Terra Incognita

A puzzle completed only in the player’s imagination. Conceived by the @Demilit collaborative for the New City Reader’s Istanbul Design Biennial 2012 edition, issue no. 3.

Table of Contents:






The gallery game

Urban tetris



Connect Advanced

Connect and Connector

The Flood

The Farm






Mapping Mashups





In conjunction with the first Istanbul Design Biennial 2012, and the exhibition Adhocracy (curated by Joseph Grima), the San Francisco Bay Area-based DEMILIT collaborative has guest edited the third number of the 2012 issue of the New City Reader, inviting you to build and play an infinite puzzle of the city.

Terra Incognita is not merely a game of solving puzzles based on or in the city; it is a game about making the puzzles themselves. By wandering the neighborhoods of Istanbul, participants choose their own modes of exploration, agendas, directions, and filters to create unique documentations of their experiences. These, in turn, serve as the puzzle pieces for a number of different games that can be played on the spot or later on. The outcomes of the games themselves construct neverending puzzles of the city that can be remixed, reshuffled, re-configured, and replayed in any manner. It is Istanbul re-imagined by the public through the course of experiencing it. In this digital document, we pass along the very same blueprint for everyone to use in their own cities, towns, and communities.

DEMILIT provides some basic rules for gameplay to encourage you to explore your city and come up with pieces on your own, but ultimately the concept is designed to be hacked and reconceived in any way the participant sees fit.

In addition to using the NCR as the game board, participants are also encouraged to construct their own puzzle pieces that can be displayed on the gallery wall as part of the Adhocracy exhibition—or anyplace else! In the end, what will be left is a giant wall-sized puzzle of anonymously constructed and positioned pieces that leave the puzzle’s ultimate solution up to the viewer’s imagination.


DEMILIT would especially like to thank Joseph Grima for his invitation to work on this project and his encouragement with critical feedback. The following individuals were also tireless in bringing this project to fruition: Elian Stefa, Elisa Pasqual, Marco Ferrari, Ethel Baraona Pohl, Merve Yucel and Benan Kapucu. A special nod goes to Rob Greco, who was extremely helpful in preparing an extensive annotated bibliography of precedents. Any errors or omissions are the sole responsibility of Demilit.


Puzzles begin with placing the first piece. Take the plunge. Play a game. Enter Terra Incognita. 

Start an infinite geographical puzzle. Explore your routine world in a way you wouldn’t even recognize. Study your city to discover something you had never imagined. Every piece of Terra Incognita you create can be the seed for a new puzzle or the newest addition to an expanding one.

TERRA INCOGNITA (TI) is played to cipher and decipher a city.

In TI, players map a collective incompleteness—a group hallucination of an imagined terrain. By building and interacting with their puzzle, players identify conflicts and fissures in their towns, explore unknown neighborhoods, play entertaining games, solve evolving mysteries, and fantasize about hidden geographies. TI can be a combined activist tool, an art piece and a discussion catalyst all in one.

By using or subverting the instructions in this newspaper, players can develop techniques of puzzle-making, and play games with their collected puzzle pieces. They can even invent new games and share the rules with others, potentially by adding documentation to the web. (Suggested tag: #TerraIncognita).

As an endless puzzle, TI hovers at an in-between level: neither electronic nor built. Neither fully local nor strictly global. Neither fully assembled or incomplete. TI can be personal and embodied. It can be played to recover the places that most affected you in your life. Or invent the city that you wish existed. This is a never-ending game that continuously pieces together a parallel world.


There is only one rule:

All play must be to keep the puzzle in play! 

...That being said, these are some general guidelines in the form of questions and answers:

How long does it take to play?

As little as 5 minutes; an hour; a whole day; an entire month...In fact, it lasts as long as you can last.

How many players?

Any number of people can play. The minimum is just one person who makes a piece and leaves it for others to play with, or to come back at a later time to play.


TI can be played from ages 4 to 104!

Okay. So what’s the idea?

