Our mission statement, copyright notice, and cast of characters.

From the Editor
A Note from Thiagi
Thanks!, puzzles, and Chicago.

Simulation Games with Embedded Puzzles
If life is a puzzle…

Textra Game
20 Puzzle Types
An anthology of instructional puzzles.

Guest Gamer
Interview with Debbie Newman
Meet Debbie and Deb.

Say It Quick
Imagine! by Brian Remer
Playful medicine.

The Fun Theory by Frank Medlar
Visit Frank Medlar's website.

The Fun Cycle by Frank Medlar
Explore Fran Kick's concepts.

Five Senses by Linda Keller
Relax—or get your energy up.

Zurich Workshops
Two Workshops in Switzerland
On training games—and positive psychology.

Chicago Workshop
Workshop on Training Games Scheduled for July 2010 in Chicago by Tracy Tagliati
Come see us in Chicago.

Single Topic Survey
Who Are You? by Tracy Tagliati
An existential question.

Survey Results
New Year's Resolution by Tracy Tagliati
Are you pursuing your resolutions?

Thiagi Podcasts
Training Intelligence Episode 2: Debriefing
Check out our latest episode.

Check It Out
Puzzle Playground
Huge quantity, high quality.





To increase and improve the use of interactive, experiential strategies to improve human performance in an effective, efficient, and enjoyable way.

Editorial Roster

Author and Editor : Sivasailam (Thiagi) Thiagarajan

Assistant Editor : Raja Thiagarajan

Associate Editors: Jean Reese and Tracy Tagliati

Contributing Editors: Brian Remer and Matthew Richter

Editorial Advisory Board: Bill Wake, Matthew Richter, Samuel van den Bergh, and <type your name here>

Copyright Info

The materials in this newsletter are copyright 2010 by The Thiagi Group. However, they may be freely reproduced for educational/training activities. There is no need to obtain special permission for such use as long as you do not reproduce more than 100 copies per year. Please include the following statement on all reproductions:

Reprinted from THIAGI GAMELETTER. Copyright © 2010 by The Thiagi Group, Inc.

For any other use of the content, please contact us ( ) for permission.

Subscription Info

To sign up, or to donate and help us continue this newsletter, please see the Online Newsletter page on our website ( ).

Feedback Request

Thiagi believes in practicing what he preaches. This is an interactive newsletter, so interact already! Send us your feedback, sarcastic remarks, and gratuitous advice through email to . Thanks!

From the Editor

A Note from Thiagi


A few weeks ago I sent out an appeal for donations to help sustain our monthly online newsletter. (I donate my time and articles for free, but it takes Raja about a week of fulltime work to put together each issue, and Tracy spends several days writing and proofreading, Brenda spends several hours or days typesetting the handouts, Jean a day in meticulous final copy-editing, and we use an online service to maintain our mailing list of more than 14,000 subscribers….)

I am humbled by the response, which was better than I dreamed of. Within 15 minutes, emails and phone calls started coming in from people who pledged money and talked about how much they enjoy the newsletter. More than 150 readers around the world responded, sending various amounts ranging from $5 to $150. (The most common contribution was $30.) The total amount collected (as of January 28, 2010) is $5,052.57. A few more contributions are continuing to trickle in.

In addition to your overwhelming financial generosity, I am deeply touched by the comments in your telephone calls and email notes. It is exciting to know that so many people from different organizations, from different cultures, from different parts of the world find the newsletter interesting and valuable in their training activities.

Again, thanks for your support.


This issue includes an article about simulation games with embedded puzzles. Another article called 20 Puzzle Types incorporates a 32-page PDF document that features 20 different types of instructional puzzles (and their solutions). Tracy and I have been re-exploring the intriguing area of using puzzles in training. We recently tested our puzzling concepts with workshop participants in Singapore. Based on its success, we are scheduled to present our ideas (in an interactive fashion, of course) at this year's annual conferences of both ISPI and ASTD.

Chicago, here we come

Tracy and I had a great time co-facilitating a 3-day workshop on the design of training activities in Singapore. Our local colleague, Stanis Benjamin, had rounded up 30 highly motivated facilitators, trainers, and instructional designers from that part of Asia. With the success of this workshop in Singapore closely following similar successful workshops in Paris and Zurich, people started asking us, “When are you going to conduct this workshop in the U.S.?”.

We have scheduled a 3-day workshop on Interactive Techniques for Instructor-Led Training during July 26-28, 2010 (followed by a 1-day certification training on July 29, 2010) in Chicago. See below for more details. Hope to see you in Chicago.


Simulation Games with Embedded Puzzles

Simulation games with embedded puzzles require individuals or teams to solve one or more puzzles (such as cryptograms, crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, riddles, tangrams, or matchstick puzzles). In some cases, participants may also create a puzzle. The facilitator debriefs the activity to illustrate principles and procedures related to such topics as problem solving, creative thinking, critical thinking, leadership, coaching, diversity, and teamwork.

Outsiders: A Sample Simulation Game with Embedded Puzzles

You are attending a workshop on diversity and inclusion. Lisa, the facilitator, organizes the participants into six teams. Five of these teams receive a puzzle envelope with 11 pieces of an identical picture postcard. Your team begins to reconstruct the postcard because you are told that the first team to assemble the complete postcard will win the game.

