A Concept Game
invented by Kate Jones

Some background

I "invented" this game in 1947, when I discovered that words, images and ideas could be strung together in a long series, like rungs on a ladder, just by some shared element between any two neighboring words.

This is, of course, the way we now understand that the brain works, by cross-reference, association, grouping of similar things, and retrieving any combination when a new stimulus triggers that connection. But as a kid it was just a fun game to play in my mind. And the neatest trick was that at the end I could retrace my steps, one by one, by backward recall or replay.

Interestingly, scientists have found that rats on a track to a reward seem to replay their path in reverse, with heightened activity in the hippocampus, thus perhaps forming and reinforcing memory patterns of the moves that led to the reward.

In November 2005, at a creativity conference in Maryland organized by Project Renaissance, its founder, Win Wenger, introduced the theme of "sidebands awareness." At the end of the conference a few of us drove one of the participants out to Dulles airport, a trip of close to 2 hours. On the way, to help pass the time, I suggested we play my little word game that draws on the "sidebands" in our minds. And at the end we replayed it in reverse.

This game was so fascinating, absorbing and entertaining that at the following year's conference it became an official session for the whole group.

At the Maryland Renaissance Festival, our Sunday crew is quite fond of this game, now named SequiturTM, and play it through an entire day, as moments of free time allow. The replay at the end is the final kicker. Everyone wins, and throughout the game all players can appreciate and applaud each other's ingenuity. A different game is played every Sunday for nine weekends straight.


How to play

Any number of people can play, and there is no time limit either for the length of a turn nor the length of the overall game. Players can determine any limits for each game when they begin. They can even pursue other activities in the meanwhile, with the game played in the background.

Start by selecting the order in which the players will take turns, generally alphabetical or around a circle.

One player begins by stating a word or phrase.

The next player then adds another word or phrase that is somehow associated with or suggested by the previous entry. If the connection is obscure, the player explains it. The other players may always challenge and request an explanation.

Connect only to the immediate preceding term, no going back two or more steps. And the new term is a direct connection, not skipping some implied intermediate stage.

The game continues for as long as the players agreed on, either by number of turns or hours available or whatever seems appropriate. DO NOT WRITE THINGS DOWN! Players merely let the mental connections work.

With large groups of players, to help fill the time till your next turn, consider what word you would say if it were your turn; observe your own associations come to life with each new step.

Words may not be repeated within the same game. Frequent and dedicated players will also seek to avoid re-using words from previous games.

The finale:   At the end of the series of turns, the players reconstruct the entire chain in reverse, as a collaborative group, not taking turns. All participants pitch in as needed, since all the conceptual shifts and associations are contained in their aggregate memories. It is not a competition to see who remembers the most or best.

When the players arrive back to the first word, the game is complete, and all players win.

This is not a game of blurting out the first thing that comes to mind. Players are allowed to be artistic and selective, abstract, punning and shifty. The players' areas of interest may contribute terms from obscure as well as popular culture. Abstract words, like "disintegration" or "gratitude", can be challenging to build on.

Here are some wicked excerpts from actual games:

Mockingbird (To Kill a ...)
Gregory Peck
Bushel (a bushel and a peck)
2008 ("Bush'll" be out of office)
A large banquet (2000 ate)
My wedding

Ingrid Bergman (from Tom Lehrer song of romantic triangle with Ingrid playing the hypotenuse!)
Gas Light (a Bergman film)

Calvin Klein
Genetic engineering (designer genes)
GE brings good things to life
Dupont (better living through chemistry)
Water under the bridge (pont = bridge)
Jerry Lewis (don't raise the bridge, lower the river)
Great balls of fire (Jerry Lee Lewis)
Won't go (no va = Spanish for won't go)
Bullet train
Faster than a speeding bullet
Neo (from "The Matrix")
White rabbit (tattoo on girl's shoulder in "The Matrix")

Some games may be 70 steps or longer. It is surprising for how long you can remember some of the combinations, even if not the entire sequence. Even months or years later, some connections will stick, especially the funniest, cleverest ones. They are truly memorable experiences.

This game is fun for many important reasons:

  • It draws on creativity.
  • It stimulates the mind.
  • There are no wrong answers.
  • It is not adversary or competitive.
  • It produces lots of laughs.
  • It allows appreciation of other players' ideas.
  • It's different every time you play.
  • Unexpected connections keep it suspenseful.
  • It fills idle time.
  • It develops and sharpens mental agility.
  • It refreshes memories and awakens awarenesses.
  • It broadens knowledge through others' experiences.
  • It requires no equipment; it's entirely free.
  • You can play it anywhere, with anyone.
  • Laughter and play are good for you, and valuable social ties.

Feel free to enjoy this game with your friends, family, classmates, co-workers, colleagues. After the replay, you can then write down the sequence and keep it in a log, or send a copy for our archives to: The Life of Games

The Life of Games
No. 4  (April 2007)
©2007-2019 Kadon Enterprises, Inc.