The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.

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12:30pm on Friday, 1st December, 2023:



I've just finished reading Junkyard Sports, by Bernard De Koven (or Bernie DeKoven, as he calls himself on this occasion).

The idea of junkyard sports is an appealing one: provide an assortment of odds and ends and let loose would-be players to make games out of them (in this case, sports-like games). The book explains the concept, then a bunch of such games are outlined that the person organising the event (the "junkmaster") can use to inspire the players.

The assortment of odds and ends could include anything, but reading through the examples there's a heavy reliance on socks, rubbish bins and balloons. It reminds me of the TV series that inspired it (Junkyard Wars in the USA — Scrapheap Challenge in the UK) where the theory is that you have an entire scrapheap at your disposal but actually it's been secretly seeded with things you're going to need and there are "experts" on hand to direct you to use them. You can go off-piste if you want, but "ooh, look, socks, we can roll those up to make balls!".

As with De Koven's books on New Games, you get a real sense of his infectious enthusiasm but also a sense that the whole project is doomed if it's not managed by someone with similar levels of both enthusiasm and infectiousness. People might gather for one-off events, but they're not going to be going to the youth club every week looking forward to creating a new junkyard sport. I can imagine that people might have tried this system when it came out, because it has a solid philosophy and rationale behind it, but the idea didn't spread and I don't expect that it's used by more than a few diehards these days (the book came out in 2005).

A good many of the junkyard sport ideas suggested are variants on existing sports — Basketball, but you stack up bins or cardboard boxes for the basket and you use a balloon that you have to keep in the air rather than a ball that you have to bounce on the ground, that kind of thing. Some combine two sports together — Tennis, but you have to run round the court to bases like in Baseball. None are independent of other games, but given that the examples are all deliberately based on other games (for familiarity) this isn't a criticism.

Some of the variations repeat mechanics, such as bouncing a ball that's usually kept in the air or keeping in the air a ball that's usually on the ground, or using a rolled-up sock inside another sock (called a "Schmerltz" for some reason) as a bat. Adding extra balls is also common. There are some quite interesting ideas, though: I particularly like the pinball simulator, where the players sit in chairs like thumper bumpers or have brooms as if they were flippers, but I'm not entirely sure that many kids today actually know what a pinball is ("is it a kind of wizard"?).

Not all the games described are well-designed. The Basketball-with-a-balloon game I mentioned earlier (called Air Basketball) ends if someone knocks over the stack of bins or boxes, which means that the first team to score merely has to demolish the stack and they've won the game. It's an easy fix (end the game but declare the team that knocks it down the losers) but in a supportive environment watched over by someone who's going to guilt you into not doing that, you can see how the problem never arose. It would definitely arise if this game were played for real, though.

The book is very US-centric, which might explain why its ideas never took off elsewhere. The sports it suggests ideas for are Soccer, (American) Football, Basketball, Baseball, (Ice) Hockey and Volleyball. These are popular in the USA but only Soccer (that is, Association Football) is universal. Most children in the UK won't have played any of the other games listed. Unfortunately, the descriptions of the junkyard sports based on these games often presuppose an understanding that we don't all have in other parts of the world — even at a basic level, such as what the field markings are, or what "spiking" means. Pieces of equipment are named that I had to look up to find out what they are — gym scooters, kickballs, wiffle balls.

One of the games outlined, Noodle Hockey, is played in a swimming pool. Players have long foam swimming aids ("noodles") that they use to whack a beach ball into goals at the side of the pool. There are two great lines in the description:
    "Yes, players can hit each other with the noodles as well (since it's inevitable, we may as well make it legal)."
    "If people get too serious about the game, they might gang up on each other, which, though not necessarily painful, can be hurtful."
I really like those!

Overall, I applaud the book's aims but can see why ultimately its hopes didn't materialise as a movement. As with De Koven's other books, it's all about getting people to play and be creative, but it neglects the creativity. It's as if game design isn't a medium of expression, it's a means to an end. Yes, getting kids to have fun while gaining fitness is good; yes, putting the design of the game in the hands of the players means that the result will be inclusive; yes, it is great seeing people having a blast 20 minutes later. Those are De Koven's reasons for creating games, though, not everyone's. It's not so much about games as about play.

If your reasons are in line with this, well I recommend the book to you (along with The New Games Book). If you're hoping to teach people to design games, rather than to mod them so that they personally find them fun, you're better off putting together a box of stuff and telling them they have two hours to make a board game about (rolls die) needy (rolls die) trees.


1:38pm on Thursday, 30th November, 2023:



I bought some more cards. Did I tell you I'd bought some more cards? I bought some more cards.

These are an unusual buy for me, because:
1) They're manufactured in France and aren't Grimaud.
2) They're the Spanish national pattern.
3) They're two 40-card decks combined.
4) They're missing large numbers of cards.
5) They don't use HCDS as suits.

They're also pretty grubby, as you can see.