After about 3 minutes of hectic activity, you realize that one of the picture pieces is missing. You find out that all teams are missing this identical piece. When you get ready to complain to the facilitator, she announces that the outsiders (individuals from the sixth team) will bring a picture piece and show it to each team. Working in total silence, your team may inspect each picture piece that belongs to different outsiders and return it to the owner. Only one of the six outsiders has the missing picture piece you need.

After the silent inspection, the outsiders go and stand in front of the room and representatives from different teams recruit one of them to join the team. Obviously, all team representatives converge on the individual outsider who has the missing piece, ignoring the others. After a few minutes, the facilitator announces that the winning team will receive a cash prize of $17. Team representatives redouble their recruitment efforts, outbidding each other in offering a share of the prize money. Eventually, the outsider chooses to join one of the teams, bringing the activity to a conclusion.

Lisa conducts a debriefing discussion during which participants talk about what happened in the simulation game in terms of insiders and outsiders, inclusion and exclusion, and popularity and obscurity. She also asks provocative questions that relate what happened in the game to what happens in the workplace and in the real world.

More Examples

Here are brief descriptions of several simulation games that belong to this category:

Decode. This simulation game highlights the dark side of intense competition among teams. It incorporates a cryptogram puzzle in which the letters in a message are printed in a code that consistently substitutes different code letters for regular letters. (For example, the message Let the games begin becomes Yzf foz jukzh czjvq.) In the simulation, participants are organized into teams and taught how to solve cryptograms. Later, they are given a cryptogram message and asked to decode it. The scores awarded to the teams depend on the speed with which they decode the message: 500 points if they solve it within a minute, 200 if they solve it within 2 minutes, and 50 if they solve it within 3 minutes. The facilitator announces that she would give the correct solution to any one of the cryptogram words to each team. Typically, each team selects one of the longest words to be decoded by the facilitator. After the simulation, the facilitator discusses a better alternative: If the teams had collaborated with each other, selected different words to be decoded, and shared their solutions with each other, then everybody could have decoded the message faster and received high number of points. (Appropriately enough, the decoded message reads: Don't assume that the only way to win is to compete. Sometimes the best way to win is to collaborate with other teams.)

Each Teach. This simulation game emphasizes the fact that a team will outperform any of its individual members, as long as the members have complementary skills. It also illustrates how team members can learn from each other. The simulation incorporates the magic squares puzzle that requires people to fill in a 5 x 5 grid with different numbers in each of the 25 boxes so that all columns, rows, and diagonals add up to the same total. The solution to the puzzle requires the mastery and application of four different rules. At the beginning of the simulation, each participant works independently with a self-instructional handout to master one of these four rules. During the next phase, participants organize themselves into teams of four in such a way that each team member knows how to apply a different rule. Teams now work on filling several 5 x 5 grids to generate different magic squares. In the process, they teach each other all four rules. During the third phase of the simulation, there is a contest among all participants to see how quickly they can create a new magic square. The team that has produced the fastest puzzle solvers wins the contest.

Diversity Sudoku. This simulation game emphasizes the importance of diversity among team members. It incorporates a mini-sudoku puzzle that has a 6 x 6 grid with numbers in a few of the boxes. To solve the puzzle, participants have to place missing numbers in empty boxes so that each row, each column, and each 3 x 2 rectangle include the numbers 1 to 6, each number appearing once and only once. At the beginning of the simulation, two or more teams are given a mini-sudoku puzzle to solve. After a minute or so, each participant is given a secret clue that shows six boxes with the correct numbers. The facilitator asks participants to study the clues individually and return it to her after 30 seconds. At the end of this interlude, teams continue solving the sudoku puzzle. One of the teams invariably solves the puzzle significantly faster that the others. During the debriefing, the facilitator reveals that different members of this team received different clues while all members of the other teams received the same clues. This leads to a discussion of the usefulness of team members having different pieces of information and skill sets.

Rightsized. This simulation games explores the impact of downsizing. It involves cryptogram puzzles. Each team of five to seven members is given a puzzle to solve. The fastest team wins the first round. Members of each team now secretly vote to identify the member who contributed the least in solving the cryptogram. This person is eliminated from the next round. The process (of solving a cryptogram, identifying the fastest team, identifying the least-contributing individuals in each team, and eliminating this individual) is repeated until only two members remain in each team. During the ensuing debriefing discussion, the facilitator helps participants explore the emotional responses of the downsized team members as well as the survivors.

One Word. This rapid simulation game (a jolt) stresses the importance of flexible problem solving skills. It involves word puzzles in the form of anagrams. The facilitator begins with the word new and another four letter word (for example, soap). She asks participants to rearrange the seven letters in these two words to spell one word. (Sample solution: weapons.) The simulation continues in the same form with half a dozen more four-letter words combined with the word new. The facilitator ends the simulation by presenting new and door and repeats the instructions to combine the seven letters to spell one word. The correct solution is one word and this solution requires a new strategy different from the one that was previously used. The debriefing discussion relates this simulation with the need for flexible approaches at the workplace.

