Word substitutions

I don’t know if this really qualifies as a game, but it certainly sounds like fun…. if you’re slightly tipsy or sleep-deprived and have a bunch of textbooks lying around 🙂

So, the game is: When reading a certain sort of social criticism, it will be vastly improved with the following word substitutions:

gay –> ninja
lesbian –> pirate
bisexual –> monkey
transgendered –>robot
sexuality –>mojo
Stonewall –> the Meiji revolution
Freud’s work –> the battle of Seki Gahara

Such that you get things like:

“Anita Bryant’s anti-ninja “Save the Children” campaign is making a comeback.”

“In the 70’s, ninjas and pirates were completely demonized.”

“In fact, Bush went out of his way during the campaign not to offend the ninjas.”

“Thus we can see the sum total of the ninja agenda involves foisting more government on society and more intervention in free enterprise ”

“Ninja acts are sins, not crimes like murder and theft, and should be neither punished nor subsidized by the law.”

Or as comma suggests, “Kinsey’s work suggested that most people are at least somewhat monkeys.”

Surely you could come up with your own interesting word substitutions in other fields, such as plasma physics or evolutionary biology. This game will probably appeal most to geeks and college students who wish to see their studies in a new light… however, it may prove dangerous since whenever somebody makes a perfectly normal statement in class, you might remember the word substitutions and bust out in uncontrollable laughter. Trust me, that sort of thing happened to me all the time in high school.

Other games called "stairball"

Although our version of Stairball is probably the most interesting game ever to go by that name, it is not the first. Adam drafted the first set of rules in 2002, with the first IM mentioning the rules dated December 4th, 2002, but there were undoubtedly others aspiring to create a game named “stairball” before then. So long as humans had stairs and balls, it was inevitable that some people would put the two together. Surprisingly, I wasn’t able to find many of the instances of “stairball” that I found when I first did a Google search, because our version of stairball seems to have taken over many of the top hits, due to this blog and the NY Times mention. I had to search for stairball on Clusty, a search engine that groups results into categories. That turned up several results:

  • Stairball.com Stairball.com – In an outdated list of informal sports, I found a broken link to Stairball.com, a site dedicated to “the most exciting game in your house!” The one line description tells us that “Stairball is similar to playing soccer, but in the staircase of your home.” When I looked up an archived copy of the website on the Internet Archive, the website itself said:

    The general idea: The Stair player stands at the top of the stairs and throws the ball at the stairs and towards the floor player. The floor player attempts to prevent the ball from reaching the floor (or wall behind him) by using the same parts of his/her body used in soccer (i.e. everything but arms).

    The site seems to have first appeared around December 2000, and died sometime in 2003, no doubt in the wake of the Dot-com bubble. At any rate, maybe this means we can steal the domain name ^_^

  • Bored kids create their own entertainment – In an example that brings joy to my heart, two boys aged 11 and 14 were allowed to skip summer camp in 2005 and “just hang out”, creating their own golf course and inventing a game named “stairball”! Unfortunately, the description of stairball is tantalizingly terse:

    Hanging out for Sawyer, though, is not just sitting around. Sawyer and Cody play pool basketball, golf on the course they created and make up games in the house like “Stairball,” where they bounce balls off steps.”We set up targets on the wall and whoever gets to 1,000 first wins,” he said.

    Argh! That doesn’t tell us enough for us to reconstruct the game. What wall did they set up the targets on? How are points scored? What sort of targets? What sort of ball? Were they bouncing the balls up the stairs, down the stairs, or backwards off of the stairs? I suppose we’ll never know.

  • Handball variant – I don’t know what the context of this is, but in an article entitled A “Z Games” Sampler from 1999, the Christian Science Monitor suggested this conception of stairball:

    Stairball – A game similar to one-wall handball. Two players take turns hitting a ball up a staircase. Points are awarded when a player’s opponent fails to return the ball as it bounces down the stairs.

    This sounds boringly unoriginal. I do wonder what “Z Games” are, though… very mysterious.

