Summary: Take a beanbag. Pick a topic of simple information, such as the one digit multiplication tables or states and capitals or Scott’s Basic Numbers To Have Intuitions About Other Things. Toss the beanbag to someone else, asking a question as you do so. They catch it and answer as fast as they can before passing it to someone else the same way. 

Tags: Repeatable, Medium

Purpose: Intended to train quick, basic information. This can be used as a group memory refresher.

Materials: No materials are required. However, a beanbag or similar light and soft object is recommended. I also suggest having printouts of the facts you want to memorize, though it’s fine to have it on your phone instead.

Announcement Text: There are a few basic facts everyone should know. One category is things that are useful to have so you can put other numbers in context. Scott Alexander’s A Few Basic Numbers To Have Intuitions About Other Things suggests sixteen facts which he uses to grapple with the world. We’re going to come together and learn some basics by tossing a beanbag at each other for fun.

Think of it like a rolling trivia game, except you can’t lose and we’re all working together to try and have everyone comfortable with the answers.

Description: To prepare, take a look around your meeting space and check that there’s nothing fragile or easily breakable around. This is not an activity to run in a busy restaurant. Make sure at least one person has The List of facts in front of them, though everyone doesn't all need their own copy. It's sporting to make sure everyone's read The List at least once, but if they haven't they'll learn soon enough.

Hold up The Beanbag and explain the following rules to people.

0. The Count starts at zero.

1. Whoever is holding The Beanbag is going to ask a question from The List. “Two plus two is-”

2. They are then going to toss The Beanbag to someone else, who will then catch the bean bag and try to correctly answer the question as fast as they can. “-Four!”

2. If they are correct, add one to The Count. If they are wrong, The Count resets to zero.

3. Everyone else chants the correct answer, e.g. “Two plus two is four!” Then Everyone chants The Count together.

4. Start from step 1. 

5. If someone calls Halt, whoever has The Beanbag hands (not throws) it to the organizer.

Halt can be called for several reasons, but the most important reason is if a participant notices someone or something new that might be bad to accidentally hit with The Beanbag, like a passerby walking through the group or if a water glass gets set down somewhere hazardous.

As a group everyone does want The Count to get as high as we can get it, but as individuals you want to be the last one with a right answer before The Count resets. Toss it at participants who seem like they need more practice!

Variations: One variation is to see how high you can get The Count in a certain amount of time, say, five minutes. This usually leads to faster paced Beanbag tossing.

By default, the person who just caught The Beanbag is trying to answer as fast as they can but there isn’t an explicit time limit. One variation is to have everyone else count down from five seconds until they answer. This can make it harder to hear the answer however, and is mostly unnecessary if the group as a whole is timed.

By default, the group is basically cooperating. You can also get rid of The Count as a group option, with each person having their own personal count of consecutive correct answers. Highest personal Count wins.

You can also turn this into a variation of Hot Potato. Whoever is holding The Beanbag when a timer goes off loses, so you want to answer and toss it to someone else as fast as you can. If you want a single winner at the end, losers from each round are ejected and the game restarts until only one remains.

Another variation is to have people keep a hand up if they have not yet answered a question, and then put their hand down when they do answer. In this variation you can't throw The Beanbag at someone with their hand down, and everyone puts their hand back up once the last person has answered. This ensures everyone gets asked questions equally at the cost of your hands getting tired faster than you'd think.

By default, the organizer is a part of this like everyone else. You can instead have the organizer play a special role, like being the designated person to read correct answers instead of everyone saying it together or counting people’s individual correct answer streaks.

Another area of variation is the nature of The Beanbag. A cloth sack full of beans works well and is reasonably safe indoors. A bunch of Nerf guns and darts is also fun and even safer. In the other direction, a baseball and a big open field where you have to yell louder can be a lot of fun. You can also just point your finger at your target instead of tossing something at them.

The most important source of variation is what The List looks like! I strongly suggest starting with a small number of things, no more than twenty and possibly as few as six. You want the questions and answers to be short to say, uncontroversial, and ideally relevant for everyone involved. If your group feels like they have the small list in their heads, go ahead and expand the list either by letting people add things during a halt or just by putting fifty facts on The List and saying “alright, now everything up to fact twenty five is fair game. Facts twenty six to fifty are still off limits. Go!”

“People’s names” make for an excellent addition to The List of facts, especially as a warmup. In this variation, "My name is-" is a question that they have to answer. One more group-focused variation is for each person to write their name and two quick facts about themselves on The List (“Bella’s favourite colour is blue”, “Bella’s job is Software Developer”) and then pass The List around so everyone can read it once.

You can also use something people can calculate as The List. Multiplication tables are an example that will probably work for anyone you're playing this with. More complex operations are an option, but remember you want something people can calculate or remember fast.

The Magic Variation is to take a set of Magic: The Gathering cards and use that as The List, calling out the name of the card as the question and having casting cost, abilities, power and toughness as the answer. As mentioned above, start with a handful of possible questions and let The List expand over time. You can also start with the simpler cards that don’t have long unique abilities. Abbey Griffin yes, Stromkirk Noble maybe, Tamiyo The Moon Sage no.

Notes: Beware of the cooperative spirit trying to get The Count as high as it can go by passing The Beanbag back and forth between two people who know everything on The List pretty well. 

Beware overenthusiastic people putting The Beanbag through a window or hitting someone in the face with it. I’m not saying it’s likely or that big of a problem when it happens, I’m just warning you that it can happen.

Credits: I think I learned this from a boy scout troop leader whose name I can’t remember. Sorry. It also owes the initial list for a rationalist meetup to Scott Alexander’s Memorize A Few Basic Numbers To Have Intuitions About Other Things.

New Comment