The landing pool for cliff divers at Casa Bonita.

(Photo: Courtesy of Casa Bonita)

What makes fun, fun? A couple of instructors at the University of Colorado Denver are posing that question to students in a course offered this semester.

To discern the answer, they have led field trips to Puzzah, in Denver, where teams collaborate on puzzles, and to Casa Bonita, where the food doesn’t get great reviews, but the cliff divers and spooky cave do. They’ve even studied zombie crawls.

David Thomas and Andrew Novick teach the course, called “Fun Objects.” Thomas has a PhD in planning and design; Novick is a scientist, artist, and fun-loving muse for the course. Earlier this year, Thomas and Novick published a book, "Fun: A Comprehensive Guide.

“From the magic of Disneyland to the joy in sitting still, watching smoke roll out of the BBQ, people strive to have fun,” the class syllabus states.

“Through we all define it differently and often think of fun as something childish, non-productive or a class of things only to be enjoyed after work is done, the fact is, fun is important," the syllabus continues, laying out four fundamental principles: 

  • Fun is essential to life, across time and culture (fun is fundamental)
  • But fun has been suppressed, in a sense, by the Western obsession with work and productivity (fun is trivial)
  • But through the rise of the information age, and the challenge that access to information makes to authenticity and truth itself (fun is a framework)
  • Fun has risen as a central value that helps us navigate and understand the confusing times we live in (fun is essential).

The course has hosted guest speakers, such as a board game maker, who make their livings on other people's merriment.

In 2010, Thomas gave a TEDx presentation in Boulder about what makes places fun.