Guess Who?

Players: 2
Ages: 5 and up
Cost: ~$15 (Buy on Amazon)
Math Ideas: Deduction, logic
Questions to Ask
    What do you notice about the characters? What do you wonder?
    How can you ask me a yes/no question about hair?
    How many different features do you notice on each card?

Do you still remember the faces from the original Guess Who game? I do. The big noses, the rosy cheeks. The...interesting skull shapes.

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I mean, just look at Bill. Poor Bill. The guy looks like a pink raindrop with facial hair. I mean, he's a happy pink raindrop with facial hair, but still...

The game has gone through several much-needed printings since the 80s, adding more women and people of color to the mix. But you can still find the classic version if you so choose.

And I do recommend that you find a version you like, because your kid will definitely want to play Guess Who? a bunch! There's a reason the game was such a smash hit when it came out 30 years ago: the rules are simple, the play is quick, and the competition is fierce!

How to Play

To play Guess Who? you and your opponent each draw a card that shows one of the 24 characters. You then alternate, asking yes-or-no questions and closing all the frames that hold characters you've logically eliminated. The first person to correctly identify her opponent's character wins!

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As a kid, I got a lot of enjoyment from finding non-traditional questions to ask, such as "Is your character a total weirdo?" There was a lot of fun trying to decide whether Tom or Max or Bill counted as weirdos (they do). But if you and your child want to stick to hair color and glasses, there's still a lot of fun (and a lot of math) to be had!

Where's the Math?

Wait, really? This game has math?

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Of course it does! Remember SET, one of my all-time favorite games? That game, like Guess Who? was deeply mathematical, even though it involved very little counting. Both games get kids to focus on attributes, rather than number. But attributes are the tools we use to classify shapes, people, numbers, and really anything in the world.

Not only that, you and your child are using a set of yes-or-no questions to create a bulletproof logical argument that your opponent simply must have Claire this round. She is the only person who is a girl with a hat and glasses. 

There is also math in the strategy of choosing which questions to ask each round. Ideally, you want to choose questions that will eliminate half the characters, whether the answer is yes or no. Then 24 characters would become 12, then 6, then 3, and then either 2 or 1, depending on your question. That would be great!

Unfortunately, the game designers haven't made it easy for you. In fact, that's the (somewhat lame) reason why there aren't more women in the game: if the set of characters was half female, the first question would always be "is your character a girl?" since it would automatically eliminate half your choices right from the start.

By the way, there actually is a mathematically proven way of playing this game, which allows you to eliminate half the characters in each round. But I almost don't want to tell you about it... I'll just leave a tiny link to the video about it here.

Questions to Ask

When you first introduce the game to your kid, I recommend looking at the set of characters and simply asking "What do you notice? What do you wonder?"

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These questions are two of the all-time greats in math teaching, because they provoke curiosity without adding any stress. Your kids might notice all sorts of things, such as the character who looks like Grandma or the guy who looks depressed. But they also might notice something mathematically valuable, such as "a bunch of the characters have mustaches."

Then you can teach them the rules of the game. Once you've played through the game once, you can ask them "How can you figure out my character really quickly?" Then you can discuss the types of questions that lead to quick wins. 

Obviously, your child could just go alphabetically, asking "Is your character Alfred" and so on until she finds a match. But that could last 24 rounds! She's going to want to focus on attributes.

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Another speed bump might be your child's approach to questioning. She might say something like "What color hair does your character have?" which is a fantastic question, but not one that is allowed in the game of Guess Who? 

To lead her along the proper path, you might ask "How could you ask that question about hair, but in a yes-or-no format?" Help your child until she feels comfortable with that structure.

By the way, what about compound questions, such as "Does your character have red or white hair?" They are technically allowed. I wonder if they have something to do with that optimal strategy I mentioned above... But I've said too much.

Click here to buy Guess Who? on Amazon