Multitasking. This simulation game explores potential problems faced by call-center employees who work on their computers while talking to a customer on the telephone. The game involves mini-sudoku puzzles. Pairs of participants sit back-to-back to simulate a telephone conversation in which neither person can observe what the other is doing. The participant who plays the role of the customer complains about a problem and asks for immediate service. The other participant (who plays the role of the call center employee) responds to the customer while trying to solve as many mini-sudoku puzzles as possible. At the end of a 2-minute period, the customer rates the level of satisfaction with the conversation on a 5-point scale. This rating is used—along with the number of mini-sudoku puzzles solved—to evaluate the performance of the call-center employee.

Consultants. This simulation game explores aspects of the knowledge industry. It uses triplet puzzles in which participants discover a link word that is associated with a set of three words. Five participants play the role of consultants and they are supplied with 50 triplet puzzles along with the solutions. The other participants have the same 50 triplet puzzles without the solutions. They compete with each other, trying to be the first one to solve all 50 triplets. Participants begin with $500 in play money. They buy information about the link word for a specific triplet (such as number of letters in the link word, position of the link word, or the first letter of the link word) by paying $5 to any of the consultant. After 5 minutes into the game, a few of highest scoring participants are promoted to the role of consultants. Instead of information being sold at a standard price, consultants can compete with other by charging cheaper prices. After another 5 more minutes of play, participants are permitted to exchange information from one another. When the game ends after a total of 15 minutes of play, the participant with the most triplets solved is declared to be the winner. During the debriefing discussion, participants explore the role of free-marketing forces on the marketing of proprietary information.

Broken Squares. This classic simulation game explores collaborative problem solving in teams. You can find various versions of this activity on the Internet by using “Broken Square Exercise” as the search term. The activity uses a construction puzzle in which various pieces of cardboard are arranged to create five identical squares. The facilitator gives each member of a five-person team an envelope with two to four pieces of cardboard in different shapes. Participants are required to assemble five squares of the same size, working under a few constraints: no talking, no pointing, and no taking of pieces from other members. However, team members may give any of their pieces to anyone else. The debriefing discussion produces useful insights about communication and collaboration.

How Fast? This simulation game explores how people attribute failures to personal incompetency or to environmental factors. It involves solving a short crossword puzzle with 15 clues. The hidden feature of this simulation is that some people receive difficult clues while others receive easy ones. (For example, the difficult clue for “cat” is a feline mammal while the easy clue is a pet animal that says, “meow”.) The simulation begins with the facilitator distributing copies of the crossword puzzle and asking participants to solve them as rapidly as possible. As soon as a participant finishes solving the puzzle, she is to stand up. When about half of the group has completed the task, the facilitator stops the activity and reads the correct answers (without reading the clues). Later, the facilitator shares the secret and explains that some people had easy clues while others had difficult clues. She then debriefs the group by asking people how they felt about their inability to solve the puzzle as quickly as their cohorts. She explains how optimistic people attribute their failure to outside factors while pessimistic people blame themselves.

Team Spirit. This simulation game (designed by my friends Charles Petranek and Randy Hollandsworth) explores how formal and informal leadership styles can influence a team's performance. The simulation involves a logical matrix puzzle. Teams answer trivia questions to collect clues. They organize these clues in the form of a matrix to relate different people with their pets, sports, industries, and geographic locations. They study the matrix to discover the answers to three questions. The debriefing discussion explores the nature and style of team leaders, the distribution of work among team members, and the relationship between team members and leaders.

Don't Lift Your Pen. This rapid simulation game (a jolt) demonstrates a creative problem solving approach. It involves a paper-and-pencil puzzle that requires participants to draw two concentric circles (on circle inside another) without lifting the pen off the paper. After a minute or so, the facilitator invites any successful participant to show how she completed the task. If no one volunteers, the facilitator demonstrates the “trick” and discusses how identifying and discarding unnecessary assumptions result in creative solutions. She then challenges participants to come up with additional strategies (such as using two pens simultaneously) for solving the puzzle.

Wired. This simulation game is designed to help managers learn how to train their associates on an individual basis. It uses a dozen different wire puzzles. (These puzzles consist of two entangled pieces of stiff wire. The puzzle must be solved by disentangling the two pieces without bending or cutting the wires.) At the beginning of the simulation, different groups of participants are given one of the puzzles. Using trial and error and a solution sheet, they master the procedure for disentangling the two pieces. During the next phase, participants pair up with someone who has mastered a different wire puzzle. They teach each other how to solve these puzzles. Some time near the middle of the session, the facilitator conducts a mini-debriefing during which participants share the best practices they observed for one-on-one training. After this discussion, they continue to pair up and learn how to solve other puzzles. During the final debriefing, participants discuss the application of best practices for providing on-the-job training in their workplace.

Triangles. This simulation game demonstrates the importance of focusing on what the customers want. It involves the triangles puzzle, which is a variation of the tangram puzzle. To solve the puzzle, participants cut a piece of card into small triangles and reassemble them to form various silhouette shapes such as a duck, a sailboat, a candle, or a house. In this simulation, participants are organized into teams that contain members with the roles of planners and workers. As an afterthought, a few left-over participants are assigned the roles of observers and customers. Planners are given card stock and six silhouette shapes they can create by cutting and rearranging triangles. They are also given the solution for solving the puzzle and creating each silhouette. They have 20 minutes to train the workers to produce one or more selected silhouettes (without showing them the solution diagram). Workers now have another 20 minutes to cut and assemble the shapes without any coaching or feedback from the planners. At the end of this time, customers make their appearance, inspect the silhouettes, and award them points based on their preferences. Almost invariably, planners select the easiest silhouette to assemble without bothering to ask the customers which ones they prefer. This results in final silhouettes receiving very low scores.

