is up!

Nelson and I have decided to snatch while it is still available, and I’ve been working on getting content up today.  I’m also updating links around the web that pointed to the old site at

Also related, Sunday afternoon at 1.30p during the Activites Fair on the main staircases of Parrish Hall we’re going to be holding a Stairball demonstration.  I’ll be teaching the game to new players and explaining some of the techniques for improved play.  Mike Rosenberg ’08, the best Stairballer I know (he certainly leads in our lifetime series) will be playing a game against me, and new players will be encouraged to try out the game.  Also, I’ll be taking names for the ALASSCA mailing list and will be trying to set up the league for later this year and a weekly Stairball night.  Anyone interested, whether you know how to play or not, is certainly encouraged to attend.

Sometime soon I’ll recount the story of the creation of Stairball, but first I have a couple of other word games to go through, including some patternfilling variants.

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:

  • – In an outdated list of informal sports, I found a broken link to, a site dedicated to “the most exciting game in your house!”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. 😉