Mini Weapons of Mass Destruction - a new resource for cubicle warfare

If I could travel back in time and give my early adolescent self a gift of potentiation and portends of power, it would be a copy of John Austin's Mini Weapons of Mass Destruction. If I were my father, on the other hand, I'd take that book away from me in a most timely and uncompromising manner, hide it in a place where only I could find it, and read it from cover to cover.

On yet another hand, my going on 8-, going on 21-year old granddaughter loves this book.

Mini Weapons of Mass Destruction contains 241 pages of detailed, painstakingly illustrated instructions for making (and here I read from the table of contents) launchers and bows, slingshots, darts, catapults, combustion shooters (combustion shooters!), minibombs and claymore mines, and, finally, concealing books and targets.

Did I mention combustion shooters? Like the famous match rocket which you can make out of paper or wooden matches, with nothing more than aluminum foil, a needle or pin, a medium binder clip (Austin loves those binder clips), a toothpick and a large paper clip? O, there are warnings. "Eye protection and a safe firing range are musts" declares the ever-pragmatic Austin. "Match rocketry is not an exact science," he cautions, "misfires and modifications will be needed to find the perfect balance." Match rockets! How inexorably cool is that?

There are two things that make Mini Weapons of Mass Destruction such a fun read: 1) every "weapon" is made out of common household objects, and 2) the instructions are exceptionally clear and well-illustrated. OK. There are three things: 3) the sheer ingenuity of the designs. It's the very kind of book MacGuyver might have read during his training course. For fun. Of course.

Want more? Visit John's site. Learn a little about him. Print out a few targets. Get instructions for building more. Meditate on the nuances of "implements of spitball warfare."

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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The Cardboard Box inducted in the National Toy Hall of Fame

In 2005, the National Toy Hall of Fame inducted the cardboard box.
“I think every adult has had that disillusioning experience of picking what they think is a wonderful toy for a child, and then finding the kid playing with the box,” said chief curator Christopher Bensch. “It’s that empty box full of possibilities that the kids can sense and the adults don’t always see.”
The same, of course, can be said of your local household trash can.

via the profoundly astounding Craig Conley and Futility Closet

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


The Big Bilibo - better than the box it came in

Bilibo is a toy. A large, colorful toy. With no moving parts, unless you count the children who play with it. Like any toy, it is designed for a certain kind of child with equally certain kinds of parents - creative, imaginative, active children, whose parents understand and support unstructured, unpredictable, non-directed play.

The Bilibo is the mother of the Bilibo Game Box - the very Bilibo Game Box glowingly reviewed here just last month. For children between the ages of 18 mos and 8 years, the Bilibo is something to sit in or on, to rock or twirl or scoot in, to stand on, to wear. It is a water toy and a sand toy and a family room toy. It is a toy for storing other toys in.

Just what this toy means to kids depends on the adult as much as the child. The way you play with your child, the expectations you have, the limits you impose, the other toys you have out for play... all impact the way your child experiences the Bilibo, and you experience your child. Alex Hochstrasser, the inventor of what has become the Bilibo system, comments: "...most children have fun with Bilibo anyways, because that's how they play. They learn much more when they explore and discover things by themselves...I wanted to create a toy that was not gender or age specific but rather grows with the kids and, depending on age and interests, can be used in ever new ways. The closest I had as a role model was probably the card board box."

But it is also true that if adults are present, they influence the child's play, overtly or covertly. Parents need to be careful of their expectations. Even the most gifted children might not immediately take to the Bilibo. They need time with it. Time to explore or not. To kick it around, sit on it, or ignore it. Its presence in their play environment, like the presence of an empty cardboard box, will, in time beckon to them.

The best influence you can have, especially with a toy like Bilibo, is in your willingness to let the child discover and define the toy for herself. For example, from the persepective of a physical therapist who has obviously allowed the child undirected access to the toy, it becomes a multi-purpose tool. The therapist writes:
"I thought I would tell you how much one child I work with enjoys the Bilibo toy. He is 5 and totally blind. He spins quite fast around in it on a hard surface floor. He is able to catch himself with his arms what ever direction he tips over which is helping him with upper body development and balance skills.

"It also cradles small/multi involved children with low tone, very nicely encouraging them in bringing their hands to midline. When a large enough child is in there (and I am supporting the Bilibo not to roll about), rather than arms/hands flopping about at the sides, the arms end up more in the middle of the body, to hold a toy. Of course with experience many of these kids like a bit of gentle rocking to and fro as well."
Alex adds: " the stimulation of the child's vestibular system by spinning and balancing in the shells would be an interesting area where Bilibo shines. (The vestibular and proprioceptive systems play a key role in the development of the brain and reading and writing skills in particular.)"

If you already have the Bilibo Game Box, the big Bilibo makes an ideal expansion component, and vice versa. It's almost a given that children will weave family fantasies around the relationship between the big Bilibo and mini-Bilibos. Then there are the profound discoveries to be made about mini-Bilibo-spinning inside a big-spinning-Bilibo, spinning, perhaps, in a different direction. And what about the Bilibo Pixel? Does it roll and bounce and do even more fun things when it's inside a big, spinning Bilibo?

