Tag Archives: Guessing

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