  • Cats and dogs chase balls down stairs – This is a mindless variant of “go fetch”, but apparently it is endlessly entertaining to animals:

    Casper (the friendly ghost cat) was adopted from a local shelter for which I now do volunteer work. He talks all the time in a soft purr/meow voice and loves to play. His favorite game is “Stairball,” which involves me throwing a paper ball down the basement stairs which he will usually retrieve.

    small children toss a ball down the stairsIn a similar vein, apparently small children like playing “catch” with one party at the top of the stairs and the other at the bottom (A good game of stairball with Sissy and Mommy). This is actually the first step towards playing real stairball! These children are getting good practice throwing and catching for our tournaments 🙂

  • ABC football – This is not actually a game called stairball, but it is an unusual invented game which features the term “stairball” in its description, so I thought it deserved a mention 🙂

    Pitch: Either ends of the A Block first floor corridor are designated as goals. Use the short sides without doors – using the long sides would defeat the object of the game as far as their is one, and will also piss people off more than a normal game does as their door is then part of the goal. The stairs to the ground floor are off the pitch – if the ball goes down there, the player who last touched it has to fetch it, and the player who didn’t gets a free kick from the top of the stairs. The kitchen, toilet, stairs to the upper floors and anyones’ room with an open door are fair game, as long as the entrance of the ball into that area is announced in a deep, slow, and stupid voice (eg “kitchenball!”, “stairball!“, or “Martynball!”).

Just because we invented an awesome game called stairball (the awesomest ever), that doesn’t mean you can’t invent one too! Make your own games, they’re too important to let other people make them for you 😉

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Stairball gets mentioned in the NY Times

For everyone who attended our stairball tournament at Ride The Tide, you may be gratified to see that it got us a mention in the NY Times! See At Decision Time, Colleges Lay On Charm by Alan Finder, from the April 26, 2006 issue.

Let others offer simple campus tours or paid transportation. At Swarthmore College here, high school seniors deciding whether to accept the college’s offer of admission can play indoor soccer with the dean. Or a round of stairball, a sport invented on campus. They can go to a French film festival, a feminist dance party (“all genders welcome”) or an “Earthlust Sleepout” all night under the stars. Or else try henna tattooing. And, yes, there are also sessions on financial aid and meetings with faculty members.

I must submit one correction: stairball was not in fact invented at Swarthmore, it was invented by Swarthmore student Adam Lizzi ’08, before he arrived on campus. He has, however, invented more interesting games since he got here, and will no doubt invent many more before he graduates. You may too, if you join ALASSCA!

Stairball to take place during Ride The Tide

For the benefit of prospective students and other members of the Swarthmore College community, we are planning a stairball tournament! It is scheduled to take place at 4-5pm 9-10pm on Thursday, April 20th, in the central stairwell of Parrish (right in front of the mail room). Here is what I remember of the blurb that I put in the proposal to Admissions:

Stairball – an game invented right here at Swarthmore! As a bizarre amalgam of bowling, baseball, and billiards, stairball is certain to entertain, if not to exercise. Adam Lizzi ’08 founded ALASSCA to research and invent unusual games, and stairball is only one of many games that we have created and discovered. Come join us!

I was going to ask for money in the proposal to buy food and stairballs, but Adam nixed both: “I have plenty of stairballs,” he said. He’s going to regret that later when the campus is overflowing with stairball players and there aren’t any stairballs to be found 😉

No doubt you are wondering exactly what stairball is! Basically, the goal is to bounce a ball down a flight of stairs, bouncing on progressively more stairs each time you throw the ball. So the first time you throw the ball, it must bounce on one stair, the second time it must bounce on two stairs, and so forth. Each time the ball bounces on an incorrect number of stairs, that’s an out, and after three outs you switch places with the person who was standing at the bottom of the stairs catching your pitches (we use baseball scoring).

You can read the official stairball rules if you want a more thorough (and anal) account of how the game is played. I’ll leave it to Adam to explain some strategies for how to play, if he so desires. 😉

Cylinder-related puzzle!

One of the most important parts of the Cylinder as I have presented it is coming up with the goal words and the start.  A logical question would be, can you find five words that are all pairwise five links apart, that is, can we find five words that use 25 different letters?  I wonder if Google has an answer for this… the last time I checked, no one had done it, to my knowledge.  The question is difficult to generalize, because no other number of letters offers a comparable challenge.  Maybe I could say, can we find five six-letter words that use all 26 letters?  (This also sounds super tough to me.) 

