In the Zora Zone

Last night, at the Philly Tech Week 2013 preview event, I got to meet Zora Ball. You might have heard of her — earlier this year she recently set a world record for being the youngest person ever to create a mobile video game app.

Zora is in first grade at the Harambee Institute in West Philly, one of Philadelphia’s first and most-successful charter schools. Using Bootstrap, she coded a basic video game: a character (in this case a girl in a ballet outfit) moves up and down around her bedroom, trying to avoid being hit by objects sliding left-to-right across the scene. We saw a demo; it’s nothing fancy, but collision avoidance is the basis of nearly every action game there is.

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Play With Yourself

Chess requires intensive forethought. Players must anticipate several steps ahead, and weigh multiple complex scenarios before completing each move.

The algorithms involved are so complex that they have been a measuring stone for artificial intelligence over the years.

Additionally, the game is a (not so veiled) metaphor for battle. King versus King. Black versus white. Good versus evil. At the base level, me versus you.

There are near endless designs for the veritable gameboard, from elegant to amusing to cultural to flamboyant to stark.

Yoko Ono’s 1966 “Play it by Trust” set turns traditional chess on its end, in ways both computational and philosophical, with a simple twist.

In it, both sides play white. Are white. Are indistinguishable from one another. As are the squares on the checkerboard.

With this set, the mental calculation necessary to play a good game includes the additional layer of remembering which pieces are yours, and which belong to your opponent.

Says the artist:

Play it for as long as you can remember
who is your opponent and
who is your own self.

How sustainable is battle against an enemy that looks just like you?

How relatively easy is war against a culture that does not look like you?

With not more than a humble color change, this design becomes provocative art.

Design in Play

Smooth wood. Primary colors. Fundamental shapes. Meet Naef play objects.

The beauty of these Swiss-made toys lies in their relative simplicity: interlocking shapes that can be rearranged and stacked into infinite patterns.

Seemingly basic pieces allow children to explore the physics and visual cues of our world, having fun as they discover new relationships of shape and color.

The elementary designs leave room for the imagination to roam, uninhibited by a connected brand or cartoon story.

Adults hands will be itching to play, too. The array of available configurations sparks thoughts of malleable table art.

Indeed, the price tag on many of the items suggests more artwork than plaything, with averages between $150 – $300 per set.

Famous Swiss workmanship does go into each piece: most are handcrafted and quality-inspected to within a millimeter.

Also worth noting is that each knickknack was created by a specific designer, including authorized replicas by original Bauhaus members.

There’s even an annual contest held to find creative new arrangements for certain sets, held in Japan, where Naef has had a strong presence for decades.

In 2005 Naef USA was launched in Winchester, Virginia and is going strong. Perhaps we’ll see greater spread of these decidedly un-quotidian blocks here in the near future.

Topsy Turvy Chess

Who said chess had to be staid?

Designer Adin Mumma‘s surprisingly elegant Wobble Chess Set adds a touch of whimsy to the serious game.

The maple and walnut pieces are finished with rounded chrome zinc bottoms that sway when placed in the concave spots on the polished wooden board.

Many will recognize the inspiration for the set’s design as the Weebles, Hasbro’s roly-poly toys that were common in the 1970s. “Weebles wobble, but they won’t fall down!”

Unusual chess sets abound, from one etched from Waterford Crystal to LEGO playing pieces to Givan’s custom-constructed vertical board, found in high-profile venues such as Jay-Z’s 4040 Clubs.

In adding quivering motion to this refined pastime, Mumma has created something new. Thoughts of Lewis Carroll cannot be far behind.

[via Little Clock Shop]