You know Jenga, the game where you build a tower out of wooden blocks and then try to remove one block at a time until the whole tower collapses. The word means “build” in Swahili, as I learnt last year from this article featuring the inventor Leslie Scott and Alan Hassenfeld from Hasbro. I assumed that Leslie was male, from the spelling, but she’s a woman. The game, and the word, come pretty close to Universal Knowledge in my view.
We use the word in a more general way, not just to describe the board game. We talk of “Fridge Jenga” and “Cupboard Jenga” especially for those times of the year when fridges and cupboards get filled and rearranged to such an extent that squeezing in one last one pot of double cream, for example, or one more packet of pasta, is a real challenge. And when you open the fridge door, and that pot of double cream falls and squirts all over the floor: Jenga! I’m not quite sure who wins in a game like this but I’ve certainly lost a few games and spent some time mopping up the floor after an unsuccessful game of Fridge Jenga.
We have been playing two different versions of the board game this winter. A local pub, which has become very child-friendly over the last year or so, has a Games Room with, among other things. Giant Jenga. This works very well. The blocks are made of wood, and about double the width, height and depth of the classic version, but they seem to weigh about the same. Either they’ve been hollowed out or they use a different type of wood. If made the same way as the classic version, with the same material, they should (if I’ve got the maths and physics right) weigh eight times as much.
My son was given a version with plastic, rather than wooden, blocks. It doesn’t work so well for us. We don’t recommend it.