Jenga, the family favorite game that made its game night debut in the 1980s is fun for all ages. It involves carefully removing and stacking blocks while avoiding inevitable structural collapse, testing the fine motor and engineering skills of players to the extreme.
Yard Jenga is fun for kids and adults alike and makes a great party activity. Instead of buying expensive versions you find online or in stores, try making one yourself. It is cheap, easy, and will provide tons of outdoor entertainment for a long time to come.
Although the traditional tabletop version of Jenga is tons of fun, playing a giant version of it outdoors brings the game to a whole new level.
What Is Jenga?
Traditional Jenga is a game made up of 54 small rectangular blocks.
A tower is initially made by layering rows of 3 blocks each, alternating the row direction by 90 degrees with each new row that is added.
Once the initial tower is completed, the game can begin.
Players take turns to try to remove a block from the body of the tower and place it on the top of the tower.
The aim of the game is to remove and replace the pieces without the tower collapsing.
The person who causes the tower to collapse losses the game.
Where Does Jenga Come From?
Jenga was invented by Leslie Scott, who was born and grew up in East Africa according to Mental Floss.
In fact, the word Jenga is a Swahili word that means “to build”.
Scott and her family used some toy building blocks, and later on bought some uniform wooden blocks from a local carpenter and played it as a family game while growing up.
Later on she moved to England, entertaining even more family and friends that insisted that they play the game.
Scott, who worked at Intel at them time, developed a commercial version of the game and eventually sold distribution rights to Hasbro Games.
DIY Outdoor Jenga Pieces
There are several versions of Jenga out there, ranging in all sizes and colors, with some even sporting Hello Kitty and other favorite cartoon characters.
If you aren’t satisfied with the store selection, or want to making something a bit more epic, a little creativity can go a long way in making a one-of-a-kind Jenga set.
To make your own Jenga set, first choose the materials.
Jenga blocks or pieces can be made from:
- Wood blocks
- Cardboard boxes
- Pool Noodles
- PVC Pipes
As long as you can come up with enough nearly identical pieces that can be broken up into groups of 3 and be stacked into a tower, you can make a Jenga game.
Don’t worry if pieces are exactly identical.
In fact, in the commercial version of Jenga, some pieces weigh more or less than others and are not completely uniform.
Jenga pieces can range in shape from squares to long and skinny rectangles.
As long as all pieces are the same shape, it doesn’t matter exactly what that shape is.
When Working With Wood
If you choose to make your own Jenga game out of wood, there are a few things to consider:
- Height of the initial tower- Wood can be heavy, especially when stacked high into a tower. If you want to make a tower whose pieces have the potential to fall on top of a player’s head, it is recommended to go with a different material.
- Choosing the Wood- As with any other wood project, make sure that the wood you are using is free from cracking and has a relatively straight grain. Some good woods include pine, cedar, redwood, and maple.
- Sanding the Wood- Make sure that once the blocks are cut, that each piece gets sanded. By sanding the blocks, it will make their surface smoother and easier to slide, and cut down the risk of splinters.
- To Paint or Not to Paint- If you choose to paint your pieces, be sure to avoid paints such as latex that might cause the pieces to stick to each other.
Cardboard boxes are a great choice when making a large version of Jenga.
They are light, so if they fall down they won’t knock someone out for the remainder of the game.
Since cardboard boxes come in many different shapes and sizes, you can find some that can suit your Jenga needs.
Look around your local grocery store and see what different sized packages you can find.
Some items you may find that have ideal box shape include:
- Boxes that are used for aluminum foil and plastic wrap
- Boxes of canned soda or juice packets
- Spaghetti boxes
- Cereal boxes
- and more!
If you are looking for larger boxes, try asking around your local hardware store for discarded boxes.
There are also many online retailers that offer packing boxes in different dimensions.
*To make the game more fun, you can add sand or other forms of weight to random boxes for a more challenging element in the game.
Pool noodles are a great option for Jenga pieces.
Although they are not rectangular like traditional pieces, they can still create a stable tower.
You can use them whole, or you can cut them into smaller sizes to create your pieces.
There are a couple of awesome things about using pool noodles compared to other materials:
- You can play Janga in a pool
- They are light enough that they don’t hurt if some fall on your head.
- They are also easier to transport since they are lighter
- They come in several different colors, so no paint is necessary to create a colorful Jenga set
- Pool noodles are cheap and can be found in the swimming section of most stores
PVC pipes are also a great material to make into Jenga sets.
Although they are heavier than pool noodles, they last longer and are more weather resistant than wood, boxes, or pool noodles.
You can buy long PVC pipes and have them cut into the size of pieces that you want.
PVC pipes come in a variety of widths, most commonly between 1/2″ to 2″ wide.
PVC can be painted, but just like the wood, make sure to avoid paint that will cause the pieces to stick to each other.
Fun Variations of Jenga
The nice thing about making your own Jenga game is how you can customize it and create your own version of Jenga.
Here are some fun variations that you can play with your own Jenga set:
Use a variety of colors for your Janga pieces, then assign each color a point value.
For each piece successfully placed on top of the tower, the player gets that many points.
When a piece falls off, subtract the point value.
The person with the most points at the end wins.
On each of the Jenga pieces, label a different action or stunt.
When a person moves a piece, they have to do whatever is written on the Jenga block.
For example, if a piece says to do five jumping jacks or act like a certain animal, the person drawing it has to complete that action.
On each of the pieces, write down a question with a number that corresponds to a answer card.
Place answer cards face down, as you would for a game of memory.
When a piece is taken and placed, the player has to answer the question which is checked by other players reading the answer card.
On each piece write down a number.
That number will represent a certain quantity of candy, cereal, or marshmallows.
When a player moves a Jenga piece, they get the candy.
For each piece that they cause to fall down, they loose the quantity of candy on each fallen piece.
The winner is the one with the most candy who doesn’t make the tower fall down.
Jenga, the Game for All Ages
With a little creativity, the sky’s the limit for the different types of family fun you can have with simple building blocks.
Together, come up with a version that will challenge and amuse everyone.
Make a version where Uncle Kevin has to squawk like a sea sick seagull, or a kid has to balance a banana on their nose.
Enjoy hours of fun, and memories that will last a lifetime.