Cryptic Strategies. This simulation game uses cryptograms to explore planning and execution of problem-solving strategies. Each team begins with $20,000 in virtual cash and eight cryptograms. Teams have 20 minutes to decode all the cryptograms. They purchase the correct equivalents for different letters from the facilitator. The more letters they purchase the more expensive each additional letter costs. Teams also get cash rewards for solving each cryptogram. The more cryptograms they solve, the higher the reward they receive for each additional solution. At the end of 20 minutes (or when the team has solved all eight cryptograms), they are charged $1000 for each minute of play. During the debriefing discussion, participants explore the interplay among time, money, consulting costs and benefits, and the competency and commitment of team members.

What Is Measured? This simulation game highlights the fact that what is measured is what gets done. It involves solving anagram puzzles. Each participant receives a handout that contains the phrase performance improvement. All participants are given the task of selecting letters from this phrase and rearranging them into words. Participants complete this task within 2 minutes. Although the task is the same for everyone, the handouts specify one of four different scoring systems: number of words, number of words that contain more than six letters, number of unique words not found in other people's lists, and the list that contains the longest word.

Alone and Together. This simulation game uses mini-sudoku puzzles to explore the relative advantages of teamwork and independent work. The facilitator organizes an even number of teams. During the first round, half of the teams solve a mini-sudoku puzzle working jointly as a team. The other half solves the same puzzle with each team member working individually. During the second phase, teams solve another mini-sudoku puzzle using the approach that is different from the one they used before. Each participant now decides which approach (teamwork or independent work) was more effective and more enjoyable. The facilitator conducts a debriefing discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of the two different approaches and the context in which each approach is more appropriate.

Six Chunks, Three Words. This simulation game uses word puzzles to explore how our assumptions hamper creative problem solving. Participants are given a series of six three-letter chunks (example: MAN, OBJ, SON, AGE, LES, ECT) and asked to rearrange them into words. After a suitable pause following each set of six chunks, the facilitator announces the correct solution and discusses the assumptions that prevented participants from rapidly discovering the solution. This process is repeated several times. Just when participants feel that they would avoid making further assumptions, the facilitator seems to be able to trap them into making new and dysfunctional assumptions (such as the words must be in English, they should use all the chunks, no chunk can be used more than once, or the chunks cannot be turned upside down).

Advantages and Disadvantages

Here are some advantages of embedding puzzles in simulation games:

Here are some disadvantages and possible limitations of embedding puzzles in simulation games:

Concluding Thoughts

Life, I am told, is an intriguing puzzle. If this is true, why not use puzzles to simulate different aspects of life? This is the basic concept behind simulation games with embedded puzzles. By selecting the appropriate type of puzzle to reflect selected aspects of the real world, we should be able to create a whole variety of simulation games that are brief or lengthy, simple or complex, metaphorical or authentic—but always engaging.

Textra Game

20 Puzzle Types

Here's the plot line that provides the basis structure for 20 Somethings framegame that we have been featuring in the past few issues:

  1. Each participant gets one of 20 different reading items.
  2. She reads the item, takes notes, and gets ready to share the ideas with someone else.
  3. Participants pair up and share what they have read. Partners learn new items from one another.
  4. They find new partners and share the most recent item that they learned.
  5. At the end of the interaction time, everybody receives a handout with all of the items. Participants read and master the additional items as a follow up activity.

In earlier issues, we loaded the 20 Somethings framegame with interventions for improving human performance, reasons for using learning activities, and plans for bringing about peace on earth.This month, we use the framegame to explore different types of instructional puzzles.


To solve (and use) different types of instructional puzzles.


Any number.
Best: 20-50.


20-60 minutes.





The Puzzle Types Handout Masters is a 32-page collection of 20 puzzles. Some of the puzzles occupy a single page; others occupy two pages. Print the masters out and separate each puzzle type. (For the two-page puzzles, you should probably staple the pages together.) If you have more than 20 participants, print and separate an appropriate number of extra puzzle pages.

In addition, print one complete copy of the Puzzle Types Handout Masters and one complete copy of the Solutions for each participant. Do not distribute these complete handouts until the end of the activity.


Distribute the Menu of 20 Puzzle Types. Briefly talk about the use of instructional puzzles. Explain that the Menu identifies 20 different puzzle types. Also explain that each participant will receive a one-or-two page handout with details and an example of one of the puzzle types listed in the menu.

Distribute Puzzle Types Handouts. Give a different handout to each participant. (If you have more than 20 participants, some handouts will be duplicated.)

Ask participants to get ready. Ask them to read their Puzzle Type handout. Each participant should understand the nature of the puzzle and how it is solved. Explain that it is not necessary to spend time solving the puzzle but only to figure out how the puzzle is to be solved. Ask participants to get ready to explain the structure of the puzzle and the procedure for solving it. Warn participants that they will be sharing their puzzle type with another person during the next phase of activity. When ready, ask the participant to hold the handout above their heads and walk around the room in search of another participant who is also ready.

