A Game of Fourfolds, Part 5

In this fifth installment of our ongoing series, I propose that a game could be played by making a set of equally sized and shaped triangular tiles with simple words or phrases on them. The triangles are all isosceles right triangles, also called monoboloes, so that two of them joined along their long edge would be a square, and four of them joined at their right angles would be a larger square. Figures of two tiles joined along any edge of equal length are called diaboloes, three are called triaboloes, four are called tetraboloes, and in general the figures are called polyboloes (or also polytans, after the Chinese tangram puzzle).

The words or short phrases on the monoboloes would need to be chosen judiciously so that each word has a matching opposite. (A list of such pairs of opposites or duals can be found at my previous fourfold game post.) This is so that a square diabolo could be formed from opposites, and a square tetrabolo could be formed that makes some conceptual sense. In fact, the game play would require that tiles should only be played and joined if there was a rational or explainable reason for their combination.

For example, “Water” and “Fire” could be aligned along their long edge as well as a short edge, whereas “Earth” and “Below”, not being opposites, could only be aligned along a short edge. Opposites could also be aligned “corner” to “corner” (where corner is the 90 degree angle), if there is a supporting tile between them.

During game play, the players alternate playing tiles from their hand onto the table, or pick tiles up from the table and place them back in different positions. Obviously the rules of play would need to be specified in more detail, as well as a method for scoring so that a player could “win”. Or, as a game of solitaire, perhaps winning is just maximizing the number of tiles played onto the table, or the illumination of concepts brought about by the play.

I might also consider that the flip-side of a monobolo is the same word but perhaps having white letters on a black background or colored differently to distinguish it from the “front”. And would the flip-sides all be of the same color? As I have shown various fourfolds on this blog, I have tried to orient them in a common conceptual “direction”, although that is often not clear to me or agreed upon by others of similar temperament. Perhaps they could be the same color if they metaphorically point this same way.

Also, by design and by construction, the monoboloes could be considered “Words”, diaboloes could be considered “Thoughts”, triaboloes could be considered “Actions”, and tetraboloes could be considered “Things”. This would be more in line with the hierarchy given by Richard McKeon’s 1972 lectures on Aristotle’s “Topics”. Words, thoughts, actions, and things are called “commonplaces” by McKeon, or a “place within which inquiry about meanings that are about things that are covered by that meaning can take place”.

The association of these tiles with tangrams is an interesting one. The standard tangram set consists of two small tans (unitans?), three bitans (square, midtan?, and paratan?), and two tetratans that form larger tans (bigtans?). I wonder if there is a standard nomenclature for these pieces, because mine seems rather silly.

I used to have a tangram set when I was a child and even still have an old Dover book by Ronald C. Reed “Tangrams: 330 puzzles”. It’s nice to see that it’s still available on Amazon. Of course the arrangement of the pieces in tangrams is much more flexible than what I’m proposing here for my game so really they are very little alike.

Further Reading:




Richard McKeon / Disciplines, Arts, and Faculties: Invention and Justification: Topics, Lectures given at University of Chicago 1972. (Taped, Transcribed and Edited by Patrick F. Crosby, by private communication)


Possible names for tile combinations:

  • Unit, Solitary, Unitary, Simple, Singular, Singleton
  • Binary, Duplex, Dual, Twofold, Bipartite
  • Triple, Threefold, Ternary, Trinity, Tripartite
  • Quaternary, Quadruple, Tetrad, Fourfold, Quadripartite




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