decreased, just like we can increase or decrease the challenge when we’re playing catch or group juggling. In fact, it’s a lot easier to make a game more challenging than less. Often, almost too easy. And when it gets too challenging, well, it just isn’t fun any more. Is it?

Playing any cooperative game is an exercise in sensitivity: sensitivity to each other, to what’s fun for you, to the fun you are sharing, to the game you are playing together, the rules you’re playing by, the place your playing in, the objects and bodies you are playing with. It’s that sensitivity, shared, that makes it, and keeps it fun.


  1. Ari Bancale on September 26, 2012 at 10:43 am

    Recently I observed first then facilitated a semi-cooperative party game of deception called The Resistance. I usually do not enjoy these games because it’s a game of manipulating emotions, and I find it too stressful. But, in this version, the attempt to cooperate is exciting enough that it overshadows the tension of figuring out who is lying. And, if the players are detached from taking the lies personally, it could be as suspenseful as a whodunit novel or movie.

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