They were a steal on eBay, though, and I liked the look of the pictures so I bought them.

It's not difficult to discern the manufacturer: Camoin & Cie of Marseilles. The name appears on all the aces and face cards. Dating the cards is harder because Camoin manufactured this pattern without variation between 1880 and 1971 — a huge range. The later ones were printed in Algeria and Morocco, though, and state Oran or Casablanca on them rather than (just) Marseilles. Judging from the thickness of the paper stock, I'd say mine are going to be at the earlier end of date the spectrum. The packs were manufactured with square corners in the 1890s and these are round (but not as round as became the standard), so at a guess I'd say they were printed around 1900.

Sadly, as I'm missing the 3 4 11 of Cups, the 2 3 4 6 7 of Clubs, the 1 11 12 of Coins and the 7 10 of Swords, I won't be able to play any well-known games with them. That said, I'm not too bothered as I feel I have to wash my hands after touching them anyway — they really do need a good bath!


1:24pm on Wednesday, 29th November, 2023:



One of the things I like about Essex Un iversity is its forward-thinking sense of unbridled optimism.

They know how much they may me. They know they're not going to appear in my will. Nevertheless, they figure that as I'm getting on in years it wouldn't hurt to send me a letter anyway.


9:27am on Tuesday, 28th November, 2023:

Last Supper


Midjourney prompt: da vinci's last supper painting //anime --niji --ar 4:2

Maybe holding it in drag was what tipped fuddy-duddy Judas over the edge.


9:09am on Monday, 27th November, 2023:



This goddess looks really annoyed that someone has taken a thin strip of cement off her wall.


9:29am on Sunday, 26th November, 2023:

Fine Attention to Detail


The match between this wooden street bollard and the church behind it shows either a fine attention to detail or a mere coincidence.

Given that I took it in Canterbury, I suspect the former.


9:40am on Saturday, 25th November, 2023:

My Grandfather's Hat


When my dad's dad died, my dad inherited practically nothing. My grandfather was widowed in 1978 and a year later married his next-door neighbour against all family advice. She herself was fine, but she was under the thumb of her domineering sister (to the extent that the nickname everyone used for her was "Sis"), and when my grandad died 18 months later Sis's sister ensured that nothing came either my dad's way or his brother's (or indeed mine, because I'd been promised the last few pieces of his matchbox collection — the rarest ones that he had on display, which he held back when he gave me the other 26,000+). My dad couldn't even get things that actually belonged to him: possession is nine-tenths of the law, and Sis's sister's view was that if it was in my grandad's house then it was Sis's to do with as she (that is, Sis's sister) pleased. What she pleased was to throw everything out, regardless of whether anyone else wanted it or not.

My grandad did leave a will, but strangely no-one could find it.

Basically, Sis's sister did what she did to spite those who had suggested before my grandad's remarriage that he might be being hasty in wedding his put-upon, equally-old next-door neighbour on the rebound after the death of his wife of 44 years. Rather than proving them wrong, Sis's sister proved them right.

It's absolutely correct that a wife inherits everything from her husband (and vice-versa) and that thereafter she can decide to do whatever she wishes with it. If Sis wanted to make sure my dad and his brother received nothing, well that was the end of the matter. I suppose my dad or uncle could have invoked a lawyer, but all my dad wanted were the family photos and the books he had as a child; my uncle's main concern was that his collection of Dinky toys (still in their boxes) be returned to him. A lawyer can't do anything to recover goods that have been either burned or thrown out, though.

The only thing my dad managed to get hold of (I'm not sure how, but it could have come via his brother) was my grandad's trilby. It therefore bore some significance for him. When my dad died earlier this year, it was given to me.

It would seem that my grandad's head was somewhat smaller than mine. Still, it's not about wearing it nor not, so I'll be keeping it. My dad didn't wear it, either, which is evidenced by the fact that it's in very good condition for something at least 41 years old.

I suppose my dad and his brother could have put in a claim for a share of the house when Sis died, but my dad at least was never told when she did die. My uncle might have heard, but in the fallout from my grandad's death he became estranged from the rest of the family so wouldn't have told us even if he had.


1:49pm on Friday, 24th November, 2023:

Tourist Cards


The final pack of playing cards I'm going to inflict upon you from that job lot I bought has photographs on it. I think they're probably for tourists, or at least would-be tourists. Here's a sample:

They seem to like hunting and fishing, but they also have an unusual interest in railway stations. They range across the Canada/USA border, mainly Quebec, Maine and some Vermont, but with a smattering of one-offs from elsewhere.

The joker identifies the pack as having been made by Goodall, which makes sense as it had a Canadian department. Most of the packs this department produced were photographic in nature, and a little research reveals that this particular deck is entitled "Atlantic Ocean to the Head of the Great Lakes" and dates from circa 1905.

Sadly, the container it came in is not original: it's a repurposed box from James Walker Ltd. of Tonbridge, "watchmakers to the Admiralty". It would have been nice if there'd been a watch in there too, but I guess the Admiralty wanted them all.

