For years I’ve always searched for ways to keep my mind supple, my heart open, my sufficiently stretched out past its daily yawning. So I invent games that can be played like solitaire but are actually best when engaged in small groups.
This is one that evolved as the result of wanting to get out of a creative rut. I wasn’t blocked. I mean I had tons of ideas but they were all locked into the same handful of themes and story ideas. I wanted something that would bend my brain and hurl my heart to the point of drunken dizziness without having to imbibe something or invite therapy. So the brackets game was born.
Brackets of Brain Teasers
It just so happened that my battle with creative sameness, a clear oxymoron, coincided with college basketball’s season of March Madness. I had created a template for the 64 (plus one) teams so I could write them in as they were announced. Then I got this goofy idea. I would just fill in each blank with a random word or name of somebody or short phrase. To avoid sameness in my choices of words, I literally grabbed books, flipped pages, stopped and pointed; then I filled it the phrase or word that my digit had punched. So I then had 64 (plus one) words, names, and phrases with no clue as to what I would or why I would do it.
I decided to take the pairings and then draw a conclusion from them or find a common factor, but I wanted to do it quickly so I wouldn’t think too much. Otherwise I’d default to doldrums and dullsville. So I then had 32 conclusions or fusions that I needed to do something with. So, I continued looking for the common factor or inspired conclusion in those pairings. This kept going until I reached the final four and from that I eventually ended up with one phrase that literally was born from 65 random thoughts. It literally jump-started my brain and took me down paths where I had rarely if ever wandered.
Work Solo Or In Groups
Let’s say for example you have these two words: attack and cardboard. You might think, as I just did when I pulled those up, that’s really stupid. But then I had an image of a guy on a cardboard surfboard being attacked by a paper shark. So my conclusion would be “paper shark.” Another choice might be “boxing.” The response literally is unique to the individual. Best of all, there are no right or wrong answers.
It’s also fun to have everyone work individually with the same of words. Then, when everyone has finished, they share their final word or phrase and work backwards so everyone sees how they got there. When doing this as part of a writer’s group I never experience the same final phrase or word being shared by anyone. Each was unique and usually quite surprising in the conceptual distance among those final conclusions.
The exercise engages critical thinking, creativity, spontaneity, goofiness, irritation, problem solving – absolutely everything necessary to wake up the mind, take the scenic route, and reflect once the journey had reached its one-phrase or one-word destination.
This exercise does not require 64 or 65 choices. It can be as few as four or as many as you choose. As a group it can be engaged by randomly choosing words that are written on tiny pieces of paper and pulled out of a bowl or hat or whatever. It can be song titles or names of movies instead a word or phrase. The game can be used to come up with a song idea, a title, a name for your band, or simply to just entertain yourself.
Connect And Relate
It will also help you to find relationships between words, ideas, concepts, musical styles, people, cultures – it truly engages the brain in such a way that drives you to pull things together, to make sense of things, to piece together that puzzling bigger picture of whatever is most perplexing at the time.
It’s a great way to rock yourself out of a creative rut and blast your way through a creative block. It’s also a fun way to get to know others better and possibly to get a better handle on the way you think.