Snake Oil

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Hey, buyer, buyer...I've got exactly what you need right here. Master the art of the pitch, and try your best to sell whatever snake oil solution you have been able to create from the items in your hand to meet the needs of the current buyer. This light-hearted game requires a depth of creativity well beyond the simplicity of the rules. To be successful, players have to engage in synthesis; they have to evaluate their hand of cards naming items, and find two to combine to create a brand new product to meet a need of a character named on a card the active player draws. The active player will listen to the pitches and select one product that best meets his or her needs.
This type of synthesis is actually quite a complicated process. Popular culture often makes fun of synthesis, but think back that some person did have to combine peanut butter and chocolate for the first time. Either that person engaged in high level thinking that could abstractly imagine the distinct properties of two distinct objects and then hypothetically combine them into a new compounded single object, or maybe two people just bumped into each other on the street and made a random discovery.
These iconic ads work because we all understand that on a deep level, synthesis is difficult. That is the reason why Snake Oil, a game with very simple rules, has a recommended age of 13 and up. While some younger players will do okay with the concept, Piaget's Theory of Cognitive Development holds that the developmental processes necessary for synthesis to take place in the mind typically do not appear until the concrete operational stage. Children tend to enter this stage somewhere around age 10. Children in this stage of development are also learning for the first time to think in the hypothetical, a requirement for thinking about the outcome of combining two otherwise distinct objects that are named on cards and not present for physical evaluation and manipulation.
This game works beautifully in an educational setting. It requires complex thinking, demands creativity, and can be extended easily to succeed in a variety of instructional situations. Out of the Box Publishing offers a few examples of how the game can be used in a classroom setting. This game could also be used as a writing prompt, a drama class warmup, or even a way to develop some interesting dialogue in a language class.