Conduct the first exchange. Ask participants to pair up. In each pair, ask one of the participants to share the puzzle type she studied. The other participant should listen enthusiastically, ask questions, and take notes. When completed, participants change roles: The explainer becomes the listener and vice versa. Warn participants that they will be required to share their partners' puzzle with someone else during the next round. Ask participants to exchange their puzzle handouts with each other.

Conduct additional exchanges. When both participants have exchanged their puzzles, ask them to go in search of new partners. When they pair up with a new partner, ask them to repeat the process of sharing the most recent puzzle (that they received from their previous partner). When the sharing activity is completed, tell the participants to exchange their handouts and go in search of new partners and to share the latest puzzle they learned.

Conclude the activity. After a suitable period of time, stop the exchanges. Ask each participant to refer back to the menu and count the number of different puzzles they have shared. Distribute the complete collection of all 20 puzzle types (along with the solutions). Encourage participants to study this handout at a later time and get themselves ready to use a variety of puzzles in their training sessions.


Menu of 20 Puzzle Types

  1. Ampersand Puzzles: Test Results (2 pages)
  2. Chunks: The Aging Process (2 pages)
  3. Crossword Puzzles: Seriously Fun Activities (2 pages)
  4. Cryptic Clusters: 20 Mistakes Presenters Make (2 pages)
  5. Cryptograms: New Vision (2 pages)
  6. Dominoes: Training Acronyms (2 pages)
  7. Extra Letters: Advantages (2 pages)
  8. Letter Drop: Help People Learn (2 pages)
  9. List Processing: Training Media (1 page)
  10. Logic Puzzle: Conference Committee (2 pages)
  11. Matchstick Puzzle: Four More Will Give You Nine More (1 page)
  12. One Down Puzzles: Training Terms (1 page)
  13. Sandwich Words: Oxymoronic Advice (1 page)
  14. Scrambled Graphics: Training Ingredients (2 pages)
  15. Solitaire Bingo: Training Test (1 page)
  16. Teleported Sentences: Will Rogers (1 page)
  17. Trick Questions: With Answers (2 pages)
  18. Triplets: Oxymorons (2 pages)
  19. Twisted Pair Puzzles: Stolovitch (1 page)
  20. Unscrambled: Tools for Trainers (1 page)

Guest Gamer

Debbie Newman, MA, MFT, is the Chief People Person for Working Relationships, an individual/organizational consulting practice specializing in the people side of business, and the business of relationships.

With more than 30 years of experience managing people, projects and programs as an external consultant and internal corporate contributor, Debbie leverages 15 years of experience as a relationship expert and clinician to design and deliver learning programs that support the aspirations of her individual and institutional clients.

In addition to being a meticulous instructional designer and high-energy trainer and facilitator, Debbie is fast becoming an expert developer of immersive learning simulations using 3D virtual world and social networking technologies as her tools of choice.

Debbie Newman is the “real person” behind Avatar Deb Quintessa. They (Debbie and Deb) are the primary contributors to Confessions of a Professional Avatar (, a blog that chronicles the design and development of Working Relationships Training Town, a virtual world destination for trainers and educators. The grand opening of this virtual venue is planned for late February 2010 when participants from Debbie's Train-the-Trainer Boot Camp will take a field trip to participate in a new learning simulation in the non-physical virtual world known as Second Life® (SL).

Interview with Debbie Newman

TGL: How did you become interested in 3D virtual worlds for education and training?

Debbie: I have been looking for a comprehensive distance-learning platform suitable for relationship skills education (examples: customer service, conflict resolution, leadership, teaming, tolerance, and embracing differences). In my experience, most distance communication technologies, e-learning authoring tools, and computer-based learning programs, while arguably effective for the transfer of information and cognitive skill development, are woefully inadequate for soft skills training. In my view, linear cause-and-effect case studies do not get us sufficiently beyond knowledge acquisition into legitimate real-world skill building. While these programs can be engaging, I have not seen any that replicate the realism necessary for lasting change.

When I came across social-centric 3D virtual worlds (not to be confused with game-centric 3D virtual worlds) I knew I found my answer. Places like SL offer the flexibility and bandwidth I need to create multi-sensory immersive experiences in which learners, through their avatars, can virtually, and across great distances, interact with others in ways that replicate the immediacy, spontaneity, and authenticity of real life. These augmented reality platforms enable me to go far beyond the limits of formulaic branched scenario-based exercises to design learning experiences that account for the circular causality, equifinality, multifinality, entropy, regulation, and interdependence inherent in organic interpersonal systems.

I won't get into it here, but the impact of immersive virtual experiences on personal and professional development can be profound. Suffice it to say, we have learned much and have much more to learn about the neuropsychological implications of virtual reality. Personally, I find it fascinating.

TGL: Is this virtual world technology new?

Debbie: Yes and no. Virtual reality is not new. In fact, there is more than 25 years of research pointing to its efficacy for learning and more. What is new is its mainstream accessibility. Advances in computer technology put the power of virtual reality into the hands of anybody with an adequately configured computer. By the way, in case you haven't noticed, we rely on virtual tools that have become real to us every day. After all, aren't chat rooms, IMs, emails. blogs, listserves, and teleconferences virtual experiences?

