You've seen this smile before, but where?
Soozy Wellborn, 24, skips into an uneasy circle grownups behind the Harper's Choice Middle School in Columbia, smiling this smile, a gee-whiz supernova. (Bert Parks? Glinda, the Good Witch of the North?)
"Hey, how 'bout British Bulldog One-Two-Three? Anybody know that one?" she asks, her voice aching with joy on this sun-drenched morning.
Nobody does, of course, or they wouldn't have paid up to $50 a head to spend the weekend in a New Games Foundation workshop, learning from Soozy and two other trainers how to put cooperation ahead of competition in scores of games with names such as Hug Tag, People to People and Dum Da Da.
Or British Bulldog: Soozy, whose nametag on her blue velour shirt has pupils drawn in the O's to make them look like eyes, divides the crowd into two lines.
"The idea is to get to the other side without getting caught by the bulldog!" she exclaims, smiling even wider to explain just how that happens. "The bulldog catches them by picking them up and hugging them - ever so caringly - and saying 'British Bulldog one-two-three!" (Miss America? A blissed-out Moonie trying to sell you a carnation in an airport?)
The bulldog's victims become bulldogs themselves, and soon everyone's a bulldog, none having made much effort to break the bulldog's tackles, the general feeling being that trying hard is for spoilsports. Besides, if everybody wins, why bother?
"Perhaps some of you would like to play a quiet game now," Soozy says. The smile, you realize, is the standard adult establishment brand that tells you what a good time you're having, whether you're having it or not, kids.
Born of the San Francisco antiwar movement in the mid-1960s, new games have since prospered in the establishment, with about 100 workshops scheduled this year. The 40-odd participants here are educators, youth workers, park department staffers, a number of them coming at the behest of their employers.
"It's never been a counterculture phenoenon," says Stewart Brand, editor of the Whole Earth Catalog, and organizer of the seminal New Games tournament in the Bay Area in 1973. "Parks and schools are the ones who've kept it going."
The point - or the "overt agendas" as Brand puts it - is "to try to restore permission to the adult world to play games in a way they weren't used to playing them since they were kids. People say they're non-competitive, but that gets tiresome. There's a lot of bodily contact - and they're a nice way to meet people."
As in the game of Hug Tag
"You vould like to play gehm of Hug Tag, yes?" says trainer Tom Zink, lapsing into a comic German accept which proves to everyone that he's not bossing them around.
Hug Tag is like plain old tag, except that you can put yourself off-limits to the tagger by hugging a fellow player.
Hug: Despite the efforts of the gestalt-encounter-awareness-etcetera generation to turn the hug into a sacrament, Americans cling to their primitive reluctance to embrace strangers, at least in public.
So Zink dashes around in his overalls, hugging people and squealing with fear as the taggers approach.
"The cooperative business can get out of hand," admits Bernie DeKoven, one of the fathers of the New Games Foundation. But then: "One of the concepts we play with a lot in these games is a sense of community. The world is constantly changing and play teaches you how to change and adopt to it. One of the changes is that the media tell us we are all one community. In 1976 I was a New Games tournament with a quarter of a million people, and it was an incredible sense of warmth."
Whatever your worries about being close, Today's Plan will give you a chance to voice them. After Play Session, (written with a smiling face drawn next to it) Feelings Process and Group Expression are scheduled. Trainees head inside to the gym.
Trina Merriman, who simultaneously sports the big smile and a frown of concern whose furrows you could hid dimes in, announces: "Put yourselves into a personal space. Look at what you felt in the feeling mode today - now, what kind of language is that, huh?- and lie down. Then we'll all share."
After the signal to return from personal space, the crowd offers up descriptions which the trainers scribble on a poster, big, small, sideways, as if a whole class of children were writing them: Nervous in the beginning, sore tommorrow, togetherness, free (written by Soozy as freeee), tired, exillerated (Soozy spelling), young, old and so on.
The trainers break the crowd into groups.
"I felt awkard with the touching," says Judy Hooper, a Girl Scout official from Rockville.
"My kids wouldn't do that stuff," says Diane Straub, a physical Education teacher at Montgomery County's Eastern Junior High School.
"I think the younger ones might," says John Jeter, from the Maryland Parks and Planning Commission.
And all agree the games will be useful in their work.
"The focus is on fun," Tom Zink says, over his Triscuit and cheese lunch. "There's no skill involved in these games, so there's no anxiety number."
But what is fun?
"Fun is an emotional experience which is intrinsically motivating."
But so is fear, it is argued.
Zink seems to take no relish in debating the point, moving on to the point that the games "are an alternative for people like me who didn't get to play, growing up, because they weren't good enough."
"My husband," says Soozy, "doesn't understand that. I won't play British Bulldog with him because he always wants to be the last person to get tagged. So I won't let him play."
Says Trini Merriman: "You can only get so good at Hug Tag, face it. The challenge is to explore the most playful, nurturing experience you can get."
"I'm really good at Hug Tag,"says Soozy. "But I go about it to get hugged." And she smiles that smile again, as if her ambition is to turn the world into a cartoon, all the corners rounded and doughy, the air full of exclamation points.
If it's hard to differentiate New Games from old ones such as Red Rover, Blind Man's Buff, Ring Around the Rosie, or Giant Steps, it may be no accident.
Says Brian Sutton-Smith, professor of psychology and folklore at the University of Pennsylvania, "Very small children play games of cooperation, because you have to master them before you go on to competition. The reason New Games have come along for adults is, for one, feminine liberation. Women have always been more concerned with cooperation, because they're concerned more with kids. Also, as people have moved out of the family and the parochial network of friends we get alienation, and respond with the games that bring us together. Don't forget, too, that children don't learn how to play the way they used to, when they spend 30 hours a week watching television."
The problem is that Dho-Dho-Dho or Tweezli-Whop can get pretty boring, just like Red Rover.
So maybe the New Games will have most impact in conventional sports: "I know of a New Jersey soccer league where in the fall, everybody gets to play half the game and in the spring they play the conventional way," says Sutton-Smith. "In Little League, you see people insisting that all the kids get a turn."
Hugging, of course, is optional.