Tuesday, September 13, 2005

20 Q: God! How Does It Do It?

Along with quizzes and dumb charades, 20 Questions was a staple at all the inter-collegiate fests way back when I was in college.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the game, this is how 20 Questions is played:

The conductor of the contest has a list of celebrities. The teams try to pry the names of the celebrities from the conductor by asking questions. The faster they guess the answer (i.e., with as few questions as possible), the more points they win.

For example, let's say it's Team A's turn, and the celebrity whose name the conductor pulled out of box is Chuck Norris.

Question 1: Is it an Indian?

Answer: No.

Question 2: Is it a politician?

Answer: No.

Question 3: Is it an actor?

Answer: Yes.

Question 4: Is it a male?

Answer: Yes.

Question 5: Has he won an Oscar?

Answer: God! No! (of course, that would be a dead giveaway, but who could resist that response, eh?)

etc., until they got the answer or ran out of the 20 questions. Typically, the names are chosen out of the newspapers, so if you had been following the news, the chances were high that you could guess the name of the celebrity in the span of a few questions. Of course, there were some conductors who fancied themselves tough and would pick the obscurest celebrities.

Well, now, there is a game called 20 Q.

It's the electronic version of 20 Questions. It's a rectangular black plastic box with a screen and some buttons. When you start the game, a question scrolls from the right to the left of the screen. Your options are "no", "rarely", "unknown", "sometimes", "on/yes/new game", and "undo".

You think of a thing (anything - switch, phone, giraffe - whatever) and start answering the questions that come scrolling through.

We've been playing this game ever since we aquired it two days ago, and all I can say is, it's downright scary how it guesses what you are thinking. Things as diverse as rain, space shuttle, iron, and piano.

Just to give you an example, I started a session as I'm typing this and am just noting down what 20 Q's questions are and my responses to them. The thing that I thought of (i.e., the thing that 20 Q had to guess) appears at the bottom of the post.

20 Q: Is it an animal?

Me: Yes

20 Q: Does it have fur?

Me: No

20 Q: Is it a vegetarian?

Me: Sometimes

20 Q: Can it run fast?

Me: Yes

20 Q: Does it have four legs?

Me: No

20 Q: Can it climb?

Me: Yes

20 Q: Does it lay eggs?

Me: No

20 Q: Is it a predator?

Me: Sometimes

20 Q: Is it comforting?

Me: Sometimes

20 Q: Is it dangerous?

Me: Sometimes

20 Q: Is it usually colorful?

Me: No

20 Q: Can you play with it?

Me: Yes

20 Q: Is it ferocious?

Me: Sometimes

20 Q: Can you find it in a church?

Me: Sometimes

20 Q: Would you use it in the dark?

Me: Yes

20 Q: Could it be found in a classroom?

Me: Sometimes

20 Q: Can it be used for recreation?

Me: Yes

20 Q: Do you clean it regularly?

Me: No

20 Q: Do you use it in your home?

Me: Sometimes

20 Q: Is it commonly used?

Me: Yes

20 Q: I'm thinking.

Me: Ok, ok, come on then!

20 Q: You win!

Me: Yay!!!!

20 Q: Just joking!

Me: What????

20 Q: Is it a soulmate?

Me: Wha???!!!!!????

My mouth is wide open, jaw scraping the floor.

The thing that I thought of (i.e., the thing that 20 Q had to guess): Man.

Should I be nitpicky and pretend that I won?


karrvakarela said...

Hi Sujatha,

This is just a note to say that I really enjoyed reading your blog, especially the piece on growing up in Philadelphia. It reminded me of a story by Jhumpa Lahiri, The Third and Final Continent.

Wishing you and your family well.

Truman said...

Yes, the Third and Final Continent is a great story- One of the best short stories I have ever read. Have you read it?

And the 20Q thing- I do not know if you know but a program with almost the same concept was telecasted long back on TV. It was hosted by Vinod Nagpal.

Last but not the least- Thank you so much for referring my post to DesiPundit. :)

Ash said...


That didn't really happen, did it ?

Sujatha said...


Thank you for the nice words. I haven't read that one by Lahiri, but I definitely will. I'll go and buy it right away, anyway, and then it will occupy a rather precarious position on top of a pile of books that I have yet to read.:))


You're welcome!

I'm not aware of that program or may be I've forgotten about it. The only game show that I remember from the TV land of my distant past is Quiz Time. Now I find I cannot decipher a single word that Siddarth Basu is saying. I don't how the kids on his program understand him.


It really did. That's exactly how it happened!

yhac said...


I came across a similar online version of this game a few years ago. Check out http://y.20q.net/anon

This is what it gave me as an answer to the same query as yours.

1. It is classified as Animal.
2. Can you buy it at a store? No.
3. Can it scratch? Maybe.
4. Is it furry? No.
5. Does it stand on two legs? Yes
6. Is it dangerous? No.
7. Can you hold it? Yes.
8. Can it climb? Probably.
9. Can it growl? No.
10. Is it a carnivore? Depends.
11. Does it live in cities? Yes.
12. Does it involve contact with other humans? Yes.
13. Can it be painted? Irrelevant
14. Do you use it in public? No.
15. Is it tall? Depends.
16. Does it eat fish? Depends.
17. Can it speak? Yes.
18. Can it help you find your way? Irrelevant.
19. Can it save your life? Yes.
Q20. I am guessing that it is a crush (in love)?
Right, Wrong, Close

I didn't even get the chance to be nitpicky!

Yet another Habitually Anon Commenter

Minal said...

Depends on which "man" you refer to:-)
Interesting , I shoudl try this computerised game. 20Q was such a hit during school/college days!

And one more thing, real nice of you to refer my ashes post! Btw are hooked on to the game as well? I hope so:-)

Vignesh said...

20 Q: Can you play with it?

Me: Yes

There. You just lost your PG13 rating on this blog. Tsk tsk.


Vignesh said...

Sorry I just can't help it...

20 Q: Would you use it in the dark?
Me: Yes

You betcha !!!

20 Q: Can it be used for recreation?
Me: Yes

Hubba hubba !!

20 Q: Do you clean it regularly?
Me: No


20 Q: Do you use it in your home?
Me: Sometimes
20 Q: Is it commonly used?
Me: Yes

Bring it on !!!


You are going to hurt my on Sunday aren't you !! :))

chappan said...

20 questions...hmmm...some interesting memories. At VJTI, we had an inter-college festival called Partibimb. VJTI was the 20 questions champion for at least 2 years that I remember, with yours truly being the champion for one of the year.
I vividly remember the final personality we had to guess, Peenaz Masani, the singer.
This is how the questioning session went
Q: Quadrangle (This is where the cultural festival was held)
A: Yes
Q: Peenaz Masani
A: Yes

And we won the final round, while the audience had a huh look on their face.

Sujatha said...

yhac, thanks for visiting and commenting. Seems like you had a lot more options for responses!

Minal, I've never really referred to V as my soulmate, because frankly don't know what that means...:) And you're welcome. Yes, we're all hooked on it, from my dad down to N.

Vignesh, LOL! All I can say is you'd better bring some defensive tackles on Sunday (or is it going to be Saturday?).:))))

Ok, Sourin, you lost me. Was she in the quadrangle at that time? If not, what was the thought process? Please swalpa explain maadi.

Kaps said...

I wanted to give the online link to the 20Q. YHAC has already given the same.

Some other form of the same also cropped up....Darth Vader answers the questions in this. I don't have the link right now.

Sujatha said...

Kaps, thanks. Darth Vader's responses? Would love to see those!