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Bernie DeKoven's FunLog

More fun, more often, for more people and other living things.

The only thing real then is play

Here's a name for you to list in your bibliography of play seers: Jogi Panghaal . And this excerpt from his brilliant article Body, Movement and Joy should explain why:

At one level play is used to prepare a body to learn. To make, to evolve subjects and then to have users that respond to it. The underlying truth being that the body plays to inform itself better and the context that it is born, in the context that it is to live, meaningfully.

At another level play is used to forge links with the unknown. Finding higher levels of centeredness by attempting to centre with that. It is through this play that true knowledge follows, as different from information. The underlying truth being that consciousness plays to know itself better in its own cosmic context.

All the world is a vast field where were all simultaneously both players and a play. A form and performers. Dancers and the dance. Artisans and an artefact. A series of interconnected fields all involved in a great spectacle of plays, which we would perhaps call Lila: the ultimate play. Attempts to comprehend all this with only a rational mind may not be enough. Were to be playful. After all this is all like Maya, an illusion or a wash for reality. In this world of multiple realities, the only thing real then is play.

Erasable Twistable Crayons

Markers may be all things bright and beautiful for graphic artists and meeting facilitators, but for creative work and play, nothing beats the color and sketch-like informality of Crayons. Recently, the Crayola company has come up with Erasable Twistable Crayons - the first truly executive crayon.

Encased in clear plastic that lets you twist up more color as the tip wears down, the Erasable Twistable crayon is clean and easy to handle, never needs sharpening (because the colorful wax insert is long and thin), and doesn't look like the ubiquitous crayon. This is the key element that makes this new crayon so executive-worthy, it has a fun, yet more "corporate" appearance than the crayons you used as a child. Frankly, it's a little difficult to maintain your position as meeting facilitator when you bring out you tusty box of 64. But when you bring out your Erasable Twistables, why, there's no question that this is in deed a facilitative tool, and something that can't be mistaken for a child's toy. Even though it is.

The Erasable Twistable Crayon gets a Major FUN Award because it extends the wonderful fun of Crayolas into the adult world, where it is so sorely needed. And it's erasable. And twistable, too.

Silly Putty

Silly Putty, need I say more?

In deed I need.

Silly Putty is the "...clay-like stuff that bounces and stretches and picks up ink. Of course, now you can get Silly Putty in glow-in-the-dark colors. But it still feels like putty. And its still something that is clearly silly. And its also something that people can play with for hours. Roll it. Mold it. Bounce it. Consciously. Semiconsciously. Something that embraces playfulness and creativity. Something with enough flexibility, enough controllability, enough tactile complexity to keep the hands busy and the mind free, all day." (Read more about the executive implications of all this on "Of Kooshballs and Silly Putty").

I mention the adult-worthiness of Silly Putty because we all know how much fun we had with it when we were kids.

Silly Putty gets a Major FUN Award for exemplifying just about everything I think a toy should be and do.

Here, Courtesy of Silly Putty University are the first three of the Top 50 Silliest Uses for Silly Putty

1 Form Silly Putty into a ball, throw it at the stock market listings and invest in the stock it lifts off the page. -- Peter H., Collinsville, Conn.

2 End an unbearable date by making a swollen gland with Silly Putty and excusing yourself because you're not feeling well. -- Judith D., Norwich, Conn.

3 Use Silly Putty as an alternative to cement handprints at Mann's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood for flash-in-the-pan actors. -- Charles G., Dallas, Texas

Games, kids and family

I found the following in an article by Evelyn Petersen appearing in Exceptional Parent Magazine. It's a little sad that we need to be reminded how important playing a game with the family is for children - and in deed everyone in the family. It's a little wonderful to find such a reminder so clearly and enthusiastically stated.

Playing games provides opportunities for success:

1) in participating; 2) in interacting with others; 3) in enjoying the challenge of the game; and 4) in enjoying a sense of mastery. The most important, though perhaps most intangible, benefit children get from playing games with their families is a strong sense of belonging or connectedness to the family group. The feeling of belonging is strengthened by the communication and laughter that happens when families play games together. It is a bond that is the foundation for the child's future interactions with others, when their friendships extend beyond family to peer groups. This bond is something strong and sturdy, which all children need to hold on to in a fast-paced, changing world.

