Calvinball: Playing by the Rules

Bartel lays out the “unofficial official rules” for Calvinball, a game characterized by mayhem and nonsense. Those of you familiar with Bill Watterson’s comic strip Calvin and Hobbes will recognize that Calvinball is a free-for-all where the rules change on the whim of the player who has the upper hand.

The interesting thing about games is that you need rules for the play to be enjoyable. But the rules should have some flexibility – consider how a golf handicap makes it possible for players with different levels of skill to play together.

We’ve played a modified version of Calvinball with our youthgroup. It’s a lot of fun to play once in a while. To keep the game engaging we played it like this: the game starts off with the same rules as half-court basketball. At any time the player in possession of the ball my change one rule. Typically the game morphs into something like soccer or dodgeball.

The rules layed out on imply that anyone within a Zone can call a rule-change at any time. The zones can be changed but there must remain zones on the field in order to play.

It’s a fun and worthy way to kill an afternoon. But be prepared to play a classic game of stickball if your group isn’t energized by a game with ultimate flexibility.

Worst Practical Joke EV-er

You gotta be careful about pranks because they can so easily backfire. For instance, some time ago I was out and about and found a five dollar bill on the ground (see above.) I tucked the bill into a book I was holding and forgot about it. Recently I found the book – and the fiver – so I tucked the cash into my wallet, feeling so much the richer.

The other day my daughter asked me if she could have some cash to buy firewood for a beach bonfire with her friends. Remembering my great find I took the five bucks out of my wallet and handed it to her. When she went to put the money in her wallet she unfolded the bill and discovered that she was suddenly FIVE BUCKS SHORT! Hardy-har-har! She was in a hurry and didn’t find the joke very funny in the moment, but I cracked up because it turned out that the joke was on me. I wasn’t as generous as I had thought I was.

But here’s what was not so funny about the joke. When we turned the bill over and looked at the back we discovered that it was a Gospel tract. “Disapointed? Jesus won’t let you down.”

Wow. I really can’t image a scenario where the message on the back builds hope. Handing these fake bills out to homeless people is just plain mean-spirited. Dropping them on the floor of the Mall is a little better, but still – the feeling of having your hopes crash to the floor is so unlike the promise of salvation that the whole thing just feels like sick humor. It would be better to attach the tract to a real five-spot. At least ┬áreal money would send the recipient’s hopes in the right direction.

Bottom line: short bill = funny gag. Short bill + Gospel message = Thanks for playing. Try again later.

Walk Like a Zombie – Fight Cancer at the Same Time

The Irish know how to do zombies right. Check out this video of the Dublin Zombie Walk, a fundraiser for the Irish Cancer Society. This video is a crazy mashup of fun, fear and some very sobering lyrics laying out the Biblical vision of the End Times with Johnny Cash’s The Man Comes Around.

What is it about zombies that capture the imagination of our generation? It must say something about our culture that we find them so endlessly entertaining – and horrifying at the same time. Maybe there’s a little bit of zombie in each of us.

Would you have a zombie activity with your youth group? Why or why not?

[Via Dublin Community blog]

Active Games: Ice Blocking

ice blocking = fast fun

Climb on the Peace Train

If you have a nearby park with a grassy slope, ice blocking is fast summer fun. Ice blocking has been described as “luge for idiots,” however I think it’s more apt to say that luge is luge for idiots. Because it takes place on a grassy hill, ice blocking is about the safest adrenaline rush you can hope to find.

1) Buy or make your own ice blocks. If you have an empty freezer you can fill plastic tubs with water a few days ahead and make your own blocks. Use a circle of rope to make loop-handles on the sides.

2) Carry the ice to the top of the hill, place a towel on the block of ice and -wheeeeee!!!

Be sure to check ahead with the park officials. Some parks have banned ice blocking because, done excessively, it can kill the grass.

And if ordinary ice blocking is too tame for you, try adding a plywood ice block jump ramp.

Happy Month-a-versary! Over 30 Days of Mud Pie Fun!

Mississippi Mud Pie

It’s been just a little over a month since Mud Pie Industries launched. In this time we’ve:

1) Created and tested a three-session “open source” series on resisting temptation (which I hope to make public before the end of June)

2) Started collecting and publishing fun, in-a-pinch games for small groups

3) Made it to page 27 in Google Rankings for “Youth Ministry Games”

4) Have been learning a lot about educational games. And there’s a whole lot more to learn!

I’m looking forward to the month ahead and would love to hear from you about how you use games, puzzles and special activities with your youth group.

Please Link to a Human

shaking hands

We all need a human touch

I’m learning that some of the of the top websites for youth ministry games and youth group activities aren’t human. They are run by media companies that sell everything from air purifiers to vacation packages. Typically these sites generate traffic by crowd-sourcing their content or outsourcing it to the lowest bidder. They’re not really concerned about quality, they simply want generate traffic.

What makes a website human? Well, humans do. If you click on the “About” page you can find a name, maybe a photo, possibly an email address or a place to post comments. Human websites are powered by people and people have reputations that can be validated. You can have a conversation with a people. Not so much with a not-human website.

I’m not saying that some of these huge websites are evil. Some of them provide a useful resource by providing a platform for people to share knowledge. But they are a little bit like Starlings, an invasive species that crowd out the natives. When you have a site called Best Bible Games on page 1 in the Google rankings, and it’s run by perfectly decent agnostics who have a swarm of linkbait sites that can elbow their way up in search results, it might mean that people are missing out on real gems like Wayne Rice who don’t make it on the front page of Bing!

Here’s what you can do to help the situation. If you link, try and link to a human. They need all the help that they can get.

The Play’s the Thing


There’s a common thrash amongst youth pastors – should you use games to attract more kids to your group? Or do games distract from your message?

Both camps, I think, miss the point somewhat. Games are so much more than a means to an end. Play has powerful benefits it its own right. Young people who know how to play well with others have more options available to them.

Consider these real-life scenarios:

A group of twenty teenagers and their youth leaders are standing in the dark on a street corner in San Francisco waiting for a bus that won’t come for another half hour. Every one of them is bone-tired from working in a food pantry. Some of them didn’t bring enough warm clothing. It is freezing cold.

One of the kids has an idea – let’s play Big Booty. What could have been a 30 minute grumble fest turns into a fun-for-all.

Too old for Trick-or-Treat, a high school girl isn’t thrilled by the idea of staying home and handing out candy to an endless parade of Cinderellas, Transformers and Harry Potters. She gets permission from her parents and then meets her friends at a warehouse owned by the family business where they all play a ginormous game of Sardines in the dark.

A group of college age young men and women get together and hang out. They all want to do something besides beer pong. One of them suggests a game of Team Assassin. Hilarity ensues.

Increasingly I’m seeing young people take the games they’ve learned in youth group and and play them with their friends who don’t attend church. Playing group games may not be evangelism, but it’s a great way for people young or old spend a Saturday night.