TI is a collectively-created jigsaw puzzle. It can be played any time and anywhere. Even these “rules” themselves are open to hacking. Anyone can participate simply by contributing a piece, or using existing pieces to “solve the puzzle—or do both! (Hint: the puzzle is never solved). Many variations might exist latent in the system, such as challenging a viewer to identify a place from the puzzle pieces displayed. The Scenarios section explores a number of possible games, and everyone is invited to invent more.

How do I play?

At the most basic, the TI process is the following:

Take the New City Reader’s map or use your own city’s map, a blank paper, or any index card. The map provided with the newspaper can be colored, filled or outlined with the traces of a personal memory of a space, a personal desire, or an exterior romp through the urban realm. Use conventional cartographic techniques, icons, or other kinds of unconventional notations and draw these. Cut the puzzle piece out in the shape suggested by your drawing, much like a jigsaw puzzle. Using the New City Reader’s map, you can use the grid lines to derive an outline—or use your own blank paper! Write or paste a word provided, or a textual clue, on the back that describes the place you have drawn on the front. Try it!

Now, you and others can start to make more and more of these pieces. Icons can also be cut and pasted into the pieces if so desired. These are the basic blocks for different games. Then, using simple rules that players should agree on, the card can connect to others spatially or begin to define a new region. At this point, you can already play!

What about several players?

For group puzzling, first decide by consensus if every member will follow the same instructions. Multiple people can get together even in more than one group to collectively explore and construct a puzzle of the city through the prism of their preferred themes. If applicable, determine a scale to be used, for example: one cm approximately pertaining to 100m. Perhaps decide if any colors must follow a legend. Then, distribute territories among the group(s). Remember that there are no wrong pieces and incongruities are actually opportunities for new connections or imagined places.

Where do I start?

Anywhere! A memory of your earliest walk in the morning. Or take the map provided in the New City Reader. It can help you distribute quadrants to explore. Choose freely, or by drawing from a hat. (See the Scenarios on this document for more).

Where do I play?

In a gallery, in the city, in a library, at a cafe, in your own bedroom...

What should I be looking for?

It depends. We offer some suggestions, and everyone’s invited to contribute more. TI applies to almost any aspect of geography one could think of. To list some: The spaces of the founding myths of the city; the new musical sub-cultures; the personal knowledge and memories of urban spaces; the sensory aspects of space; the militarization of everyday life; the geology and hydrology underneath your feet; the air spaces; surveillance; neighborhood concentrations of interesting hairstyles; the metaphors of the city; the spaces of falling in love...

How to document?

Most players might begin with simple diagrams or plan views of the city. Draw these in pen or pencil with simple lines and notes of any observed or remembered phenomena. As individuals or as teams, players might decide to venture into other artistic forms, such as found pieces of paper pasted onto the card as collage. Try other kinds of alternative mapping, such as incisions and folding, pasted historical photos, odd splotches of found plant materials, and so on.

Is it a competitive puzzle?

It can be, but doesn’t have to. Any variation of TI can be played competitively as a guessing game. Some possibilities for competitions:

  1. One player or team creates pieces while other players or entire teams have to guess how the pieces go together; just don’t let the competitors see each others’ solutions ahead of their turn!
  2. Guessing and writing down what place is represented by a puzzle displayed.
  3. Placing a point value on creative pieces of the puzzle that connect in the most ways to others.
  4. Guessing places by only the written clues on the back of a piece.
  5. Choosing a winning puzzle by a popular vote.

Remember that even if an individual or team “wins,” there still can be added twists or rules to keep the puzzle in motion.

Is there anything else that TERRA INCOGNITA is for?

Anything your imagination yields. Let this inspire group activism, novel story plotting, community planning exercises, team building, a classroom assignment to learn a history lesson, and so on and so forth.

Tell me more!

TI can be a straightforward cartography, and it can also be about inventing fun and curious objectives that give explorations in mapping a utility beyond their recorded markings. The process of mapping or charting a phenomenon becomes a game; a puzzle of relating a series of micromaps.

