The International Information Center for Structural Engineers

Tuesday, 21 January 2014 12:36cat

5 Things Jenga Can Teach People About Structural Engineering

Written by
Jenga Tower Jenga Tower egar2 (flickr 2008)

Jenga is a game that debuted in 1983 that has players stack 54 rectangular pieces each cut to slightly different dimensions in perpendicular rows to form a tower.  During each person’s turn, he or she must pull one block from the tower and place it on top of the structure.  The game ends when the tower falls over, and the winner is the person who was the last to successfully place their block on top of the structure.  Jenga means “build” in Swahili, and it is currently the third most popular game in the world in terms of units sold each year.  Despite being a simple game intended for ages 6 and up, HowStuffWorks shows how Jenga can actually teach players about structural engineering.

The article starts by talking about loading and how players are indirectly trying to find the load path of the tower.  Players try to find the loosest and easiest block to pull out of the structure on each turn.  The blocks that are hard to move are analogous to load bearing walls, and removing them could be disastrous for the tower.  The article moves on to relating picking the surface on which to play Jenga to choosing the foundation of a building.  Players must find a surface that is both hard to move (many Jenga games end when someone accidently bumps into the table that is supporting the game) and smooth enough to hold the blocks without compressing (it is very hard to play on carpet).  This teaches players that the purpose of a building’s foundation is to transfer loads to the earth around it and also anchors the structure to the ground. 

Although its not able to be seen by the naked eye during a game, pieces above a row of two block with middle block missing are undergoing tension and compression at the same time.  This is an important concept in structural engineering that plays a key role in material selection.  Similarly, the game also demonstrates how moments caused by a narrow base can overturn the structure.  Finally, Jenga towers usually end up failing because they have a top-heavy load distribution.  In structural engineering terms, they will have a long natural period of vibration.  Bumbing into the table and shaky hands placing blocks higher and higher above the floor means the structure will begin to sway more and more and eventually topple over.  For the complete set of game instructions, please click here.

Sources: HowStuffWorksWikipedia

Read 1351 times

The News Center is being funded by our Annual Corporate Sponsors " (learn more):