Wikki Stix

Wikki Stix is an incredibly simple toy, so simple that it invites kids and adults to hours of creative play.

Simplicity-wise, simply by adding wax to yarn (all right, a special, secret kind of wax, but wax, nonetheless), the inventors have created an art toy that is as fun as it is expressive. The fun of it is that it sticks almost anywhere. The Wikki face and Wikki heart and Wikki initials that I experimented with five months ago are still on my wall, waiting only my whim to be peeled effortlessly way.

Wikki Stix receives today's Major FUN Award and is on my most-recommended list for executive retreats and creative brainstorm sessions. My executive-related Wikki Stix exploration concludes with this exemplary story from Stephanie Portola:

"Years ago when I had a Wikki Stix wall in my office people would add to it sequentially and check in with it periodically. It became a group work in progress (although the group members were anonymous to each other). The ever changing work of art was quite creative and fun. For example: One person would "draw" a face in outline, another person would add a face looking into the first face, someone else would come up with a "word balloon" and get the two people talking. Or someone would draw a figure and another person would put flowers in the figure's hand."

The Wikki Stix site is "adapted for the site impaired" because its easy-to-touch-read texture makes it a perfect instructional aid, as well as an invitation to play, for all of us, with more of us.

Online Zoology

"...humankind's recent discovery of the World Wide Web has entailed a concomitant investigation of its fauna, and the birth of a new field, online zoology. SINGLECELL is a monthly bestiary of these newfound species: a collection of online life-forms discovered and reared by a diverse group of computational artists and designers."

This "Online Zoology" is a computer-unique art-playform, and clearly Major FUN-worthy. Though I try not to have favorites, Golan Levin's Objok was the only one that I found to be singularly funny, on a cellular level; Martin Wattenberg's Sand Shrimp is a minor masterpiece of simplicity and illusion, while Ed Burton's Life Line lies somewhere along the border between sheer silliness and even sheerer sexiness.

SINGLECELL is the first volume. DOUBLECELL is the second.

Play on.

Miniature Golf, Passion and Art

My wife Rocky teaches a small art class in her studio (our livingroom). Her approach to kids' art is to give them opportunities to become familiar with a wide range of materials. A recent project: create a golf-course in a shoebox lid.

In preparing for the class, Rocky asked me to look up any references I could find to Miniature Golf - so we could collect some photos to further inspire the kids. I came across Mika's Down-Under Miniature Golf Course and have been chortling with nascent glee ever since.

The story: "Matt built the course for Mika in the basement of their house in December, 1996, as a Christmas present. It was assembled in pieces in the paint room, then secretly laid out the evening of December 24th, 1996. The total cost was around $340.00, which included about $100 of plastic toys not actually used in the final course, the rest going mostly for random bits of lumber, the golf turf, a putter, and several overpriced automatic golfball return devices. It was gradually disassembled by random cat activity over the course of eight months, and was finally disassembled in September, 1997, because we needed to use the laundry table."

Fact is, albeit an evanescent wonder, Matt managed to build an 18-hole golf course in his basement, and a half-year of significant miniature-golf-like fun for his family. For Matt's illustrated guide to basement golf, see the webpage.

Building one's own miniature golf course is apparently a semi-approved educational activity. Here's a story describing how Students Design Miniature Golf Course out of Legos. Legos. But of course (so to speak)!

So inspired was I by these stories that I sought out that repository of all half-baked ideas, Halfbakery for evidence of advanced thinking along these lines, wherewithin I found Extreme Miniature Golf and The Miniature Golf Version of Anything.

Of course, you can further miniaturize golf, until you find yourself playing mini-miniature golf on paper or even on the computer.

Something is telling me that designing one's own miniature golf course is an invitation to potentially preternaturally deep fun.

