Tom Mahany wanted to challenge his Scouts to learn and identify essential Scouting knots.

So the assistant Scoutmaster of Troop 165, part of the Coastal Georgia Council, invented a brilliant solution. It’s called the Knot Recognition Game.

Mahany’s invention is equal parts work of art and practical teaching tool.

He started with six broomstick handles lashed together into a pyramid. Then he added a maze of knots and lashings — affixing a number to each. At troop meetings and Scout outings, Mahany gives each Scout a scoresheet and asks them to match the knot’s name to its corresponding number.

It was an instant hit — so popular, in fact, that the adult leaders started participating too.

When Mahany brings his Knot Recognition Game to summer camp or a district camporee, volunteers from other troops take notice.

“I have had many leaders ask me where I got the idea or where they can get or make one,” Mahany tells me. “Some suggested I send my idea to Scouting magazine to be shared.”

And we’re glad you did! Find complete instructions below.

Why he did it

Mahany’s motivation for this project? Wood Badge.

To complete Wood Badge, the BSA’s premiere training course for adult leaders, volunteers must complete a series of five service projects. Together these projects form the “Wood Badge ticket.”

Each ticket item should benefit Scouting in some way, and Mahany’s Knot Recognition Game certainly qualifies. It trains Scouts and leaders in an essential outdoors skill.

How he did it

What you’ll need

  • Six one-inch dowels (like broomstick handles), each between 28 and 30 inches long.
  • A collection of ropes in different colors and materials — hemp, nylon, polypropylene, etc.

What you’ll do

Step 1, Construction: Using the six dowels, make a three-sided pyramid with a tripod lashing on each corner. (For instructions, check out Page 377 in either the Boy Scout Handbook or Scouts BSA Handbook.)

Note: Mahany says that, over time, you might need to reinforce these lashings with screws.

Step 2, Tying: With the different ropes, make a maze of knots in and around the pyramid. There’s no right or wrong way to do this. Just use your imagination to join the ropes with different knots, hitches and lashings.

Step 3, Tagging: Tag each knot using key tags and safety pins. Be sure to randomize the order so it doesn’t match the scoresheet.

Step 4, Playing the Game: Place the game in the center of the table, hand out the scoresheets and explain the rules. There’s no time limit.

Things to keep in mind:

  • There’s no “right side up” in the game, so allow players to rotate the pyramid for a different view.
  • The game can be played by one to eight people — perfect for a patrol — or you can form teams.
  • Mahany used the Handbook as a reference. Whenever someone tells him about a knot he hasn’t heard of, he tries to add it to the game.

Step 5, Scoring: You can score the game however you’d like. You could make each knot worth the same amount — or make less-common knots worth more. At camporees or multitroop events, Mahany presents awards to the top three individuals or teams.

Step 6, Explanation: After the scoresheets are tabulated, Mahany explains each knot and answers questions about how the knot is used.

Download the instructions and scoresheet

Mahany made this PDF, which includes the scoresheet, instructions and a hand-drawn diagram.

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