Appendix B: The Gospel of Pif

a.ka. Das Notizenspiel (The Sticky-Note Game)
Das Notizenspiel invented by Lauren Bancroft (based on a theme by Hermann Hesse)
"Impressions" variant by Beth Newgarden
Blatant streak of officiousness mitigated by Andrea Moffet
Summary by Dina Gallagher

Overview

Pif is a game in which two or more players compete to imagine the greatest number of connections between ideas. These ideas may be (for instance) the name of a famous person, a law of physics, a melody, a symbol, a caricature of a deservedly-hated gym teacher ... anything that can be represented by a few marks on a piece of paper. Whoever finds the most connections wins.

The rules are simple: Two or more players take turns writing ideas on sticky-notes and placing them on the gameboard. Every idea must connect somehow to at least one previously-played idea. Players receive one point per connection. Once the last move is played, the scores are added up and whoever has made the most connections wins.

Pif takes only a few minutes to learn and is surpringly addictive.

Materials

You’ll need four things to play Das Notizenspiel:

A GAME BOARD: Das Notizenspiel is usually played on a big piece of paper (or several smaller pieces of paper taped together) on top of a large table.

NODES: You’ll need to write to write a sentence or draw a simple image for each "node," so a small pad of sticky-notes is the most commonly used material. For maximum clarity, provide a different colored pad for each player.

CONNECTIONS: Traditionally connections are indicated with chewing gum (a different color for each player), which is stretched out from node to node. In practice this is usually a bit too messy and confusing, so most Notizenspielers use magic markers or pens instead.

SOMETHING TO WRITE WITH: Most players use pens, pencils or magic markers to write their ideas on the nodes.

Be creative about finding materials: two Notizenspielers might play over the phone, each keeping a record of the game with a pad and paper. Or several Notizenspielers might draw an entire game in the sand on a beach (perhaps using a differently-shaped node for each player, to better keep track of the score). If you can improvise the four elements, you can play a game.

Rulings

Each node is declared valid if it posseses at least one valid connection. Each connection is declared valid if the majority of judges approves. A tie or minority vote indicates that the connection is ruled "invalid," and does not count towards the player’s score. If a node cannot win even a single connection, that node must be withdrawn from the board, and the player must produce a substitute node (if the player is unable to produce a valid node in three attempts, they forfeit their turn). The voting body is usually the players themselves, though very formal or important games may attract non-player judges.

For each node, the player holds her hand over each node she believes is logically connected to the node in play. The other players (or judges) give a thumbs-up or thumbs down: if more than half of the vote weighs in her favor, the player draws a connection between the two nodes. Otherwise, she moves on to the next hypothetical connection without drawing a connection.

Variations

Das Notizenspiel has inspired countless permutations, necessitating the agreement of certain "ground rules" before beginning any game:

NUMBER OF PLAYERS: Das Notizenspiel is playable by two or more people (rarely more than six). An odd number of players is preferable for judging purposes. Turns move clockwise around the circle of players.

NUMBER OF MOVES: Although the number of "nodes" in a game is theoretically infinite, the most typical number of game moves is between 8 and 16.

CONSTRAINTS: Most Notizenspiel’s are "open" or "anything goes." However, players may agree to limit a game to a particular topic (such as baseball or classical music), or a particular type of node (such as symbols, movie titles, or single-word nouns only). Beth Newgarden famously introduced the "impression" species of node, which brought a new degree of subjectivity to the game ("Ronald Reagan" and "Record Players," for instance, might "both remind me of onions"). This quickly became known as the "chick version," and most self-respecting male peer pressure junkies quickly began limiting their games to "objective connections only."

HANDICAP: Although the last player has the highest potential score (since she could hypothetically connect to every previous node), the first player has the greatest power to steer the game towards subjects at which she excels. The advantages of each role are usually fairly balanced, so no handicap is awarded. However, in the case of games with a large number of players the last-player advantage can become pronounced. Therefore, Notizenspielers sometimes award a handicap of 0.3 points per play position from the final player, cumulative. In other words the final player would receive no handicap, the second-to-last would receive 0.3 points, the third-to-last 0.6 points, etc. Of course any handicaps must be agreed upon before gameplay commences.

History

Das Notizenspiel (plural: Der Notizenspielen) is a simplified variant of The Glass Bead Game, a hypothetical culmination of all human knowledge described by Hermann Hesse in his 1943 novel Das Glasperlenspiel (usually translated as Magister Ludi; The Glass Bead Game). Hesse’s novel described a city called Castalia (named for the home of the Greek muses), where generations of élite glass bead game players dwell in rarified intellectual seclusion, untroubled by the vagaries of the outside world.

Although Hesse described the history, ramifications and temperment of the Glass Bead Game in great detail, he never revealed the particulars of gameplay. Ergo, nerdly M.I.T.-types have been trying to reverse-engineer "the real thing" ever since. Das Notizenspiel does not pretend to be the final word toward this probably insoluable goal, but a modest and hopefully playable simplification.

Drawing Conclusions

Although it is not strictly necessary, players often summarize the nature of each connection below its connection-line on the game board. This aids in post-game analysis, particularly in drawing out any useful insights.

These game insights fall largely into three broad categories: (A) discovering new connections between ideas (particularly cross-disciplinary ideas). Also, (B) like a Rorschach test or Tarot cards, pif can give us a new vocabulary for self-analysis. Every new metaphor promises the possiblity of insights hidden from our entrenched, ossified perspectives. Finally, as with most games, (C) pif can teach us new things about the relationshipships between players.

Making connections between disciplines is a powerful tool for advancing cultural and scientific technology, and many Notzenspielers play for this reason alone. Every technological advance may be seen as the connection between two previously-unconnected ideas. By distilling this raw mechanism of technological advance to its essence, Lauren created a powerful tool. By necessitating its codification, Andrea made it robust. And by couching it in the cotton-candy of a light diversion, Beth made it widely accesible.

And me?

Did you hear the one about the starlet who was so dumb she slept with the writer?

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