The laws of structural engineering are more intricately woven into our day to day lives than we realize. The complex forces involved in structural engineering play a major role in almost everything we do. Humans seldom realize that they, in-fact, make use of this inherent knowledge since childhood, even if it is to just win a game. Jenga is known to be the third most popular game globally, coming close behind Monopoly and Scrabble. Deriving its name from the Swahili word for build, this game uses complex structural engineering theorems as a basis. Below are five ways that this simple game weaves complex concepts into its operation.

  1. Loads: Load bearing walls are inherent for any structure. These walls are designed to maintain the integrity of the building and carry the various forces acting on it. If you remove a load bearing wall, the structure won’t be able to support even its own weight. In Jenga, no two blocks have the same dimension. Thus, the blocks rest on each other unevenly. The trick is to identify the loose pieces which are easier to remove, these pieces are not load-bearing and can be moved without disturbing the stability of the structure
  2. Foundation: The surface on which Jenga is played is an important influencer on the stability of the tower created. An unstable surface leads to the tower failing quicker and easier. Similarly, structural engineers have to carefully consider the surface on which they build their structure. The taller the structure, the sturdier the foundation should be as this is how the loads are transferred to the ground. Apart from load transfer, foundations also serve the purpose of anchoring the structure to the ground, much like the bottom-most blocks of Jenga
  3. Tension and Compression: These form the two most basic forces that come to play in Structural Engineering. Compression is the force applied when two objects are pushed together, while tension is the force that applied when an object is pulled or stretched. In Jenga if two centre pieces are removed in a rove, then a two simple beam and column structure is created. The beam experiences both compression and tension and should be strong enough to withstand these forces. This is where the building material comes into play. Structural engineers have to put in a lot of thought into choosing the ideal construction material and consider each element’s strengths and weaknesses
  4. Rotational Force: It is widely known that the quickest way to a falling tower is to pull away the two outside pieces of the bottom row, leaving the whole structure balancing on a single narrow wooden block. In this scenario, every bump and nudge on the tower is magnified. In simple terms, the tower is un-balanced. Structural engineers don’t talk about keeping a building “balanced”. The term commonly used is maintaining the rotational equilibrium. To achieve this the design of the structure plays an important role. Simply put, to maintain the equilibrium of taller buildings, the supports need to be wider

So here you go. There is so many forces involved even in a simple game like Jenga!