Wednesday, August 11, 2010


The Girl, Mastermind

Okay, I’m a little nerdy, but this was a huge moment for us.

The Girl, who is 6, loves playing games with me. We usually play Connect Four -- at which she routinely cleans my clock -- or twenty questions. But lately she’s been on a Mastermind kick. Mastermind is a guess-the-pattern game in which one player constructs a pattern of four colors, and the other player has to suss it out through a series of guesses with feedback. If you get a correct color in an incorrect position, you get a white peg; if you get the color and position right, you get a red peg. If the color is just wrong, no peg. The game has six colors altogether, and as we play it, there are no repeat colors allowed in the pattern, so you couldn’t have three blues in the same row.

Over the last week or so, whenever I’ve been the one trying to guess the pattern, I’ve vocalized my thought process. “Let’s see, I only got two white pegs on that one. That means that both of the ‘wrong’ colors must be here, which means that they two colors I didn’t use here must be right.” I’ve even stopped and repeated it when TG looked puzzled.

Last night we had the breakthrough.

TG was guessing the pattern, and got two white pegs for one guess. The play-by-play:

TG: that means I must need orange and blue.

(tries another row, this time gets three white pegs)

TG: hmm. From the first row, I know I need green. That means the other color must be white. And from the second row, I know that orange must go here (places orange) and white must go here (places white). I’ll try blue here and green there.

(gets two red pegs and two white pegs)

TG: Ha! I’ll just switch green and blue.

(I reveal that she got it right.)

I was so excited I gave her a high-five. When The Wife came by, I had TG walk her through the process, and TW made a fuss, too.

Using a perfectly elegant process of elimination, she used clues from earlier rows to piece together the solution. She got it.

She was excited, of course, but she seemed a little surprised that we made as much fuss about it as we did. I thought it was HUGE. She walked herself through a non-trivial bit of deductive logic and found the right answer herself, without hints or lucky guesses.

She didn’t use numbers as such, but I think of the approach as basically mathematical. She was able to discern patterns, and to accumulate clues from multiple turns to narrow down the possibilities.

As a parent, I was fairly bursting with joy. A six-year-old was putting together the basic operations of deductive reasoning, and enjoying the “click” when things fell into place. And she was doing it in the context of a game with Daddy, where she got affirmation for walking deliberately through the thought process.

This must be how other Dads feel when a kid hits a home run. In my world, this was a home run.

Just had to brag a little.

OMG. That was me, age 6, with my daddy. What a wonderful memory. She's got a great future ahead of her.

Do you also do addition through blackjack?

It sounds like a word game we played in my family, but colors would work for a MUCH younger kid, and there isn't the benefit of word/spelling rules to help.
That sounds awesome! Congratulations!
Absolutely something to brag to call my parents and see if they still have our Mastermind game so I can try it out with my own six year old, who does love patterns. Thanks for reminding me of the game.

Are you going to allow multiple colors for a pattern soon?
She's ready for the analytical section of the GRE!
I present crack-cocaine for the analytical mind: sgt puzzles.

Some involve advanced mathematical concepts like multiplication and factoring, and others illustrate more advanced things like graph theory (four color theorem! planarity!) so it's probably not a blanket recommendation for a six year old.
This is really great -- totally a thing to brag about! (maybe b/c I'm nerdy too ;-). I used to play this game as a kid, only I had a mini version (I think I still have it!) and the game has a different name in Brazil. I think I'll order it soon to get my 6 and 8 year olds playing.
That was a major accomplishment for a 6 year old.

I discovered this game as a nerdy grownup. Love it. When I taught gifted elementary school aged kids, I had one for them. Some caught on and liked it, some didn't. It takes a while to learn, but then a game goes quickly after your mind and thinking processes get trained.

I played with a handheld electronic game. Not as much fun as playing with Daddy. Haven't thought about that game in years. Think I'll check online.
That is so cool! Congrats to The Girl. :)
That is SO TOTALLY mathematical thinking. Real mathematicians work with patterns and reasoning much more than with manipulating numbers. Hurrah!
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