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These “scenarios” are offered as possible games to play. Start with any of these. Over time, as you become comfortable, you can remix instructions, invent new games, hack the rules, and combine different puzzles. They can be played just for fun or to reveal unanticipated urban dynamics and spaces. There’s no “wrong” puzzle. Don’t forget to take pictures, document new instructions, start discussions, and tell other friends! Share with #TerraIncognita.

In addition, anyone could directly donate a mapping piece to any of these games below, and leave it behind for others to play with later, or to return to on a different day. Simply make a piece and note on the back what game it is suggested for. The games can even be played over long distance by mailing the pieces as postcards to friends in other countries, or creating digital versions of the games.

The gallery game 

Participants each construct their own puzzle piece using the NCR, or a piece of paper of their own. Imagine your unique piece taking any form or shape and representing anything you desire—but you must cut the piece into a shape! Grid lines on the map can be used to help you design the shape of the piece. Here are some starting ideas:

  1. Walk a part of the city. Use the circuit of your walk as the outer perimeter-line along which to cut your piece out.
  2. Observe and listen to the area of your walk. Make notes with arrows inside your piece(s).
  3. Document streets, streams, bike paths, buildings, highways, trains and other elements that run off the edge of the paper.
  4. Fill the map with a drawing, a poem, a secret message, a political complaint, a new masterplan, a found scrap of paper glued onto the surface, or just a shape that outlines your favorite neighborhood stroll. Or any hybrid of these.
  5. Each piece should reference an identification with Istanbul.
  6. Remember to write a clue to what the piece contains on the reverse side.

Once you have designed a piece and ascribed the piece with meaning, or several of these, you then post it to the gallery wall. There are no guidelines for posting, per se. Pieces could connect where the shapes of their edges more or less match, or where a street or a water body connect. Some pieces perhaps will overlap, and even conceal pieces underneath.

Over time, a collective puzzle, or perhaps a series of puzzles form themselves, reflecting anonymous groupings of meaning that defies any predetermined visual logic or overall totalitarian image.  

The final puzzle comes together in the viewer’s imagination as they browse all of the gathered pieces that have been mounted, and associate their own connections however they see fit.   Sampling from the pieces on the wall, the gallery game conjures a psychic projection and public landscape of random and not-so-random connections meant to inspire a meta-puzzle each viewer takes away in their own mind.

Urban tetris

Shuffle pieces and distribute them among players. They take turns stacking their pieces vertically on a wall. If they have no piece that connects, they lose their turn.

To connect the pieces, water must connect to water, roads to roads, or a wall follows the line of a wall, and so on... But no overlaps are allowed. Only edges can touch each other.

As the pieces stack, the game becomes more difficult because pieces must connect to both the piece below and the pieces to the side(s).

Technically, like tetris, the game should remain within a 90-degree column, but players can feel free to bend this rule until other players call a violation.

The first player without cards, wins. Cheating is encouraged: re-draw, make new pieces in the bathroom, or cut pieces where a connection is found and no one is looking. The game might never end, or until you run out of wall space.


One person acts as dealer and master of ceremonies (and for added enjoyment, should dress as such). Distribute a large but limited number of pieces to each player (everyone should get the same number of pieces), and leave pieces facing down so that the players can’t see the images on the other side.

Taking turns, a player points to a card, and from text on the back of pieces, the player must guess the neighborhood, building, park, street or whatever is on the up-side of the card. The dealer judges if the answer is correct or incorrect, without letting the player see the information on the card if they have the wrong answer. The audience can try to sway the judge. They could also try to stealthily tip off the player—or mislead them—barring any objections from others.

If the player fails to guess, they must exchange the piece for a new one from the extant pile of pieces, and the unused piece goes back to the bottom of the pile.

When they guess correctly, they place the piece on the wall, making sure to locate it where it belongs in relation to the overall design of the city. The first player that can get rid of their cards, wins the game. Continue playing until all the players have been ranked in order of their cartographic merit.


(A variation of Clue with added difficulty)

Start with instructions for Clue. In addition to guessing the content of the pieces, another layer of difficulty is in connecting pieces. In order to connect pieces to the growing puzzle, edges AND internal elements MUST connect. (Overlaps are allowed). The first to go through their pieces, wins.