Fun and War

I guess it's going to get easier and easier to believe that we are really at war. Until then, for the children's sake, I think we'd better stock up on some good toy guns. We're going to need them. They've got water pistols and Nerf Guns of such technical proficiency that one would think them to be weapons capable of glass destruction - which they aren't, which is the whole point.

Toy guns because our kids are going to need to play with all this. War is too big of a crime to be able to integrate any other way. It is too impossible to believe that we are actually capable of such calculated violence, for whatever cause, and so we all are going to need to play with it, a lot.

Son Elyon writes:

There is no fun in war, even if it is only a conflict. I cannot believe that there could be real deepFUN in killing people, even if they are your enemy.

At the same time, for those in a kill or be killed situation, there must be moments of less fear, moments of flow even. There must be lighter moments, ways to kill time, or kill some braincells while waiting to kill others. But surely even the most fun a war could ever be could never be really phun.Or can it?

For me, for my children, for my friends and acquaintances, even for those who think I might be their enemy, I hope for a world beyond war. I hope for a world at peace with play.


In the meantime, might I suggest that now is also the time to take your Frisbees out and use them as weapons of peace. Play is about to become even more of a political act than it ever was, even after 9/11.

Games Night

Games Night, sponsored by the Los Angeles People Connection, is one of the most elaborate and playful game event I know of. Well-documented, even, with pages devoted to previous games nights and the games played therein.

During the last of our five meetings at Esalen, Sunday morning, we talked a lot about how to extend this experience of playfulness and creativity, trust and intimacy to family and neighborhood and probably the rest of the world. One of the ideas we talked most about was the Games Night. Once a month, maybe. With family, friends, neighbors, workmates. A night devoted to playing games just for the fun of it.

We talked about how we liked the board games - especially Curses and thepollgame - alot. But not as much as the other kind. And that kind, the pointless kind, without equipment, is really the hardest to get started. Especially in people's houses. So we talked about using board games, but in some kind of off-beat way. Like combining them.

For example, the deck of Curse Cards from Curses would make a game like thepollgame funnier than it already is. And the voting cards in thepollgame would make Apples to Apples significantly crisper. In fact, the Curse Cards and voting cards would make almost any game - Scrabble, Monopoly, Diplomacy - funnier, more fun, more like the kind of fun we had at Esalen, without any props.

I also recommended that our kind of Games Night be hosted by someone different each time. And regardless of who hosts, a potlucky relationship where people bring food and games and goodies to share is definitely worth nurturing. Who knows, with the way things are going, and coming, any kind of Games Night where people can get together and feel safe enough to play is an event you'll definitely be wanting to know about.

Loving Fun, and leaving

We strike a silly pose, then we hug, and laugh, hard. And then we go to lunch. And so concludes our Weekend of Loving Fun at the always remarkable Esalen Institute. It was, as usual, amazing.

We played the usual melange of pointless games. I'd say that among the very favorites were Prui and People Pass and probably J'Accuse. Saturday night we stayed in the lodge for some board games. Favorites were Curses and Thepollgame.

It wasn't a success for everyone. Three out of our 14 didn't attend most of the sessions. The "freedom to quit" is an option that is central to the workshop - people should only be playing because they choose to play.

I quote from one of the participants: "...for the few who don't play, there are all of us who do and who get so much from the playing and the connecting. The pace was gentle and easy. I usually go to workshops where the work is hard and deep and it is all about learning through pain, so often. It was lovely, really just what I was hoping for, to remember and experience learning that happens in a loving and laughing way."

Ze

One giant leap in the search for signs of playfulness on the Internet comes from Ze Frank's collection of Interactive Toys. Then comes a lot of hopping around.

I first found out about Ze Frank (yes, apparently his first name is Ze, and Frank his last) when pointed by various bloggers to his Build Your Own Kaleidoscope - a blend between a drawing toy and a looking toy. Later, I was pointed to Draw Toy vs. Byokal - an even more drawy draw toy with a Kaleidoscopic view. Finally, I made my way to his homepage, were I found 18 more different Interactive Toys to keep me hopping. I started from the top of the list with Your Mama - a kind of interactive, animated face puppet. Next, a Draw Toy (which might very well have been the inspiration for the draw toy that versused the Kaleidoscope) that includes amusingly animated brushes. Then I hopped around to a couple other Kaleidoscopic toys - For Shelda's Mom and Kale2. And, well, I kept hopping until I had visited each of Ze's other 15 virtual toyish wonders.

