14 Crazy Chess Boards and Variations

The game of chess has been around in its current form for hundreds of years. It takes a minute to learn and a lifetime to master, but it's not much of a spectator sport. Still, chess is so fascinating that considerable imagination has gone into making it more accessible and exciting for players, students, and spectators.

Wu Chess is a social networking site that marries hip-hop culture with chess. Founded by Chesspark and RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan, members can learn from masters, play each other online, form chess clans, and discuss common interests. Chess Boxing combines the cerebral with the physical. Participants play 4 minute rounds of chess alternating with 3 minute rounds of boxing. It shows that boxers can be smart and chess players aren't weinies. Roller Coaster Chess isn't about winning the game; it's about managing to play at all (and get the photograph) on a roller coaster!


To make playing the game more challenging without involving bodily risk, try 3-way Chess. You'll need three people to play, and there are places on the board that give you a choice of moves, but the rules are basically the same as regular chess. Other chess variants include 3d chess (which honestly has no limit) and Moebius chess (see a picture here). Or you can speed things up by playing blitz chess in a hurry.

The easiest way to make chess more interesting is to get a different chess set to play normal chess with. Continue reading for some of the oddest sets available.


Light can make a chess set beautiful. Illuminated Onyx chess tables are table tops made from translucent stone. They appear as a regular table when unlit. The chessboard square only appear when the light is on! Available in several shades of natural translucent onyx.


Daan Van Tulder designed this lighted chess set made of PMMA acrylic glass. LEDS in the board provide light, and the pieces are distinguished by transparent vs. frosted.


The Alice Chess Set by Yasmin Sethi was inspired by the story of Alice Through the Looking Glass. The pieces all have the same mirror finish, but when they touch the chess board, the cover becomes transparent and the type of piece can be seen.

The Chessboard is made out of LightPoints a material manufactured by Schott, which is glass that has LED's embedded in it; the pieces are coated with Mirona, a Material that turns transparent when light shines through it. When the piece is placed on the board it completes the circuit and lights up the LED under it turning it transparent, like magic.


MegaChess has traditional chess sets in a variety of materials and sizes (all large). The pieces range from 11 inches up to 12 foot inflatables. They also offer topiary frames so you can grow your potted shrubs into chess pieces!


Here's a chess set that looks good enough to eat -and you can! Designer Biggles made cookie cutters in the shapes of various chess pieces. When you take your opponent's pieces, they could be gone forever.


Drinking chess works along the same lines. Combining chess and a drinking game, you could either take a drink for a successful capture, or force your opponent to take a drink when losing a man. Which method you use would depend on whether you are wagering money on the outcome. You see these for sale all over near Christmas.


Alternately designed chess pieces range from the whimsical to the truly tasteless. A subclass of chess sets are designed to resemble real people. Civil War sets often feature Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis as kings, with famous generals in other roles and foot soldiers in blue and gray as pawns.


As another example of chess pieces designed to resemble real people, this set was created by Norma Jean Almodovar to illustrate the strategy in the OJ Simpson trial. Even the pawns are each modeled after a real participant! The trouble in playing with such a set is that you'd have to know who each piece represents and whether they were on the prosecution or the defense team.


The Iraqi Quagmire chess set is another modeled after real people, although not a playable set due to the shape of the board. Hermann Mejía designed it for Mad Magazine.


You can make a chess set out of just about anything, as long as you can identify the role of the pieces. Here's a set made of different sizes of magnifying loupes, designed by Chris Dimino. I found another hand made from nuts and bolts.

Chess set variations can be taken to ridiculous extremes. Crack Pipe Chess combines the idea of making chess pieces out of anything plus the idea of drinking chess taken to another level. It's from SkyMaul, a parody of the SkyMall catalog we all know and love. There is no limit to chess variations, but they all still take a minute to learn and a lifetime to master.