Connect Advanced 

An even more difficult version of Connect can be played with points, in which the more connections to other pieces a given piece has, the more points the player accumulates. (I.e. One point for one connection, four points if a piece connects on four edges, and even more points for odd-shaped pieces with many edges. The dealer is the ultimate authority to adjudicate number of points). To win, it doesn’t matter who finishes first, but who has the most points when all the pieces are gone.

Connect and Connector

For a different version with another level of added complexity: if pieces don’t have a connection, players can choose to improvise an architectural CONNECTOR “coin” with a circular cut piece paper (each player should start with only a limited number of blank connectors and they must choose carefully when they use them).

On the connector coin, the player draws the connection that is called for when the need arises. Examples of connections: Bridges, natural elements, streets, walls, subways—OR—get creative! A connector could also be virtual. Perhaps two places connect by virtue of phone call or text message quantity. Or perhaps a politician who represents both neighborhoods can also become an architectural connection. Remember to draw a symbol of the connection. (Two-sided connectors are not allowed...or are they?)

Players can trade pieces and connectors, but making new pieces is considered “cheating,” which is severely frowned upon. ;)

If a player can place a piece where there is already a coin, they get to knock out and keep that coin for their own future use. The risk is in not finding a use for that coin later, but they could try to trade it...

The winner wins when their pieces and coins are all used, or...

  1. Crafty individuals might find themselves playing in an infinite loop, although no one has actually tested such a possibility. To play indefinitely, combine both the Advanced and Connector rules above. When all the players have used up their pieces and connectors, start a new round of urban exploration. Find places in the city that have changed since the last round of documentation. Take down parts of the map that no longer correspond to the existing city. Restart the game and keep adding points where you left off. Probably no one will ever actually win, unless the game stops entirely or the entire city is abandoned in an apocalypse.
  2. Even if this game is endless, someone should try to triumph over the rest.

The games that follow can also be combined with Clue and Connect kinds of rules.

The Flood 

Start with two players or two teams of players. The first player imagines the city in a flooded condition. What would be above the waters? What would float, and what would sink? How would you navigate through the city? Using the map provided, explore areas of the city to determine high ground and low ground. Observe coastal areas, canals, dikes, and levies. Note their locations. Try to imagine how infrastructure, like tunnels, would be affected in a flood. Draw the new coastlines or portions thereof, and cut them out.

Once the pieces are made, the second player must reconstruct the flooded city, figuring out what parts are dry and the ones that are wet, and how everything connects—or doesn’t. Alternately, several players can try their hand at solving the puzzle collaboratively.

Another variation: make the Flood puzzle based on an existing city, like Istanbul. It might resemble a series of islands on a blank space. Another player or team makes the new pieces of a fictional city that is inhabited under the flood waters. They must then design how these new pieces connect to one another and to the higher ground.

The Farm 

Walk the city or a quadrant therein. Talk to people. Research the past agricultural history. Find old maps. Help identify arable land and other spaces for planting in the city, such as small balconies or greenhouses. What are some of the bureaucratic or physical obstacles to urban farming? Where is housing built in relation to food and farm land? Where do animals live or have lived in the city? What do/did they eat? Where does water collect and how could it be used? What about animal wastes?

From the pieces created, players are challenged to reinvision food in the city. With these pieces, could you make a giant donut hole of farming in the very heart of downtown? Would a perimeter ring of farming surround the city? Would farming and animal rearing work in vertical conditions?


To be played alone, in a group, or divided into teams. This game has a drawing side and a text side to each piece.

Turn the city into a dramatic film set for a high-paced action thriller. Write the choreography for an exciting chase scene or a cop drama. From your research and exploration of the neighborhoods in the city, find the best routes for entry and escape, and the best streetscapes and backgrounds for cinematic quality.

Use the back of the pieces to write lines of dialog, descriptions, and other actions.

Place all of the cards face-down on a big table or the wall, with the texts facing up. Another player or team, or the single player, organizes the pieces as they would best make a plot or sequence. Is anything missing for an exciting scene? Are some pieces in excess? Write new scenes and place them in the “correct” order. Rewrite parts of dialog or plot that are unsatisfactory.

