Category Archives: Guessing Games

Bad Games People Still Play: I-Spy

I spy with my little eye, something that is boring. Give up? It’s I-Spy, the crap game that kids play when they’re bored and want to annoy their parents. Why do people play I-Spy? And is there some kernel of fun within it that can be salvaged?

Well, there is something fun about having a secret. I-Spy gives the spy a little secret to keep for a few seconds. More importantly, the other player must guess and conjecture as to what’s been spied. Meaning that for the game to be played, someone must act interested in your ephemeral secret. Fun for the person with the secret, but boring for the guesser, who usually only wants find the object so it will be their turn.

The I-Spy books, however, were a marked improvement over the repetitive Where's Waldo series.

The I-Spy books, however, were a marked improvement over the repetitive Where’s Waldo series.

Now games like this, where players take turns being the one who has fun, are obviously not ideal. But it is common symptom of guessing games. 20 Questions sometimes has this problem too; people seem to prefer having a secret to trying to uncover one. But is there some way we can tweak I-Spy so that both players can have fun simultaneously? Continue reading

Variations on a Score of Questions

20 questions is a classic time-killer. It is perhaps the ultimate guessing game, being that absolutely anything can be chosen to be guessed. Playing presents all the fun of having a secret or exposing one, and the excitement of narrowing a search down from the all-encompassing to the minutely specific.

Part of the enjoyment is in just how specific, how narrow a net can be cast with only 20 yes-or-no questions. Math junkies will know that by compounding the effect of 20 questions (assuming you are able to split the possible results exactly in half with each query), one can reach 2^19 conclusions. That’s about half a million rounds of play – and this is without even taking into account that you can change your repertoire of questions!

Which incidentally, isn't far off from the total number of described species of beetles. The next logical step would be for someone to write a program which can guess any beetle in 20 questions or less. Taxonomists, get on it!

Which incidentally, isn’t far off from the total number of described species of beetle. The next logical step would be for someone to write a program which can guess any beetle in 20 questions or less. Taxonomists, get on it!

But despite the prowess of this defining process, 20 questions does get old. Part of the problem is that players start to develop a ‘routine’, a set order of questions to ask at each games outset. Experienced interrogators may use a palette of 50 or so questions to play somewhere in the first 10 moves.

This is an effective method, but it makes the game much less exciting. Instead of earnest thought and search, players now follow a formula for half the game or more. Only the final few questions will be original ones. Much of the game becomes stale and repetitive. So how can be make the enjoyment of 20 Questions bigger than a bread box again? Continue reading