"American Mall," Bloomberg
Unwinnable Video Game Challenges You to Keep a Shopping Mall in Business
"American Mall," Bloomberg
"American Mall," Bloomberg

Shopping malls, once the cultural hub of every suburb in America, have become a punchline in the e-commerce era. There are plenty of malls around today, but they tend to be money pits, considering the hundreds of "dead malls" haunting the landscape. Just how hard is it to keep a mall afloat in the current economy? American Mall, a new video game from Bloomberg, attempts to give an answer.

After choosing which tycoon character you want as your stand-in, you're thrown into a mall—rendered in 1980s-style graphics—already struggling to stay in business. The building is filled with rats and garbage you have to clean up if you want to keep shoppers happy. Every few seconds you're contacted by another store owner begging you to lower their rent, and you must either take the loss or risk them packing up for good. When stores are vacated, it's your job to fill them, but it turns out there aren't too many businesses interested in setting up shop in a dying mall.

You can try gimmicks like food trucks and indoor playgrounds to keep customers interested, but in the end your mall will bleed too much money to support itself. You can try playing the bleak game for yourself here—maybe it will put some of the retail casualties of the last decade into perspective.

[h/t Co.Design]

Live Smarter
Why the Soundtracks to Games Like 'Mario' or 'The Sims' Can Help You Work

When I sat down to write this article, I was feeling a little distracted. My desk salad was calling me. I had new emails in my inbox to read. I had three different articles on my to-do list, and I couldn't decide which to start first. And then, I jumped over to Spotify and hit play on the theme to The Sims. As I listened to the upbeat, fast-paced, wordless music, my writing became faster and more fluid. I felt more “in the zone,” so to speak, than I had all morning. There's a perfectly good explanation: Video games provide the ideal productivity soundtrack. At Popular Science, Sara Chodosh explains why video game music can get you motivated and keep you focused while you work, especially if you're doing relatively menial tasks. It's baked into their composition.

There are several reasons to choose video game music over your favorite pop album. For one, they tend not to have lyrics. A 2012 study of more than 100 people found that playing background music with lyrics tended to distract participants while studying. The research suggested that lyric-less music would be more conducive to attention and performance in the workplace. Another study conducted in open-plan offices in Finland found that people were better at proofreading if there was some kind of continuous, speechless noise going on in the background. Video game music would fit that bill.

Plus, video game music is specifically made not to distract from the task at hand. The songs are meant to be listened to over and over again, fading into the background as you navigate Mario through the Mushroom Kingdom or help Link save Zelda. My friend Josie Brechner, a composer who has scored the music for video games like the recently released Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King, says that game music is definitely written with this in mind.

"Basically, successful video game music straddles the balance between being engaging and exciting, but also not wanting to make you tear your ears off after the 10th or 100th listen," Brechner says. Game music often has a lot of repetition, along with variation on musical themes, to keep the player engaged but still focused on what they're playing, "and that translates well to doing other work that requires focus and concentration."

If you're a particularly high-strung worker, you might want to tune into some relaxing classical music or turn on a song specifically designed to calm you. But if you want to finish those expense reports on a Monday morning, you're better off choosing a fast-tempo ditty designed for seemingly pointless activities like making your Sims eat and go to the toilet regularly. (It can help you with more exciting work responsibilities, too: Other research has found that moderate background noise can increase performance on creative tasks.)

These types of songs work so well that there are entire playlists online devoted just to songs from video game soundtracks that work well for studying. One, for instance, includes songs written for The Legend of Zelda, Skyrim, Super Smash Bros., and other popular games.

The effect of certain theme songs on your productivity may, however, depend on your particular preferences. A 2010 study of elementary school students found that while calming music could improve performance on math and memory tests, music perceived as aggressive or unpleasant distracted them. I was distracted by the deep-voiced chanting of the "Dragonborn Theme" from Skyrim, but felt charged up by the theme from Street Fighter II. There's plenty of variety in video game scores—after all, a battle scene doesn't call for the same type of music as a puzzle game. Not all of them are going to work for you, but by their nature, you probably don't need a lot of variation in your work music if you're using video game soundtracks. If you can play a game for days on end, you can surely listen to the same game soundtrack over and over again.

[h/t Popular Science]


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