And if you can afford more than one (child or Bilibo), there's yet other orders of magnitude of games and fantasies, probability and physics, social and biodynamics to explore.

For kids (or parents) who don't yet have a Bilibo, there's an ample collection of inspirational clips on YouTube. On the other had, once your kids start playing with their Bilibo collection, they'll have all the inspiration you need. If you're good, maybe they'll let you play, too.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


The Bilibo Game Box - a child's tool kit for game invention

The Bilibo Game Box is not just a toy. It is a tool kit for the very young game designer (age 4 and up) and an invitation to inventiveness for the rest of us.

The Game Box contains a die with interchangeable faces and six sets of differently-colored discs that fit in each face. There's also a set of six, plastic, hand-sized "mini-Bilibos," in each of the six colors corresponding to the colors of the discs.

Bilibos are shaped something like pregnant plastic Pringles, with holes that look almost like eyes. Full-sized Bilibos are big enough for a kid to sit, spin, rock, float, climb in or on, or pretend with. The simple, friendly, colorful design invites creativity, exploration, and invention, and nurtures playfulness. No moving parts. Just a funny shape to explore, define, redefine, shape your dreams on. Mini-Bilibos are just as strange, just as funny, just as fun to play with. And, as son-in-law Tom observed, function quite satisfactorily as doll helmets.

The die is called a Bilibo Pixel. It is made of some surprisingly bouncy and slightly stretchy plastic. The corners are so wonderfully rounded that it rolls as well as bounces almost as well as a rubber ball. Button-like pieces fit in each of the faces of the die where there are cavities deep enough not only to accommodate any of the discs, but also to fit little messages or prizes, or, if you are so inclined, weights. So you can play around with fate, as it were, making some of the faces the same color or all of the faces different, adding and removing things behind the colored buttons to influence where the die might fall and add further elements of surprise.

The Bilibo Game Box gives your child a set of almost infinitely enticing properties and relationships to explore. Without even reading anything even closely approximating rules, the child will find herself using the die in some way to indicate which mini-Bilibo she should aim for. Aim what, you might ask. Any of those color-coded, button-like discs which can be slid or juggled or tossed or tiddled under or over or through. Or strung together, for that matter, or strung together with a mini-Bilibo.

As children continue to explore the properties and relationships of the Bilibo Game Box, they will inevitably discover that the elements can be used in conjunction with a surprisingly varied array of other objects in their environment - chairs and steps, tables, counter-tops, floors. They can make targets and game boards with sheets of paper, ramps and obstacles out of paper plates and sheets of cardboard, die-launchers and Bilibo-flippers out of spoons and rulers.

Alex Hochstrasser, designer of the Bilibo Game Box and associated products, has created a work of playful genius. The simplicity of the components belie the elegance of design and the depth of understanding of the nature of creative play.

There are several delightful videos on Youtube that illustrate a few of the plethora of possibilities contained in the Bilibo Game Box, and a well-illustrated booklet that accompanies each Game Box for yet more ideas, and, soon, even more will be on the Bilibo website.

Despite all these resources, please, consider this: the more you and your children play together with this, openly, inventing games from scratch, without any guidance other than that which comes from your collectively playful hearts, the greater the value of your experiences with this remarkable toy. If you want ideas, let your children be your guide. The Bilibo Game Box is remarkably innovative and brilliantly designed, but the real value of it only becomes apparent when it is used as a tool for playful, inspired invention.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Share your LEGO genius

There's a photo-sharing site devoted entirely to LEGO creations. Given my late-life interest in all things LEGO, I was particularly struck by this instantiation of the extension of plastic play into the e-state. You make your LEGO thing. You take a digital picture of it. Upload it. And it becomes virtually permanent, a thing you made, for fun, out of LEGO - the very same LEGOs you are now using to make something else.

This connection between private and shared spaces redefines any form of art/play. Sandbox cityscapes, bubblebath buildings all can be collected, disseminated, documented, celebrated. It's a fundamental change in the nature and experience of fun.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Exercise Games

This is a picture of me. As you can see, I am not what one would call an "exercise fanatic." There is no buffness, no rippedhood, no six-pack anywhere evident on my soft, cuddly bod. This has alot to do with my early experiences of physical education, and my consistently persistent predilection for the more spiritual forms of conceptual calisthenics.

This probably explains my close to lifelong pursuit of ways to make exercise fun.

Several many years ago, I decided to make that particular passion more manifest, and began designing games and actual toys that would somehow make exercise, if not less painful, at least more playful. I imagined a "fitness arcade" which later became more publicly manifest in Dance-Dance-Revolution and Wii Fit. Though I had nothing to do with these products, I nevertheless consider them manifest substantiation of the various joys and benefits of Exercise Games.

About a decade ago, I started looking for something more accessible - something people could make out of junk, if they were so moved. Today, I decided to share one such concept with you in the hopes that it may stimulate you to: 1) make your own, 2) invent other such devices, or at least 3) contemplate the potential benefits, both physical and financial, of the exercise-game connection.

There's a puzzle called Tower of Hanoi. It involves moving discs from base to base. The key word here is moving.