Then I hopped over and found a list of 17 "Things to Watch or Look At" - each of which is further evidence of Ze's standing as a true artist and technowit. Hopping over again, I found a list of "Projects to Participate in" which includes the playful, yet fashionable Toilet Paper Project. And then I found myself seriously having a need to contribute to the Gyro and Draw Toy galleries of images created by using Ze's hitherto unmentioned interactive toy Gyro and, of course, Meine Kleine Draw Toy.

Ze's page is more than a collection of virtual virtuosity, it is testimony to the art of play, and vice versa.

Oball

Oball is the first throwing toy to get a Major FUN Award because it's the first I've found that so successfully spans ages, abilities and environments. Sturdy enough for serious kicking, light enough to bounce on your head, supple enough to squish into a backpocket. Hit it with a racquet. Catch it with a stick. Put a bunch on the conference table for creative fiddling and the occasional emotional purge. Put your toes in it. Put your nose in it. Throw it in the snow or mud and then throw it in the dishwasher.

As the manufacturer explains: "Oball consists of a collection of brightly colored loops that are fused together to form a soft, rubbery frame ball with round, finger-friendly openings. Oball grows with a person; it can be used by an infant for clutching, by a baby for throwing, by a toddler for kicking and carrying, by a child for catching, by kids and adults for games like soccer or volleyball both indoors and out, or just for fidgeting."

I couldn't have said it better myself. Nine-month-old granddaughter Lily happened to be with us at the Western Toy and Hobbies Representatives Association Trade Show in Pomona, and she couldn't stop talking about the deliciously graspable Oball. When she finally let it go (somebody handed her a stuffed puppy), I got to play with it myself. It's remarkable how friendly it feels - safe, fun to touch and squeeze and bounce on your hand, so easy to catch that you are often surprised that it's in your hand again. An invitation to fun that you can take seriously, and everywhere.

Animated Word Games

When I was working at Mattel I had the opportunity to develop a proposal for "Millennial Scrabble." Due to various exigencies, my proposal never went beyond a few interactive Director files, but it was a wonderful opportunity to develop some of my wackier (or is that Oaquier?) ideas for truly animated word games. When my daily snack of Milk and Cookies included this game of "Word Up," I fairly writhed in conceptual justification. Here, at last, a kind of Boggle-like Scrabblish thing that is truly dynamic, computer-specific, unique, bordering on new.

You're going to need to be a bit patient - unless you elect to download the "free trial version" immediately it takes a while for the full glories of the multimediated introduction to play out. But it's well worth it. The two big innovations are tiles that disappear as soon as a word is spelled, to be replaced by new tiles, and the "Power Ups" - special animated tiles that include constantly changing vowels, consonants, multipliers, wild tiles and various explosives that blow tiles away - adding a wonderful sense of tension, variety and novelty to the game experience. The sound effects beautifully support and enhance player involvement. Word Up is great fun and points the way to a whole new genre of dynamic, interactive word games.

All of which demonstrates conclusively that a good idea will always succeed - maybe not for the company it was developed for or for the person who developed it. But sooner or later, if your idea is good enough, somebody, somewhere will make it happen. WordUp does me proud. Now, as for the rest of the ideas I have about dynamic word games....

Silliness, Blessedness and Wisdom

A friend of mine pointed me to a game called Flyguy, and I was so taken by the silliness, simplicity, and deeply lighthearted experience that I started thinking once again about the connection between silliness and blessedness (you know, the origins of the word "silly" include the concept of "blessed").

I've also just recently begun correspondence with Gershon Winkler, who "is both a renowned scholar as well as a rabbinic trickster." In his first message to me, Rabbi Winkler wrote: The Zohar says "There is no wisdom as wholesome as that wisdom that comes out of silliness." Which connected the whole "silly" thing back to wisdom. Which reminded me how I talk about DeepFUN as "exploring the wisdom of games." Because I believe that games, especially those that are truly fun, are also resevoirs of great wisdom. Which is what I write about extensively in articles like Near Myths and stories like the one about the children's games of Hot Bread and Butter.

