Infinite Possibilities: A Game of Artifact Associations

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MarbleBlogThis swirly marble entered my life when I was eighteen. I bought it at a glass blowing studio during one visit to my grandparents' house in Tucson, Arizona. I carried this marble around in my pocket throughout senior year of high school. Sometimes I brought along a second marble that had the Earth's continents painted on it. This handheld microcosm of the solar system helped me keep things in perspective.

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My ever-expanding collection of small objects, often used to play "Infinite Possibilities."

The Small Object Collection

During the intervening ten years, without exactly intending to, I have somehow managed to accumulate hundreds of small objects! I am apparently a magnet for them. They find me everywhere: a tiny plastic dinosaur on the beach, a little lead frog from my grandmother's guest room, an astronaut Lego man from some forgotten source, a whole handful of old Cracker Jack toys from the Alameda Point antique fair.

Occasionally, I use them as the subjects of poems. Some of them remind me of people or ideas that are important to me. Each one is remarkable in its own small way, and it gets even more interesting when you begin to notice ways that various objects relate to each other.

Popsicle

This is not (just) a popsicle.

I have long been fascinated by associative thinking--by how all things relate. This may sound abstract and fluffy, but I mean it in the most concrete, specific way. I'm talking about the way a heat wave leads to increased popsicle sales. And how the man behind the popsicle cart in the park has an especially good day and uses some of the extra money to buy his wife a bouquet of flowers on the way home. In the meantime, a little girl at the park gets popsicle juice on her skirt, and while she and her mother are at the drinking fountain trying to wash it out, they run into one of her classmates who tells her a joke he just learned. And I've yet to mention the ants who are certainly enjoying the drips from the girl's popsicle that trail all the way from the pond to the drinking fountain. I could go on and on...

The Spark for Infinite Possibilities

Pondering these sorts of scenarios led me to make the following sketch, diagramming poetic connections between the found objects in my beloved collection.

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A sketch (preceding "Infinite Possibilities") that explores a multitude of relationships between small objects.

I connected a "toy top" to a "metal key" because they both turn. The key then connects to the "piece of map" because both are about property and place. The map then links to "dragon" because of that old phrase on antique maps: "Here there be dragons."

Whether we are talking about objects, creatures, places, or ideas, if we take the time to think things through, we can see that these things are always already connected. Each phenomena is caught up in an intricate web. Each thing is a node that both gathers the world into itself, and extends itself out into the world.

From Puzzle to Board Game

A few months after I made the above sketch, I turned it into a tangible activity using real objects from my collection. At first, it was just a simple puzzle. I would hand a friend six objects and ask him to try to put them in a circle, with each object relating to the other objects it was adjacent to in the ring. After asking a few different friends to solve my puzzle, I realized there was more than one right answer. In fact, everyone arranged them differently, but shared equally good reasons as to why their configuration worked.

At this point, I started to better understand the true depth, richness, and diversity of meaning all objects hold. My "puzzle" quickly evolved into a more complex activity; it became a board game in which a group of people together tease out some of the marvelous ways that all things are connected. In the end, as much is revealed about the people playing as is revealed about the objects.

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The original hand-stitched woolen game board. (Note the Earth marble in the top center, the one I used to carry in my pocket in high school.)

The Game Play

To play "Infinite Possibilities," people take turns placing objects on the board and articulating intriguing connections between them. The sky is the limit is terms of criteria for sense-making and there are no right or wrong answers. You simply place an object on the board and say aloud the connection you see. A good play is one that maximizes the depth and richness of the link. Or one that plays with irony or satire, or just about anything else of interest to the other players. There is no winner and potentially no end!

Here are a few example plays:

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Plastic dinosaur & car game piece from the game of "Life"
Because:
Cars are powered by oil which is buried deep in the earth like dinosaur bones.

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Toy compass & "Home" computer key
Because:
A compass can guide us home, literally or metaphorically.
And once we are there, we might need a key to unlock the door.

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Pen nib & whistle
Because:
A pen nib looks like a bird beak, and birds whistle and sing.
The trail of ink left by a pen is like the invisible path of bird song in the air.

More Game Play Details...

Infinite Possibilities can be played with any number of players, even just one. To begin, each player selects eight objects from a collection of many. This is the "hand" that he or she will play from.

The first player begins by placing an object of her choice from her "hand" into any white circle on the board. The first play is a "freebie" with no explanation needed. Going clockwise, players then take turns choosing one of the objects in their hand and playing it into any available white circle.

For each play, the player explains out loud the association they see between their newly played object and the previously played objects in other connected circles. And with each person's turn, the potential meanings of the artifacts on the game board begin anew. Sometimes a play will only involve one association, and other times - like in the challenging middle circle - it will involve up to four.

Throughout the game, each time you play a piece from your hand, you get to choose a new object from the collection so that you always have an inventory of eight. Players take turns playing objects into the empty white circles until the game board is filled and then pieces are swapped out one at a time instead of played into empty spots. There is no true end. You simply play as long as you like!

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I made a special extra large game board to play with children at the Children's Discovery Museum of San Jose.

Infinite Possibilities can be played by all ages and skill levels because the associations can be simple or complex, serious or funny, brief or long-winded. For example, a small child might connect a banana to a piece of yellow thread because they are both yellow, while someone else might connect the two because the thread is like a fiber running through a banana peel. A third person might connect the two because a long yellow thread can represent the long path it takes for a banana to come all the way from the tropics to our kitchen.

The Game Board

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In the early days of developing the game, I experimented with different game board designs.

Different game board configurations can also go from simple to complex. The center position in my original board can have four simultaneous connections. For younger players, it works well to play with just one ring of connected circles with nothing in the middle. This way, the child will never have to find more than two associations as part of the same play.

Introducing Connexio Board Game

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After playing Infinite Possibilities with friends and family for a few years--hauling my box of objects to cafés and on airplanes--my editor at Chronicle Books expressed interest in publishing it. The version released by Chronicle Books is called Connexio: A Game of Infinite Associations and Imagination and I'm delighted with the result!

The Connexio game board is double-sided: A for "easier" and B for "more challenging." The board also has a dynamic design in that no two positions connect to the same objects; each position is unique.

To get you started, Connexio comes with disks featuring beautiful photographs of objects in my personal collection, and you are invited to add your own three-dimensional objects to the bag! It includes instructions for a non-competitive game, "Anything Goes," as well as an exciting new competitive way to play called "Prized Possessions."

After all these years, we're happy to announce that you can now purchase Connexio in our online shop. We'd love to hear what you think of it! If you or someone you know places a peppermint on the board and makes a mind-blowing connection, we want to hear about it.

Lea Redmond is always looking for the poem hiding inside things: a salt shaker, a clothes tag, a hand gesture, a cloud. She is infinitely intrigued by the way experiences can slip from the ordinary to the extraordinary and she endeavors to design things that hold this possibility. Leafcutter Designs, her creative studio in Berkeley, CA, makes the world more playful and peaceful one little experience at a time.

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