Here, for your amusement and inspiration, my video elucidation of how to transform this fascinating puzzle into what can only be called an "exercise game," and equally only, a "fitness toy," or even "body/brain puzzle."

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Siftables are "...cookie-sized computers with motion sensing, neighbor detection, graphical display, and wireless communication. They act in concert to form a single interface: users physically manipulate them - piling, grouping, sorting - to interact with digital information and media." They "...enable people to interact with information and media in physical, natural ways that approach interactions with physical objects in our everyday lives."

These toy/computers, developed by David Merrill and Jeevan Kalanithi of the MIT Media Lab, seem like so much fun - just watching people play in this TED talk is almost enough. Since I first saw the TED demonstration, I haven't been able to stop myself from thinking about the depth of this innovation, the games, the fun, the creativity, the learning these little compu-cookies could unleash.

So far, this is my third wave of insight into the computer-enhanced future of fun. The first was when I read Howard Rheingold musing on the interpenetration of technology with the social/physical world in Smart Mobs. The second when I started hearing about Pervasive Games on sites like Ludocity and IPerG, in events like the Hide and Seek Festival and Pac Manhattan and from visionary friends like Celia Pearce.

And now, Siftables.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Home made checkersTake a closer look at this checker set. Nothing but a random collection of bottle tops and a piece of cardboard. And yet, it's checkers, and it's most clearly as playworthy as a checker set should be.

This is the lesson that AfriGadget teaches us, post after post after post: that we can make do. We can make do beautifully.Even without the newest and jiggiest. We can make do. Especially when we have to. Which, given the current state of the world, is something we should strongly consider making part of the basic curriculum, if you know what I mean. Courses in ingenuity and junkwork.

Founded by Erik Hersman, AfriGadget is edited by a team of African bloggers, and was recently selected by Time Magazine as one of the 50 Best Websites of 2008. You'll want to know more about Erik. Here's a recent interview.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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iPhone, iBeer and Virtual Magic

From a recent Twitter:

majorfun iBeer is but a portent of what the iPhone brings to the virtual magician - Bernie DeKoven -

via Nothing to do with Arbroath

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Vak-Vak, The Water Splash Gun Duck Shoe

via Monochrome

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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PoweriSers. On the one hand, if you look at their Policy statement, you can not help note how they note:
PoweriSers are safe to use, however we must state that, its affiliates, owner / owners, supplier, or any other organization associated with it will not be held liable for any loss, injury, or death resulting from the use or misuse of PoweriSer / PoweriSers. You are advised to wear protective gear when you use your PoweriSers and you should also be in good health to use them. Use caution and rational judgement when operating the PoweriSers. PoweriSers are not suitable for small children nor are they recommended for children under age 10. Always supervise your children when they use their PoweriSer/PoweriSers. "
On the other, hand, you get a toy that gives you the possibility of whole new ways to play, new games, new sports, new track and field events; you get the opportunity to perform amazing displays of gravity-defying strength and grace, like this:

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Sphere Play

You know those beautiful crystal-looking balls you see jugglers play with - the kind they roll on the backs of their hands and arms and stuff? Ever wonder where you can get them? Well, wonder no more, or make your own wonders. Try Out Toys not only sells these beautiful acrylic spheres, in many spectacularly different colors (and several sizes, even), and metal spheres, and wooden ones, too; they also promote play, for play's sake.

Here's a bit of what they have to say:
"We believe in promoting the importance of positive play. You could say that our mission is to offer the highest quality toys and entertainment, but really it's way more involved than that. We've developed what we call a philosophy of play.

"There are lots of ways to play, so we'd like to tell you about our approach. Play is an art. The kind of play we promote is interactive, creative, artistic and builds important physical and social skills."
They even organize something they call a "Play 4 All" - a celebration of "skilled play." In addition to their surprising variety of spheres, they also offer a virtual toybox of skill-inviting playworthy stuff.

They perform, they teach, they clearly love the stuff they're doing and the stuff they're selling.

Fun stuff. Good stuff, all.

via Alexander Kjerulf

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Orbitwheel: Invented Fun

Orbitwheels - yet another small step for playkind, especially for the kind of players who like to skateboard, and can appreciate the heightened maneuverability, the vast array of potential tricks, the back-pack-fitting portability, and, of course, the opportunity to be the bull of the skating herd.

I found out about the Orbitwheel from one of my more reliable online sources, and someone whom I can actually call a friend - the Presurfer. Following his lead, I Googled around until I found myself at a site called The Inventist, where one can also purchase, for example, the significantly cool-looking AquaSkipper that allows you to bounce your way across the water- that's right, bounce; the Stepster, demonstrating how much more you get when you "combine a bicycle, a scooter and a Stairmaster;" and even the Leantisserie - the "world’s first free-standing rotisserie inside an oven."

All of which leads us to the fun flavor of the day: Invented Fun. The flavor of fun you taste when you make something up, something new. Anything new, really. Even, or especially, a free-standing rotisserie. But it is a fun flavor that is exceptionally delicious when the thing you are making up is some new way to have fun.

Invented fun.