I asked Rabbi Winkler if he could tell me more about that amazing quote. He explained: "The Zohar teaching is from Volume 3, folio 47b, and it goes on and on about the importance of clowning and how the teachers would open their discourses with silly things to open the hearts to the wisdom and that without clowning, the knowledge cannot be imparted wholly." Which reminded me of that piece I found about play and teaching. Which reminded me about how and what I teach. (See this for more of Rabbi Winkler's wonderful quotes.)

I'm not sure what this is all leading or taking me back to. Maybe a validation. Maybe a new direction. But I thought you'd enjoy the dance.

Messy Games

Anyone who has kids or works with kids or just hangs around kids has probably observed that kids seem to find great amusement in getting and being "messy." Take a look, for example, at ten-year-old Ian's collection of his favorite Messy Games.

And yet, one finds oneself taken aback, or at least aside, by the discovery of so many adult-sponsored "youth sites" engaged, not only in enthusiastic endorsement for these activities, but also in contributing to their furtherance and proliferation. For proof of this bizarre permissiveness, see the amply illustrated Messy Games Night and More Messy Games. And, for yet more evidence and even more incontrovertibility, see this collection of church-sponsored, tongue-in-cheekily titled "Sick and Twisted Games."

One can but wonder as to the motivation for all this adult-approved child-messiness. One can but shudder with amazement at the theosophical implications of this blatant public church-endorsed messitude, and all but dare to conjecture at the compounding of the "holy mess." One can only wonder if such support is equally given to adult-messiness.

Regardless of the extent of theo-endorsement, one finds oneself mysteriously reassured by such sacred shenanigans, perhaps to the point of restoring one's faith in both religious institutions and the power of play

The Cup Game

Collaborative confusion seems to be the source and goal of many a fine party (a.k.a. "pointless") game. Witness, for example, Estray Bonajour, or Bernie Played a Game.

For continued corroboration of the collaborative confusion hypothesis, dip into the Party Games collection, wherein you will find, among other salient examples, the Cup Game, a taste of whose instructions follow:

Each player begins with one cup in front of them, upside down. (For those who are unclear, where there to be any liquid in the cup, placing it upside down would cause the liquid to spill on the playing surface.) Extra cups should be stacked or set next to each other to the left of the leftmost player with a few scattered near other players(with Option A), or in the middle of the table (with Option B).
...With your right hand, GRAB the cup from the left. To do this, your hand will likely feel backwards and your elbow stick out.
With cup in hand, move your right hand back to its "natural" orientation, thus turning the cup right-side-up and off the table, and TAP the open end of the cup to your open left palm (be sure your left palm is ready and waiting a little ways above and to the left of the cup). Make sure your right hand holds on to the cup.
Bring the cup back down to HIT the table, where it should now rest, right side up, still held by your right hand.
Lift the cup once more, in a similar motion to the previous grab, this time extending the bottom of the cup toward your left palm. SWITCH hands by grabbing the nearby bottom of the cup with your left palm.
Keep the cup, now grasped by its bottom by your left hand, in the air for the time being. Move your right hand leftward, and use it to SLAP the table.
Leaving your right hand where it is, bring your left hand, with the cup, cross above your right hand, set the cup down near the person to your right, and RELEASE it.

Washers

You know the game of Quoits (as described herein last month)? Well, it turns out that there's a quite Quoit-like game called "Washers," played, not with Quoits, or even horseshoes, but with, can you guess? "Standard round metallic washers, 2.5" in diameter with a 1" center hole." As for the, excuse the expression, "pits:" "The game of Washers is played on two pits, each with one circular recessed cup as a target. The easiest, although not necessarily the best, option for cups is a standard 32 ounce tin can (4" diameter x 4.5" depth). Remove both ends and recess the can flush with the earth in each pit. A better choice is thick-walled PVC of the same dimensions. Repeated hits of the tin can will distort its shape and necessitate regular restructuring while the PVC remains almost impervious to damage. White or light-colored PVC is recommended as an aid to aiming, and will allow competitive matches well into dusk."