Now flip the cards over. Some are probably missing graphics. On the blank cards, imagine and illustrate the settings of the missing scenes, or ask another player to do so. Recombine the mapping in a way it best works as a visual puzzle.

Turn the cards over to the text side again. Now, read the emergent script out-loud for your friends to enjoy and critique.

Re-edit the script and combine the pieces again until satisfied with the story, or everyone passes out.


A player or a team explores a terrain or an area searching for all of the the vital “organs” of the city—from intelligence to reproductive parts, and everything else in between. Document and cut pieces into the shapes you see fit.

Another player or team must then assemble a new “organism” from the given organs, finding where the body parts would flow or connect, or how they might structurally support each other.

Be sure to care for healthy fluid circulation and air supply.


Use words or text as the only means to describe a phenomenon in the city (sights, smells, sounds, phenomena). As individuals or groups, document the panoramas, views, foods, markets, filth, noises, traffic, musicians, and the sensations you experience. Remember: only use words and texts!

On the back of the cards, write a few “tags” that catalog the spaces encoded in the descriptions. For example, the tags might include anything like spices, religion, circulation, thieves, transport—anything you think would help to organize urban phenomena.  

Place the cards on a table or the wall with the tags facing up and the texts down. Ask someone to reorder the cards based on the tags, perhaps finding the most commonly used tags, or in the absence of any commonalities, simply by thinking of the most interesting or thought-provoking tag combos.

Turn the cards over and read them out loud with friends. Flip them back over or take them down.

The cards are now free for another player or group to reorganize them, write a story-line, or combine them with another set of cards that is tagged; perhaps one that has diagrams, maps, or drawings of some sort. With every remix, one creates a new endless film about the city.

Another variation in this game: The city is a mystery, a series of imprints, memories, quotations, secrets, and confessions. Write yours down... The anonymous voices of the city: A series of voices—ghosts—contained on puzzle pieces...Eventually, you have a random wall with a huge map of Istanbul on it already carved into puzzle pieces. A player must fill in the blank pieces, but the rule is: relate to the adjacent piece's message somehow. The city as a collaborative scroll.


Players are encouraged to write down any specific place they want in Istanbul (or anywhere), of any scale, from a public restroom to a Kurdish speedmetal bar. On the other side of the puzzle piece, they write down a clue about this place, and hang it on the wall or place on a large table. Another user tries to guess the place.


Make a puzzle that represents the old ruins, disappeared buildings, important landmarks, and the periods of city growth or decay. Scramble the pieces. Teams compete to find out who can stack the historical layers of the city the fastest. Don’t be too empirical about it.

Mapping Mashups

Gather new or unused pieces, leftovers from other games, failed attempts at drawings and the remnants discarded from old games. Use an assortment of different pieces to make a new space or an entire city. No other rules.


Imagine new architectures by joining, overlapping, collaging or connecting spatially disconnected pieces of the city that have a common theme or history. For example, a park, statue, or monument that recognizes a tragedy or event that happened someplace else; a government building responsible for a corrupt development; a home of a heroic and anonymous individual who is responsible for saving an important green space. Take the liberty of designing new pieces that help bridge, connect, or tie together these otherwise impossible adjacencies.


A game where only cut shapes, perforations, and folds can be used to create a collectively-built city. No other rules.

Some other things to keep in mind:

  1. Language barriers are opportunities for more confusion, fun, and cultural exchange. Other players or conspirators can help translate.
  2. Although the rules exist for a reason, moving between and around them can happen in creative ways. Try negotiating, trading, maybe even deceiving...

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We Built This City



Cardboard City


Aaron Straup-Cope’s Shape Tiles

“The community of authority and the authority of community”



http://www.aaronland.info/weblog/2010/04/05/milkshake/#youarehere **best one of the lot


Mr. Wong’s Soup’Partments


Walking Papers


The Incidental (This might be a way to record versions of the physical object.)





The City and the City, China Miéville




Peoples Atlas


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