Hence, for example, Junkyard Sports.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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The Sound and Fury at the Educational Centre for Games in Israel

I learned about The Sound and the Fury more than 30 years ago, when I first joined the New Games Foundation. Since then, I've been teaching it almost every chance I get. I have my reasons, in deed I do. It's a great way to get people involved, engaged, open, willing to play, exploring their own capacities for public silliness, and a perfect introduction to the idea of Coliberation.

I had the chance to teach the game again with some rather remarkable people in a rather remarkable place. The remarkable thing about these people was that they came from all over Israel because they value play and games and toys as tools for restoring health. The remarkable place was called "The Educational Centre for Games in Israel." And the remarkable woman who invited me to speak was its director, Helena Kling.

I first encountered Helena through her work with the International Toy Research Foundation. I found the following description of Helena and her center in an old issue of the ITRA newsletter
"Helena is by profession a psychologist specializing on Children’s Play in Hospita, and has for many years been working on projects about play. At present running the Educational Centre for Games in Israel, a non-profit association which she describes as follows:'We have a small building full of stuff, a veritable 'heritage centre' of play; there is 'hands on play' available; a work room where people can make games and toys; an exhibition room with miniature rooms and two model railways; a library that has become a centre of information on play; a large collection of Israeli board games and collection of collections and dolls and so much more that if I go on writing about it I am afraid of disbelief!'"
Such wonderful energy. Such a deep commitment to play. Such an honor. Such a fun person to play with.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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from the World Play Toy List

"These funny clowns are made at the spectacular Foz do Iguacu (Iguassu Falls), which sits at the point where Brazil meets Argentina and Paraguay. Here, there are always beautiful, lush green plants growing everywhere, so no wonder the kids there have incorporated grass into their toys! Meet the Grass Head Clown, which is often decorated with the colors of the rainbow, the same colors created from the mist of Iguassu Falls which falls along 350-foot cliffs of river. The child who made this particular toy used all recycled materials: a pair of her mother's old' stockings, a piece of scrap ribbon, sawdust she found lying around her father's wood shop, and a small handful of grass seeds. As a result of assembling all this "junk" together, she has a toy that's fun for any boy or girl to make and play with . . . especially if they like to cut hair! These toys have become so popular in Iguassu Falls that some of the children make them and sell them to tourists who come to see their town. So they are not only toys, but they are also a way for the children to make a little money of their own.

"We like to call the Grass-Head Clown the original Chia Pet!"

found on World Play Toys, by Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Amazing, Innovative Toy Car

"These three boys were cruising along the side of the road with their toy cars as we drove by, while a fourth boy, a non-driver looks on. It is unlikely that these kids will ever own or drive a real car in their lifetime."

And yet, they made something new, and fun, clearly, very fun. We can feel sad for them that they have so little resources. We can feel even more sadness when we think about what they might be creating if they had the resources. (My guess, they'd be making dirt race courses for their children's size Power Wheels Kawasaki KFX Ninja Ultimate Terrain Traction mini-ATV.)

here by Street Use.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith


More marbles

Marbles. Ah, marbles. I don't know if you've managed to read "A Million Ways to Play Marbles, at Least" - originally included in the appendix of The Well-Played Game. In it's own silly way, it reflects pretty much everything I know about the nature of games. And if you have read it, perhaps you'd enjoy hearing me read it.

But whether you've heard it or read it, the important thing is that you've played it. And here, for your conceptual delectation, a significant and well-illustrated collection of marble games from the veritable Land of Marbles, itself.

O, and do you know about magnetic marbles?

Because, see, it's not really about marbles.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Q-BA-MAZE is a marble run construction toy, in the tradition of Boyongolo, the HABA Ball set, the Quercetti Marble Run, the Skyrail Marble Run Roller Coaster, and, of course, Cuboro. In the tradition of, and yet, unique, and uniquely worthy of our collective attention.

Actually, all these toys, and many more like them, are worthy of our collective attention. Building a marble run engages both creative and scientific reasoning. Every design must ultimately "work," not only aesthetically, but also mechanically. No matter how good it looks, if the ball doesn't go where you think it should, or if the run isn't as long as you hope it should be, you're just going to have to build it differently.

Now, back to Q-BA-MAZE. I promise not to use the word "amazing" more than once - after this. First, allow me to use the word "cube." As in Cuboro, the basic building block is a, well, block. Unlike Cuboro, there are only three types of blocks, they are made out of a durable polycarbonate, translucently acrylic-like plastic, and they fit together in most satisfyingly interlocking configurations. They can slide into each other along their sides, they can be stacked on to each other, they can be built up and out into cantileverishly cunning constructs. They also work. One of the three, the one that opens on both ends, works in a most curiously delightful manner. It is a switch, of sorts. With no moving parts. But when a ball drops into it, the ball will often hesitate before traveling left or right, sometimes hesitate a most tantalizingly long time, as if deliberating. And this turns out to be a particularly delicious deliberation, adding just that extra touch of surprise, just that extra change in rhythm that makes the whole, multi-colored construct that much more surprising, that much more engaging.

Q-BA-MAZE comes with a bunch of steel balls - not because they're easy to lose, and definitely not because they're easy to swallow (hence, the small child advisory), but because the more balls you drop into it, the more complex the pattern of the fall, the more fun it is to watch - a visual equivalent of the difference between melody and symphony.