TGL: Do you need to be a gamer or a programmer to be able to design learning in virtual worlds?

Debbie: Not at all. I'm neither a gamer nor a programmer. However, I am an experienced instructional designer and facilitator. While my journey into virtual worlds could have been accelerated by more technical skills; the fact is, I have still managed to learn enough to get started, and I am learning more every day. As I grow up in this medium, I contribute to and am benefited by differently-skilled others who collaborate with me to achieve some really kool things. (Did I mention it is fun, too?)

TGL: What advice do you have to newcomers about designing and delivering training in virtual worlds?

Debbie: First, hang out in a virtual world for a while. Be a consumer and a tourist. Suspend your judgment and be patient with yourself as you develop your virtual life skills and learn to interact in a non-physical environment. Be prepared to encounter a whole host of experiences in an environment with few rules and no physical boundaries. As in real life, there will be incidents that please you and others that will challenge or annoy you. All of them will offer opportunities for you to learn about yourself and others, if you are willing.

Second, become a sponge. Join with your colleagues at any of the many professional meetings and groups that gather in virtual worlds. Listen for best practices and visit educational venues to experience, first hand, some of the ways educators from business, academia, and government are using 3D virtual worlds in the service of learning. Subscribe to blogs, networking groups, and publications. Roll around in the concepts and language of what is, for all intents and purposes, a place like none you've experienced before, with a culture all its own.

Third, stick with it. There is much to be gained as you establish your virtual presence and discover the tools available, some new and others familiar, for building synchronous and asynchronous learning in virtual environments. As with any unfamiliar technology, it can be a little daunting at first. But there are many generous and knowledgeable Avatars ready and willing to show you the way.

Finally, expect to design instruction differently. Virtual worlds offer a whole dimension of possibility that is not practical in instructor-led classroom training or other technologically-mediated distance learning modalities. You are limited only by your imagination.

TGL: Do you have any book recommendations?

Debbie: Check out the Journal of Virtual Worlds. Also, by the time this interview is published, I will be poring through the pages of the enthusiastically anticipated Learning in 3D: Adding a New Dimension to Enterprise Learning and Collaboration by Karl Kapp and Tony O'Driscoll. I've peeked at the table of contents already, and can certainly recommend it now, in part, because I know one of the contributors to that book, Lesley Scopes.

My avatar met her avatar, LightSequent, at a Train for Success meeting in SL where she presented her conclusions from the extensive literature review she performed for her Masters thesis. Lesley did an excellent job summarizing the evolution from pedagogy to cybergogy. She also painstakingly streamlined Kapp & O'Driscoll's 10 Learning Archetypes (learning activities) and aligned them with the four domains of learning in 3D virtual world environments. I particularly appreciated the three real virtual world examples she offered to demonstrate how all these models and theories come together. Her summary helped me coherently snap together many elements of instructional design for 3D worlds.

TGL: What is your prediction about the future of virtual worlds and training?

Debbie: I am convinced that virtual worlds will be to training what Thiagi has (and continues to be) to gaming.

Even though I feel as if I'm a late-comer to 3D virtual worlds, I am certain I have become part of a huge paradigm shift that will literally revolutionize the way learning will be acquired in the 21st Century.

Say It Quick

Reprinted from the December 2009 issue of Firefly News Flash by permission of the author.

by Brian Remer

What makes something fun? Why aren't more things more fun for more people? And what would happen if they were? These are just a few concepts we'll explore beginning with this 99-Word story which suggests that fun can begin with one's chosen state of mind.


Jeff was definitely not an urbanite but he lived in an apartment above a busy Manhattan street. The rush of urban living—especially the noise of traffic—began to affect his sense of wellbeing. So, when a friend invited him to Martha's Vineyard, Jeff did not hesitate.

Two weeks surrounded by gulls and waves healed Jeff's spirit with lasting impact. Back in New York, he still awoke with the sound of surf in his ears—even though it was really the traffic far below his window!

Imagination plus attitude equals playful medicine for everyday coping.


Reprinted from the December 2009 issue of Firefly News Flash by permission of the author.

Brian writes: Our discovery this month is two-fold for we bring you both a person and a concept. Not long ago, a friend shared a link to The Fun Theory which I found to be a delightful concept. When I met Frank Medlar at a conference of the North American Simulation and Gaming Association, I was taken with his playful approach to learning. I knew he would have a wonderful perspective about The Fun Theory to share. Here it is followed by more of his thoughts in our Ideas column.

The Fun Theory
by Frank Medlar

Throughout history there have been times when a simple idea has created seismic change. It happened 12,000 years ago when the first wooden plow led to the development of agriculture and civilization. It happened when Darwin's simple idea that evolution worked though natural selection changed the life sciences. It is happening now with the Internet creating a world without boundaries. World-changing breakthroughs can come from simple ideas that take us beyond anything we have been able to achieve.

We need more of that now, because the challenges we face not only threaten our economic viability, they put life on Earth at risk. To meet these challenges, we will have to achieve something that has proven very hard to do: change people's behavior. Is there a simple way to change behavior for the better that we just haven't latched onto yet?

Maybe there is a way, one so simple any good parent, teacher, or athletic coach could have told us about it. Mary Poppins claimed, “In any job that must be done, there is an element of fun. Find the fun and, snap, the job's a game.”