But that’s not a puzzle, and I promised you a puzzle!  So here’s something you can think about.  Can you find six four-letter words that use 24 separate letters?  I was able to complete this challenge last year, and to my knowledge everyone to whom I’ve shown this puzzle has not been able to do it (I may be wrong about this).  But I know I’ve done it.  And I’ll let you think about it for a little bit; then I’ll post my solution as a comment to this entry in about a week.  The real challenge is finding the right word that uses the letter Y as the vowel.  You might try a feline… that’s all the help I’ll give.  Good luck.

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

The Transadditional Cylinder

I think it makes the most sense to just pick it up from the middle.  I was pretty much forced into creating this by Nelson when I taught him the wordplay exercise that follows.  As I see it right now, the plan is to, over time, introduce all of the games that have become part of my canon and note the totally unnecessary research that I’ve done in the past.

So, first, the promised game.  This game was in some way conceived from Mr. Coyle’s Transadditional Pyramid, which deserves its own entry and will get one later.  It began as an exercise in chaining five-letter words together: CRASH to SHARD to HARDY and so on.  So you’re allowed to change one letter and rearrange the remaining ones.  There’s no real restriction on making “cheap” changes like PORED to PORES, but I generally attempt to avoid them.  You’re never allowed to repeat a word that’s already appeared in the chain.

What you’ll find when you do this is that it goes on forever.  Which is neat.  But generally uninteresting from a gaming perspective.  So then (maybe it was Mike or Thom that came up with this) we decided that we would force certain words to be in the list.  The idea originally was to create a tug-of-war kind of game, where I would be trying to make one word and my opponent is trying to make another, and we’re using the same chain — but this doesn’t make sense even in theory, because keeping the letters of the opponent’s word out of the chain would be very simple.  To my knowledge a varient of this game that revolves around that concept has never been created.

What we instead have patented is the following process: Before beginning the game, the player decides upon five five-letter words (serious people play with six but I’ll phrase the rules in terms of five).  These words must differ from each other by at least three letters.  So you’re not allowed to use the words PARCH and CHARM as two of your five words.  (This winds up being quite a challenge in itself!)  Four of your words are the goal words; the fifth is your start.  You must create a chain that contains all four of the goal words beginning with your start word.  There is no score for the game; you assess your game when it is over by either deciding victory or otherwise.  I’m sure you could find the shortest path through them if you really wanted to, but that’s not really the point in my mind.  To this end I try to avoid erasing plays unless I see no other way to finish the game.

Here’s the game I played that I showed Nelson (circa 05.12.22).  Hopefully you can pick up on my notation very rapidly.


Why we are here

One day in December, as Adam was telling me about yet another game he had just invented (the Transadditional Cylinder), I realized that these games were too good to be kept to ourselves, to only circulate around our small circle of friends. They deserved to be shared with the universe! They demanded to be published and discussed among avid gamers everywhere! Adam and his friends invent, discover, and play so many awesome games that are not known outside of his social circle — it would be a shame if any of them died out and were forgotten. I suggested to him that he should start a blog, to document his gaming adventures and bring his friends along for the ride, and he was agreeable to the suggestion. I therefore helped him set up this blog, and that’s how we got here.

This blog will serve several purposes:

  • To reach our friends and acquaintances who, whether due to time or space constraints, cannot game with us regularly, but who would like to keep abreast of developments so that they can join in our gaming when they see us. Ideally, they would be able to play the games wherever they are, so they can get in practice before facing the masters, but simply learning the rules ahead of time would suffice. 😉
  • To spread our games to people we have never met, to places that we have never visited. We hope that these games will take on a life of their own, and that they will be played without our personal guidance or encouragement. Personally, I think it would be really cool to walk down a stairway in a city far from my home and discover some random children playing stairball.
  • To save our games for posterity, so that the generations that follow us can continue playing the games that we played, long after we are dead and gone. This may seem a bit ambitious for a piece of emphemeral digital media, but with projects such as the Internet Archive and its Wayback Machine, we can hope that internet resources will survive into the far future.

But most importantly, we hope that this blog will serve to entertain you, dear reader. Game on!