Watch the video, read the blog, construct your own myriad of delights, or build any of the configurations you find online, like this one, if you happen to have purchased the 50 count set (36 blocks and 14 balls).

You'll be amazed.

via Major Fun

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Mark Applebaum Sound Sculpture

Mark Applebaum writes about his Sound Sculptures: "The instruments consist of threaded rods, nails, wire strings stretched through a series of pulleys and turnbuckles, plastic combs, bronze braising rod blow-torched and twisted, doorstops, shoehorns, ratchets, steel wheels, springs, lead and PVC pipe, corrugated copper plumbing tube, Astroturf, parts from a Volvo gearbox, a metal Schwinn bicycle logo, and, indeed, mousetraps."

And, in case you wondered, Applebaum appends:

"I play the sound-sculptures with my hands and with a number of different strikers and gadgets including Japanese chopsticks, knitting needles, combs, thimbles, plectrums, surgical tubing, a violin bow, and various wind-up toys, tops, etc. Located in the midst of the sculptures is a mixer and a small rack of electronic signal processors with their associated triggering pedals, mostly junky analog delays, early-era pitch transposers, unnatural reverbs, and the like."

It is to play. With junk. See and hear both.

via Neatorama

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Kids, Magic, and The Confoundingly Crazy Crate-O-Mystery

The Confoundingly Crazy Crate-O-Mystery (from Fundex Games, available here) is a confoundingly clever way to introduce kids into magic. They get magic apparatus (ok, toys), comic book-like instructions, and an instructional DVD that shows them how each of the ten tricks included in this kit is performed, and the secrets that make each trick work. These materials are central to the magic of the Cofoundingly Crazy Crate-O-Mystery. The biggest obstacle to mastering any illusion is learning how to do it. You can go to a magic shop and buy hundreds of wonderful tricks, but when it comes to learning how they work, and how to perform them, you have to rely on cryptically written instruction slips, usually in small print, that convey little if anything of the art of it all.

Most of the 10 magic tricks are performed with with the assistance of wonderfully toylike apparatus, which is exactly how it should be. There's plastic monkey with detachable tail, feet, arms, hat and banana. And a sheet of tattoos. There's the crate itself, made of sturdy cardboard with magnetically sealing doors on 4 sides. There's a special magic handkerchief. And some other stuff. I don't want to get too specific here, because it might give away some of the secrets to the Confounding Craziness of it all. You'll also need two cookies and a dime. And I can't tell you why.

Magic is a very special kind of play. It's part science and part theater. The Confoundingly Crazy Crate-O-Mystery is a well-presented introduction and invitation to a unique form of fun - one that can last a lifetime. Especially recommended for kids who are old enough to read (8 and up), disciplined enough to practice and perfect their secret arts, and enjoy being the center of awe-struck attention. Major FUN, indeed.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Executive Balls

This extensive collection of balls from Office Playground is a valuable resource for anyone who understands the connections between busy fingers and open minds.

The collection includes some very different kinds of balls. One kind, which we couldn't help thinking of as, well, organic, proved to be remarkably engaging. A good example is the Icky Yicky Fuzz Ball. The outer layer transparent and covered with soft spines. Within, are small, colored, soft balls. I personally did not think this ball was very icky, yicky or fuzzy, but my fingers found it to be wonderfully sensual and inviting. Another, the Molecule Morph Stress Ball is covered by an opaque skin. When you squeeze it, the outer skin becomes transparent, revealing the color balls inside. And a third, the Click Clack Stress Ball contains hard plastic balls, which, as advertised, click and clack against each other when squeezed. Each of these three balls has a different feel, produces a different effect, and yet is closely enough related to the others that, as a set, they make for an experience that invites the senses. Collect a large enough variety of these balls, and you have the basis for a powerful group activity. All too often, meetings where people have to think abstractly or creatively become far too abstract and far less creative than planned. Simply by trading balls back and forth between participants, asking people to explain their preferences or describe the differences, or perhaps playing a passing game like A What, is a perfect way to help people focus on their own senses as well as on each other.

Then there are the balls that are filled with air or liquid or other non-ball stuff. One of the strangest and most visually delicious of this collection is called the Rainbow Bubble Ball. The soft, spine-covered outer membrane is held with a net. Squeezing the ball forces the skin through the net, creating, as advertised, multi-colored bubbles. There's something vaguely reminiscent of something else that I'd rather not be reminded about. Something mildly disgusting. Which, of course, is a major part of the attraction with many of these executive balls.

Then there are the kinds of balls that are particularly good for throwing, catching and slinging. Of these, the Water Swirl Ball combines the tactile delights of a deep squeezeworthiness, and the visual wonder of pearlescent liquidity with a stretchy, yo-yo-like handle that almost immediately lends itself to a variety of attractive nuisances, while the painlessly pointy, benevolently bouncy and considerably catchable Spikee Ball just about guarantees collaborative mayhem.