That is the gist of The Fun Theory, “…the thought that something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people's behavior for the better.” Volkswagen of Sweden is running a contest called The Fun Theory, and they are demonstrating that Fun works.

One example: How to get people to exercise by walking up a stairway rather than taking the adjacent escalator? The simple solution: Turn the steps into piano keys. The result: People turn away from the escalator and skip, step, or dance their way up the stairs.

Recycling bottles and tossing trash can also become fun—and with much more effective results. Learn how by visiting The Fun Theory ( ) then let us know what you think (email Brian)!


Reprinted from the December 2009 issue of Firefly News Flash by permission of the author.

The Fun Cycle
by Frank Medlar

How could we miss something so simple? Perhaps because it's been drilled into us that Work and Fun are opposites. If you worked on Henry Ford's production line, laughing got you fired. It was no Fun factory.

But Work and Fun are not opposites; in fact, they go well together. Fran Kick ( ), an author, educational consultant and professional speaker based in Ohio, talks about The Fun Cycle to demonstrate that when an activity is fun, we are more likely to work at it, which results in getting good at it, which makes the activity more fun, and so on. It is a 3-part cycle.
Cycle with Good, Fun, and Work leading to each other

Fun, play, games, the stuff of childhood, are not childish after all. How different would our country be if Jefferson had written “the Pursuit of Fun” as one of our natural rights? We may get to find out. Fun can change behavior for the better. Soon we may approach challenges with the declaration, “I've got fun, and I know how to use it.” Just maybe, it will be like we discovered fire for the second time.

Frank Medlar is the President and C.T.O. (Chief Thinking Officer) of Applied Creative Thinking. Frank works with individuals and groups that want to align their strengths and make their weaknesses irrelevant. His signature program is Mind Over Information: Cognitive Strategies for Managing Information Overload.


Reprinted from the December 2009 issue of Firefly News Flash by permission of the author.

Brian writes: Visit The Fun Theory and you'll quickly see what makes something fun: the opportunity to choose whether to participate, the ability to initiate an action, an engaging invitation, a playful sense of humor, a creative interface, and a clever audio system are just a few things that come quickly to mind.

But most of us don't have the mechanical, electrical, and carpentry skills to make a musical walkway or a talking garbage can. Nor would that address the many daily opportunities for using fun to inspire and motivate. With this in mind, I asked Linda Keller, Senior Director of Learning at Envision EMI, to think about what she has done to make her training more fun. Here's her low-tech solution.

Five Senses
by Linda Keller

When I am in a training session, it can be fun to simply change my state of mind—to relax for a few minutes, get my energy up, have a laugh or feel connected with the people I work with. As a facilitator, you can tap into the power of the physical senses to change people's states of mind and the energy in the room.

Ask participants to name the 5 senses and list them for all to see: touch, hearing, smell, taste, and sight. Talk about how we use our senses to take in and respond to the world. On the one hand, they keep us safe and on the other, they can provide us with great pleasure. Allow participants three minutes to recall one thing for each of the 5 senses that they have experienced which makes them feel wonderful. (Example: The smell of bread baking.) Play music while people think.

Choose one of the senses and circle the group asking each person to share one example that is really wonderful for them. What is something you've seen? Next, what is a sound you've heard? What have you smelled? What have you tasted? What have you felt? Complete a loop for each sense.

By the end of these rounds, there will be a deep sense of pleasure and relaxation in the room. Everyone will be ready for the next item on the agenda.

Trainer Note: This same activity could be used to bring up energy. If you have been dealing with a heavy topic and need to change the channel, do the same exercise but ask people to identify something that delights or energizes them. (Example: The sound of the cards being shuffled before a poker game.)

Brian writes: Linda's activity is good for more than the training room. Try it at a meeting, at a dinner party, or on a long drive with restless youngsters. Make a note of what happens and be sure to tell us the result (email Brian)!

Zurich Workshops

Two Workshops in Switzerland

Van den Bergh Thiagi Associates are happy to offer their annual workshops in Winterthur, Switzerland (near Zurich).

Workshop 1: Interactive Training Strategies

June 7-9, 2010 (three days)

This workshop is designed for trainers, instructional designers, facilitators, managers, and performance consultants. The workshop helps a wide range of practitioners, from newcomers to experienced specialists, to master skills and concepts related to different types of training games, simulations, and learning exercises.

This workshop practices what it preaches. Participants learn new principles and procedures and apply them to creating and conducting different types of learning activities that meet their training objectives, audiences, and needs.

Workshop 2: Evidence-Based Positive Psychology Activities

June 10-11, 2010 (two days)

This workshop is designed for trainers who want to incorporate innovative concepts and approaches from positive psychology and for people who want to improve the quality of their personal and professional life.

In this workshop, Thiagi offers two dozen proven and powerful activities from positive psychology and supports them with a conceptual framework. You learn how to measure, increase, and sustain your happiness. You also learn how to help other people to be more positive and improve their health and productivity. This is not an inspirational touchy-feely seminar but a workshop that incorporates evidence-based facts, concepts, and techniques.

See the brochure (1.3meg PDF) for more information.