I'm pleasantly surprised by this pack. It's well over a century old, and displays some interesting glimpses into the past. I'm not usually a fan of tourist packs, but I think I'll put this one in my pile to revisit in future years when I get bored.


3:46pm on Thursday, 23rd November, 2023:



Here's another example of what is dismally-named 'shrinkflation'.

There's room for another three Jaffa Cakes in that box. I know it says on the packet that there are ten in there, and I know it gives enough information to work out the weight of each cake (376kcal per 100g, 41kcal per cake, so each cake weighs around 9.2g), but that box is misleadingly large. They can't use the "contents may have settled during transport" excuse that cereal manufacturers have been foisting on us for decades, either.

Either make the boxes smaller or fill them up and charge us more.


1:15pm on Wednesday, 22nd November, 2023:

Inside a Christmas Tree


Captivated by the weird approximation of a Christmas tree that I posted about last week, I decided to investigate further. This morning, I stuck my phone through the artificial branches and took a picture of the tree's insides. Here's what I found:

There's a built-in ladder there. That's an innovation I wasn't expecting.

The lights have safety labels on them to give people something not to read, but that's standard.


8:52am on Tuesday, 21st November, 2023:

Best Before


While conducting a purge of the contents of our kitchen cupboards over the weekend, my wife retrieved the box of microwave popcorn that's been sitting around patiently waiting for its day to come. As for how long it's been sitting there, well the "best before" date was 2011, so probably quite a while.

Does microwave popcorn really go off, though? It's just popcorn kernels in a bag, which is itself protected from the outside world by a second bag made of plastic. What are the chances that the kernels have fallen victim to a bacterial or fungal infection? Pretty low. Kernels can survive in the wild for decades, probably.

We decided to deploy the microwave and make ourselves some popcorn.

To be fair, we did make some popcorn. It looked just like regular popcorn. The kernels had not been affected by their twelve-year hibernation in our cupboard one iota.

The bag, on the other hand, was not at all happy to have been brought back from death. It turns out that there's not just popcorn in those bags, there's cooking oil. Give it a dozen years and it's absorbed into the paper. Microwave it and all kinds of chemicals new to science are released in huge clouds of foul-smelling vapour that can flood a kitchen in seconds and a house in minutes. It took a day for the house to clear, two days for the kitchen to clear and the microwave itself still smells of the stuff.

The perfectly-popped popcorn went into the food recycling bin.

My wife decided not to risk the decade-old cocoa that she had to attack with a fork to turn from concrete into forked concrete.


8:55am on Monday, 20th November, 2023:

The Fundamental Question


Here's a contemporary printout of part of an email sent 20th November, 1989 (so, 34 years ago) by Henry Mueller, known in MUD2 as Skiff the arch-wizard:

This sparked off a long debate, my resulting summary of which ultimately led to Player Types.

It was a dot-matrix printer, in case you born-this-century folks were wondering.


11:02am on Sunday, 19th November, 2023:

W. H. Willis


I bought some more playing cards last week.

These are from a Bézique pack. Well, they're usually called "Bézique" packs when they're put up for sale as that sounds classy, but you need two of them to play Bézique; they're actually Piquet packs. Anyway, in such a pack there are only 32 cards in total (the 2s-6s of each suit are removed), which is what puts collectors off them.

It puts me off them, too, but this particular pack is manufactured by W. H. Willis and I don't have any other Willis packs in my collection. Willis & Co., the successor to Charles Steer, was based in London and operated 1869-1887. It started out printing cards with white faces for the picture cards, but introduced more expensive packs from around 1875 onwards that had coloured faces. These more expensive packs also had fancier designs on the backs.

You'll notice that my cards don't have corner indeces to indicate what the card is when held in the hand; Willis introduced these around 1880. A new, "triplicate" pack brought out in 1883 replaced these with an image of the whole card (minus the index) in miniature. I suspect that this innovation's failure to catch on might have been why Willis & Co. sold off its playing card business six years later and focused on making cardboard instead.

You'll notice that the Queen of Spades is unturned (the pip is on the right, not the left as it is in modern packs). All of Willis's packs were unturned, so this doesn't help date it. However, we do know that this particular pack is early because the pips on the non-face cards are all the same orientation; they were two-way for most of the company's lifetime. The Piquet deck came out in 1870, but the corners are rounded (which the very first ones weren't); we're probably looking at something manufactured 1872-1875, then.

It's rather grubbier than I'd have liked, but it came cheap and I'm sure that if I took it to BBC One's The Repair Shop and told them a sob story, some expert could make it come up a treat.


9:37am on Saturday, 18th November, 2023:

Truth in Advertising



9:16am on Friday, 17th November, 2023:

Por Favor


If you're going to spell "favour" like that, put the price in dollars.

I don't even know what a favour is, but still feel I have the right to complain about the spelling.


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Copyright © 2023 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).