Though we were able to test only a relatively small sample, we were uniformly impressed by how inviting, and different they were, and how valuable a resource such a collection is to the enlightenhearted manager, facilitator, or professionally creative player.

from Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Legos at work

Funscout Eric Jacobs writes about connections between the qualities of Lego-play and worklife:
Most of my Lego playing recently has been with the small pile of pieces I have at work. I think my collection at home has gotten too big and unwieldy, but I'm working on setting up a dedicated storage/play area to take care of that. I really want to be able to build some larger, more involved models like I used to. So back to the office: I encourage everyone in the office to play with the Lego, take a handful back to their desk, whatever they want.

I'm a programmer at a software company, and the other programmers especially like the Lego, though almost everyone plays with it sometimes. I've always thought programming is a mix of art and engineering, which I think is why the Lego is so appealing- an open-ended building toy, that exercises a combination of art/creativity and engineering/building. A lot of people (including me) like to just have something to fiddle with to keep their hands busy while they're thinking. So during impromptu meetings and design discussions, people grab a handful of bricks and doodle with them. Sometimes people actually take play-breaks, come sit down for a few minutes and dedicate their full attention to building something.

Something interesting that my team-mates and I noticed is that the quantity and complexity of Lego models being built is inversely proportional to how much fun we're having actually working. The last project we were working on was pretty rough, which resulted in a lot of play-breaks to unwind. (By the end of the project, we ended up with a lot of models of classic video-game characters. For some reason I love the idea of using one toy to build another toy.) The current project is actually fun, and the Lego models have dropped off dramatically.

Something else interesting that I think I've noticed: The last company I was at wasn't a particularly good place to work. People would stop by and build pretty dark stuff. There were a couple minifigs of Santa Claus in there, and by far the most popular theme was dioramas of Santa being killed in creative ways. James Bond type lasers ("No Mr Claus, I expect you to die!"), wood-chippers, industrial accidents, you name it.

Granted, a lot of people like the irony of building dark models from Lego, but nowhere near as much dark stuff like that gets built at the current company. We've got cars, airplanes, pimped-out lawnmowers, video-game characters. (Not too far from what your average kid would build.)

A couple of us have actually used the Lego as a tool too. We were working on labor-scheduling software, and found the blocks were great for working out algorithms by hand. (Ok, the red bricks are 15-minute blocks of time that we need a cashier. And the blue is stockroom. So the leveling algorithm needs to move the blue from here to here...)

One last thing I think you'll like: Many, perhaps most, adult Lego fans go through a period, usually the teenage years, where they decide they're too old to play with Lego. I don't know who coined the term, but we call that 'the dark ages.'

from Bernie DeKoven's FunLog

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A Basket Full of Squishies

You remember me writing you about Office Playground? It was in that article on Toy Therapy for Business Meetings, in case you forgot.

I went to them for an update on their current meeting-appropriate toy offerings, and wound up with what I'd like to think of as "a basket full of squishies." Like to think, because I only got four, and the basket's too big, anyhow. Anyhow, as I was saying, think of these as a representative four, a mere sample of the varieties of "squish" (or whatever you call that really stretchable, baby-poweder-covered stuff they're made of and their meanings.

Let us begin therefore with the Spaghetti Ball, because it was my favorite and took me most by surprise. It's a bunch of squishy strings attached in the middle, is what it is. Long squishy strings, attached in the middle, and when you throw it, darn if it doesn't kind of ball up, and when you spin it darn if it doesn't flatten out, and darn if it doesn't hang by any one of it's strings and darn if you can't spin the whole thing pretty darn fast, if you want, in a pre-launching manner.

This pre-launching spinning of a mass of connected squishy strings activity is remarkably similar to that performed by the user of that which is commonly refered to as the Stretchin' Squid Yo Yo.

My wife, when she first saw the Stretchin' Squid Yo Yo - with its convenient finger-ring-ended highly stretchable, well, tentacle, with which, should you so desire, you can perform yo-yo-like activities - proceded to demonstrate the verisimilitude, showing me how she could Rock the Cradle, Shoot the Moon, Walk the Dog, and make me writhe with laughter.

Then there's this squishy frisbee-thing, the Stretch Flyer, which does in deed flatten and fly frisbee-like into the beyond, and also fits over your head. Thus, should a great deal of shared spunkiness be manifest, it can easily serve as an invitation to a game of frisbee catch, or golf, or basketball, or dodgeball, for that matter - a dodgeball that doesn't hurt. Or, as previously noted, you can put it over your head, which, at times, is exactly what you need to be able to do.

Finally, we have Stretchy String, also made of the basic squishy material, but thicker, and hence, stretchier, and further hence, can be snapped at things and people as well as whirled menacingly and at extensive distance. Of course, it doesn't really hurt when it hits you, but it sure looks like it will. As it does when someone snaps it at you.

Note, if you will, how each of these lends itself to a range of play, from sensual and contemplative, to downright hostile and aggressive. Note, further, how, though each is in deed a tension reliever, some seem to lend themselves more to relieving social tension than personal.

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Dolphin-Made Toys

This is a bubble ring, a genuine, dolphin-made, dolphin toy. According to article, "The dolphins dive down deep, and then they blow a beautiful round air ring through the blowhole. It looks like a hoolahoop of air. They would use it to swim through, or try to keep the ring down, or they would just look at it for fun."

