In the traditional game, one player is chosen to be the "answerer". That person chooses a subject but does not reveal this to the others. All other players are "questioners". They each take turns asking a question which can be answered with a simple "Yes" or "No." In variants of the game (see below), multiple state answers may be included such as the answer "Maybe." The answerer answers each question in turn. Sample questions could be: "Is it in this room?" or "Is it bigger than a
breadbox?" Lying is not allowed, as it would ruin the game. If a questioner guesses the correct answer, that questioner wins and becomes the "answerer" for the next round. If 20 questions are asked without a correct guess, then the answerer has stumped the questioners and gets to be the answerer for another round.
The most popular variant is called "Animal, Vegetable, Mineral". This is taken from the "
Major-General's Song," a piece from the Gilbert and Sullivanopera " The Pirates of Penzance". : I am the very model of a modern Major-General. I've information vegetable, animal, and mineral,I know the kings of England, and I quote the fights historical.This is further taken from the old, possibly Renaissanceidea that all life was animal or plant (vegetable), and that non-living (which is to say, never-living) matter must be mineral. In this version, the "answerer" tells the "questioners" at the start of the game whether the subject is an animal, vegetableor mineral. These categories can produce odd technicalities, such as a wooden table being classified as a vegetable (since wood comes from trees). Other versions specify that the item to be guessed should be in a given category, such as actions, occupations, famous people, etc. In Hungary, a similar game is named after Simon bar Kokhba. A version of Twenty Questions called Yes and No is played as a parlor gameby characters of Charles Dickens' " A Christmas Carol". A children's version is played with the categories, "Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, Candy."
Computers and 20 Questions
The game suggests that the information (as measured by Shannon's entropy statistic) required to identify an arbitrary object is about 20
bits. The game is often used as an example when teaching people about information theory. Mathematically, if each question is structured to eliminate half the objects, 20 questions will allow the questioner to distinguish between 220 or 1,048,576 subjects. Accordingly, the most effective strategy for Twenty Questions is to ask questions that will split the field of remaining possibilities roughly in half each time. The process is analogous to a binary search algorithmin computer science.
In the 1940s the game became a popular radio panel quiz show, "Twenty Questions", first broadcast at 8pm, Saturday,
February 2, 1946, on the Mutual Broadcasting Systemfrom New York's Longacre Theatreon West 48th Street. Radio listeners sent in subjects for the panelists to guess in 20 questions; Winston Churchill's cigar was the subject most frequently submitted. On the early shows, listeners who stumped the panel won a lifetime subscription to "Pageant". From 1946 to 1951, the program was sponsored by Ronson Lighters. In 1952-53, Wildroot Cream Oil was the sponsor.
The show was the creation of Fred Van Deventer, who was born
December 5, 1903in Tipton, Indiana, and died December 2, 1971. Van Deventer was a WOR Radio newscaster with New York's highest-rated news show, "Van Deventer and the News". Van Deventer was on the program's panel with his wife, Florence Van Deventer, who used her maiden name, appearing on the show as Florence Rinard. Their 14-year-old son, Robert Van Deventer (known on the show as Bobby McGuire) and the program's producer, Herb Polesie, completed the regular panel with daughter Nancy Van Deventer joining the group on occasions. Celebrity guests rarely (though sometimes) contributed to identifying the subject at hand.
The Van Deventer family had played the game for years at their home, long before they brought the game to radio, and they were so expert at it that they could often nail the answer after only six or seven questions. On one memorable show, Maguire succeeded in giving the correct answer (Brooklyn) without asking a single question. The studio audience was shown the answer in advance and Maguire based his answer on the audience's reaction; during the 1940s, New York radio studio audiences included many Brooklynites, and they cheered wildly whenever
Brooklynwas mentioned in any context.
The moderator was sportscaster
Bill Slaterwho opened each session by giving the clue as animal, vegetable or mineral. He then answered each query from panel members. This cast remained largely intact throughout the decade-long run of the show. Slater was succeeded at the beginning of 1953 by Jay Jackson, who remained through the final broadcast, and there were two changes in the panel's juvenile chair. When McGuire graduated from high school, his decision to go to Duke Universitymeant he could no longer remain on the program, so he asked his high school friend Johnny McPhee to replace him. Since McPhee was attending Princeton University, he was thus geographically available for the production in New York. McPhee continued until he graduated and was himself succeeded by Dick Harrison (real name John Beebe) in September 1953. Harrison continued until early 1954, when he was replaced by Bobby McGuire, then 22 years old. McGuire appeared as the "oldest living teenager" until the end of the run.
As a television program, "Twenty Questions" first appeared on
WWOR-TV, Channel 9, November 2, 1949, then nationwide on the DuMont Television Networkand finally on ABC. The last radio show was broadcast on March 27, 1954, followed by the last TV episode shown on May 3, 1955.
Rights were sold in several other countries, including BBC in the UK, where the subject to be guessed was revealed to the audience by a "mystery voice" (Norman Hackforth). That format was briefly used again on
BBC Radio 4in the 1990s for a single season hosted by Jeremy Beadle. A TV version was also made by Associated-Rediffusionin the early 1960s. The "mystery voice" gimmick gave rise to a running gag on the radio series " I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue". A Canadian version, also called "Twenty Questions" aired on CTV in 1961; its host, Stewart Macpherson, went on to host the Associated-Rediffusion adaptation.
In 1975, a pilot for an American revival "20 Questions" was made with host Jack Clark. At Norway's NRK, a version of "20 Questions" ran continuously from 1947 to early 1980s. In 2004, this radio show was resurrected and regained its popularity, leading to a 2006 TV version. The Norwegian "20 spørsmål" continues on NRK radio and TV, and a web-based game is available at www.nrk.no. A 2006 board game currently is the prize sent to listeners who beat the panel. [ [http://www.nrk.no NRK] ]
Guess Who?board game
* [http://www.vintageradioplace.com/ra/glowingdial041226.ram The Glowing Dial: "Twenty Questions" (March 24, 1946)]
* [http://www.devinettor.com "Akinator"] can figure out any real/fictional character in 20 questions
* [http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0320997 "Twenty Questions" at IMDb]
* [http://www.20q.net/ 20Q.net] - Play 20 Questions against the computer with this
artificial intelligenceversion of Twenty Questions. Everything that it knows and all questions that it asks were entered by people playing the game.
* [http://barelybad.com/20_questions.htm Barelybad Web Site] Detailed rules of the game.
* [http://www.onethemovie.org/film.html "One:" the movie] Independent filmmaker Ward Powers presents interviews employing 20 ultimate questions on the meaning of life. (Is the correct guess "one"?)
* [http://www.braingle.com/games/animal/index.php Zoo Keeper: The animal guessing game] Version of Twenty Questions restricted to animals.
* [http://diodor.eti.pg.gda.pl 20 Questions Game with Haptek avatar]
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