Chicago Workshop

Workshop on Training Games Scheduled for July 2010 in Chicago
by Tracy Tagliati

Thank you to all of you who have already asked to be on the list for our upcoming workshop Interactive Techniques for Instructor-Led Training.

We are happy to announce the workshop will be held at the Marriott Chicago Downtown, July 26-28 2010. The day after the 3-day workshop (July 29, 2010) is reserved for the optional certification program.

Check our brochure (298k PDF) and online registration area. Feel free to contact me at for more information.

Single Topic Survey

Who Are You?
by Tracy Tagliati

Who are you?

First, think about what you do for a living.

Now, QUICK, finish this sentence: “I am a ________.”

What's the first thing that popped into your mind?

Poll Question

Was it a:


(The poll opens in a new window.)

Open Question

Considering your job, how do you use games and activities in your field of work?


(The survey opens in a new window.)

Send us your thoughts and ideas. You may choose to include your name along with your response, or if you prefer, keep it anonymous.

We recently asked this question at a conference where participants had a wide variety of job titles. Here are some of their responses.

Davide (High school teacher): “Playing an educational game doesn't ‘feel’ like learning in the sense that ‘you have to sit here and fill in worksheets until you know this.’ I use a variety of games because they are motivating, challenging, and engaging. These qualities help sustain the learning effort.”

Brittany (Italian language instructor): “As a foreign language instructor I appreciate many of the benefits of using games in my classroom. Most notably, I recognize that learning a language is hard work. I use games to provide language practice in the four skills: speaking, writing, listening, and reading, and to help me to create contexts in which the language is useful and meaningful. My favorite game is ‘Last One Standing’. The instructions are simple. Simply, give the class a topic (e.g. food, clothes, animals, items in a kitchen) and ask them to stand up, in a circle if possible. Clap out a beat and say, one, two, three, followed by a topic-related word. After the next three beats, the next student in the circle gives a word related to the topic, and so it continues. Anyone who can't think of a word or repeats a word already said has to sit down and it's the next person's turn. The winner is the last one standing.”

Kevin (E-learning instructional designer): “I use a computer games-based approach to do everything including delivering, supporting, and enhance teaching, learning, assessment, and evaluation. I find that inserting a computer game helps to induce conditions within players that motivate them to continue the course. I have used simulation games modeled after SimCity in different industries including management and administration and business.”

Survey Results

New Year's Resolution
by Tracy Tagliati

Last month we asked you in a poll question if you thought it was a good idea to make a New Year's resolution. Here's what you had to say.

No: 21% Yes: 79%
(Percentages reflect votes received by January 29, 2010.)

We also asked you for your resolutions and suggestions. Here is what some of you had to say.

Response 29) Try something new. Build a new skill. Overcome an obstacle that's within your control.

Response 27) Reflect on these questions to become a better instructional designer: What business results did I impact last year? What did I do to make an impact? What business results do we need to impact this year? What more do I need to know about these business results that the company needs so I can adjust training methods to address them?

Response 16) Resolution: Focus more on performance and less on training.

Suggestions: Become a trusted advisor to your (internal or external) customers by using your performance consulting skills. Start with a list of basic questions and add/delete questions based on listening carefully to the customer. Then, synthesize what you learn with your professional expertise and seek consensus at each step in your process. That's a bunch of buzzwords, I know, but I believe a deliberate focus on these things will make a difference for our customers. (Cathy Tencza)

Response 10) Treat each class, even if you have taught it MANY times, as a new experience. Be open-minded to new experiences within established curriculum to connect with learners and help them create their own learning experiences (not re-create experiences of others).

See more of the reader's responses or add your own.

Thank you for your responses.

Thiagi Podcasts

Training Intelligence Episode 2: Debriefing

As we announced last issue, Thiagi Group President Matthew Richter is doing two series of podcasts with us.

In our Training Intelligence series, we just uploaded a new episode in which Thiagi and Matt talk about Thiagi's six-step debriefing process. See our podcast page for details.

Within the next week, our Business Intelligence podcast will have an interview with Guy Wallace. Guy is a performance consultant, good friend, and long-time member of ISPI. Check our podcast page for details.

Within the next few days you'll be able to subscribe to both of our podcasts via iTunes. Search for “thiagi” in the iTunes podcast directory.

Check It Out

Puzzle Playground

Warning: You will probably spend a lot of time at this website. Good news: You won't be wasting your time. You'll be exercising your brain cells and improving your mental health.

This website is organized into four fascinating sections:

Manipulative puzzles. These puzzles involve props like coins, matches, and cards. You can use these simple supplies to challenge yourself and your friends.

Non-manipulative puzzles. These challenges and brainteasers stimulate your visual perception and improve your mathematical and logical skills.

Illusions, tricks, and toys. Clever and funny illusions, toys, and tricks that are simple enough to prepare for your family and friends.

Interactive Puzzles. Intriguing puzzles that you can solve directly online. Puzzles in this section involve coins, matchsticks, shapes, matching cards, checker boards, visual challenges, numbers, words, and weights. But you don't have to gather these supplies because they appear virtually on your computer screen. You can easily drag, flip, and move them with your mouse.

Wait, There's More

You can download PDF versions of several puzzles (and several collections) and print them out.

The site contains an index with links to individual puzzles. It also contains links to several other online puzzles.

A final warning: is different from . We are describing the latter website (with the plural noun).