This is the first I've read of an animal making a toy for itself. There are many intelligent animals that use tools. And many more that play. But apparently dolphins make bubble rings for only one reason: so dolphins can play with them.

According to this source, dolphins "... blow underwater bubble rings by injecting air into water vortices, about the thickness of a straw and 1 to 2 feet in diameter. The rings don't rise to the surface! The babies play with these underwater toys by moving them around with their rostrum, or biting them. They even bounce the rings off the wall, and elongate them with a flick of their dorsal fins into 15 foot corkscrews."

Here's another quote, from pre-eminent dolphin scientist Don White: "The young dolphin gives a quick flip of her head, and an undulating silver ring appears--as if by magic--in front of her. The ring is a solid, toroidal bubble two feet across--and yet it does not rise to the surface! It stands erect in the water like the rim of a magic mirror, or the doorway to an unseen dimension. For long seconds the dolphin regards its creation, from varying aspects and angles, with its vision and sonar. Seemingly making a judgment, the dolphin then quickly pulls a small silver doughnut from the larger structure, which collapses into small bubbles. She then 'pushes' the doughnut, which stays just inches ahead of her rostrum, perhaps 20 feet over a period of up to 10 seconds. Then, stopping again, she regards the twisting ring for a last time and bites it--causing it to collapse into a thousand tiny bubbles which head--as they should--for the water's surface. After a few moments of reflection, she creates another."


Toy Therapy, Part II

Let us for a moment hearken back to our "discussion," virtually speaking, of "Toy Therapy for the Meeting Room." Now, let us hearken forward to the discovery of yet a second source, a source that provides us not only more of the same, but more of the different, as well. The Trainers Warehouse.

Here, should we be hoping to mine in the same vein, we have "Toys for Learners" - a significantly large collection of fidgety digity toys that help keep tensions down, or at least shared. Worthy of perusal for one's more personal toy needs. Whilst here, in the aforehinted significantly new vein, we find this collection of your basic games and accessories. Anyone who ever led a group knows the value of having something to make noise with - sometimes, you just need to get their attention. On the other hand, everyone who ever attended a meeting can attest to a similarly practical use of noise making devices.

Trainers Warehouse is primarily a resource for, um, trainers. But for we of the Playful Purpose, it is a path to fun and potential havoc of many invaluably different kinds. Such as that which one might create with, for example, game show buzzers.

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HoverDisc is a 3-foot wide, inflatable (with air, or, better yet, helium!) Frisbee-like thing.

I quote: "The amazing HoverDisc flies like nothing else! Flip it, throw it, spin it -- the HoverDisc floats, hovers and defies gravity. Toss it, roll it, bounce it off a wall -- invent your own tricks and games! The HoverDisc inflates to an enormous 3 feet in diameter! Just fill it with air or helium and you're ready to go!"

I owe this discovery entirely to a fellow named Dan 'Stork' Roddick, the first, full-time proponent of Wham-O's International Frisbee Association (click this link to view page one of the first issue of the IFA newsletter) and Executive Director of the World Flying Disc Federation. When Dan, a remarkably playful and scholarly professor of social science, made his entrance into my home, he came in HoverDisc first. For the next ten minutes, nothing more needed to be said. We tapped it, floated it, bounced it to and fro, from wall to wall, room to room. The delight was sheer.

When we finally spoke to each other, the first words out of my mouth were "let's take this to the beach." But the wise and informed Dan helped me understand that the HoverDisc is actually an indoor toy. Or perhaps a sheltered, backyard toy. But not a toy to trust to the blustery whims of ocean breezes.

It might take some time to discover all the things you can make a HoverDisc do: bounce off walls, skim the ceiling, roll, spin. But it's time well-wasted. These are the kinds of toys that joy is made of - big, safe, floaty things that are sturdy enough to be thrown hard against a wall, ever so easy to catch, and dreamlike in their movement - offering child and adult alike an invitation to delight.


Toy Therapy for Business Meetings

Ever since I first facilitated a business meeting, I knew that my appreciation for a good toy would prove a powerful tool for increasing participation and productivity. Over the years, part of my facilitation service became a kind of Toy Therapy. I knew how to give people the right toy at the right time. When I first learned of a company called Office Playground, I realized that I wasn't alone in my appreciation for toys and the playfulness of adults and predictability of social dynamics.

As a case in point, I take four different toys, each of which is available from the abovementioned Office Playground, each of which having a different impact on the productivity and creativity of the group effort. Taken together, these four toys span a range of social engagement, from personally pensive to collectively wacky.

We begin with the Velvet Slime Anenome. Give everyone a Velvet Slime anenome and you give them enough to do with their hands so that they can actually focus on the meeting, engaging the touch with something quietly yucky, yet kinda fun.

When a bit more participation and expressiveness might be needed, we distribute Bendable Clowns. These small, rubbery figures have a wire core that allows them to be bent into different positions. One might say that having your own clown to bend helps you from getting bent, as it were. The fact is that they occupy the fingers, like the Velvet Slime Squishy Beads, but are also expressive, engaging the psyche like they engage the hands. Further, people can make their clowns appear to interact with others, creating scenes and stunts, building clown pyramids. So here we have a toy that sets the stage for personal and collective interaction.

