A Cold Wind Blows

From Academic Kids

A Cold Wind Blows is a noncompetitive substitute for the game of Musical chairs. It was developed in the 1970s as part of the New Games movement, developed by Andrew Fluegelman and colleagues.

The game of musical chairs, often played by children at parties, tends to create bad feelings among players. There is always a single "winner" and all other players are "losers." Although the game does not involve any real athletic skills, in a group of children of mixed ages and agilities it is typically won by the oldest, strongest, or most aggressive player. Once eliminated, a player has no further participation in the game, which is thus boring for those eliminated early.

"A Cold Wind Blows" involves the same device of a competitive scramble for chairs, but restructures the play elements to provide a different game experience.

In "A Cold Wind Blows" a circle of chairs, one fewer than the number of players, is arranged in a circle. One player is initially designated as "it." "It" stands in the middle of the circle; all other players sit in the chairs. In each round of play, "it" calls out any sentence, beginning with the words "A cold wind blows," that refers to one or more players. For example:

  • "A cold wind blows for anyone wearing blue."
  • "A cold wind blows for anyone whose name begins with 'D'".
  • "A cold wind blows for anyone in fifth grade."

All of the players for whom the cold wind blows—that is, players that fall into the named category—must vacate the chair that they are in and attempt to find another seat. At the same time, "it" attempts to sit in a chair. When all chairs are occupied, the person who failed to get a chair becomes "it" for the next round.

In "A Cold Wind Blows," no player is ever eliminated and the game can proceed for as long as players are interested in playing. For the player who loses in the scramble, the negative experience is immediately followed by the positive experience of becoming "it" and thus controlling the next round of the game. Finally, the person who is "it" has the advantage of knowing the time of the scramble, exactly which chairs will be vacated, and a short distance to a vacant chair, so the person who is "it" usually finds a chair. Thus players typically become "it" for only one round at a time. Player rarely experience the frustration of losing many consecutive scrambles. No player remains "it" and dominates the game for long. Finally, the challenge of having to invent new categories—this is not usually stated as a rule but most players feel that they must do so—tends to mean that different people participate in each scramble, and most players participate in frequent scrambles and get turns of becoming "it."

The game is very stable in the sense that it is not spoiled even if "it" deliberately chooses categories that contain a single selected person. (When this happens, the usual outcome is that "it" successfully grabs the selected person's seat while the selected person becomes "it"). Indeed, the balance of frustration and reward is so even that nobody is ever sure whether having "a cold wind blow" for a single person is an expression of rivalry or of affection.

The game combines the physical elements of the scramble with the mental requirements of alertness, logic, and reasoning in the construction of the categories.

Groups of children, even children of mixed age and agility, can play this game for long periods of time without becoming frustrated or angry.


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