Photos of people playing stairball

I was just updating this poor neglected blog to the latest version of WordPress when I noticed that it doesn’t have any pictures of people playing stairball on it! Last week I played stairball (for the first time in a year or two) with my partner Maggie, on the steps behind the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

A person with a maniacal grin is preparing to toss a racquetball down the stairs behind the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It looks cold and wintry, with leaves on the ground. She is wearing a jacket and leggings.
Maggie about to throw the ball down the stairs.
Maggie stands with hands on her hips, waiting for the next round of stairball. Behind her a lawn stretches towards a traffic circle and trees in the distance.
Maggie waits patiently for me to throw the stairball down to her.

Maggie did quite well for her very first time playing stairball, outscoring me consistently in almost every inning and defeating me 27-24. As you can see in the pictures, we only played from the first landing to the bottom of the stairwell (12 steps total), rather than attempting to use the entire monumental stairway. (The official stairball rules recommend playing on no more than 15 stairs, although both players can agree to use a larger staircase.) The large amount of fallen leaves covering the steps interfered unpredictably with bounces, leading me to wonder if it was worth cleaning off the part of the stairway we were playing on. I decided to leave the leaves alone, considering this obstacle to be part of the stairball court, like a hazard in golf. When we were done playing our hands were freezing, as neither of us wanted to risk gloves interfering with our control of the ball.

One thing I like about stairball is how it provides an incentive to travel to interesting places and spend significant amounts of time contemplating the view from the top of a stairway. (The view of the art museum from the bottom wasn’t bad either!) Too often we travel through places en route to some important destination and fail to take time to appreciate a location in its totality.

It’s unfortunate that you can’t get a good sense of what gameplay is actually like from these point-of-view pictures. For slightly more illustrative pictures, here are some photos from a game between Kamraan and Karen back in 2009:


Karen thoughtfully drops the stairball

Here Karen appears to be on her second throw of the inning, intending to bounce the ball off of exactly one step. (The first throw should hit zero steps, i.e. she would have thrown it directly to Kamraan.) Kamraan dutifully catches the ball, helping her count the number of the steps she hits for scoring purposes, and returns the ball to her to try again. (Unless she hit the incorrect number of stairs three times, resulting in three strikes and Kamraan climbing the stairs to take his turn throwing the ball down the stairs.)

If you aren’t already familiar with the rules, please refer to the official stairball rules for more details.

Abstract Scrabble and threeandthrees

A couple weeks ago ALASSCA had a meeting! By “meeting” I mean Adam and I hung out at his house and played some games, but we had fun and I would like to share some of that fun with you.

Abstract Scrabble

Adam invented this game which is kind of like Scrabble except different. You can play it by yourself, and it does not require a Scrabble board.

You begin with all of the Scrabble tiles face down on the table, and you start a timer running. You then pull out a number of tiles (maybe 10?) and try to arrange them into a Scrabble formation, i.e. making as many words as possible by overlapping tiles when necessary. As you use up tiles, you pull more tiles from the pile. Keep doing this until time runs out, say after 5 minutes.

Abstract Scrabble, first half

Then in the second half of the game, you try to rearrange all of the tiles that you have successfully used in words to make the longest words you possibly can. The scoring function for an abstract scrabble game is the number of tiles minus thrice the number of words. You want to make words that are at least 4 letters long otherwise they are not helping your score. It’s OK if you can’t reuse all of the letters from the first half of the game, it’s better to leave them unused than to make short words. You count up the score once the timer runs out again, say after another 5 minutes.

Abstract Scrabble, second half

My score in this photo is 29-(3*6)=11. (I think? Is that right, Adam? I’m not counting the tiles I didn’t use in the second half, b/c if you did then you could maximize your score by not making any words at all.)


Adam generates threeandthrees by taking a list of nine letter words, randomly selecting twenty, and then returning their guts (the three letters in the middle). The goal is then to think of a word that fills in the gaps, i.e. a 9-letter word with those 3 letters in the middle. Some of these have only one solution, some of them have many solutions. Can you fill in all of these words?





When you’ve filled out as many as you can, see our answers in this Flickr photo.

Yesterday's Cylinder

So we sprung* a flat tire on the way back from Copeland, and in the car we completed a five-letter cylinder and then thereafter completed a six-letter cylinder, which I shall post hereafter.  I will leave the five-letter game, SPANK CREEP RINSE GNOME, starting with CAUSE, as a game for the reader if he might like to attempt to play a game.

*I have decided that the verb associated with a flat tire is “to spring.”  Is this right?  What do other people say?

SOILED     λαμβδα!    ADDING