Wishing to engage the mind a bit more actively, and to open the possibility for perhaps even more pointed social discourse, we give everyone two Boinks. Boinks are nylon finger cuffs - flexible open tubes that you can stick your fingers in and forget how to pull them out. They are also flexible enough to flick as well as fling. Thus inducing either a contemplative state whereby one is attempting to free and imprison oneself more or less simultaneously; or a semi-manic social engagement during which time participants strategically sproing at each other.

And then, when push has clearly gone beyond shove, and you need people to get beyond social and personal barriers, it's time to bring out the Snapper Hands - stretchy like rubber, sticky like stick-to-the-wall sticky highly-flingable little hand things that can grab things, like sheets of paper and people's attention.

You'll find yet more examples of Toy Therapy for Business Meetings in my collection of "Toy Stories."

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Cootie Catchers

Cootie Catcher, Cootie Catcher, where did you come from? And why?

According to this site (which features an instructional video on Cootie Catcher fabrication), Cootie Catchers came from Japan and have been around for at least four centuries.

"Earliest reference...appears during the beginning of the Edo period (early 1600s) in Japan, when mass-produced, low-priced paper became available and the art of paper folding became widespread. There is earlier reference to similar ceremonial and functional origami pieces - in one instance used to serve dried spices. First mention of this folded amusement in European history also occurs in the early 17th century, although it remains unclear whether this particular piece was introduced from Japan, or arose spontaneously from within the European folded paper craft movement."

As to why? My guess is that it has something to do with fun, and magic. The magic part is an example of what one might call "Praeternatural Play." For some reason, we take great pleasure in fortune telling games. We know they're games. So we don't really believe them. And yet, we kinda really do. This is what Colin Campbell calls "Half Belief."

Whether you belief is half, whole, or not at all, knowing how to make a Cootie Catcher can only be a good thing. Here, therefore, are animated instructions with a downloadable print and fold template.

If your Cootie Catcher question is urgent, here's a virtual cootie catcher for your immediate, and clearly questionable gratification.

Bernie DeKoven, funsmith

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Wikki Stix

Wikki Stix
are, first of all, not just for kids.

The reason I find myself needing to emphasize this point about the true nature of Wikki Stix is that a set of Wikki Stix bears a startlingly close resemblance to a set of colored pipe cleaners. Which is what makes Wikki Stix so easily mistaken for a children's toy.

So moved have I been by the significantly mature play value of the Stix Wikki, that I have published a carefully wrought treatise on Stix-use as a training tool for executive and creative teams.

Yes, it is true, one could say that they are merely bits of colored yarn dipped in some kind of special wax that allows them to be so easily bent and stuck to each other on a piece of paper, and the wall, and mirror, and bathroom tile. But one must also acknowledge that the wax is really quite special, as are the people who manufacture, package and distribute Wikki Stix, and maintain a website-full of creative Wikki wisdom, adapted, of course, for the visually impaired.



Ah, yes, who can forget those many hours of idle agony spent playing with one's own Bilboquet?

According to Elliot Avedon, curator of the Elliot Avedon Museum and Archive of Games "The French word Bilboquet is related to the French word bille - translated as either a 'little stick' or a child's 'glass marble.' In any event, those that study the origins of language report that the word Bilboquet appears in the French language as early as 1534 AD."

In fact, if you take another look at my story about The Great Ball Drop Experiment, you'll see that it's really what one could only call yet another Bilboquet.

Elliot Avedon's online archive has illustrations of Bilboquet games from France, Italy, Finland, Japan, Peru, Columbia, Mexico, and several Native American tribes. Curator Avedon explains:

"In general there are two major modes. One mode is with a ball (or ball-like object) that is attached to a handle (or peg/pin) tethered to the ball. A stylized cup-like object is also attached to the handle. Variations exist with respect to the shape of the cup - multiple cups, etc., and the shape of the handle. The second mode uses tethered rings that are to be caught on a peg/pin, and these variations are reflected in the shape of the pin or the number of tethered rings. A general variation is the length of the tether in either mode, or the weight of the object that is to be caught. "

Once again demonstrating how a good game gets around - even if no one knows its real name.

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Flexagons - another fun-math connection

Last Thursday's piece about Playfulness, Invention and Mathematical Thought set me thinking about all the fun things I've done that belong to this math-fun connection. Which reminded me about one of the most mystifyingly magically mathishly fun toys I've so far encountered - the flexagon.

It's a thing you make out of a folded paper strip that's divided into triangles. You fold and fold until you get something that looks like a hexagon. You glue one of the edges and get this ever-unfolding thing. Then you go so far as to draw pictures and stuff on this ever-unfolding thing, and when you ever-unfold it, the pictures change and change and, well, change. It's kinda like a folded moebius strip. Which is also amazing, fun, and ticklishly puzzling. And it's the ticklishly puzzling part that makes this whole thing so mathematical.

The hexahexaflexagon is no secret. There are many World Wide pages devoted to its mysteries. This site includes a cool Java simulation of a hexahexaflexagon flexing hexishly. This site gives instructions for building tri-, tetra-, penta-, and, of course, hexahexaflexagons. And here we even get hexahexaflexagon-making software.

Flex on, dude!

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