At the end of 2013 Sonya Hallett and I invented a game. We’re calling it Magnet Mushroom, and you can play it too if you have an iron or steel tray, a bunch of magnets and some small pieces made of iron or steel. We used a baking tray, a pack of polished magnetite from a museum shop and the leftover metal bits from some Ikea bookshelves.
Here are the rules:
- Each player gets an equal set of magnets and metal bits.
- Take turns to place a magnet, with as many bits of metal as you like, on the tray, or on something which is already on the tray.
- If any magnet touches the tray during your turn, you lose. The last player to place a piece wins.
- At the end of a round, collect back all your pieces.
- The winner starts the next round.
The most basic move is a simple mushroom: a magnet stood on an upright metal piece. Because the metal becomes instantly magnetised, the magnet sits on it quite stably, however unlikely the configuration might look.
In fact, it is possible to make a mushroom two or three pieces tall and only moderately unstable. You can also support a magnet on two or three pieces, making it more stable, or attach more metal to the top or sides for added interest.
The challenge of the game comes mainly from the fact that every magnet is attracted or repelled by every other magnet – if you place one mushroom too close another, those forces will pull them down in an instant. There is a surprising amount of strategy involved in leaving the board in a stable enough configuration not to fall down, but unstable enough to make things difficult for the next player. Much of the fun of the game also comes from the creation of beautiful and wildly improbable-looking structures.
The simplest version of the game uses similar magnets and identical metal pieces, but if you want to mix things up a bit – or you run out of the pieces you started with – you can open it up by using more different pieces. Experiment with it! Let me know what you come up with.