Kenning Abacus

The other night I fell asleep thinking that if I want to design a more complex game, I should forget most or all of what I am doing so far with the Kenning Game and try to design a GBG gameform from first principles. That night I dreamed I was playing the Kenning Game with glass beads.

I dreamed that I had a bag of many different kinds of glass marbles and was selecting some to drill with holes so that they became proper beads. I picked out six, for the six major colours of the spectrum, and laid them out on the ground in a sort of kenning expression thusly:

red         yellow         blue
------- :: --------- :: -----------
orange      green          violet

-- which is "true" as far as it goes. Orange is the colour after red, and therefore stands in relation to it as green to yellow, and so on.

When I awoke, I thought about the possibility of a "golden kenning" based on the golden ratio using these beads. It would be something like

red : orange :: orange : yellow

(Aside to Derek Robinson: Yes, the idea of a "golden ratio" in the KG occurred to me separately. I was glad to see your post back in mid-May and have not answered it yet because there is so much meat in it. I have printed it out and carry it around with me. One of these days I *will* reply! Thank you for putting so much thought into your analysis of the KG.)

Later it occurred to me that one need not settle for coloured beads; one could have patterns too. For example:

red-plain : red-striped :: green-plain : green-striped

That's all very well, you say, but who cares about kennings using colours and patterns? It's pretty but meaningless.

Not so! To mangle a passage from my GBG book in progress, suppose that:

...then a pattern of beads or marbles like:

               red-plain green-striped
red-striped = --------------------------

(however you represent '=' and '---', perhaps by neutrally-coloured beads), says quite a lot and might make a fine paper: "Kant's notion of innate perceptual categories is, when perceived in terms of the English Civil War, the equivalent of the Restoration Period to Hume's 'bundles of perception' thesis."

Is the usurpal of the soul from its central place in metaphysics illegitimate? Or is Kant's thesis reactionary or counter-revolutionary? Further elaboration of the kenning expression by nesting would make the composer's position clearer, as would the game component of commentary.

If we elaborate the game, it becomes plausible to have a a complex kenning expression on a small "abacus", and if we use a formal language with brief written glyphs representing each of the kinds of glass bead, having a fantastically complex game formula on an index card in one's pocket, as Knecht did in the novel, becomes plausible.

Two minor points here:

Finally, I was thinking tonight about the possibility of putting these beads on an abacus. The advantage here is that you might then be able to develop a sort of algebra or calculus (a word originally derived from "pebble", BTW... hmm...) -- an algorithm for shuttling the beads around that would allow a mechanisation, a way of manipulating the beads quickly in complex ways, independent of their semantic content, then seeing what the resulting kenning expression is. This is the way real abaci work; an experienced user is not doing mental math while pushing the beads around, but following rote rules. At the end of the procedure, they have a guaranteed result, and that result is the sum they were seeking. In the same way, the result of a kenning abacus algorithm would be a complex kenning expression that could then be puzzled out to see what it said.

I discussed this idea with my wife Marty over dinner. I'm having trouble imagining exactly what such a kenning abacus would look like. Marty made two main suggestions: first, a cylindrical abacus so that beads on what would be normally separate parts of the frame could be correlated; and second, a set of plexiglass boards with indentations for marbles, stacked one on top of another and hinged for easy access. Imagine something like a three-dimensional game of Chinese Checkers.

My own preference is for an abacus something like the old strategy game Connect Four: a board with upright poles or wires arranged in a grid, so that one could stack beads on top of one another and form three-dimensional patterns. This seems fitting for two main reasons: one, it sounds the closest of anything Marty and I could think of to the description of the abacus in the book, apart from perhaps the cylindrical board (which would not allow the beads as many degrees of freedom); and two, it might allow for some sort of stacking and unstacking algorithm that could be done very quickly, something along the lines of the winning solution for the Towers of Hanoi puzzle.

Of course, the whole thing could be done more simply and with no material restrictions in a computer simulation, but the idea of doing it with glass beads pleases me....

Ron Hale-Evans
Founder, Center for Ludic Synergy
Gamemaster, Kennexions
Charter Member, Bamboo Garden of Seattle

Kennexions GBG | Center for Ludic Synergy

Ron Hale-Evans

Last modified: 23 September 1999