The Washers game reflects exactly the kind of spirit we need to keep games games. The informality and humor of the concept model playfulness at its best. As the author readily reflects "The history of the game is cloaked in mystery but lends itself to colorful conjecture. 'Betcha I can toss this here washer into that oil can over yonder,' someone might have wagered years ago. Most certainly humble roots fathered the game as participants used readily-available parts, a hallmark of the game that survives even today."

Sadly, the Washers website doesn't appear to be very active. The links to the Forum and Guestbook are no longer active. But someone put some real love and very good information into this site, and, happily, it's still there for us to celebrate.

Boredom Kills

During the halcyon days of the Games Preserve (our play retreat center in Eastern Pennsylvania - 1971-81) our slogan was "Boredom kills. Games Preserve you." Pithy. Provocative. And, according to this research report called "Investigating the relationships between boredom proneness, paranoia, and self-consciousness" by Mitchell J. von Gemmingen, Bryce F. Sullivan, and Andrew M. Pomerantz, not necessarily an exaggeration.

They write: "...boredom proneness was the strongest overall predictor of paranoia. Additionally, boredom proneness significantly correlated with private self-consciousness, and self-reflectiveness, but not general self-consciousness nor public self-consciousness...these findings suggest that individuals in an undesired state of boredom may...develop...an obdurate and deleterious style of thinking that may lead to a distancing between themselves from not only friends and family, but reality as well."

Boredom's a dangerous thing. Awareness of that danger led Csikszentmihalyi to choose Beyond Boredom and Anxiety as the title of one of his earliest and most influential reports on his studies of the flow experience. Which is one of the earliest and most influential pieces of research on the development of my understanding of fun.

The abstract of this article is available for free, and can be found in Science Direct.

Thanks to my personally Sacred Son for the link.

Card decks for more of us

If you've ever played with a cheap deck of cards, you can appreciate how important it is for playing cards to have the right kind of play. The US Playing Card Company has been around so long, and has perfected the process of formulating just the right, most flexible, shufflable, plastic laminate, that it has undeniably established itself as the industry standard.

I recently discovered that they also make "special" decks for the blind and vision impaired. This is not only laudable, but opens up new possibilities for all of us. It's laudable, because the blind and vision-impaired are a smaller, and hence less profitable market. And the possibilities it opens not only allow us to include more people in our play communities, but also to invent new games.

The Braille deck, for example. As any sighted person knows, Braille is really difficult to "read." Decoding those tiny bumps requires concentration and sensitivity that is beyond the reach of most of us. So, a set of Braille-encoded cards becomes a source for really challenging game play. Take out maybe three different pairs from your Braille deck. Shuffle them. Place them face up on the table. Close your eyes and play a game of Concentration where you try to find the pairs again. Don't be afraid to cheat. It's a hard game. If you get good at that, there's 46 more cards to play with, and Jokers, too.

The Lo-Vision cards are actually quite beautiful. There are no face cards, but the images are too complex to help the vision-impaired, and the large index (that's what they call the numbers and letters on playing cards) makes the deck that much easier to read for any player. There are also four colors instead of two, making it far easier to tell the suits apart, which also makes it easier to play. The game of Rummikub, which uses tiles instead of playing cards, uses this same principle. In fact, it makes me wonder why all decks aren't 4-colored.

Because the index is so easy to read, it's a perfect deck for playing the politically-incorrectly-named "Indian Poker" and almost ideal for playing my favorite big party game of Human Cards. Almost ideal because, though the large index makes it much easier to see cards from across a room, the small size of the cards makes it a little too easy for people to accidentally walk away with. Which is why I vastly prefer the Big Bicycle deck, which doubles the size of regular cards, measuring 4 5/8" by 7" and all but eliminates the problem of accidental pocketing.

As long as you're visiting the US Playing Card Company site, take a look at their concise and informative brief history of playing cards. Should you want a less brief, and somewhat other history of playing cards, check this site. And, while you're thinking about more games to try with your Braille cards, taste their quite delicious collection of children's card games.

thepollgame

Thepollgame is as fun of a game as it is an opportunity to talk about yourself and learn secrets about your friends and intimates. For something to be as fun as an opportunity to talk about yourself, it's got to be a lot of fun. And that's precisely what we had playing thepollgame (yes, Virginia, it's all one word) during Sunday's Game Tasting.

There were eight of us, which, serendipitously, was exactly the upper limit of how many people the game is designed for. The game supplied each of us with nine voting cards (marked from 0 to 8), a "Declaration Chip" (a green "yes" coin and a red "no" coin that snap together), and a uniquely colored plastic pawn. Central to the game is a box of 220 "Poll Question Cards." Each card has three different questions on it. The person who gets to play pollster for that round selects which of the three questions to ask. For example: "Do you believe that cell phones cause health problems?", "Have you ever danced on a table or a bar?", "Do you think Paul Newman is one of the top 5 sexiest male celebrities?"

Now, if this were one of those poorly conceived, embarrassing, self-revelation games, the fun would pretty much stop there. In fact, I'm getting uncomfortable just thinking about how uncomfortable answering such questions could get. And, yes, you do have to answer the question (using your Declaration Chip). But here's where the genius of the design comes in to transform a ticklish situation into a game that is truly, deeply tickling. To win, you have to predict, correctly, how many people are going to say "yes." So it's not just about you. It's about your knowledge of everybody else. And it's not just about that either. It's also about sheer, dumb luck. Except in the case of Marc, who won the game, and was clearly uncanny in his ability to predict our responses.

And that's what does it, that blend of luck and self-revelation and predictive powers. That's what makes thepollgame into a Major FUN award-worthy experience. The gameboard is elegantly designed. The unusual format of the package efficient and attractive. The rules clear. The turns brief. The pace perfect.

If you want to get your own taste of thepollgame, you can even play it online by completing, of all things, a poll. If you want a claim to fame, you can submit your own original question to be included in future versions of thepollgame. Which, by the way, is something you can also do during the game - not necessarily claiming fame, but creating your own poll questions on the spur of the proverbial moment.

In the words of Darrell Jochum, the inventor of thepollgame: "Potentially surprising answers to controversial questions and the conversation that follows make it a fantastic party game." I couldn't agree more.

"At its very best, teaching is a form of intellectual play"

At its very best, teaching is a form of intellectual play in which students are invited to join. Play for the purpose of learning asks students to bring to their learning the same traits of mind and spirit called for by all genuine play--delight in chance and the unexpected, concentration, inventiveness. Those who interpret play in the classroom--whether it takes the form of games, acting, debate, or contests--as "the absence of seriousness" are mistaken. As we know from watching young children playing games, their grave attention is in pursuit of fun. So, too, with the obverse: A teacher's sheer playfulness with students can be in pursuit of knowledge. Through joking, the surprises of sharp wit, or role-playing, fun is in service to the broader aims of learning. After all, most laughter arises from recognition of truth. A teacher's laughter often means even more--an ease with a subject and mastery of it.

I found this in an article called "The Pleasure Principle" in Teacher Magazine (you have to subscribe - it's free - in order to read this). Written in 1997 by James Banner Jr. and Harold Cannon, the article set my playful heart aflutter. I think, as long as we live in a world that values success above happiness, we can never get enough validation for fun. I quote some more:

Pleasure is the one element of teaching whose acknowledgment can be made to seem illegitimate by our otherwise justified emphasis on the seriousness of learning. Yet without denying teachers' heavy responsibilities for the welfare of others and thus the gravity of their endeavor, we must also accept the place of enjoyment, both teachers' and students', as an instrument of instruction as well as a goal of learning. A joyless classroom, a seminar of unrelieved sobriety, a cynical teacher of gloomy mien--all are impediments to learning. It is laughter, playfulness, and wit that by contrast open doors to the mind as well as the heart, that are indispensable ingredients of the art of teaching.

Junkyard Golf

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